Sunday, March 23, 2008

Growth, Development: Malawi at odds

Over the weekend the IMF projected the Malawi economy to grow at 7%. We have also seen that since the current government took the reigns of power our economy has been growing at over 5% each year. Many factors have been attributed to this growth notably fiscal discipline, the subsidy programme and good weather. Such a wonderful story it sounds. There has been an excitement that now we can make a dent on poverty which requires a an average of 6%. I dont know whether this is true. We are a very poor country that sometimes in self denial and we are so economic with description of our true status. We still refer medical cases to Harare and Tanzania.

I must wish to say something about the origins of the 6% as it has become so popular in Malawi. World Bank Economist Martin Ravallion did a study that linked economic growth to reducing poverty in 2000 and argued that for global poverty to be reduced by 2015, economies need to grow by an average of 6%.

What we have not been told is at what rate Malawi needs to grow to cut th numbers of the poor. However, he did indicate that in Sub Saharan Africa we will need more than 7%. Are we on course? Perhaps Ravallion thinking was just anothr paper. I dont believ his hypothesis either because he just linked poverty and growth. So simple analysis but has become so popular. His study was highly biased by th booming Chinese economy. 6% may apply to China and India but not Malawi. We need 10% continously. Well, this is not to offer cricism to Ravallion but I want to make sense of Malawi's economic growth and the untold truths that have corrupted our minds about this 6%.

Is economic growth translating into improved welfare of our people? By the way, have their been a reduced number of admissions in hospitals? How many employees have been absent in a month because they were attending a funeral of person less than 40 years of age? Do you know of a friend who has not attended a funeral last year? Can we link this growth therefore to improved delivery of the health systems. How long does one now walk to access the nearest health centre? How long have I to wait to see a medic? Has the distance been reduced? What change have health service providers experienced? Are they still strained? Do they have all the basic equipment and essential drugs? Economic growth should be matched with answers to these questions.

These questions point to the fact that much as an economy might be growing, growth itself may not translate into improved welfare of the masses. Is Malawi on th right path of economic development? Why do we still have one Television Station? Has the number of students trained at Universties increased? How many Malawians are living the country every year? Are we really growing or it is some fluke in a couldron? What is the state of our rural people? Is this growth being driven by an educated labour force. There are many questions than answers.

Much as I marvel at the growth figures, I have doubts whether we are addressing equity issues. Why is there a rapid migration into cities? What opportunities are we denying our rural folks that account for 90% of our population? I am not surprised that in my Mzimba Village almost every household has a member who has trekked to South Africa to work.

In our country, despite the sweet growth tune, I dont have to show that urban places are being favoured. Of course we need good cities but the rural needs clean water, schools that are well staffed and at short distances. Lets us not reduce the villages to burial grounds for those of us who are enjoying the city life with its own hassles.

The point is, as long as we dont tackle the health crisis, the education catastrophe, rural road insfrastructure, electricity, water then what is the point of growth? Who is benefiting? Not a majority of old women with small undernourished innocent orphaned babies that have to walk five kilometres to fetch some unsafe drinking water on a well that bush animals also use.

Are we still in the Stone Age? I wonder!

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