When President Dr Lazarus Chakwera took over the mantle of power from former president Peter Mutharika, his message to Malawians was crystal clear – work, work, work. It was a departure from promises of handouts that have characterized Malawian politics since 1994 – to the extent that the country has nurtured a lazy generation. Yet this is a generation that comprises future leaders – engineers, agronomists, scientists, teachers and doctors.
This is a generation of young men and women that has problems believing in US President John F Kennedy 1961 inaugural speech, part of which called on all Americans to commit themselves to service and sacrifice: “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” He then continued by addressing his international audience: “My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”
The whole country is waiting for the new administration of the Tonse Alliance – comprising nine political parties – to create the one million jobs it promised. The youth, who form majority of the country population, were also promised business loans. Industries can hardly take up all the students that graduate from vocational colleges and universities. It means those that cannot get employment must be given something to do. They cannot continue to sit idle. What comes to mind is the notion to create a revolving fund for youth loans. In the past this turned out disastrous because only those seen to be members of the ruling party or sympathizers were marked to benefit.
It’s not a hopeless generation though. The young men and women in Malawi who voted for the new government may have problems to embrace the work, work, work philosophy but they are a force that can be turned into a generation that can help transform Malawi. For a long time, they have been used in politics largely for wrong reasons such as political violence. But that should change; that is changing. The new administration seems to be intent on creating a new Malawi where the youth now are being treated as equal partners and stakeholders.
The Malawi Enterprise Development Fund (MARDEF) loan disbursement exercise must not attach anything but one’s confirmation that they are indeed Malawian. People should not be penalized for their choice of political affiliation. Youths should not be denied these loans because they refused to take part in clandestine political undertakings such as torching of houses belonging to political opponents. In a new Malawi, youths should be encouraged to invest and employ fellow youths. Simply put, government or private industries cannot employ everyone. MARDEF should therefore resume disbursement of loans to youths across the country regardless of their political affiliation or place of origin and or indeed tribe.
A matter of urgency
It is clear that Malawi is a state in need of urgent transformation – both economic and political. The economy is in the doldrums and has further suffered a knock from the negative impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The government needs the goodwill of the donors and development partners to put the economy back on track again. Equally key is the contribution from Malawians themselves. They need to be more patriotic and work, work, work as President Chakwera has rightly put it. The dream to transform Malawi from a consuming country to a producing and exporting nation is very much alive and possible. Japan managed to come out of the rubbles of the second world war to become one of the leading and strong economies of the world. Malawi can take a leaf from the story of Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia and make a difference.
The youth that have been referred to a lost generation, should from now take part in the rebuilding process of this country called the warm heart of Africa. Malawi’s agriculture sector promises to bring more forex through the sale of cash crops such as tobacco, tea, sugar and legumes. What has been all along is to initiate value adding. The youth that graduate from universities must take the lead in transforming the agriculture sector which has the potential to create jobs. All this calls for competent zealous leaders who bleed in their hearts when they come across the man-made poverty that is biting over half of the population – now for over five decades.
Politically, leaders have not been forthcoming in healing the nation of its divisions that have proved so costly for a nation that is ranked one of the poorest in the world. President Chakwera and his Cabinet must lead in changing the mindset of Malawians – beginning with the message of hope – that despite everything, a better Malawi with fewer poor people is very possible.
Transformation should begin this very moment. The fighting that ensues once a new government is in place between those in government and those in opposition has done a lot of damage to the economy, governance and the country’s social fabric. A new era marked with tolerance, where the opposition should oppose whenever the need arises, can help to spur development and growth. The lost decades, perceived as years of Malawi’s democratic independence, were marked with corruption, political intolerance and a culture of indifference. The end result has been disastrous for a country that has never been at war but has plenty to show that is reminiscent of a country that has been at war for years.
The way forward therefore is to let everyone contribute to the development of a new Malawi. State capture of civil society and the media must be discouraged. The opposition must thrive both in and outside parliament. It is good for democracy and governance. The Chakwera administration must not be seen to be behind the shrinking civil society and free press shrinking space. A constitutional democracy that is Malawi should encourage media and civil society to thrive without reprisals from government for pointing out the wrongs perpetuated by those in power.
The Tonse Alliance government must ensure that the political space is guaranteed; that freedoms of speech and press are protected under the Malawi Constitution. In the next five years – and beyond – the Tonse Alliance government should set standards for a new social order. The youth who have been inflamed by economic frustration must be given hope that someday, there will be jobs for them both in government and private sector. And that those who cannot get jobs can be supported financially to set up businesses employing fellow youths, thereby contributing to national and economic growth. Work, work, work and more work must translate into this popular expectation if the Chakwera government wants to earn the trust of those that voted it into power.