Monday, June 6, 2011

Malawi, Economic Independence, and News from the Beach

Recently in Malawi a number of donors, including Malawi's largest contributor Britain, have stopped funneling money into the country. Citing a deteriorating respect for human rights and increasing authoritarianism in the Malawian government donors are trying to pressure the president in particular to govern more in accordance with internationally (read Western) recognized good governance standards of transparency, accountability, elections, etc.

In response Mutharika and the Malawian government have announced through a series of speeches and policy documents, most notably the budget report for the 2011/2012 fiscal year, that it is reducing drastically the extent to which it relies on foreign donors to finance government activities. In order to do this and accomplish what it is calling a "zero-deficit budget" the government must raise taxes.

The expat community here is generally pretty dour about these recent announcements and many Malawians seem to be equally so. Ever the contrarian, however, I'm not so sure that this new turn by the government need be a bad thing.

I think we can all agree that what Mutharika has called the goal of "economic independence" is a laudable one for Malawi to strive for. As is a "zero deficit budget." Very few people are, or should be, arguing that Malawi must continue to rely heavily on donor support and get itself into debt. So Mutharika, the Malawian government, and basically everyone else, at this level at least, are on the same page.

The question is how to get there. Mutharika has been careful to stress that international donors do still have an important role to play in Malawi's development. Whether the donors are willing to play role the Mutharika envisions for them is an open question. I doubt it. But they probably won't pull out completely. Whatever they chose, so be it. Economic independence comes at a price and perhaps from the government's perspective relying on donor support too heavily may be more trouble than it is worth. Mutharika's bigger challenge, it seems to me, is convincing his own people that he and the Malawian government are sincere in their commitment to the hard task of developing the country. The political history of Malawi, first colonial, then dictatorial, have perhaps justifiably made most Malawians very cynical about their political leaders. If Mutharika can crack that cynicism, however, he will have done himself and the country a huge service.

-Here at the Beach the weather has been windy at times but with the end of the rainy season diving visibility has been fantastic. We are seeing thick swarms of thousands of usipa (lake sardines) around the islands.

-We’ve had the trial monitoring program up and running for just a little over a week now. We are collecting ten different indicators three days a week. Hopefully we'll be able to bump that number up in the upcoming months when we get some new equipment and volunteers to help share the work load.

-Related to that, the Maru Institute is starting to piece together a volunteer program for people who would like to learn about the lake, the fish in it, and how to do standard monitoring surveys both under the water and above it. In the next month or two we will have more information about that program and begin accepting applications from those who would like to join it.

- Did you know that only about 600 of the estimated 1000 species of fish in Lake Malawi have been properly identified and scientifically described?

-Did you know that Lake Malawi, which is already the 3rd deepest lake in the world at nearly 800 meters, has a further 4 kilometers of silt underneath it?

- Tonga word for the day - Tawonga = Thank you.


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