news analysis advocacy
For more frequent updates, visit the AfricaFocus FaceBook page
tips on searching

Search AfricaFocus and 9 Partner Sites



Visit the AfricaFocus
Country Pages

Burkina Faso
Cape Verde
Central Afr. Rep.
Congo (Brazzaville)
Congo (Kinshasa)
Côte d'Ivoire
Equatorial Guinea
São Tomé
Sierra Leone
South Africa
South Sudan
Western Sahara

Get AfricaFocus Bulletin by e-mail! on your Newsreader!

Format for print or mobile

Malawi: Challenging Power & Corruption

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Jul 30, 2011 (110730)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"The protests and riots of July 20 are fundamentally about governance and development, the enduring desire among Malawians for the establishment of a sustainable democratic developmental state. It underscores the fact that economic growth without development is not enough. ... President Mutharika embodies the contradictions of Malawi's political system and the crassness of Malawi's political class." - Paul Tiyambe Zeleza

On July 26 the U.S. government froze a $350 million Millennium Challenge Corporation aid agreement with Malawi which was signed in April this year. This follows on British suspension of budget support of $30 million, earlier this month. Malawi relies on donors for approximately 40% of its national budget. While these actions increase the pressure on the government, President Mutharika seems determined to defy donors as well as protesters. National elections are not scheduled until 2014, and in May the government also postponed local elections until the same year.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains excerpts from the statement by the civil society coalition which organized the July 20 demonstrations, and a background analysis by Malawian scholar and commentator Paul Tiyambe Zeleza.

For descriptions of the violent repression of the demonstrations by the Malawi government and the aftermath, see the report by Human Rights Watch (, a news analysis from Inter Press Service (, and an eye-witness account and analysis by Steve Sharra ( For another eyewitness account, by blogger Kondwani Munthali, see For reports on government action against journalists, see

Sources for updates include,,,, and

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Malawi, visit

Thanks to an alert reader who just pointed me to this additional article, on the link of tobacco companies to lower income from exports.

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

Uniting for Peaceful Resistance against Poor Economic and Democratic Governance

"A Better Malawi Is Possible"

20th July 2011

[Excerpts. Full text of the statement available at
and on]

Concerns and Demands

In legitimate exercise of the rights and freedoms enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi, We, Members of Civil Society have joined hands with Workers, Faith Communities and Concerned Citizens from all walks of life, to hold peaceful country-wide mass demonstrations today, the 20th July 2011 upholding the theme:"Uniting for Peaceful Resistance Against Poor Economic and Democratic Governance - A Better Malawi Is Possible". These demonstrations are part of a series of nation-wide mass actions that will continue to respond to such crises until feasible solutions have been found and implemented.

Malawi is currently facing a series of catastrophes on multiple fronts due to economic mismanagement and democratic derogation by the incumbent leadership and administration. The current leadership and administration continue to disregard caution and advice regarding the crises, choosing to engage in empty political rhetoric without providing any actionable solutions or alternatives. Any dissenting or alternative views result in adversarial clamp downs, a practice that is unacceptable within the current democratic dispensation that we all fought hard for and are prepared to defend at all costs.

The challenges currently facing Malawi are too numerous to mention, however the following issues may suffice to demonstrate the cause of our discomfort;

Acute Foreign Exchange (Forex) Shortages

Malawi has experienced acute shortage of foreign exchange for over 2 years, with no end in sight. Indeed, there is cause to believe that the current shortages are the worst in all our 47 year history since the attainment of independence.

Significant numbers of people scramble in queues for forex that may be available at any foreign exchange point, in a pathetic display of fruitless desperation.


Numerous reasons, such as poor tobacco sales (which used to provide 74% of our forex inflow has dwindled by over 70%), have been forwarded to explain the shortage of forex in Malawi, but these show a clear divide between advice from economic experts and rhetorical defences from the current leadership and its administration and, in so doing, merely serve to increase confusion and uncertainty.

However, one fact remains indisputable and that is: the forex crisis continues to escalate and the current administration has failed to demonstrate the ability to reverse the situation any time soon.

Acute Fuel Shortage: Malawi is now labelled as a 'Fuel Queue Nation'

This year has seen the most acute fuel shortages in Malawi in 47 years of independence. A common scene that greets the eyes at every filling station is extremely long queues of cars, with people waiting for hours or even, days to get access to a few litres of fuel.

