What next after regime change?

By Dyson Mthawanji*

On 23 June this year, Malawi ushered in a new government under Tonse Alliance, kicking out the DPP leadership. When the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) declared Dr Lazarus Chakwera as the winner, many Malawians celebrated. The country swam in happiness. This was based on the majority’s hope that things in the country will improve for the better.

They celebrated that the Tonse Alliance will provide one million jobs within one year. They were sure that they would now buy cheaper fertilizers. Whether the Tonse leadership will walk the talk on all its sugary promises or not should be a discussion for another day.

While the fact is that Malawi is now under new political leadership, it should clearly be written on the wall that there is no food for lazy man.  Yes, there is no sweet without sweat.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has said that the local economy would grow by one percent this year. The forecast, if it materializes, would mean the local economy may not slip into a recession as previously feared. This news, coming at a time when Malawi has new political leadership, injects great hope in Malawians. However, it is important that every citizen should be responsible for their future by toiling hard.

Many citizens think that government is a panacea for all the problems. Like previous governments, the new government will introduce and implement new programmes through which citizens should improve their lives.

For example, Government of Malawi has designed a new programme called Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP) with a view to supporting smallholder farmers starting from 2020-21 farming season.

According to minister of agriculture, Lobin Lowe, Government has terminated the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (FISP) because it was selecting few farmers to benefit out of a pool of farmers in a village. He said FISP was marred with a lot of challenges some of which were: suppliers buying coupons from desperate farmers; contracts given to suppliers who could not perform to people’s satisfaction; very few farmers targeted in a village, which led to farmers sharing the inputs.

Malawians were promised one million jobs

The goal of AIP is to enable Malawi attain food security at household and national levels and reduce poverty. The programme will increase access to quality and improved farm inputs such as fertilizers and maize seed. The programme will cover all smallholder farming households in Malawi, who are estimated at 4,279,100. Each smallholder farmer will be entitled to access one 50kg bag of Urea; one 50kg bag of 23:10:5+6S+1.0Zn (NPK); either one pack of 5kg hybrid maize seed or one pack of 7kg OPV maize seed. Farmers will be buying one 50kg bag of either urea or NPK at MK4,495.00 and buy maize seed pack at MK2,000.00. However, it does not mean that if a farmer in Nsanje, Dowa or Chitipa should stay idle waiting for this new programme to bring a miracle.

The fertilizers being offered to farmers in the programme is enough for an acre or 0.4 hectares. If these inputs are properly used and the crop is well managed, the household is expected to harvest about 32 bags of 50kg each of maize (which is 80 bags per hectare). At national level, the Ministry expects that 1.7 million hectares will be planted with improved maize seed and will be applied to both basal and top-dressing fertilizers. Unfortunately, some farmers will be selling this fertilizer to their rich neighbours at a higher price. This will negate government efforts to achieve food security mainly at household level.

The role of government is to create a conducive environment through which the citizens can engage in various income-generating activities for their survival. The role of government is not to distribute free food, clothes and shelter. Therefore, it is the duty of every citizen to work hard in their activities.

Those who have formal employment should not expect promotions on a silver platter. They should work hard to build good experience and upgrade their education to meet the promotions they dream of. Likewise, those who do private businesses should strengthen their company profiles by meeting all requirements to be awarded government contracts.

The Tonse government has been making corruption related arrests. Most of these suspects had political affiliations to the former ruling party. Some people who are affiliated to Tonse Alliance might be smiling mutely saying now is their time to also enrich themselves through plundering of taxpayers’ money. This is a very wrong philosophy and it will haunt them too. Everyone should work and earn money through honest means.  Everyone wants money, but it is important to earn it through sweat not clandestine deals.

Poverty is real in Malawi. But people who work hard enjoy the fruits of their sweat. World Bank figures indicate that while the ultra-poverty rate fell from 24.5 percent in 2011 to 20.1 percent in 2016, over the same time period, the moderate poverty rate increased to 51.5 percent. The bank said with population growth higher than the pace of poverty reduction, the number of people living below the poverty line increased over this period from 7.1 to 8.4 million. Malawi’s fertility rate is pegged at 4.4 percent, but such a rate can go up to six percent in some cases, especially in rural areas.

Evidently, despite some gains in reducing ultra-poverty since 2011, the moderate poverty rate remains high and the number of the poor has increased.

If these figures are anything to go by, then Malawians have no excuse to be lazy. They should work hard to improve their lives. Yes, there is new government which has injected hope in majority of Malawians, but people’s lives will change for the better only when they work hard on their own.

Although there is a new government and hope, still Malawians should also remember that Covid-19 is likely to negate some of the government efforts. This is inevitable. The International Food Policy Research Institute (Ifpri) analysis on Covid-19 pandemic on the country’s economy indicate that 1.1 million Malawians have fallen into the poverty trap two months after authorities effected social distancing and proposed lockdown measures to contain the global pandemic.

Ifpri found that out of the 1.1 million people, 900,000 are in the rural areas while 200,000 are in the urban areas. The measures, which were affected in April this year, have reduced household incomes by an average of 11.4 percent, with the urban household losing an estimated 12.8 percent while the rural household losses stand at 10.2 percent. This means that poverty rate has increased to 56.3 percent from initial 50.5 percent with the urban and rural rate increasing to 62.3 percent and 22.8 percent, from 56.5 percent and 17 percent, respectively.

*Mthawanji is a Communications Specialist who writes on  contemporary issues.