Malawi after a bitterly contested election and COVID-19

As a sign of accountability Malawi’s new president Dr. Lazarus Chakwera promised to declare his assets perennially during his swearing-in ceremony on July 6, 2020. Keeping his promise, the newly elected president declared his assets and property. This ground-breaking development follows the agenda of the ruling Tonse Alliance (TA) government to operationalize an easy access to information (ATI) act and initialize an effective way to curb corruption and end endemic government mismanagement of meager resources that has crippled the nation’s economy for years.

In February 2017, the outgoing president Peter Mutharika approved of the act to be passed into a law. However, the public did not witness the fruits of the development as operationalization date of the act was left undisclosed.

Tonse alliance’s campaign Promises

During the 2020 election re-run campaign the Tonse Alliance focused primarily on three pillars that included, curbing corruption, creating one million jobs and providing cheap farm inputs to boost agriculture.

President Chakwera’s declaration of his assets could not have come at a better time considering the wave of rage caused by his cabinet appointees. It seems to slowly restore the lost confidence in the president’s choice of Cabinet which faced harsh criticism from both the alliance’s supporters and the opposition.“This is the most incestuous cabinet since 1994”, said one of the local Law experts describing the 31member cabinet comprising seven individuals that are closely related.

In an interview with the South African Broadcasting Cooperation, SABC, a South African based broadcaster, the President defended the cabinet appointees citing that it was based on merit and track record to deliver to the people of Malawi and being a government of service to the people. Moreover, he gave the ministers a grace period of five months to prove themselves on given guidelines in their respective ministries or get sacked if otherwise.

Furthermore, government parastatals are on the forefront in cleansing corrupt individuals that were involved in plundering public resources through dubious contracts in the previous regime. Indeed, the vice president, who is also the minister of Economic planning and development has been on tour around the country meeting the board of parastatals to discuss reform proposals and deadlines to deliver.

On a promise to provide cheap farm inputs especially fertilizer to smallholder farmers, about 3.5million identified farmers are yet to benefit from the subsidy, said Felix Mlusu the new minister of finance. During the campaign, Tonse alliance promised to reduce fertilizer tofour thousand four hundred and ninety-five Malawi Kwacha (MWK4,495) an equivalent of $6 as one way of ensuring food security in the country and moving beyond subsistence to commercialization of agriculture.

Combating Covid-19

On 3 February,2020 the WHO finalized its Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan (SPRP) with the purpose of increasing the capacity to detect the novel Corona virus that struck the whole world by storm. Meanwhile the Supreme Court in Malawi released a 500-page landmark ruling after 3months of court hearing on the May 2019 Presidential election case.

A court ruling that came by surprise on the continent of Africa, however, ignited joy in the heart of Malawians and the continent at large.

Wave of campaign rallies across the country commenced prior to the historical election re-run that was due in 150 days of supreme court ruling. Malawi did not have any Covid-19 registered case until April 3, 2020 but with the rallies across the country it was just a matter of time until a surge in covid-19 cases emerge.

For the people of Malawi, the historic election re-run was a fight to restore democracy that even a pandemic disturbing as covid-19 could not hamper. This however laid a foundation to a much tough job in a fight against the pandemic for the side that would emerge victorious from the election polls.

As of 8, August 2020 Malawi has recorded 4,624 confirmed cases and 2,429 recoveries indicating a 50% recovery rate and so far, 143people have succumbed to the pandemic. The country is still registering over 100 cases per day which serves as a one of the major concerns for the 18million populated South-Eastern African nation.

Moreover, tests conducted in 14 labs stationed across the country are done mainly for suspected cases due to limited testing kits.

As of 1 May2020, Malawi has received SDR66.44 million (USD91million) from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) under the Rapid Credit Facility (RCF) to help cushion against pandemic.

Presidential task force on Covid-19 has given outlines on measure in containing the pandemic but a full Lockdown like that of developed nations is totally out of the picture. According to U.N. stats, Malawi has 70% of its population below the poverty line.

An attempted lockdown by the previous regime received criticism including a court injunction on the basis of poor planning and a sound socio-economic buffer to protect the poor.

Measures include mandatory wearing of masks, closure of bars and cancelation of public gatherings including Churches and Mosques if otherwise could jeopardize the fight against the pandemic.

Moreover, the presidential taskforce chairperson, John Phuka, has communicated that they are in contact with local mask manufacturers to produce enough mask for the population and provide for those who cannot afford to purchase them.

Will Malawians witness the change they needed?

Since independence Malawi has had five presidents and is yet to witness a new regime of the sixth president since then. In search of a transformational leader Malawians have been promised development of Singapore, Germany and even USA status in ambitious campaigns to accumulate votes. In a bizzare campaign promise the electorate were even promised shoes and good living standards with no blueprint of how such visions will be achieved – a parody that symbolizes Malawi’s long-list election promises that never materialize.

After a month and a few days in office the Tonse Alliance government has been working to serve and impress the Malawians that are watching with an Eagle’s eye than ever before.

The new government will have to make sure that public resources are used effectively, ensure food security and provide the one million plus jobs they promised to Malawians or face ‘eviction’ from office come 2025 elections.

Mustapher Faque
Mustapher Faque
Mustapher Faque is a Malawian graduate student at Ibn Haldun University’s Financial Economics department, Istanbul, Turkey. He writes about politics, society and economy in Malawi and Southern Africa.