F.Y.I. Malawi article (another one)
F.Y.I. Malawi article (another one)
If other people regularly check the CNN site, I'll stop sending these and
cluttering up y'alls emails. Lemme know...
Feature-Malawi Flees Past but what Does
BLANTYRE, Malawi (Reuters) - Filman Banda, tobacco tenant
farmer and father of seven, did not
make any money last year and prospects are not good for
the year ahead.
"Things will be worse this year because I've used all the
money I had to buy food and now I can't
afford fertilizer to grow a good crop," said Banda, 42,
his face cracking into a half-smile as if he
cannot quite believe his own misfortune.
He turned to look along thousands of rows of freshly
planted tobacco stretching for several miles into
the heat haze, pointing to some thatch huts where other
tenant farmers live. "They won't make any
money either," he said.
That statement could apply to the whole of Malawi, a
deeply impoverished southern African country
wedged along the western shore of Lake Malawi between
Zambia and Mozambique.
Tobacco is Malawi's major cash crop, bringing in nearly
all the country's $500 million of hard
currency earnings last year. But things have not been
going well in the tobacco industry, or in
Malawi's agricultural sector generally, compounding the
woes of a people already suffering from
disease, illiteracy and the legacy of their country's
GETTING OVER BANDA'S LEGACY
For 30 years after the colony of Nyasaland won
independence from Britain in 1964, Malawi was ruled
by one of Africa's most eccentric autocrats, Dr. Hastings
A diminutive medical doctor and former elder of the Church
of Scotland, Banda fancied Homburg hats
and three-piece suits and never appeared in public without
a fly whisk. He referred to the country's 10
million inhabitants as "my children" but ruled a one-party
state with an iron fist, threatening to feed
political opponents to crocodiles.
Opposition to his increasingly erratic behavior grew
rapidly from 1992 in line with post-Cold War
changes that swept Africa. Western donors began cutting
off the aid lifeline, hoping to nudge Banda
toward the ballot box.
In 1994, his Malawi Congress Party was ousted in the
country's first democratic elections. Banda was
replaced by President Bakili Muluzi, a former friend
turned foe. He died in Johannesburg in 1997,
reportedly at age 101, but his impact on the people and
the economy of Malawi lives on.
Banda ran Malawi as personal fiefdom. At one point he was
said to be in control of 98 percent of its
businesses. Since 1994 Muluzi has tried to implement
reforms and has managed to lure increasing
Banda's individualism and heavy-handedness kept growth and
the economy largely in check for three
AGRICULTURE THAT WON'T GROW
The post-Banda economy never diversified and the constant
overuse of the land over decades has
made much of it unproductive. Demand for fresh soil and
the constant search for fuel have led to one
of Africa's worst rates of deforestation.
Attempts since 1994 to tap new areas of the economy have
met with limited success. There are some
exports of textiles and light manufactured products but
half the gross domestic product of $1.25
billion still comes from agriculture.
Rapid population growth combined with overuse of land
means Malawi is no longer self-sufficient in
corn, a staple crop. The only opportunity for farmers to
get yields from the worn land now is to use
costly fertilizer, but most cannot afford it and even when
they can buying it can backfire.
Filman Banda harvested his tobacco crop last season and
took it to the market, getting about $1.20 or
30 kwacha a kilo. But at the end of the season, in August,
the central bank devalued the kwacha by
nearly half-- from 25 to the dollar to 45-- and Filman's
profits were worth half as much.
The devaluation caused food prices to climb, making it
hard to feed his family, and when he went to
buy fertilizer from his manager for the new season it was
50 percent more expensive.
"Prices of everything have gone up. It makes life very
hard," he said.
The World Bank and international donors, who keep the
country afloat, generally do not favor
subsidies since they interfere with the free market. But
given Malawi's dire circumstances subsidies
are being considered for the poorest farmers, although
tobacco could miss out.
"The tobacco industry is the enfant terrible of the world,
so if there are any subsidies it's not very
popular, not with our donors. They prefer to subsidize
maize (corn)," Garbett Thyngathynga, head of
the Tobacco Association of Malawi, said.
This year tobacco sales were $80 million down on the
previous year. Next season Thyngathynga
reckons the crop will be average and sales could fall by a
fifth. Yet he says if $10 million were spent
on fertilizer the quality of the product would improve and
revenue could grow by $90 million.
"If the tobacco industry collapses the country dies," he
DISEASE, CORRUPTION, AND HOPEFULLY DEMOCRACY
Meanwhile the country faces serious problems. Fifteen
percent of the population is HIV positive, with
the percentage forecast to grow to around a quarter by
2010. Life expectancy is 43 years, down from
the 57 projected without the disease.
Under Banda AIDS was never discussed and even now, despite
177 dignitaries having died from the
disease, people are not ready to talk about it or seek
help if they fear infection.
Aid donors who in December committed a further $1.25
billion over three years to Malawi have HIV
prevention as a top priority, but their assistance is
Two-thirds of the population is illiterate. There are
infrastructure problems, budget deficits and a range
of health problems to tackle. And political storm clouds
loom as well.
Muluzi's United Democratic Front is already locked in
battle with the MCP ahead of elections
scheduled for May. Political violence is on the rise and
donors are getting edgy.
Muluzi promises to stamp out corruption, pursue market
reforms and ensure a peaceful democratic
transition. But not all his political allies are so clean.
The independent Anti-Corruption Bureau is investigating
several government ministers but the fact that
the agriculture minister owns a newspaper heavily biased
toward the government barely raises an
Muluzi does not always create the right impressions
either. At a recent donor meeting in the capital
Lilongwe he kept his benefactors waiting for an hour in
the heat before arriving in a heavily armed
motorcade of 14 cars and 12 motorcycles.
Some donors are secretly worried, fearing Malawi could
turn into a tobacco republic. But Muluzi is
"I can assure you that Malawi can and will become a
success story," he said in a speech to donors at
New State House, a cream and terra cotta palace built by
Banda over two decades at a cost of $175
million. "We will astonish the world with our