Aid withdrawal and economic sanctions only strengthens the resolve of the oppressor against the oppressed, the very people in whose name aid money is given. Aid withdrawal and economic sanctions make bad leaders worse and struggling economies have crumbled. There are various examples around the world but for Malawi the last two years of Bingu wa Mutharika administration is the closest example.
People working in development are mostly against aid withdrawal because most of them are pro-aid advocates. In 2011, my colleague and I wrote for The Guardian’s development site arguing against the British government’s aid freeze to Malawi when President Mutharika was turning autocratic and expelled a British envoy. The economic collapse that followed in Malawi absolved us even though our argument was hardly an original idea. We will not know for a certain where Malawi would be today had Mutharika survived the heat attack that took his life on 6th April 2012.
Fast-forward to November 2013, Joyce Banda (JB) has been in power for nearly 18 months and the nation’s economy has somewhat stabilise when revelations of the biggest financial scandal, ever to hit Malawi government are making global headlines. Senior and junior civil servants, including those from the President’s own office and senior members of the ruling party are caught stealing state resources with a seeming impunity; donors decide withdraw budgetary support that amounts to up to 40% of the annual budget.
Reasons for the aid withdrawal are clear for all to see. Yet, the traditional argument is revisited, the aid withdrawal with hurt the poor, argued Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) MP, McJones Mandala Shaba. He tells development news website, devex: “The suspension of means that people will suffer because they will not have their basic needs provided.”
Here Shaba overlooks the fact that donors have pulled because their money is syphoned out of the government coffers and despite the arrests that have been made, no convincing measures have been put in place to ensure that government money is safe from the looters.
Information Ministers, Brown Mpinganjira decides to play party politics with what is a national issue, backs his president, JB and faults donors for not helping in what Mpinganjira says are the president’s efforts to fight corruption. In doing so Mpinganjira lays bare one of the JB’s biggest problems and a major contributing factor what the cashgate saga still lingers.
JB surround herself with people that, for selfish are not willing to see things as they are but pretend otherwise. You judge a person by their company. Crush landing always has the pilot to blame. It is precisely for this reason that JB has to take the blame for this despicable episode.
President Banda is happy to tell the international community that she is happy to sacrifice her political career, so long as she wins the battles against corruption in Malawi. Yet, we know the reality is that her own image is her main priority that is why she is happy to hire an expensive masters of “dark arts”, a London-based PR firm, Bell Pottinger to look after image.
Unlike Mpinganjira who puts party politics ahead of what is in national interest and JB who cares more about her own image instead of people they swore to serve and protect, donors owe their allegiance to their taxpayers. Is why they have to make sure that the money that is meant for poor Malawians is used for its intended purpose and that every penny in accounted for; the difference that Mpinganjira fails to understand, basic sign of a politician that is well past his sell-by date.
It is when you put this jig-saw together that Mpinganjira’s blame on donors come full circle, with yet more lingering questions: even if the donors were to release the withheld money today what evidence is there that it will reach and benefit the intended demographics? Why does it have to be through budgetary support? Were there no shortages of medical supplies, school equipment supplies, food shortages etc. even when the aid money was flowing in?
Donors are not blind to the fact that no cabinet minister or any member of this administration will go to bed on empty stomach. They know it is the poor that will suffer. Most of them have already been sleeping on empty stomach anyway. Donors are aware that the impact the aid freeze will have on Malawians. This is why the IMF has categorically said Malawi is in “crisis situation” when Malawi government wants its people to believe that cashgate is a “breakthrough” that donors are reluctant to help with.
Squeezing governments is precisely what the aid freeze is meant to achieve. Not to punish the poor who inevitably pay the biggest price but the citizenry to stand up against their government and demand better governance and accountability. This is why Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in Malawi are rising up to the occasion. Why should Mpinganjira think it is treasonous to hold your leadership to account but it is not treasonous when folks steal state resources meant for poor people some of whom die for lack of basic medicine in our hospitals?
Malawians must realise that no one can do for you what you are supposed to do for yourself. We can not rely on donors to hold our leaders to account, it our sacred duty. It is not donors, but our leaders who took an oath to serve and protect mother Malawi and its children, rich or poor, strong or weak, young or old. Donors have withdrawn aid because they have duty to their taxpayers. When will Malawians hold their duty bearers to account?