12 Aug A new President resets Malawi’s agenda for economic and social development
Lazarus Chakwera, President of the Republic of Malawi, introduces his vision for unity, equitable prosperity, government finances, a corrupt-free society and strong rule of law.
President Chakwera, your clear win in the June Elections has opened up a new era in Malawi. In your acceptance speech, you said that national unity and the rule of law will be the axes of your mandate—what measures do you plan to take in the short term to implement these goals?
Following that statement, which I made when I was inaugurated as president, I have already begun to take certain measures. One of the things that I have done is to create a new ministry that brings together everything concerning unity and I also intend to have a commission of national peace—all the policies needed for that have been set in place and accepted but Malawi has not yet followed through with it. In addition, we will make sure that the rule of law is practiced and appreciated by everyone by strengthening our institutions.
The emergence of COVID-19 has impeded our progress but, as soon as we have the space in which parliament can legislate in these areas, we will do it. Administrative reforms will be implemented to make sure everyone follows the rule of law and national unity. As president, I rely on institutions and not on decrees—I do not rule by decree but by law. This is something that I have championed. The five pillars of my presidency are unity, prospering together, decisiveness when it comes to corruption and fraud, government finances and, last but not least, the rule of law. People have accepted this message with enthusiasm because they feel like we can reset and develop Malawi’s agenda in a way that includes the element of trust.
After years of sustained economic growth that has hovered around 5 percent, Malawi, like the rest of the world, will have to adjust its forecasts for economic growth this year due to the outbreak of coronavirus. To what extent might this alter your priorities for development?
As part of global humanity, Malawi is no exception in having been adversely affected by COVID-19. There will be adjustments that we have to make, but we must also work in hard and smart way to foster growth. We have many resources that, if we manage them well, can enable us to develop. The pandemic changes the trajectory of this development and we will have to adjust just like every other country, but I believe this is a temporary lapse and we need to be thinking beyond this to ask ourselves what we can do over and above the average that everybody expects in order to have growth.
Malawi has close and working relationships with multilateral organizations and international donors. As President, do you plan to modify these relationships in any way?
I have stated that we expect our international partners to rally behind our vision so that they serve us by helping us to achieve our goals and vision. We look forward to sustaining our relationships with our partners and want to have the kind of relationships that put Malawi’s interests foremost, making sure that the growth trajectory that we are promoting is something that they want to help us achieve. We do not want to be following someone else’s interests if Malawi will not benefit from that. I also look forward to having great relations with our neighbors in terms of trade—we want to make sure that what Malawi produces can be sold to our partners close by as well as those further away.
The reduction of poverty and the improvement of the country’s human capital though education will have prominent roles in your economic and social policies. Why is this important to you?
You cannot have a nation that is on a development path if its education system is not worked on and improved. This is especially true in this 21st-century modern age, where digitalization plays a big role because our worldwide community is one in which innovation and creativity are paramount. I want Malawi’s education systems to be excellent and achieve certain standards. We want equipment, well-trained teachers and our students, who are eager to learn, to also be well equipped. From early childhood, educational centers across the country will ensure that students are provided with the necessary instruments to thrive. When you educate a nation, you have a path through which you can guarantee development.
Malawi’s previous government proposed strengthening value addition through the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Bill to regulate exports through a national export strategy. The bill proposes multiproduct SEZs for oil seeds, sugar cane, beverage manufacturing and agro-processing. Malawi will also prioritize exports of tea, legumes, oil seeds and minerals. Will your government continue with this policy?
This policy was a result of combined efforts among various stakeholders in the country. As a member of parliament at that time, I supported such efforts. Malawi produces many things that, if value is added to them and export markets are found, the country can truly advance. We have all the resources you have mentioned and we need to work on this. One of the biggest problems in this country has not been lack of policy, it has been the lack of implementation of such policies—but once we begin to move it is with speed. There will be times where adjustments are needed but, at this stage, all we need is to have the political willingness to be able to say: “Let’s implement this.”
While the country’s infrastructure and energy capabilities have experienced a sustained improvement in recent years, investments are still needed. Will you favor public-private partnerships as a model for investment in these sectors and will foreign companies be encouraged to participate?
We need to attract foreign direct investment. Private individual investments and joint ventures with established partners are welcome developments. We just need decisiveness so all of us can create more jobs for our young people, more jobs for our women—more jobs for everybody. We want long-term investments in our economy so that it grows—in the past we have had investments that robbed the country and left it poorer. Therefore, we want to be able to agree with international investors on the goals that we need to achieve as a country and to encourage investments in these areas.
There are many opportunities for investment in our tourism, mining, energy, agriculture and agro-processing industries, and in value addition. There is a place for many industries to be established in this country and they will be viable industries, because Malawi can produce so much and export to the world. Investments that will help us achieve our goals are more than welcome. People should be aware that our climate for investment is excellent now because there is political stability—many people are looking to invest in Africa and Malawi can be their ideal investment destination on the continent.
Tourism has huge untapped potential in Malawi. What plans do you have to boost the sector?
Malawi has its wonderful lake, clear waters, tropical fish you cannot find anywhere else, plus a wealth of fauna and flora. This is beauty that has remained somewhat hidden. We want all our embassies across the globe to market Malawi more than they currently do as we would like everyone to know that we have some of the most beautiful scenery that you can find on planet earth. From the rolling hills of our northern region, to our lake and massive Mulanje Massif mountain in the south—people really need to know about these marvelous places.
To mark the beginning of your mandate, what message would you like to send to Newsweek readers to reflect your goals and ambitions?
My message is clear: let’s rebuild and clear out whatever parts of our work ethic have not been optimal. For example, accountability levels that have not been as good as they could be, corruption levels that have been much too high for anyone’s comfort and service delivery that has not worked. Everyone is saying that my administration is the new hope that the country has been looking for—my desire is not to disappoint people but rather to say we can do more than we even hoped for because everything is moving in the right direction.
We will create an environment in which everyone can prosper and not just a few, because today the gap between those who have and those who do not is much too large. Small-scale businesses such as farmers need to feel that gap reducing with wealth being distributed in a more equitable way and we look forward to a corrupt-free society that follows the rule of law. I want the world to know that Malawi is a country that will make Africa proud because we can do these things given the opportunity, the time and the support. Malawi is a destination that everyone should aim to visit at least once in a lifetime.