African business, politics and lifestyle
Malawi: the economy, stupid?
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.”