Whither Malawi? Will its natural resources be a curse….or blessing?

Malawi is a tiny land-locked country neighbouring Tanzania, Zambia & Mozambique in Sub Saharan African, which attained independence in 1964 and has since survived largely on an agro-based economy (Tobacco being the primary foreign exchange earner), topped up by donor support (40% of national budget).

It was recently realised that mineral deposits, such as uranium, which were not previously deemed as ‘economically viable’, have suddenly become potential revenue spinners due to the global scramble for minerals. However, archaic policies and legislative structure impede the realisation of equitable and sustainable exploitation, such that the local populace are made to endure increased misery and impoverishment due to the destruction of their environment and the national coffers still remain empty, whilst elites, cronies and foreign investors reap rich rewards. This is against a backdrop of increased authoritarianism, intolerance, and cavalier disdain manifested by a political hierarchy that appears determined to retain power at all costs – even after the donor community has withdrawn all budgetary support and the economy is in meltdown.

The questions therefore are:

1) How can Malawi turn its meagre natural resource base into an asset that benefits all Malawians and launches the country into a new economic trajectory?

2) What toolkits will it need to achieve equitable development with sustainable environmental management?

3) Is it realistic to hope for such a change (for the better)?


Rafiq Hajat is a civil society activist and political analyst from Malawi. He is head of Institute for Policy Interaction in Blantyre, and is currently a guest researcher at the CMI.