One of the Stephanos managers told me this, that in Zimbabwe people have learned something during the last years that people in Malawi haven’t learned yet. The situation in Zimbabwe has been dramatic due to political circumstances. Donors refused to give any more money to the country. The food production was very low. It ended up in a situation where there was nothing to be had for ordinary people. Even the crime rate went down, because it was no use stealing anything from others; because others wouldn’t have anything either so there was nothing to be stolen…And since the donors gave no money, the people felt completely without help. This has brought a major change in their mentality: what people in Zimbabwe learned, was to start helping themselves. If there was any land not being used for agriculture, it would now be developed by ordinary people at their own initiative. Teenagers were looking for possibilities to contribute after school. People have become more independant, more active and proud.
In Malawi, everybody is still relying on donors. People forget about following their own values and ideas and focus on donor satisfaction because the big fear of any Malawian is: what if the donor will stop giving money! This is a general mentality that children also learn at a very young age. Remember: 40% of Malawi’s national budget comes from donors! So the withdrawal of donors would have dramatic effects. However, anybody can predict that such a donor-situation will not last forever. Does Malawi need a crisis like Zimbabwe to create a turning point?
Personally I am surprised to see Malawi this poor, 1 of the 5 poorest countries in the world, I am still puzzled by it. Malawi has strong assets with a beautiful lake, mountain, wild parcs and lots of land that is not being exploited for agriculture yet. And: the customers for agricultural products (think of India, China) are already there, they don’t even need to look for them. There is a lot of unused potential. I have seen countries with ‘less potential’ and better results. Yet it is normal in Malawi to ask white people for money all the time also individually (if you’re white, try a walk on the street and you will notice). What could create the shock effect for Malawians to take their destiny more in one hand (and for donors to let them do it) – preferably without the dramatic situation Zimbabwians have suffered from.
Another blog about this theme: Dead Aid in Malawi