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REPUBLIC OF MALAWI

DEMOCRATIZATION AND ECONOMIC


SELF-DETERMINATION IN AFRICA:
THE CASE OF MALAWI
ADDRESS
BY
HIS EXCELLENCY PROF. ARTHUR PETER MUTHARIKA
PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF MALAWI
AT

YALE UNIVERSITY

1 October 2015

Mr. President,
When I walked out of the corridors of Yale in 1969, destiny
never told me that I would become an African leader 45 years
later. I didnt know I would come back to Yale as President of the
Republic of Malawi. But somehow, I knew I would return.
And let me start by paying tribute to this great institution.
Yale University is a place where the human quest for light and
truth finds its destination. This is surely a place where the
cosmopolitan spirit of humankind finds its home. During my time,
there were very few African students at Yale, but I am pleased that
our numbers have grown significantly over the years. With the
recent launch of the Yale Africa Initiative it is appropriate to speak
about Africa, and to speak about my home, Malawi.

I would like to acknowledge and salute President Peter


Salovey in his wisdom to lead Yale closer towards Africa.
Unwittingly, my own experience here many years ago laid the
foundation of a more robust relationship with the continent across
the arts, social sciences and various professional schools.
Today, as I see the growing influence of Africa at Yale, I can
confidently express my optimism for Africas future. In his book,

The End of Poverty, Professor Jeffrey Sachs says,


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Let the future say of our generation that we sent forth


mighty currents of hope, and that we worked together to
heal the world.
As part of Yales recent past, I am hopeful that we can work
together to build the future of a more prosperous Africa. At the
heart of this endeavor lies the question of how we choose to
govern. This is a question that the US has grappled with for almost
250 years, while most African countries have addressed in the last
50 years following independence from colonial rule.
Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The

subject

of

Democratization

and

Economic

Self-

Determination in Africa is a challenging one for me. Firstly, because


I played a role in the genesis of democratization in Malawi. I was
actively involved in the drafting of the 1994 Constitution in
Malawi. Secondly, as an academic, I have always had an interest in
the process, tools and institutions of democracy. And thirdly, now,
of course, as a leader of my country.
While the process, pace and level of democratization have
not been uniform on the African Continent, democratization began
to take root in Africa starting in the 1990s. Although it has not been
an even or smooth transition, we can celebrate the fact that
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democracy has come to stay. On the other hand, economic selfdetermination continues to be elusive for many African countries.
It is not possible in a short presentation to give a
comprehensive treatise on a topic that is as vast as Africa. Whereas
there are common trends and features, I wish to dwell on my
country, Malawi, which best captures the story of democratization
and the spirit of economic self-determination in Africa.
In my present address, I wish to speak of democratization in
three dimensions:
1) The process, tools and institutions of democratization in
Malawi. Including how Malawi achieved a democratic
political system.
2) The challenges to democracy including those relating to
the economy in Malawi.
3) What my Government is doing to deal with these
challenges in order that democracy flourishes, expands,
deepens and benefits the people of Malawi.
Malawi is a Sub-Saharan country that is commonly referred
to as being landlocked. We prefer to think of it as a land-linked
country.It has an estimated population of 17 million. It is the land
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of lakes, and the land of mountains. It is the Warm Heart of Africa


with probably the friendliest people. Of course I am slightly
biased,, but it just so happens to be the truth.
Mr. President,
Malawi is part of the paradox of Africa: it is a rich country in terms
of natural resources but sadly ranked as being among the poorest in
the world. Yet we have some of the most magnificent parks and
mountains of Africa and we have land for productive agriculture.
We also have Africas third biggest fresh water lake which we are
now harnessing to irrigate the land as part of Africas Green
Revolution.
What I have said so far is by way of background to Malawis
democratization

and

opportunities

for

economic

self-

determination, almost 20 years after 1994 when we became a


multiparty democracy.
Historical Background
Upon attaining independence in 1964, Malawi had a
Constitution that had a Bill of Rights and provided for regular
multiparty elections, thus providing a foundation for democracy.
As with most post-independence countries in Africa, attainment of
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self-rule was assumed and expected to translate into economic


independence and self-determination. But this was probably a
simplistic view harbored by the founding fathers.
Mr. President,
After independence, most African countries expected a bright
future because we could control our destiny. We believed that
social and economic change is more meaningful when it comes
from within, rather than being imposed from outside. Alain

