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Malawi: The Warm Heart of Africa?

By Theresa Chapulapula

Malawi is fondly known as the warm heart of Africa. This aptly describes the country. The warmth and the beauty of its people really make Malawi a must to visit. If you have never been to that Southern African country, then you are really missing something in life.

The language barrier should not give you a headache. As long as you can speak English, you are home and dry. Many Malawians speak English and wherever you go, you will find someone who is more than willing to give you a helping hand.

Nevertheless on Wednesday July 20 the day of the now famous protests, things were different in the warm heart of Africa, as humble Malawians had no choice but to raise their voice against the leadership of President Bingu wa Mutharika and the economic crisis being experienced there through demonstrations.

Civil society leaders, the media, economists, political analysts and donors have advised government to critically look at the many undemocratic decisions it has engaged in that have led the country to the current economic crisis.

Malawi is facing a series of catastrophes on multiple fronts due to economic mismanagement and undemocratic leadership. The challenges are too many to mention. However the following issues may suffice to demonstrate the cause of discomfort by the humble Malawian.

Forex: Malawi has experienced acute shortage of foreign exchange for over two years, with no end in sight. This problem has had many consequences: scarcity of products and services due to difficulties in the importation of essential products. Malawians who utilise foreign currency have searched for it in vain to pay for expenses when travelling abroad, when purchasing products which are not produced locally, paying for examination fees to foreign education providers and accessing treatment for medical facilities.

Another challenge that has compounded the problem of foreign currency are the poor tobacco sales (which used to provide 74% of our forex reserves, but inflow has dwindled by over 70%).

Read Theresa’s story, which fingers a cartel of tobacco multinationals for colluding to fix the tobacco price at artificially low levels.

Fuel shortage is another hitch. The acute and never-ending fuel shortages have caused shrinkages in transportation which limit people’s traveling. Producers have been unable to transport products around the country leading to shortage of products and services. Critical services such as health services have not been spared and workers face a daily struggle in commuting between workplace and home.

Power outages have become a daily norm. In Malawi, black outs are no longer news as people are now used to them. The Electricity Supply Commission of Malawi is failing to provide electricity yet less than 20% of the population has access to electricity. Industries are hard hit with insufficient power to enable optimal production of vital products which may even substitute imports.

The current leadership has tended to exhibit deliberate disregard of the Constitution and the rule of law. Amid public condemnation, the current leadership and administration abused its majority in Parliament to pass an amendment to section 46 of the Penal Code allowing the minister for information to ban publications ‘deemed to be contrary to the public interest’. This law has taken Malawi backwards in terms of guaranteeing media freedoms as provided under chapter VI of the Constitution.

To crown it all, the media watchdog, Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) banned all private stations from airing live the demonstrations, again denying Malawians the right to know.

As people were demonstrating, Mutharika had a public lecture where he outlined his short, medium and long term plans for Malawi. Mutharika promised Malawians that the fuel and forex shortage and intermittent blackouts would be a song of the past.

He also appealed to Malawians that demonstrations were not a solution to the current problems but that ‘together we can find solutions’.

With that assurance from Mutharika, we can but hope Malawi will remain the warm heart of Africa with its humble and friendly people.

Theresa Chapulapula is a Malawian journalist with 7 years experience. She works with Blantyre Newspapers, publishers of the Daily Times, Malawi News, the Sunday Times and the Weekend Times. She has joined amaBhungane for three months on a short-term internship intended for journalists from the SADC region.