The acute and incessant fuel shortages have caused shrinkages in transportation which limit people travelling. Service providers are unable to transport products around the country, leading to shortage of products and services. Stocks in supermarket and grocery shelves are gradually dwindling. Critical services such as health services have not been spared and workers face a daily struggle in commuting between workplace and home. Freight hauliers have been severely constricted and more disaster looms if the status quo remains unchecked. All these are visible signs of economic regression which, if not checked immediately, could result in a total breakdown.


Electricity Shortages

Never has Malawi suffered more from acute electricity shortages in all its 47 years of independence than within the past 2 years despite the fact that, after all these years, only 6% of the population had access to electricity.

The recent announcement by ESCOM that power cuts will be implemented for 8 hours everyday for the rest of the year have only increased the sense of despair amongst the people who cannot lead normal daily lives without fear of blackouts.

Industries are hard hit with insufficient power to enable optimal production of vital products which may even substitute imports. Work-flow is constantly interrupted by equipment switching off intermittently. Huge costs are incurred in repairing equipment that have been damaged by power fluctuations and the cost of installing massive generators in an effort to keep going. Indeed, a classic example is the failure of ESCOM to guarantee supply of adequate power to Paladin for processing uranium at Kayelekera thereby necessitating installation of massive diesel generators, which need 3000 litres per day to ensure production - this meant that ESCOM lost out on potential extra business of millions of Kwacha every month due to its own inefficiency and incapacity to be innovative.

It is apparent to most that the current leadership and administration has not demonstrated to the nation that they can reverse the situation any time soon in spite of the need for tangible solutions. There should be a clear time frame as to when the problem will be over. As it remains, the energy drain remains a pain without any solution in sight.

Lack of Economic Prudence

The current leadership and administration has continued to excessively and irresponsibly squander public funds without consultation and with cavalier disregard for current economic hardships afflicting the populace created by the mismanagement.

The list of anomalies lengthy, but some major issues include the following:-

  • In 2010, the President secretly authorised the purchase of a private jet costing US$13 million - equivalent to half the budgetary support that Malawi's major donor contributed. The purchase went on regardless of condemnation from different stakeholders within Malawi and beyond. The amount spent was equivalent to annual salaries of approximately 5,000 nurses or approximately 11,555 primary school teachers. ...
  • Since the first Cabinet of 29 Ministers in 2004, the size of the current Cabinet has grown to 41, leading to a monthly wage bill of over MK15,000,000.00, which would fund monthly salaries of 428 nurses or 1,000 primary school teachers. It is important to note that this Cabinet of 41 also includes Deputy Minsters who, in most cases, have been awarded the position as a reward for political favours and not on merit. ...
  • At the beginning of 2011, the President secretly awarded a contract to his wife, the First Lady, Callista Mutharika, leading to a payment in arrears, of MK6,400 400 for the period before the contract was signed, and subsequent salary of MK1,300,000 per month - ostensibly for doing charity work. ... The First Lady's salary is equivalent to monthly salaries for 30 nurses or 93 primary school teachers.
  • The contract for the construction and management of the (in)famous Nsanje Inland Port was awarded in a non transparent and dubious manner to Mota Engil, a foreign construction company who appears to enjoy presidential favour.


Corruption and Abuse of Power

There are strong suspicions that this leadership and administration is condoning corruption and abuse of power by a 'favoured few'.


During his 2 terms of office, the current President appears to have amassed significant wealth that does not tally with his salary of approximately MK 2,000,000 per month. Within 3 years of being power in 2007, Mutharika purchased land in Thyolo at an alleged price of MK 70 million. He then proceeded to develop part of the land at an exorbitant cost which requires clear explanation to allay suspicion.

Massive corruption appears to be the order of the day. Malawians witness a few individuals in Government who have amassed massive wealth at public expense. These individuals build expensive houses, owning fleets of cars and indulge openly in displays of fabulous opulence that seems to have accrued without a visible source. The Government may be aware of this but no visible steps are being taken to stop such malpractices or to recover wealth gleaned in such dishonest manner.

Disrespect of the Rule of Law

The current leadership and administration 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 contained under chapter VI of the Constitution.


The University of Malawi Crisis

The current leadership and administration has failed to resolve the current stalemate between the University Council and its 2 constituent colleges (Chancellor College and Polytechnic) despite all the effort and posturing.

For over 100 days, the leadership and its administration has remained adamant in refusing to recognise legitimate demands by the academic staff unions from the 2 constituent colleges, leading to an unnecessary standoff. This has cost students valuable learning time and disrupted the general academic calendar.

This can easily be described as the worst crisis in the history of the University of Malawi, but it has evolved as such largely due to the intransigence and truculence of the Establishment which takes its lead from the Head of State in adopting inflexible stances that militate against all effort at conciliation.