Touraine asserts this point in context:


It must be remembered that the central principle of
modernization of [the] Western model is that modernization
is endogenous, that society is capable of transforming itself
from within, and not as a result of any pressure or
intervention from without.1
We wanted to take destiny into our hands. But the
challenges were too many. Most African governments immediately
prioritized nation-building to foster national unity.
But we soon lost our sense of responsibility as a wave of
dictatorships swept across the continent, and Malawi was caught
up in the same pattern. The first President of Malawi became
completely intolerant of any opposition and was finally declared
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President for life in 1971 soon after I graduated from Yale Law
School. Most intellectuals, including myself, fled for our lives.
Mr. President
Malawis post-independence ideology was narrowly focused
on economic growth. Fighting poverty was not the main priority.
To this end, state intervention in the economy was commonplace,
and

discouraged

private

investment

and

diversification.

Government supported traditional agriculture and some import


substitution, but few attempts were made to promote indigenous
capitalism or Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in non-traditional
exports and manufactures.
Between 1964 and 1979, Malawi enjoyed growth rates
averaging in excess of 5%. This was enabled by encouraging the
estate farm sub-sector to produce tobacco for export and the
smallholder sub-sector to produce maize for subsistence, while
providing cheap labour to commercial farms.

By 1979, Malawi was a promising economy. Our per capita


income was actually ahead of China. Following the oil price shocks
of

the

1970,

Malawi

adopted

the

Structural

Adjustments

Programme (SAP) of the Bretton Woods institutions. The country


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had to privatize state owned industries, remove subsidies, reduce


wages, devalue the local currency and liberalize the markets.2 The
consequences of adjustment were negative and failed to improve
economic growth.
The economic reforms became known as the Washington
Consensus and were imposed on Malawi and other African
countries by the mid-1980s. Although we appeared to be running
our own economic policies, the policy agenda was externally
driven.

In essence,

the self-determination we sought at

independence had vanished.


This experience was not unique to Malawi as a number of
African countries were in a similar predicament. In the meantime,
international debt mounted in billions of dollars on the African
continent to underpin the structural reform programmes from the
West. The unsustainable debt burden uprooted our spirit of selfdetermination and planted a mentality of donor dependency.
Mr. President,
At independence in the 1960s, we had demanded restitution
of responsibility over our existence, our people, and our affairs.
Political independence was meant to translate into economic
independence; economic freedom to accompany political freedom.
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While political sovereignty was realized in large measure, economic


sovereignty remained elusive.
THE 1994 CONSTITUTION AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
AGENDA
Malawis political system changed through the adoption of
the 1994 Constitution. I had the honour and privilege of
participating in drafting the Constitution through the Constitutional
Conference. The 1994 Constitution is widely considered a liberal
democratic document, which if we live up to, will transform
Malawi into a great democratic nation. Democratisation, is of
course a journey; that is, a complex process that we in Malawi
have enthusiastically embraced over the past two decades.
The Constitution has so far been working well with regular 5-year
elections taking place. The adoption of the 1994 Constitution can
be described as re-democratization of Malawi or the second
liberation.
As a consequence, Malawi has been moving in a democratic
direction from less accountable to more accountable government;
from less competitive to fuller and fairer competitive elections;
from severely restricted to better protected civil and political rights;

from weak or non-existent autonomous associations to more


autonomous and more numerous civil society associations.
Over the past two decades, Malawi has experienced a
significant degree of improvements in the quality of governance.
Democratic reforms and political liberalization have helped
improve the quality of politics, peoples representation and
responses to peoples needs. Malawi is no longer autocratic; it is a
liberal, multiparty democracy.
Malawi has held five parliamentary and presidential
elections since 1994, and in 2014 Malawis democracy culminated
the country holding the first ever-tripartite successful elections for
the President, Members of Parliament, and Local Government
Councilors. This is an expansion and deepening of our democracy.
Further, the Courts have worked independently and well,
protecting and enforcing human rights, declaring offensive laws and
actions unconstitutional, and ensuring that there is rule of law in
Malawi. Moreover, as a testament to growing political tolerance,
there have been no political prisoners in recent times. Freedom of
the press and speech are practiced for all to see. Civil Society
Organizations continue to be independent active participants in the
political and economic processes in Malawi and many laws have
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been developed in a consultative process allowing for the


