The bottomline is rather that the IMF policies might not really be a deliberate ploy to keep Malawi and other developing economies underdeveloped but the fact remains that the structural programmes as advocated by the fiscal body and its partners may be drawing us deeper down the abyss of economic deprivation and western donor dependency.
The programmes rather keep us skirting around the same economic problems and challenges in a vicious cycle of perpetual causation. It is however not the purpose of this analysis to debate discarding or sidelining western reliance since the west has been our godmother and traditional donor since time immemorial. The gist of this postulation is rather that it might make more prudent economic and developmental sense to turn our focus east toward such economies as China and Japan and to model our developmental reforms toward such if sustainable economic progress is to be our goal and sole prerogative.
The fact remains that modicum short term injection packages of economic reform and growth as are typical of the IMF programmes do not necessarily translate into sustainable economic progress. I strongly do believe that we have more to benefit and learn from the eastern economies than from the west. Further to that, traditionally we rather share the same political and economic ideologies and philosophies such as are locally developed networks and socially based traditional communal philosophies that have seen most eastern economies avail themselves from the pangs and syndrome of western donor aid and dependency.
It is rather paradoxical to note that in most of our African political economy, the state has since been utilized as an instrument of exploitation, repression and oppression by classes modeled toward the western bourgeois with the system of law, justice and the economy originally bound up in such precedence.
Whatever resources are at the state’s disposal – economic, jural, political, social or otherwise – have been perennially utilized by such bourgeois classes to keep themselves in power by hook or crook. Such scenario are rather peculiar to and reflective of an earlier stage in western civilization and economic development that has since been transferred to and has found its roots and nurturance in Africa and other developing economies possibly as a resultant of earlier colonization and subservience to metropolitan states. It has been alluded to somewhere that such political ideology was hitherto inclined toward the subjugation of the inferior classes and the masses to basically bolster control over the developing economies in general and Africa in particular. It might not be an overstatement therefore to further speculate that such political guise has been perpertually maintained and fostered in ways discreet or otherwise to burgeon Neo-colonialism.
Given such a political, social and economic landscape the question that we might pose further is as to what our judicious solution would be to such ploy – overt or otherwise – to salvage our developing economies from perpetual subjugation and repression. Do we need gradual reforms in our development philosophies or rather reactive cataclysmic and dramatic sweeping policy realignment? Whatever approach we adopt we need to bear in mind that it is expedient upon us to have a panoramic or bifocal view of ‘where we are going’.
Without this foresight we lack viable resolve for economic recovery, no roadmap to competitive advantage vis-à-vis our neighbors, no game plan for improving upon the welfare of our destitute and most vulnerable citizenry and least of all prescriptions for achieving sustainable economic progress.
There is urgent need to chart prudent and tenable long-term pathway to follow that is locally friendly and sustainable and in tandem with our developmental needs and level of economic development. I do not think that we need ‘one-fits-all’ prescriptions such as are dictated upon us by such fiscal bodies as the IMF and are not specifically designed for and tailor-made for our unique situations. We need not be tamed to drift aimlessly but rather there is need for locally designed developmental beacons or blueprint that suit our immediate circumstances and developmental level not only in the short run but such as are future oriented. It needs further be appreciated that considering the economic plights currently afflicting the nation it is not an option but an imperative that we craft stringent mitigation economic measures to avail ourselves. What immediate locally viable prescriptions then do we propose for Malawi? The most expedient and pertinent leeway to economic recovery even in our skepticism but with due respect to the IMF boss – Christine Laggarde – would be to increase our export base and thus mitigate the negative misalignment vis-à-vis our import base. That however cannot be achieved piecemeal or overnight but it is a mountain that we can surmount with prudent forecasting and planning. It is rather unequivocal to appreciate that our economy has been dominantly agro-based for a period too long and it is high time we seriously considered diversification into such sectors as mining and tourism.