Political Intolerance and Violence

The current leadership and administration appears of late to be leaning towards tactics that promote violence and intolerance against critics and those with differing views:

  • During the 2 terms of office, the President has deliberately demonised his Vice Presidents, thereby deliberately weakening their offices which are enshrined in the Constitution. The failure to work with Vice Presidents has seriously disrupted the role of the Office of the Vice President in the performance of governmental duties;
  • In recent times, the President has deliberately crippled the office of the Vice President based on personal grudges and differing views. This year, the budget of the Office of the Vice President was significantly reduced to a pittance. The President continues to castigate the Vice President in public rallies, calling her names whilst she continues to hold her peace.


  • This year, the President instructed the ruling DPP party youth cadets to 'protect him' as a response to widespread criticism on his governance style. The instruction was followed by the DPP leaders publicly stating that they will use 'all possible means' to protect their leader. Since that instruction, some Civil Society leaders who have previously spoken on various issues have been attacked or received threats, leading to general fear and terror. Experts have cautioned that such public remarks by leaders have potential to lead to violence or conflict thereby creating a 'culture of fear' that is becoming more visible by the day.
  • There are many indications that the current leadership does not accept any criticism or dissenting views. Those who have dissenting views, within the ruling party or generally, are destined to face violence or adversity in one way or another. This has led to fear among institutional heads or ruling party officials which prevents them from offering alternative views that may run contrary to the Party line.
  • Following a leaked cable in which the British High Commissioner confidentially described challenges facing Malawi for the Foreign Office in London, the President took the unprecedented step of deporting the British Envoy from Malawi back to the UK. This contributed to the deportation of the Malawi envoy from the UK and subsequent withdrawal of the British contribution to the Malawi budget (30%). This serves a vivid testimony of the sheer arrogance of our leadership who can throw out a relationship that has nurtured and supported Malawi for nearly 50 years at the drop of a hat - regardless of the cost to the Nation in general and the poorest sectors of society in particular.
  • When civil society were organising a 'bicycle march' demonstration regarding fuel crises facing the country, the current leadership and administration threatened to prevent the planned demonstration. To obstruct Malawi citizens from exercising their rights to demonstrate, the leadership attempted to introduce prohibitive monetary deposits as a requirement prior to holding mass demonstrations. During the current mass demonstration, there are already reports of the leadership threatening to disrupt the mass action by mobilising rabble rousers to disturb the march.

Demands and Recommendations

In summary, we conclude that the current leadership and administration has failed to convince us that the issues raised will be resolved or reversed anytime soon. As such, we would only be convinced otherwise when concrete and actionable solutions with short term time frames and deadlines are proposed.

In light of the raised selected issues, we demand the Government to take the following steps:

  • Sell the Presidential jet and minimise all foreign trips by the Head of State;
  • Ban all importation of luxury cars (M/benz, Limousines and Luxurious 4x4s). Any new cars for the President, Ministers or State Officials must reflect our impoverished state and should thus not be as ostentatious as in the past;
  • All foreign trips by Ministers and State officials must be severely curtailed forthwith;
  • Superfluous costs such as the new 'eavesdropping' machine being installed at a cost of US$6 million at MACRA merely to assuage creeping paranoia in an unconstitutional manner must be discontinued and reversed forthwith;
  • Zimbabwe must immediately repay the US$20 million that has long been outstanding for food supplied by Malawi. The payment can be made in cash or in fuel;
  • Scrutinise all fertiliser imports for the previous year to track the fairness of the pricing - all those who have inflated their costings must be brought to book and penalised for the full amount of overpricing as well as harsh penalties for committing the crime.
  • Scrutinise all fuel imports for overpricing practices and bring the perpetrators to book. All forex gained through such malpractices must be returned to Malawi immediately;
  • Massive fuel importers such as Paladin (usage: 3,000 litres diesel per day) must use their own forex reserves to bring in their fuel and should not drain Malawi's scarce reserves;
  • Allow independent importation of fuel by any entrepreneur who has the means - this will break the stranglehold monopoly of PIL and open the market for free competition;
  • Paladin's exports of 'yellow cake' must be checked to ensure that a fair market price is being charged and the proceeds are being brought back to Malawi without any transfer pricing;
  • Gemstone exports must be monitored closely by trained experts to ensure that fair values are being declared. Malawi may have been short changed for decades in this area due to lack of capacity and negligence;
  • It may be necessary, in the short term, to listen to the IMF and devalue our currency in order to gain their approval which would then open the doors for other Donors to come in and pump much needed forex into our flagging economy. The inflationary aspects of this can be countered by other anti inflationary measures.
  • It is essential to immediately mend fences with our long term development partners, the British Government by apologising for the diplomatic faux pas and making amends. Their contribution to our economy is too significant to shrug off with cavalier disdain - especially when it means that the poorest sections of society will be worst afflicted by the suspension of British aid.
  • The bloated Cabinet must be trimmed to 14 members and their fuel and air time allowances adjusted to reasonable levels with immediate effect;
  • The newly approved MK 1 million monthly allowance for each Member of Parliament must be revised downwards to a reasonable level with immediate effect;


