The dust has finally settled on the hotly disputed elections in Malawi and Peter Mutharika, brother of the late former leader, Bingu wa Mutharika, has emerged the winner. But with only a third of the total votes cast in his favour, the President will have to allay fears as well as rapidly put into place policies that will inject some iron in a badly ailing economy. Lameck Masina reports from Blantyre.
Memories of economic hardships during the administration of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) leader, Bingu wa Mutharika, who died in 2012, were still uppermost in the minds of many people who voted during the elections in May this year. This probably explains why over 60% of Malawians did not vote for his younger brother, Peter Mutharika, who won the elections with 37% of the Presidential votes.
During the previous DPP administration, especially between 2010 and 2012, Malawi faced severe economic difficulties after donors withdrew their aid, citing poor governance and corruption under the late
Mutharika. During this period the IMF had also suspended its Extended Credit Facility to the country. This resulted in Malawi facing acute shortages of fuel, scarcity of foreign exchange and ever-increasing prices of goods and services on the market.
So returning the DPP and another Mutharika into power had rekindled fears among Malawians that the country’s economy, which was starting to improve after Bingu wa Mutharika’s predecessor President Joyce Banda had won back donor confidence, would slump again.
Different decisions and leadership style are what Malawians, are now looking for from Mutharika
This was despite the fact that donors, under Common
Approach to Budgetary Support (CABS), had in November 2013, suspended their 40% of budget support to Malawi due to a financial scam known as Cashgate, in which millions of kwacha of public funds were siphoned from government coffers.
President Peter Mutharika, who had served in several cabinet portfolios under the administration of his elder brother, including as Minister of Education and Minister of Foreign Affairs, seems to have realised that many Malawians are very worried about the power of the DPP. He addressed these fears in his inaugural speech at Kamuzu Stadium in the commercial capital, Blantyre.
“Those of you who have been worried, I can assure you that the DPP has changed. And therefore we have learnt from the past [mistakes], as I said at my brother’s funeral [two years ago] that maybe he made mistakes in the past, it was out of judgment and not out of evil. But of course we will make different decisions,” Mutharika said.
Different decisions and leadership style are indeed what Malawians, who have reluctantly accepted the results of the disputed election which was marred with irregularities and allegations of vote rigging, are now looking for from Mutharika.
Renowned socio-economic commentator Henry Kachaje says Mutharika needs to do more than Malawians expect of him if he is to prove his critics wrong.
He says the new Mutharika administration needs to come up with a nationally accepted socio-economic development vision with a clear strategy to diversify the economy, which has started to tumble after donors withheld aid because of the Cashgate scandal.
Kachaje, also the managing director of Business Consult Africa, says the new administration can achieve this through widening commercial agriculture, irrigation farming, and growth and development of the private sector with a focus on small and medium enterprises.
“The leadership must act on corruption and not just talk about corruption. There must be fiscal discipline in government expenditure as well as strategic investment in infrastructure that supports the growth of the economy,” he says.
Professor of Economics at the University of Malawi, Ben Kalua, told African Business that, to make a difference, Mutharika has to put in place deliberate policies that would see Malawi emerge out of poverty. He said the country will not develop if he continues to turn a blind eye to the setbacks in the agriculture sector, which is the mainstay of the country’s economy.