Fundamental to the thesis is the pertinent need to realize that we cannot rule out the fact that our immediate short-term prescriptions might not overrule the need to stringently realign our agricultural sector whose sustainable role as the backbone of our economy we cannot underestimate. The question we might pose further is as to how we could go about realigning our agricultural sector. The most prudent alternative would be to consider stringent commercialization and mechanization of the sector. We could for instance redevelop the schemes that used to flourish during the Kamuzu era. We could work the schemes all year round through rain-fed and irrigation mechanisms. There is a pool of under-employed and unemployed youth who are idling all over our cities and rural areas some of whom have invaluable skill in engineering and other vocational skills having gone through TEVET or other such programmes yet they have nothing tangible to do or are involved in insignificant piecework that does not directly benefit the nation. Such a pool of youthful underemployed and unemployed laborforce could be tapped to man these schemes. Such commercialization can also gradually trickle down to the generic small scale small-holder rural agricultural areas where we could improve upon our traditional techniques and tools to maximize production on these small scale pieces of arable land. It is worthy noting at this juncture that an economic model driven by the agricultural sector is not only sustainable but ecologically viable since it is grounded on progress that realigns economic activities and consumption with ecological realities. Further the lake and the vast array of perennial river networks across the nation which by all standards have hitherto not really been utilized to spearhead the agricultural sector may be taken advantage of for perennial year round irrigational commercial purposes.
Schemes such as were in the nature during the Kamuzu regime’s young pioneers could be re-introduced but this time around with no emphasis on militancy but rather skills development and economic progress. It is the gist of this proposal that rather than abusing the youth politically, they could be utilized to positively and directly contribute toward the development of our ailing economy. Such large scale agro-based commercialization through what late president Professor Bingu wa Mtharika dabbed the ‘Green belt’ initiative is achievable and it could be done best not only by integrating the under-employed and idling unemployed skilled and unskilled youth who are gradually being transformed into militia by greedy and unscrupulous political zealots but as well taking advantage of the irrigational potential of the lake and perennial vast river systems.
Further by gradually trickling down such commercialization and mechanization of production to rural areas with prospective aid from our partners from the east –China and Japan- we could eventually scale down on the subsidy fertilizer programme that has been unprecedentedly unpopular with our western donors and alternatively scale up on an agricultural input revolving fund and credit facility targeting the pool of generic small-holder farmers. Such policy reform and direction has been self-sufficient and sustainable before and could be easily supported by the western donor community due to its fiscal viability and sustainability. To strengthen such an initiative and improve upon its credibility our small-holder farmers could be integrated into co-operatives as was the case during the Kamuzu era.
Through these co-operatives we could gradually scale up production by means of commercialization and mechanization hence increasing returns on the small holder pieces of arable land. Agricultural equipment and machinery such as the tractor and combine harvester and such other locally appropriate technologies as may be necessary could be placed in centers akin to the rural growth centers directly accessible to the co-operatives. These centers could be distributed across the nation and act as access points from whence our co-operatives could rent and utilize the machinery. The maximization of production that could emanate from such initiative could lend feasible credence and accord credibility to the one village one product [OVOP] Japanese experimental project. The Japanese OVOP initiative per se could be incorporated into this complex integrated commercialized rural development agenda to add value to the products in the agro-schemes and rural co-operatives before the output could be exported. That could afford such agro-products competitive advantage on the international market. The pool of our under-employed skilled youth could be utilized to man and run these proposed OVOP agro-industries. It might as well be emphasized that the TEVET vocational training curriculum could be revisited and tailor made to target and suit such policy initiative and any other diversification direction the country might be moving toward such as expediting the mining sector.
The whole proposed endeavor will not only ease and stabilize our economy in the short and medium term, boost food security once more, mitigate the rampant unemployment, curb rural-urban migration but above all else instill positive externalities toward curtailing and eradicating gigantic social ills in the guise of pauperism, disease due to malnutrition, and ameliorate the perpetual starvation of the majority of our rural masses. Not only that, vices typical of status discontentment and economic asperities and inequality such as crime, prostitution, gambling and such other negative externalities could be curtailed. We could also curb the hand-out syndrome and over-dependency on the government and the western donor community to sustain rural livelihoods. By affording such help through practicable opportunities of self-improvement for all regardless of whatever disparities – social, economic, political or otherwise- such humble initiative would go a long way in healing the wounds of economic affliction the country is currently experiencing, in stabilizing the balance of payment and above all else in revitalizing our agricultural sector which has since been neglected and underutilized. The pool of underemployed skilled youth could further be integrated into infrastructural development in these schemes by working on the rejoinder roads and refurbishing the factory buildings and machinery to promote the OVOP initiative not forgetting structures for the mining sector whose potential for growth in Malawi cannot be underestimated or overlooked. The proposal might be a dream far-fetched but the recovery addendum might be our ultimate pis-aller in the road toward economic recovery, stability and self-reliance. It is pertinent to not only appreciate that resigned pessimism will not avail matters but above all else that there is always cause for optimism for our esteemed developing nation.
The author MARISEN MWALE is a lecturer and Researcher at Malawi’s Mzuzu University