This paper was referred to me by a friend. I do no more than refer it on to the readers of this post.
The views are strictly those of the author Diana Cammack.
The Africa Power and Politics Programme is a consortium research programme funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and Irish Aid for the benefit of developing countries. The views expressed in this publication are those of the author and not necessarily those of DFID, Irish Aid or the Programme as a whole.
This paper explains the origins of Malawi’s mid-2011 political-economic crisis and subsequent events. While it traces some themes back to before the democratic transition of 1994, it highlights the actions that led up to the July 20-21 mass demonstrations which resulted in the death of 20 people; that contributed to the current national economic downturn; and that have fuelled on-going civil rights abuses, keeping national politics on the boil. It also looks towards to the 2014 elections.
It focuses on President Bingu wa Mutharika’s leadership style, recent economic developments and their socio-political impact, the various political settlements fashioned by the elite, some long-term political economy trends, and several economic and political constraints affecting stability. The ‘20 demands’ presented by civil society activists to President Mutharika in mid-July are explained, and the subsequent responses of government, outsiders and civil society are laid out. The paper concludes with a discussion of the political logics which undermine the possibility of ‘developmental patrimonialism’ in Malawi and portend unfair and violent elections in 2014. If the deteriorating situation is not turned around it may lead to Malawi becoming a failed state.
Thus far and in spite of the strengthening middle class, the nature of Malawi’s political parties has not changed. Those five or so parties now active are still centred on personalities rather than issues, and are sometimes staffed at senior level by individuals with documented histories of corruption and worse. Some of them are on record as having experience of orchestrating electoral violence and cheating. Thus far middle class and peri-urbanites’ frustration seems only to have fuelled civil society activism. The violence unleashed in July 2011 portends further unrest during the run-up to the 2014 election. Between now and 2014 the citizenry is likely to become increasingly angry about fuel and power shortages, which government has not been able to resolve,82 and the on-going use of state resources for prestige projects and politicking. In addition to the deteriorating economic situation, the political climate – where only very slow progress is being made on the twenty demands, where attacks on civil society activists are increasing, and where government and its security forces offer little expectation of either reform or protection – can easily result in Malawi becoming a truly fragile state.83
Aspects of the underlying, long-term political economy offer little hope either: from 1994 multiparty elections have incentivised politicians’ misuse of state resources to gain and retain power. At the same time democracy has been slow in creating the institutions needed to rein in such abuses. Thus, clientelism, corruption with impunity, and non-meritorious hiring and advancement in the civil service, are still successful avenues for attaining wealth and power.
Tackling Malawi’s deeply-rooted economic constraints requires a well-implemented, long-term vision. But two-term presidencies, introduced at the transition, in an environment where political parties are centred around big men and not issues, make it difficult for a development vision and programme to emerge in the first place, and make it harder to keep and implement a programme consistently across regimes. Furthermore, fiscal and programmatic discipline is still considered dispensable given the right motivation – such as winning elections or placating politicians. The institutions that would ensure steadfastness of policy, compliance, and predictability are therefore undermined by powerful people’s need to be flexible and unaccountable. The last few years have also shown that a more disciplined environment – which is required for economic growth – can, under the wrong leader, transmogrify into authoritarian tendencies.
While Mutharika’s autocratic leanings have been obvious since his first term, when he ignored the law and court rulings and began to centralise power, his economic successes then dazzled donors and voters. APPP researchers were also hopeful that some trends noted in 2009 – sound economic policies, more discipline and compliance within the civil service, reduced tolerance of corruption and more control over the abuse of government resources – would guide and spur long-term growth. We hoped to see him contain the forces that undermine developmental patrimonialism, but we have been disappointed.
Succession politics in a neopatrimonial environment has undone Bingu wa Mutharika’s good work. The desire to see Peter Mutharika and the DPP get into power in 2014
References has created a need for large (and expensive) cabinets and perks for ministers, corrupt deals that pad the pockets of clients, nepotistic civil service appointments, politicisation of public policy-making and stalled decentralisation. Old devices that are back in fashion include forms of ethnic politics that fuel national divisions. Where in 2009 voters supported Mutharika because he delivered development, in 2014 they will remember the nation’s ubiquitous shortages and his autocratic legislation and decrees, which are too much like President Banda’s for Malawians to forget. Who succeeds him in 2014 will depend less on development outcomes than on the strength of the opposition and the fairness of the electoral process. That the situation has already turned violent does not auger well for free and fair elections.
The full report is long but I have added the link