A Better Malawi is Possible!!

Viva Democracy Viva!!!

Malawi on the Brink: The July 20 Movement

By PT Zeleza

The Zeleza Post / Direct URL:

July 21, 2011

Yesterday, July 20, Malawi was engulfed by protests and riots against President Bingu wa Mutharika's increasingly bankrupt regime, which left several people dead and many others injured. There was also widespread destruction of property across the country's major cities. The immediate causes of the growing popular disaffection include deepening authoritarianism and arbitrary power reflected in the passage of draconian laws against civil liberties; worsening economic mismanagement as manifested in shortages of fuel and foreign exchange, power outages, rising unemployment and inflation; the dangerous mobilization of ethnicity as evident in the redistribution of jobs in the public sector to favor people from the president's ethnic group; and desperate attempts to manipulate the president's succession for his brother, a former law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

The protests and riots of July 20 are fundamentally about governance and development, the enduring desire among Malawians for the establishment of a sustainable democratic developmental state. It underscores the fact that economic growth without development is not enough. Over the last five years Malawi's growth has averaged 7%, peaking at 9.8% in 2008. But the benefits have gone to a few as poverty remains rampant. Also, this growth hardly put a dent in the country's reliance on foreign aid, which accounts for up to 40% of the national budget. As Dambisa Moyo has demonstrated in her controversial book, Dead Aid, aid has certainly not provided a reliable recipe for sustainable development in Malawi.

Contrary to stereotypes about the docility and peaceful nature of Malawians, Malawi has a long history of mass protests going back to the colonial era including the struggles against the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland that saw the demise of the federation and the country's independence in 1964. In the early 1990s, mass protests culminated in the collapse of President Banda's iron-fisted dictatorship in the multi-party elections of 1994. As with the "first independence" from colonialism, the heady hopes of progressive transformation hit against the sturdy structural blockages of the postcolonial order rooted in the deeply entrenched deformities of the colonial state.

The next ten years were marked by fitful advances and setbacks under President Muluzi's lackluster regime. As in much of Africa undergoing democratic transitions it became increasingly clear that the road to democratic consolidation and development would be long and bumpy. Africa's wily dictators and unimaginative political class seemed keen to frustrate popular demands and hopes for the "second independence" from postcolonial authoritarianism and stagnation. After failing to extend his rule for an unconstitutional third term, President Muluzi thrust the relatively unknown international technocrat Bingu wa Mutharika upon the nation as his successor. Predictably, the two men fell out as President Mutharika sought to consolidate his power. He bolted from the United Democratic Party still chaired by former President Muluzi and formed his own party, the Democratic People's Party.

During President Mutharika's first term, a strong opposition prevented this political comedy turning tragic. Held in check by the opposition and surrounded by some competent ministers, the country registered remarkable economic growth and made noticeable democratic advances. In the 2009 elections, the DPP was rewarded with an overwhelming victory. That is when the problems started and the political gloves were removed to expose the entrenched structural instabilities of Malawi's political order and the deep insecurities of the president himself. Malawi, like many postcolonial African countries, suffers from ageold processes and patterns of uneven development that intersect with wide regional, class, gender, and generational disparities, which politicians are adept at mobilizing and exploiting.

Above all, as Frantz Fanon noted in his searing indictment of the postcolonial elite in The Wretched of the Earth, the commitments of Malawi's craven political class is more towards 'primitive accumulation' than a national project of broad-based development and democracy. President Mutharika embodies the contradictions of Malawi's political system and the crassness of Malawi's political class. Like so many other so-called 'peaceful' African states, such as Senegal, the country has yet to make a generational transition in its top leadership. Thus, while many sectors are dominated by the post-independence generation, the president is an octogenarian autocratic who should have long retired from public life as he clearly is out of tune with the aspirations of his relatively young nation.

