News / Africa

Malawi Struggles at Half-Century Mark

Malawi President Peter Mutharika has pledged economic reforms. He’s shown after being sworn into office in Blantyre on May 31, 2014.
Malawi President Peter Mutharika has pledged economic reforms. He’s shown after being sworn into office in Blantyre on May 31, 2014.
Lameck Masina

Malawi will mark 50 year of independence on Sunday. To celebrate its July 6 golden jubilee, the southeast African country will spend about $370,000 for festivities in the capital city of Lilongwe. The gala at Civo Stadium will include a friendly football (soccer) match between Malawi and Mozambique and live music performances by local artists. 

But some people say they are in no mood for rejoicing. A half century on, many Malawians still live in poverty. The country itself continues begging for contributions, with 40 percent of its budget coming from international donors.

Although she could walk to the festivities from her home in Chinsapo Township, a densely populated area of Lilongwe, Stella Mwambakulu said she sees no reason to attend.

"I can't go there,” the widowed mother of three told VOA. “… Why should we celebrate while women are still dying in the hospitals because we can't access necessary medical care in the hospitals? Women still walk long distances to access potable water. Why should we celebrate when ordinary Malawians still survive on less than a dollar a day?"

Mwambakulu said that instead of spending on a celebration, the government should have budgeted for initiatives to improve the lives of ordinary Malawians.

More than 65 percent of the country’s residents live below the poverty level of less than $2 a day, according to the Center for Social Concern, an organization that conducts monthly cost-of-living surveys.   

Its executive director, Joseph Kuppens, said a surge in Malawi’s population – rising from 4 million in 1964 to 15 million today – is one reason for such high poverty levels. 

Corruption takes a toll

"Whatever the country is trying to do in order to alleviate and eradicate poverty will be problematic because of the increase in population,” he said.

But Kuppens contends there’s a second factor: “Resources that are supposed to go to the people are actually being used … by the selected few, and that is evident in the whole Cashgate saga."

The corruption scandal known as Cashgate erupted in 2013, when it was discovered that $30 million in government funds had been siphoned off by civil servants, business people and government officials. 

In response, international donors suspended critical funds, citing the need for accountability. There were arrests, promises of tackling corruption and a new election and government installed. 

Fahad Assan, Malawi’s former director of public prosecution, estimated the government loses 30 percent of its budget through fraud and corruption annually.

While corruption is cited as a major obstacle to tackling poverty, other structural issues are at play.

Agriculture policy criticized

Ben Kalua, an economics professor at the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College, said the country has experienced economic challenges throughout its history because it lacks thoughtful policies on agriculture, the country's major source of income. Agriculture accounts for 37 percent of Malawi's gross domestic product and 85 percent of its export revenue, and employs 80 percent of the labor force.  

Most of the agriculture involves small-scale farming.

“You will find that small-holder agriculture takes a big chunk of our budget,” Kalua said, “which has led us into this poverty situation which is still prevalent in Malawi."

Small farm operations keep the tax base small, he said, leaving the government unable to raise needed funds to improve infrastructure and grow the economy. 

Peter Mutharika, sworn in as president May 31, promised in his first state of the nation address to change Malawi's status as one of the least-developed countries. He pledged to curb corruption and to reform agriculture, emphasizing irrigation farming and infrastructure development. He also said he would grow the economy by 7 percent in the next five years.

If the president can fulfill those promises, many Malawians say, there will be reason to celebrate when the country turns 55.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Anonymous
July 07, 2014 10:54 AM
I dnt thnk if what mr prsdnt said ,gna be fulfilled looking at his cabnet,de same pipo were embezleling de countryz wealth with his brother are lomwe gvnmnt arlready failed ,only lmwez will benefit.

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs