Talking Blues: Is it too late to change our fortunes?


“The poverty and the misery of your relatives should annoy you. This should not go on because it will also adversely affect you. You will not find any jobs after graduating and will end up joining the bandwagon of handclappers and thieves, and Malawi will deteriorate further,” – Bishop Martin Mtumbuka of Karonga Diocese of the Catholic Church.


According to Finance Minister Sosten Gwengwe, public debt has grown by about K730 billion within nine months and jumped to K6.38 trillion in March 2022 from K5.65 trillion in June last year.

This means we have been borrowing roughly K81 billion per month in the past nine months.

Now at 63 per cent from 56.8 per cent, Malawi’s debt-to-gross domestic product (GDP) ratio is in the red compared to the internationally recommended 60 per cent.

The bottom line is that we risk defaulting on repayments to our creditors.

Our woes, by the way, are now an international embarrassment. In a recent interview with CNBC Television in India, IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said,

“When I look at low-income countries, I worry. A country like Malawi has no fuel, no food and yet its debt is unsustainable, making entry to the IMF more difficult.”

In a word, we are a good-for-nothing basket case.

Our unsustainable debt level notwithstanding, we are still at it, borrowing from the left, right and centre like a cocaine addict.

The same Finance Minister announced that we will be borrowing up to  US$50 million from Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa (Badea) for fuel imports to solve the endemic fuel shortages which have seen Malawians sleeping at filling stations, production by our industry decimated and the transport sector grounded.

Now watch this: the US$50 million (about K50 billion) we borrowed from Exim Bank of India in 2011 to procure 177 tractors and other farming machinery has matured; as we speak, some of the little forex we forage is now going towards servicing that debt. We will eventually cough US$58 million (about K58 billion) over 25 years to clear the loan.

The injustice of the runaway debt, for which the tractor debt is a good example, is that the loans only benefitted the elites. Yet, even the poor who have never gained from the tractors are not exempted from contributing to the repayment.

Guess what? That debt notwithstanding, the government has lined several dubious projects to be financed through more borrowing.

For instance, the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs approved the construction of a K1 waiting room for retired civil servants waiting for their benefits.

Look at it this way: you owe some folk money. Now, instead of finding ways to structure their payments and pay them on time, you opt to build an extravagant shade where the lenders will escape the heat of the sun or the rains in the rainy season as they wait ‘comfortably’ for repayment.

Why not eliminate the waiting list so that no pensioner queues for months on end to receive what is rightfully theirs? After all, this is money they already earned!

The K1 billion is likely to be topped because feasibility studies and study tours to establish more accurate estimates are yet to be undertaken.

Also on the cards is the construction of K60 billion houses for members of parliament (MPs) when thousands of kids are still learning under trees and grass thatched structures unfit to house the MPs’ livestock?

This pathetic situation, characteristic of a country on autopilot, the leadership’s medulla oblongata having gone AWOL is, among other things, why Bishop Martin Mtumbuka of the Catholic Church Karonga Diocese fears that poverty will continue to worsen because our elected leaders have zero concern for the poor masses.

The bishop spoke at Catholic University in Chiradzulu District during the congregation’s graduation. He lamented that although Malawi is churning out thousands of graduates annually, poverty levels are worsening.

“The poverty level for the poor is getting worse every day because we, the old ones, have failed this country through our incompetence and cluelessness, on top of having no heart for the poor masses in this country,” he said.

“The poverty of your relatives and the misery they pass through should annoy you, and the situation should not go on like this because it will even affect you as you will not be able to secure jobs but join the bandwagon of hand clappers and thieves and the country will get worse,” he added.

This is food for thought for all Malawians who claim to be patriotic.

Look here; first and foremost, solutions to our dire straits are not rocket science.

Secondly, even these leaders we have today were singing our song before being elevated to office.

They were very much aware that:

  • unchecked corruption – which has only worsened under the current government;
  • nepotism – which facilitates the assignment of third-rate rejects to jobs requiring world-class skills;
  • lopsided priorities – manifested by ‘brilliant ideas’ like constructing grand pavilions instead of re-engineering pension payment procedures to eliminate pensioners’ waiting time;
  • a penchant for pursuing selfish projects and white elephants – exemplified by wanting to construct MPs’ residences or offices or whatever in utter disregard of Malawians’ real and palpable needs whose faces are the boys and girls getting an education in shacks unfit for the ruling elites livestock;
  • profligacy rivalling that of the Biblical prodigal son as demonstrated by the larger-than-life UNGA entourages and their “boosted” per diem rates in the face of acute forex shortages back home;
  • the folly of subsidising consumption and not the production of goods for export; and
  • an inexplicable appetite to galivant across the globe in jets when our district hospitals have no ambulances;

are why previous administrations have failed the masses; it has not taken long for the Tonse Government to dump any of its pro-poor promises for projects and gimmicks susceptible to corruption and self-aggrandisement.

To quote the Vice President, “Life ya bwanji imeneyi?” In the king’s language: what kind of people are these? Who does that?

You know what: with each sunset and sunrise that passes, closer and closer comes the day when the poor will be so hungry that they will have nothing to eat but the rich.

In the shoes of those elected to deliver change and reverse this trend, I would rethink because if a hungry man is an angry man, there is no telling what an angry mob can do. Examples, in both current affairs and in history, near and far, are plentiful.

It is not too late. But then again, maybe it is!