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A Tale of Two Countries

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on June 29, 2020 05:53

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And if I may continue stealing from Charles Dickens, it was the worst of times, and it was the best of times. As the Zimbabwe economy lurches on the edge of the abyss, regional powers look on, cluck their tongues, and maybe wring their hands. But in Malawi, the Warm Heart of the tourist brochure, civil society and voter involvement has wrought a surprising change.

Zimbabwe, known for spectacular ruins of an ancient kingdom, and fantastic game viewing safaris, is also known for the world record runaway inflation of 2007 and 2008. It is estimated that inflation hit a mind-numbing 250 million percent in July 2008.

The power of the printing press. Photo Zimbabwe Government - public domain. Wikipedia

Since then, a change in President, economic reforms and rearrangement of deckchairs on the Zimbabwean Titanic kept politicians occupied while ordinary people struggled to cope with increasingly difficult conditions.

Having used the US Dollar as official currency since 2008 a new Zimbabwe currency was issued in 2019, but this soon started tumbling. A devastating tropical cyclone hit the eastern provinces, climate change brought drought and famine, and the Coronavirus is decimating villages. Inflation is again rampant, hitting 785.6% in April 2020. The United Nations estimates that 7.7 million people need food assistance.

On 26 June the Zimbabwe Government suspended all mobile money transactions, froze foreign currency accounts and closed the bourse. Some mobile money operators, serving many in rural areas who had become used to transact by smartphone in the absence of banknotes and bank branches, vowed to defy the Government directive.

Claims emerged that the directive to close down the financial services came from the Military, who would have lost patience with the mismanagement of the economy by Government. Government spokesmen swiftly denied these claims and called out a conspiracy 'to defeat fiscal policy' by shadowy enemies.

Regional leaders in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) looked on with little concern. But it should have triggered some thoughts about the situation in Malawi, Zimbabwe's northern neighbor. The country went to the polls in May 2019, after a campaign marked by presidential bombast. The controversial incumbent, Peter Mutharika, won by a narrow margin, with with 1,940,709 votes against and 1,781,740 for his closest challenger, Dr Lazarus Chakwera.

European Community observers gave a lukewarm pass, the African Union and SADC observers certified that 'the elections took place in a peaceful, transparent and orderly manner, and thus met national, regional, continental and international standards for democratic elections…'

However, the Malawi Constitutional Court, taking note of numerous claims by civil society of rigging, substitution and 'correction' of results sheets with correcting fluid, ordered that new elections be held. The ruling Judge, Dingiswayo Madise, overruled objections about the cost and remarked: "'Democracy is expensive...'

Lake Malawi. Photo Nyasatimes.com/Malawi Ministry of Tourism

On 23 June voters went to the polls despite the Coronavirus pandemic and insufficient masks and other protective gear. Despite a last-minute attempt by President Mutharika to remove two of the judges who had ruled against him, opposition candidate Chakerwa received 59% of the votes, with Mutharika receiving 40%.

In his inaugural speech, Chakerwa echoed Martin Luther King: 'We have a dream!' His dream is of shared prosperity in this deeply fragmented country with its deeply entrenched corruption and endemic poverty.

With an active and involved civil society, political change is possible.

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on June 29, 2020 05:53

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Source: CS Monitor

Lazarus Chakwera became Malawi's new president Sunday after months of street protests and a decision by the Constitutional...

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