Statement by RC Mia Seppo on UN Day 2014 and 50 Years of UN in MalawiOct 24, 2014
Malawi’s commemoration of 50 years of independence and 20 years of multi-party democracy coincides with 50 years of UN operations in the country. This is an opportunity to reflect on progress and challenges in Malawi’s development journey.
Malawi at 50 is a country that has managed to sustain peace, consolidate democracy, decrease maternal and child mortality, malaria, HIV and AIDS whilst increasing primary school enrolment and access to safe water. While these achievements should be recognized, many Malawians are calling for an acceleration in the pace of change. Malawi still has many challenges to address: too many people live in abject poverty, too many children are not in school, too many households face hunger, too many girls marry and conceive at a young age and too many women and children are subject to unacceptable level of violence.
Malawi continues to experience unstable economic growth rates leaving poverty headcount at the end of 50 years at 50.7 percent while ultra-poverty is 25 percent. Malawi has the highest stunting rates in SADC: 42 percent of children will not live up to their potential as their cognitive development is limited because of poor nutrition at an early age. If families continue to have on average six children, then Malawi’s population could reach 37 million by 2050. This fast growing population would challenge any progress made in social protection, quality education and healthcare leaving many of the country’s most vulnerable people with poor access to essential services. Much stronger economic growth would be needed to fund a massive scale-up of social services with present population growth rates.
The development challenges may seem intractable. Yet experience from other countries like Mauritius, Rwanda or Ethiopia shows that it is possible to make rapid advances with determined leadership, credible and trusted institutions, decentralization and reforms that strengthen transparency and accountability at all levels and results in a nation working together.
Malawi aspires to transform from an importing and consuming economy to a producing and exporting one. This is not possible without an investment in human capital and skills development through better healthcare, higher quality education and better designed and targeted social protection programmes. A better educated and healthy population facilitates economic diversification, job creation for the youthful and urbanizing population, and makes Malawi more competitive and attractive as a possible investment destination.
None of the above results will be achieved without good governance. Good governance needs to address the growing inequalities in society looking beyond averages to redistributive mechanisms to ensure no one is left behind. Emphasis should be on educating girls and integrating them into the labor force to break the intergenerational cycles of poverty.
A better educated and healthy population is a more active citizenry, a better informed citizenry that holds institutions to account and demands better services from government.
It is easy to argue for investing in human capital, but the difficult question is how to fund it. Many Malawians express frustration over the continued dependence on aid. Aid is no panacea. Aid is effective where it supports nationally driven reform processes and aligns with national yet mutual priorities. It is time for Malawi to drive a results oriented development agenda and to redefine the dialogue about aid to focus on results, development effectiveness and innovative financing. The public purse is constrained but can be better used by ensuring that the development agenda is not politicized and that resources are not lost due to lack of continuity and time spent reinventing the wheel rather than on implementation. Savings can be made from ensuring value for money from government procurement (drugs, fertilizers, maize) and determined public sector and public financial management reforms. Medium term, future revenue from the extractive sector should be invested in human capital development and infrastructure that benefit the economy as a whole.
If the time for change is not now, then when? Inaction only makes the development challenges deeper and the country and communities less resilient to shocks. Small steps and quick wins need to be taken immediately in all sectors to encourage a movement towards bigger change. Change that unleashes the potential, the initiative and the innovation of Malawians for a better Malawi. It is possible.
Look out for a series of four UN feature articles in The Nation newspapers next week to get an in-depth view of how the UN has been part of Malawi’s development journey in the past 50 years, progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals and a forward look to the post-2015 agenda.