The Zero-aid Budget: Becoming the 17 Millionth Revolutionary in Malawi

Bingu wa Mutharika, Joyce Banda & Bakili Muluzi

When Prof. Bingu wa Mutharika passed on in 2012, a section of the society looked at his demise as an end to the socio-economic strife that had rocked the country since 2011. We never at any moment paused to reflect over otherwise pertinent issues that the late president had raised towards his end; notably concerns that the economic turmoil had been planned and executed by forces that were against Malawi’s development strides:

Today, I can confidently add-and those afraid that the revolution Bingu was leading would have acted as a model to the entire African continent-especially with his authorship of The African Dream complementing his actions.

Bingu had his own ideas.
Bingu had his own ideas.

I must admit, I was one such jubilant, for just one reason. I hadn’t yet come to terms with the fact that in 2012, I was still in second year having wasted one year in the academic freedom saga at Chancellor College.

Dr. Joyce Banda’s rise to the presidency, to quote the late Prof. Steve Chimombo in one of his poems, was a blessing we had never asked for. It saw donors softening their stance on the country. Fuel and forex started flowing in.

However, my support for her started fading away when she appeared to have fallen into the trap of Malawian politics: discarding all development projects initiated by a previous administration.

The Nsanje World-Inland Port was abandoned. So too was the Greenbelt initiative and several other projects (I later learnt there was also construction of a fertilizer manufacturing company that was botched along with the rest).

Dr. Banda also embraced financial advice from multinational corporations and economic ‘experts’ and the Kwacha was subsequently devalued. I had understood the late Prof. Mutharika’s arguments against devaluation of the Kwacha. I had also read and heard about Pan Africanism, economic hegemony and imperialism by then.

That was the bigger picture. On the micro-hate level, Dr. Joyce Banda had also closed Chancellor College in late 2013 when we had demanded an increment in our stipend allowance because every other commodity on the market had its price hiked. We never won that battle. That gave me an excuse enough to start pelting stones at her openly.

The new president went around scolding her predecessor for scaring away donors, which we all understood. The late Bingu had called them stupid, and had sent a British High Commissioner packing, imagine.

She mended the country’s relations with donors in her attempt to rebuild the economy. Her desperation for strengthening ties with the donor community drove her into puppetry that we would soon joke about “Azungu andiwuza kuti…” (Whites have advised me to…) narrative. The Zero-Deficit Budget that had been introduced by Prof. Bingu wa Mutharika in his dream of liberating the Malawi economy from over-dependency on donor aid was scrapped off and replaced with business-as-usual budgets relying on direct budgetary support.

Despite all these pro-imperialist changes, our ranking on the global poverty ratings remained as it had always been since independence: at times plummeting to record low levels, at times adjusting up, but in the same category (among the poorest countries on earth). It was understandable of course because such measures were meant to be temporary.

There was an Economic Recovery Plan that was put into place. However, the ERP’s projections only drifted us farther away from any hopes of a brighter near-future. Some still rallied behind her, until cashgate revelations struck. Corruption is counter-revolutionary.

Then, we realized we had been rescued from a frying pan to be thrown into an actual fire. But we did not despair. As nostalgia for the Bingu era crept in, we banked our hopes on the general election that was approaching. She would be unseated and we would return to our glorious past. During the campaign period, JB’s leaning towards the west was her other weak spot apart from cashgate because although we had hated Bingu in his last days, his liberating works remained printed on our thoughts. We had learnt to say NO to white supremacy for the first time after the independence victory that had been hijacked by Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda. Bingu’s ideas of a greater and economically independent Malawi were imbued in his The African Dream so his ideas would be guarded in print long after he was gone. The 2014 elections and their results tell this story better.

Joyce Banda
Banda replaced Bingu.

Two years down the line, government is still operational with no direct aid to the budget. It has adopted the mad approach to ruling where not every idea matters in a democracy that is stuck at the power-hunger level. With no direct aid from donors and establishment of a practical development partnership with our originally traditional donors, government has proved to be Sankarist in its general approach.

In the run up to the 2014 elections, I once heard Ntaba (or was it Dausi?) allude to the Thomas Sankara adage that “He who feeds you controls you.” He said it would be hard for a starving nation to be completely sovereign.

Despite devastating floods in two consecutive farming seasons and the pulling out of donors at the height of the massive looting of funds at Capital Hill in the two years of Dr. Joyce Banda, the situation is stabilizing at a rate we never expected it to. For many, a reign without direct donor support to the budget would translate into chaos.

However slow we are going, we should love the approach we have taken. As citizens, let us complain until there are more jobs for the youths, until the ACB bites hard, until there is power all day all night, until the levels of security are high again, until the student-teacher ratio reduces to the desired projection and until there are drugs in our hospitals. In the same constructive spirit however, we should understand that with no economic sovereignty, our dreams of an impeccable economy remain a farce.

Peter Mutharika- UN
Peter Mutharika: Leads Malawi now.

We must therefore support government’s efforts to stabilize the economy with a budget that doesn’t force our government to its knees before the imperialists. We have to understand that efforts aimed at breaking away from imperialist economic hegemony have their own repercussions, which we can only defeat if we stand as one.

Our minds must completely shift from the donor-aid mentality. It becomes pathetic when some Malawians use the IMF, DFID, World Bank and other multinational corporations as anti-government effigies in their criticism.

We must break away from the programming our heads suffered of the superiority of the white man and start looking at issues in our own perspective. If such change happens, we will realize that since we have become the only people who must be satisfied by our government’s deeds, coupled with an economy that doesn’t rely on donors, our boat will continue sailing into the right direction. We do not have any other country apart from Malawi; let us overshadow lust for power with patriotism. That’s the first step to deciding our own fate.

As Bingu put it in his The African Dream, “We shall begin by stating that in order to go anywhere, one must know where one is going and how to get there.” There are about 17 million of us. If we all decided to become Pan African revolutionaries, we would make a difference.

  • Beaton Galafa is a Malawian resident in Zomba. He comments on different social issues in the society, and he idealises Pan Africanism as a concept Africa must embrace to achieve total emancipation from imperialist chains.

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  1. The writing is half good n half bad! I for one I don’t think this APM has what it takes to inspire this country to economic prosperity! Look now his absence has changed nothing as does his presence

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  3. Malawi siosauka koma osauka ndi anthu akumalawi. amalankhuka choncho2 and it was totaly 2ru we must change awa mindset n wake hader lather than waiting winawake helping us.we have everything koma basi zala leendeee.which is not good

  4. Well to stand own your own is what everybody looks for but to do that you need to know that even fanta at some point will not be able to be manufactured. But if you don’t know what you are talking about you will just talk carelessly not knowing the impact that even TTC you will have to pay school fees. Imagine how many teachers will you have in malawi if you pay for teaching courses in 10 yrs you will have teachers only enough for 1 region

  5. This is a good and realistic peace. I shall fondly remember Bingus statement ” Malawi is not poor but its the Malawian who is poor because of his mind set”. To me Bingu was a statesman who had a point to prove to the imperialist. He said that he does not need donors but development partners. He said developmental plans must be born by Malawians and not donors.

  6. Its better for Malawi to stand on its own rather than to rely on aid.A country can not be proud of moving with a begging bowl.Malawians must strive to work hard and produce enough food to eat and export.Relying on aid money is not the solution to end poverty,’cause aid has strings attached and can be withdrawn at any given time.

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