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F.Y.I. Malawi article (another one)

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  • Christine Chumbler
    1/5/99 10:22 AM 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.
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 5, 1999
      10:22 AM
      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
      Future Hold


      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
      recent past.


      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
      Kamuzu Banda.

      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
      donor support.

      Banda's individualism and heavy-handedness kept growth and
      the economy largely in check for three


      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


      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
      spread thin.

      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
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