Malawi – the land of Hastings Banda the former president-for-life – may have seen a minor miracle in a clean, just, peaceful, transfer of power in defiance of the ballot box cheats. Now it is up to the new president Lazarus Chakwera to perform a bigger miracle by turning around a struggling economy in one of the poorest nations in Africa where three quarters of the people live on little more than a dollar a day.
Chakwera held his nerve as he stormed to victory over incumbent Peter Mutharika with 58% of the vote after losing the first, crooked, ballet in May 2019. They called it the “tippex election” because that was what was used to cover up people’s crosses before a false cross was put next to the ageing Mutharika’s name. The courts overturned last year’s result, on February 3, ordering the rerun that has given Chakwera a golden opportunity to shake up his country’s small and sleeping economy that barely feeds all of its 17 million people.
In this task, Chakwera is an outsider in more ways than one. Even though he leads the monolithic Malawi Congress Party – the party of Banda – he is a former preacher and not a career politician unlike most who have walked the country’s corridoors of power. At the very least he promises a different approach to the job that is likely to prove tough.
“He comes from a very different environment. He believes in the values of a Christian. He is new in politics and he comes from a Christian community and is going to bring a lot of fresh air. He is certainly likely to be a man of his word,” says Mercus Chigoga patron of the Malawi chapter of the Chartered Institute of Marketing.
Chakwera will need to be in cleaning up one of the biggest messes Malawi faces- corruption. For years Malawians have complained bitterly about the looting of their country’s tiny coffers by its large political elite. Chakwera has put down his marker saying he will crack down on corruption and work towards the return of ill-gotten gains to the public purse.
Malawi needs the money. For a start, fewer than one-in-five Malawians can switch on a light bulb, as the country has less electricity than almost any other on the continent. Roads leave a lot to be desired and struggle to move the agricultural products that bring in 80% of the country’s earnings and jobs.
Overall, Chakwera has his work cut out to revive an economy that has been in virtual paralysis since the disputed election last year. People close to politics in Malawi say indeed Chakwera is a man with a vision and could repay the faith of the people by changing his country’s economy for the better.