Brics shouldn’t be another talking shop for Malawi

For years, Malawi has hosted and participated in international conferences, summits and forums. These have included regional blocs such as Southern African Development Community (Sadc) and Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) closer home.In recent years, the country’s leaders have also taken part in designated summits hosted by some big economies and regional blocs such as European Union-Africa Summit, USA-Africa Forum, United Kingdom-Africa Summit and China-Africa Forum as well as India-Africa Forum. The key objective of these gatherings is to stimulate partnerships, with trade and investment looming large.These are good developments in as far as leveraging investment deals is concerned. But then meetings can also become bureaucratic talking shops where attendees do not have a strategy prior to attending and only turn the platforms into photo sessions. Thus, it is important to have a checklist on expectations from such platforms complete with a timeline on what has worked and what has not.Prior to departing for the Brics-Plus Summit in South Africa for the annual meeting of an economic bloc comprising five emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (Brics), President Lazarus Chakwera highlighted discussions on debt restructuring with leaders of India and China as top of the agenda. Brilliant take, I must say, at least on paper. But I will only celebrate when things work out as such promises have become a tagline for the country’s leaders every time they depart for or attend international meetings.In 2018, Chakwera’s predecessor, president Peter Mutharika, also described his attendance of the Brics Summit as beneficial to Malawi’s infrastructural development. He said the Brics had established a development bank which specifically put aside $34 billion for infrastructure development in African countries and hoped Malawi would tap from it. Five years later, perhaps it is time to revisit and see how much Malawi has tapped from the facility.Brics offers countries such as Malawi an alternative to the Western institutions as they collectively account for at least a quarter of the world economy and 40 percent of the global population. Malawi already deals with South Africa, China and India, but perhaps what is needed is to explore more ways to boost trade and investment.Malawi is currently burdened with debt and faces balance of payment challenges. It is waiting with bated breath for the Extended Credit Facility with International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help address balance of payment problems. Malawi’s destiny lies in its own hands because the IMF may help in efforts towards realigning the economy, but it is not an end in itself. In other words, the IMF package is a mere painkiller, not a solution. There is need for action, especially at policy implementation level, to walk the talk, as they say.Malawi is not alone in the debt-distressed boat as several countries in Africa, including Ghana, previously regarded as one of the models in economic performance, is also seeking an IMF bail-out to help restructure its economy.From Structural Adjustment Policies through Enhanced Structural Adjustment Policy to Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility as well as ECF, Malawi has had programmes with the IMF since independence from Britain in 1964. She joined in 1965.Countries in financial distress such as Malawi face a period of austerity whether or not they are under an IMF programme. In all this, what is walking the talk is living within means by cutting down on luxuries. Mid last year, the Malawi Government announced austerity measures, but it is back to business as usual even before any semblance of stability or recovery has been achieved.For meaningful recovery, Malawi needs to stimulate the business environment to improve competitiveness and attract foreign direct investment. Brics member States offer such opportunities and the ball is in Malawi’s court to cash in.Trade and investment, not aid, is what this country needs to develop.My prayer is that this time around, the President and his team will go beyond mere presence or photo shoot sessions at the Brics meetings and develop a timeline to track progress on key take-aways from the platform that will make a difference in Malawi.

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