Malawians say only peace not enough to celebrate 53 years of freedom

By Penelope Paliani Kamanga

Malawi on 6 July  celebrated  53 years independence  with many stating that peace that  had been enjoyed for many years was not enough as the country had seen huge political and economic inactivity as well as massive corruption which continued to hurt people.

Many argued in separate interviews that five decades after independence, the country’s economy remained fragile and poverty levels were still very alarming.  People still struggled to make ends meet.

Chairperson of Market Sellers Association of Blantyre, Joana Phiri, wondered why the country should celebrate independence at all when it has not brought prosperity to many Malawians.

“Yes, we have peace but peace without the power to make ends meet is useless.  Most of us are still poor and barely survive.   I see no use to celebrate when we do not have jobs, means to survive and we lack economic empowerment. This country needs leaders who can develop it to end this poverty,” she said.

Phiri said unemployment was high and there was far too much nepotism and corruption when it comes to employment.

The Thyolo-based farmer said the country had made little progress since its independence.

“Seriously, I cannot pin-point the advantage of being independent for 53 years, save for 23 years ago when we attained multiparty democracy when we were set free from the autocratic rule of Dr Hastings Banda where freedom of speech was a crime. But freedom without food on the table and money is nothing,” he said

Political commentator and human rights activist, John Khembo, said the country had failed to improve its health services due to a lack of resources.                                                                          

“Conditions in private hospitals are very different from those in public hospitals. The increase in the population also worsens certain situations, for instance power generation. Malawi has electricity supply problems because the improvement of power generation input has been neglected by previous governments.

Another political commentator, Michael Usi, said Malawi should have national development policies that remained intact despite any changes in government. This would allow the country to develop.

He said policy discrepancies had not helped Malawi to grow its economy.

“One government says ‘we should do this’, and when another comes it changes all the policies.

This is not healthy at all,” he said.

Since gaining its independence, Malawi has been governed by five presidents, each of whom introduced new development initiatives

Successive leaders, including independence hero Kamuzu Banda who ruled for three decades before losing the first democratic poll in 1994, have failed to grow the agriculture-based economy.

Renowned economic commentator Henry Kachaje has on many occasions stated that it was disappointing and pathetic for a country that had been independent for five decades to still be struggling to feed its population, in a country endowed by fresh waters from the third-largest lake in Africa, Lake Malawi.

Kachaje said that only 10 percent of the population had access to electricity and that the country was a net importer that depended heavily on tobacco for its foreign exchange.

“Lack of visionary leadership, especially in the last two decades, has impeded Malawi’s economic growth,” Kachaje says.

Former legal adviser for Bingu wa Mutharika Allan Ntata said in his column that Malawi was not independent.

What President Peter Mutharika and his friends were commemorating last Thursday, he said, was simply the delusion of independence.

He said for Malawi to get the concept of independence, there was a need for an overhaul of the political framework.

“As far as I am concerned, this country is not independent. It is in bondage. And these national prayers we love so much, when I think of the corrupt and selfish souls offering them, I can’t help but wonder whether they are not an abomination, bringing a curse instead of a blessing upon this nation,” he said.

However, Minister of Finance Goodall Gondwe said Malawi’s economy hadn’t always been doom and gloom.

“If you look at where we began and where we have come, I think there are a number of successes made.”

In 2009, Malawi’s economy registered about nine percent annual growth, and in 2008 it was the second fastest-growing economy in the world, behind Qatar.

Malawi has also made great strides in combating the HIV/Aids virus.

However, despite people having mixed feelings over Independence Day, celebrations took place in town councils of the four regions of Malawi: North, Central, Eastern and South.

The celebrations started on 5 July with a military parade in the cities of Mzuzu, Lilongwe, Zomba and Blantyre. The celebrations also included a football match between two of the great clubs in Malawi, the Nyasa Big Bullets and the Silver Strikers, at Bingu National Stadium in Lilongwe.

President Mutharika, speaking at the national prayers in commemoration of the independence day, said the economy was set to grow again.

“Inflation is falling towards a single digit.

The interest rates are falling. With low interest rates, the farmer, the teacher, and the business person on the street should be able to walk into the bank, borrow money and repay that loan. Above all, we have more plans to revive and boost the economy,” he said

Mutharika said Malawi was set to see more community colleges,  more job creation, more tarmac roads in the cities, towns and districts across the country and that Malawi would bid  farewell to dusty roads in cities and power blackouts..

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