Building vibrant and tolerant democracies
In another huge blow to the credibility of Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika and his government, the US has suspended a massive aid package, which would have ploughed US$350 million into the country's barely-existent power sector. It is also a devastating blow to the millions of Malawians who would have benefitted from the extra electricity - and a potentially fatal blow to hopes of sustainable growth and development.
And it is all Bingu’s fault. Whatever he might say about insults in the media and criticism from civil society tarnishing the country’s image overseas, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which manages the funds, made the reasons for its decision very clear.
In a damning statement, the MCC expressed serious concerns about deteriorating democratic governance in Malawi (Bingu’s fault), stressed the need for the ‘Government of Malawi to respect the rights of its citizens and civil society organizations to assemble and speak freely’ (Bingu’s fault), condemned the ‘arrests of opposition and human rights leaders and inflammatory rhetoric by senior government officials’ (Bingu’s fault) and highlighted the lack of progress on economic policy (Bingu’s fault). The MCC also pointed to the fact that Malawi allowed Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to swan around Lilongwe (well very few other leaders wanted to be seen with Bingu) despite an outstanding ICC warrant for his arrest (Bingu’s fault).
Always quick to take the credit for Malawi’s successes, Bingu should accept his responsibility for these failings and rapidly start addressing them – since no one else can. Otherwise, come June – as the MCC again makes crystal clear – the aid package might be terminated. If Bingu genuinely cared for his fellow Malawians, he would do a U-turn right now and start promoting democratic rights, accountable government and sound economic management. Not for the sake of the US aid deal but for the sake of all Malawians.
But the fact is that Bingu is unlikely to change track since he is only really interested in his own power – not in providing power to the people.