participation of the citizenry.
Even as we continue to deepen democracy, we are mindful
that economic development has lagged far behind. You may
wonder if good governance is a sufficient condition for economic
growth and development. We believe that good governance and
democracy is a necessary condition but it will not by itself eliminate
poverty and inequality across Africa.
Allow me for a moment to sketch the challenges we are
tackling in order to have a democracy that moves in tandem with
our quest for economic self-determination. The challenges of
expanding and deepening democratization are multi-faceted. But I
shall only mention a few.
CHALLENGES
Mr. President,
The slowdown in Malawis economy presents a great
challenge to the deeper and expanded democratization as the
citizenry have legitimate expectations for greater political and
economic freedoms.

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To meet these expectations requires real resources both


financial and human. And yet, we currently lack direct budget
support from our development partners, following the withdrawal
of donors in response to very poor financial mismanagement and
corruption that preceded my administration. We are now in the
process of restoring full integrity to our public resources
management culture and systems. I have strongly condemned
corruption at all levels, both in the public and private sectors.
Since I was elected to office, 16 months ago, my administration has
had a policy of zero tolerance towards corruption, including the
successful prosecution of senior government officials found guilty in
our courts. The process is ongoing and will continue until its logical
conclusion to rid the public sector of the scourge of corruption. In
Malawi, no one is above the law. As a former Law professor, I
know what this means and will be true to the values that I
developed at Yale many years ago.
In addition, my government has embarked upon the process
of reforming the public sector and strengthening public finance
management to ensure efficiency, accountability and responsiveness
to our peoples needs and requirements. The Constitution enjoins
us to do so.

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As a step towards deepening development, we are in the


process of setting up a national planning commission which will be
empowered to facilitate long-term economic and development
planning to avoid political shortsightedness.
In terms of policy implementation, lack of skilled labour has
been another challenge. This has undermined sustained growth and
our efforts to diversify the economy. The skills challenge has come
from a skewed education philosophy that has not been meeting
market and industry demands. For a long time, we failed to
provide education to underpin manufacturing and export. We are
now rolling out community colleges across the country to create a
skilled labour force that will meet the demands of investors, create
new businesses that will set the country on the road to
industrialization.
We are equally committed to supporting the private sector
to truly act as an engine of growth. At present, the government is
the biggest employer but we will reverse this by facilitating the
rapid expansion of private sector investment. Our goals is to
diversify the economy and to double the exports from Malawi by
2019, and turn Malawi from a predominantly importing and
consuming country to a predominantly producing and exporting
country.
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Mr. President, distinguished guests,


I have stated that Malawis first decade of democracy made
progress in setting up structures and institutions of democracy. But
our economic progress remained modest.
The second decade of Malawis democracy moved towards
economic self-determination, led by Professor Bingu wa Mutharika.
Under his leadership, we began to guide the country towards more
home-grown economic policies, even promoting the use of
subsidies in agriculture, against the position of some of our
development partners. This policy led to food self-sufficiency at
that time.
CONCLUSION
In conclusion, I would like to state here that it is the primary
duty of my government to ensure the deepening of democracy and
economic self-determination in Malawi.
Our philosophy is that the ultimate goal of the government
is to make possible the good life for all its citizens. We are
committed to democracy and development because a government
needs to provide its people with a better quality of life.

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We are fully conscious that democracy only gives an illusion


of power to the people and to ourselves, if the people are not
economically empowered. How can the people have true freedom
if they dont have the power to make economic choices?
Just over a year ago, I stated that our first task is to create a
proper economic, political and democratic system. Our task is to
re-create an environment that gives our people hope and belief
once more. This remains our task today and for the foreseeable
future.
I thank you for this opportunity to return to Yale and share
with you our vision.

Alain Touraine, Modernity and Cultural Specificities, Modernity and Identity: A


Symposium Culture, Economy and Development, 118, November 1988, Basil
Blackwell/UNESCO, p.446.
2
See Dambisa Moyo, Dead Aid, New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2009, p.20. See
also Phillip McMichael, Development and Social Change: A Global Perspective,
Thousand Oaks, California: Pine Forge Press, 2000.

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