from MAVHUTO BANDA in Lilongwe, Malawi
LILONGWE, (CAJ News) – ELECTION promises of reviving the struggling economy made while oblivious of the impact of the coronavirus have returned to haunt Malawi as tempers boil over among the restless citizenry.
The Southern African country has witnessed arguably its worst protests since Lazarus Chakwera came to power in 2020 on a campaign premised on creating 1 million jobs and eradicating corruption, as part of economic revival.
Chakwera’s victory was a momentous occasion for the impoverished country and the continent.
Malawi became the first African nation to have its presidential election result overturned due to irregularities and culminate an opposition leader went on to win the rerun election – against Peter Mutharika.
Kenya was the first to annul a similar outcome but the incumbent, Uhuru Kenyatta, retained power in 2017.
A so-called ‘New Malawi’ that Chakwera promised to deliver upon his election has turned out to be a nightmare as the country battles economic recession.
This is marked by rising prices of basic commodities and fuel as well as the subsequent mounting inflation.
It understandable creating 1 million jobs and eventually breathing life into the economy was always going to be a tough task in the wake of the global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the prevailing sentiment is that some of the woes of the country lie squarely on the shoulder of the executive.
Malawians in recent weeks have taken to the streets, most recently in the commercial town of Blantyre in the south, protesting alleged government corruption and economic maladministration.
The Human Rights Ambassadors is at the forefront of the demonstration which police have dispersed using teargas, further inflaming the outrage.
Police brutality is contrary to the leader’s words when he was inaugurated.
Chakwera said his would be “a government that inspires, not a government that infuriates; a government that listens, not a government that shouts; a government that fights for you, not against you.”
The Centre for Democracy and Economic Development Initiatives (CDEDI), denounced the police actions as well as suspected ruling party youths disrupting the protests.
Sylvester Namiwa, CDEDI Executive Director, said this was reminiscent of the previous government of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) “for use of thugs to terrorise innocent and unarmed citizens perceived to be advancing dissenting views.”
This heavy-handedness is among the factors blamed for the defeat of DPP by Chakwera’s Malawi Congress Party (MCP).
Citizens accuse the new administration of insincerity.
“We were sold an economic lie,” said Tadala Msiska, an unemployed graduate during a protest in Blantyre.
“Where are the 1 million jobs that the president promised us? The price of everything is going up. The government blames the pandemic for this yet politicians and their families are well off and our suffering has worsened,” he said.
Malawi is on the throes of inflation.
Annual inflation increased to 9,8 percent in October. The figure for September was 8,9 percent.
October culminated in rising fuel, which at MWK1 150 (US$1,41), is almost 30 percent higher than the previous month.
This has pushed up prices of such commodities as vegetable oil and water charges by between 50 and 70 percent.
This exacerbates the impacts of punitive taxes and interest rates.
This week, the Malawi Human Rights Commission lamented the economic crises as an affront to the enjoyment of human rights in the country of 19,8 million people.
“All these developments have had a negative effect on the people’s enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights,” the organisation stated.
The commission said the most impacted were the vulnerable poor, women and people with disabilities.
Osias Kapesa, the political analyst, said the government could in part be absolved from the economic problems because of the COVID-19 but it should shoulder most of the blame.
“The president has not covered himself in glory with his nepotistic appointments and profligate expenditure,” said Kapesa.
He mentioned Chakwera’s initial 31-member cabinet having six members that were relatives and over 70 percent of the cabinet ministers from the central region, his stronghold.
Chakwera also appointed his daughter, Violet, to serve at Malawi’s embassy in Belgium.
He had pledged to rid the government of nepotism.
Chakwera earlier this year incurred the wrath of Malawians when he attended a conference in the United Kingdom despite it being virtually.
Some members of his family were on tour.
“Through such, the president has painted himself in bad light hence the economic problems are laid at his door,” Kapesa said.
Malawi’s economy grew by 0,9 percent in 2020. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects growth to be at 2,2 percent in 2021, boosted by a good harvest.
Chakwera, addressing media recently, said government was aware of the challenges and was committed to addressing them.
He appealed for stakeholders to complement government.
“We need to work as a team to solve this issue,” Chakwera said.
– CAJ News