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

Isolation, Despair Weigh on Refugees in Remote German Camp

Refugees resettled near village of Holzdorf deep in German forestland say there is limited interaction with public, mutual feelings of distrust

Britons Divided Over Bombing IS

Surveys show Europeans generally support more military action against Islamic State militants, but sizable opposition exists in Britain

Russia Blacklists Soros Foundations as 'Undesirable'

Russian officials add Soros groups to a list of foreign and international organizations banned from giving grants to Russian partners

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.
With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?i
Carol Pearson
November 29, 2015 1:23 PM
The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle and Kimlong Meng report from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

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 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.

VOA Blogs