By James Woods
Advisor | African Affairs
Ever since I started living abroad, I remember thinking to myself that I wanted my country to work as efficiently as the countries that I lived in. I wanted Malawi to be as efficient as Belgium, and I wanted Malawi to be as productive as Great Britain. “What a dreamer”, my friends said to my face. And they were right. It takes a dreamer to believe that a country with 71% of its people living on less than $1.90, below the world’s poverty line, can become a productive and efficient economy within a lifetime.
Yet again, who are the people who change the world? Are they “ordinary” people who follow the crowd? Or are they round pegs in square holes who aim to do things differently? The answer to this question is always the latter. And therefore, what we Malawians should be doing is dreaming. We should be dreaming to increase our agricultural productivity and exportation. We should be dreaming to diversify our economy as much as possible, making sure that our economy is resistant to economic shocks such as Covid19.
Covid19 is not the only economic shock to plight us, however. In fact, something much worse has started to affect us and will ruin us if we do not tackle it properly. This phenomenon is climate change, and although it is wreaking havoc on a global level, our country is one of the top 10 nations affected by it. In fact, in 2019 alone Malawi lost $452 million in real money as a result of Cyclone Idai, with extreme weather also wiping out 2.2% of our GDP. The climate’s disproportionate effects on Malawian farmers mean that 85% of our population risks living in uncertainty. Add this uncertainty to the uncertainty brought up by Covid19, and the future looks very bleak indeed.
Source: Quartz (quartz.com)
Ever since I was young, however, I was taught to make an opportunity out of all the chaos. And that is what we as Malawians should do. We should invest in projects that both mitigate climate change and make us more productive. Investing in more renewable energy such as wind, solar and hydro is not only a sustainable solution towards climate change, but gives our farmers the opportunity to become more efficient.
Sustainable energy can also be used to power irrigation systems, thus making sure that our farmers are not solely dependable upon rains for their agricultural needs. Moreover, investing in renewable energy also diversifies our economy, and more energy production means that we’ll also be able to attract other potential industries to Malawi, thereby increasing our economic growth.
According to the International Monetary Fund, in 2019 Malawi’s GDP per capita was that of $367. Thirty years ago, precisely in 1990, this amount was $298. In Tanzania on the other hand, the GDP per capita was $173 in 1990, rising to $1,122 in 2019. Brothers and sisters, what I’m getting to is that for the last thirty years, our economy has remained constantly stagnated when compared to our neighbors’. And the ideas, policies, and politics of the past will not provide any new answers to the problems we’re facing today. As patients, we can’t afford to keep on taking the same medicine that has failed to cure our illness time and time again.
What we must do, however, is find new policies, new solutions, and new medicine. Sure, this new medicine might taste sour the first time that we take it. And sure, it might leave an after taste. But just like any other patient, we’ll be grateful that we had to undergo such a treatment when our competitiveness and economic performance start to blossom.
It goes without saying therefore that we find ourselves at a crossroads. Do we want to play safe and risk diminishing into irrelevance? Or do we want to embrace the future for the hope of a better life for us and our children? It is obvious which answer I’ll be choosing. And in concluding, I’d like to ask all my readers to join me in dreaming of a better future.
About the Author: James Woods, a Malawi national, is an award-winning African achiever with significant experience dealing with governance issues, reputation management, strategic media, and communications.