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Malawi: the economy, stupid?

May 8, 2009

On May 19, voters in Malawi will go to the polls to elect their next president. The Democratic Progressive Party has been in power for the last four years and is fielding President Bingu wa Mutharika as its candidate once again.

Despite facing a strong alliance of the main opposition leader and a former president, the incumbent is expected to win on the back of an economic boom.

Though critics accuse Mutharika of rigging his way into office, he is credited with helping to improve Malawi’s economy. Since he took over, the country has experienced an average economic growth of 7 percent.

“He inherited a very politically and economically mismanaged legacy … and it was a very tall order to get the country running, to try to get the confidence of very important external players in Malawi,” said Dimpho Motsamai, a political analyst at the Institute for Global Dialogue in South Africa who specializes on Malawi.

“So his vision was one of economic rejuvenation, stricter physical management of economic resources — very prudent management of economic resources — and one that would deal with socio-economic inequalities in Malawi,” she told Reuters Africa Journal.

Malawi has also experienced severe drought. 2005 was its worst year and nearly half of the country faced starvation and a lack of maize, the local staple. Wa Mutharika’s government implemented fertilizer and seed distribution programmes. Last year the country produced a surplus of 1.3 million tones of maize — the highest in 10 years — and became an exporter of food rather than an importer.

Though 7 other candidates will challenge the president, his stiffest competition is expected from John Tembo of the Malawi Congress Party, who has been endorsed by the country’s former president Bakili Muluzi.

Muluzi stepped down in 2004 after he couldn’t change the constitution to allow him to run for a third term. Malawi’s electoral commission has barred Muluzi from running. The former president was arrested and charged with stealing donor money while in office. Despite, this some Malawians still see Muluzi as a liberator because he ousted the country’s first leader, Hastings Kamuzu Banda.

Malawi is not be a regional leader but what happens during the election may influence what happens in other emerging African democracies. And if the incumbent does win as expected, it may also demonstrate that old Clintonian mantra: “It’s the economy, stupid.”


Little Land locked Malawi has achieved commendable success especially on the Agricultural side. They were one of the first to jettison the IMF Diktat and implement a fertiliser subsidy progamme. The sharp swing from perennial food deficit Nation to one where there was a material surplus was rapid. In SSA, where, for the most part, the Agricultural effort is a narrative of abject failure, Whole Bureaucracies exist across the Continent whose raison detre appears to be that of feeding off the AID Food AID Gravy Train.

Its not rocket science. Its actually very simple. Small Holder Farmers did not have the wherewithal to make the upfront investment in Fertiliser. The Quid pro quo was not functioning.

This simple subsidy program has spiked Malawi yields.
Sadly, you will find our Agriculture Ministers in Israel,
Reyakvik, Australia but you will find not one of them beating a path to Malawi’s door.

The first duty of a Ruler is that You feed your People.

Bingu deserves to be reelected on that alone.

Aly-Khan Satchu


It is tempting to ignore any accusations of vote rigging if the candidate has a proven track record of good economy management. However people must realise that is a very slippery road; once allowed to take root vote rigging will quickly choke the democratic system making it impossible for the governed to hold the politicians to account. Indeed people must not underrate the certainty that if he would lose the election if he did not perform had on President Wa Mutharika past performance. Take that away and his future performance will suffer as he would be concentrating on perfecting his vote rigging schemes.
President Bill Clinton was accused of having his hands up some girl’s dress and similar misdemeanours; nothing as serious as vote rigging which is an affront on the very core of good governance. President Richard Nixon did that and even if he had double digit economic growth rates, he still would have been impeached. Malawi suffered greatly under the dictator Hastings Kamuzi Banda. The country’s democratic institutions are not yet strong and well established, the country can easily slid back into those nightmare days and vote rigging is the start of that back slid.

Posted by Wilbert Mukori | Report as abusive

I have tried for some time to think of a way of communicating this message to my Malawian friends. The current president seems to have done real good, the economy grew by 9% in the last year alone, compared to 3% under Bakili Muluzi.

While the Muluzi-Tembo alliance seems powerful, and is poised to take advantage of the tribal-regional divisions in Malawi, I hope Malawians will look beyond the Yao/Chewa thing, and think about the economic implications of who they put in office.

Posted by Collins Kay | Report as abusive

When was the last time in Africa a sitting president and the educated masses were on the same wavelength?

As I recall, NEVER!!!

Bingu woyeee…….

Posted by Eric Jelenje | Report as abusive

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