President Mutharika, 77, belongs to the nationalist generation that brought the "first independence" while the vast majority of the population was born after 1964 indeed 45% of the country's 15.2 million people are below the age of 15. To them the president's nationalist anxieties and preoccupations with colonialism and admonition of Britain, the former colonial power, whose ambassador was expelled from Malawi several months ago for referring to him in a leaked embassy cable as "ever more autocratic and intolerant of criticism", are outdated and irrelevant.

Added to this is the president's apparent megalomania evident in his love for titles including unearned academic titles. For someone who never received a PhD from an accredited institution and never taught at a university he insists on being called His Excellence Ngwazi Dr. Professor Bingu wa Mutharika. He fancies himself an economist and mister-know-it-all. He has removed competent people from key economic ministries and institutions. He increasingly bases economic policy on his misguided understanding of Malawian, let alone African, economic and political history as is clear from his ill-written 700 page book, The African Dream: From Poverty to Posterity, published by his daughter and launched to great fanfare earlier this year.

It is the president's outdated fidelity to the nationalist politics of the 1960s that partly explains his myopic admiration for Malawi's founding president, whose policies and even dress he tries hard to emulate. The two presidents also share another commonality: they came back to rule after decades spent in exile and exhibit deep disdain for their people. They represent the ugly face of diaspora politics, its modernist conceits, its superiority complexes. President Mutharika's contempt for Malawians is evident in his condescending speeches and his shock that the people of Malawi are not grateful for his leadership. In a bizarre juxtaposition on July 20, while people were demonstrating around the country, the president was giving a rambling "public lecture" on the country's political independence, sovereignty, good governance and the economy. The gods showed their wrath and ironic humor when power went off for thirty minutes as the professor president was pontificating.

Like President Banda, whose thirty year dictatorship came to an ignoble end, President Mutharika is assured of being cut to size by the people he despises and has come to take for granted. Indeed, of Malawi's three presidents to date, he is arguably the worst. He combines President Banda's authoritarianism without the competence of his government, and President Muluzi's corruption without his government's tolerance for democracy. The way President Mutharika has bungled the country's economy and politics boggles the mind. He badly mishandled the July 20 protests, first banning them and making threats, then allowing them to go ahead, before orchestrating a court injunction to stop them on the night of July 19, which only inflamed the crowds that gathered the next morning and ensured the violence that ensued. Perhaps the worst mistake he has made is deploying the military to patrol the streets and reestablish order. African history shows that governments that come to rely on the military to maintain civil order create the very conditions for their ouster by the military.

President Mutharika has unleashed a beast that will consume his regime. The longer the impasse continues, the more both the military and masses will feel emboldened. The danger lies in the military taking matters into its own hands. The best scenario would be for the military to step back and allow the political process to take its course as they did in the aftermath of the 1992 referendum that introduced multi-party democracy. Having overthrown President Banda's dictatorship, the people of Malawi can take care of President Mutharika's bankrupt regime by themselves sooner or later.

The regional and international community can assist them by isolating the regime. This might include imposing targeted sanctions at the president and his coterie of key advisors and beneficiaries. In the meantime, human rights activists must keep score of the state perpetrators of violence against peaceful demonstrators and opponents of the regime for eventual legal accountability whether in the country's courts or even the International Criminal Court.

At the time of this writing, the international media is reporting that at least 18 people have been killed by trigger-happy police and some thuggish elements from President Mutharika's ruling party who were instigated and called upon prior to the demonstrations to "deal with" anyone demonstrating against the government. President Mutharika's moral bankruptcy and failure of political leadership has been revealed in his reaction to this tragic turn of events. In a brief, rumbling address to the nation delivered on state controlled radio and television, he failed to show any real understanding of the root causes of the problems that have brought ordinary Malawian citizens to the streets. Instead, all he could offer by way of explanation is the bizarre claim that the demonstrators are enemies of the country who have been instigated or are led by Satan. More tragically, in his speech President Mutharika failed to do what any decent political leader would do in such a situation: the basic act of offering condolences to the families of the 18 individuals killed over the last twenty-four hours. He simply failed to acknowledge or mention these innocent deaths. Malawi, or indeed any other country, does not deserve such leadership.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

AfricaFocus Bulletin can be reached at Please write to this address to subscribe or unsubscribe to the bulletin, or to suggest material for inclusion. For more information about reposted material, please contact directly the original source mentioned. For a full archive and other resources, see

Read more on |Malawi||Africa Politics & Human Rights||Africa Economy & Development||Africa Debt|

URL for this file: