President Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika was on Friday, 31st August conferred upon an honourary professorship by the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing for undertaking historic economic reforms that have taken Malawi’s economy from a crisis to recovery and growth without budgetary donor support.
The following was President Mutharika’s acceptance speech.
A CHOICE FROM POVERTY TO PROSPERITY
The university is a place of wisdom because it is a community of ideas.
As such, I have been searching for wisdom in the idea of giving a professorship to a man who is already a professor.
What I found is an African proverb. There is a wise proverb from my culture which says: the giving hand is always stretched from the heart of the giver. It is from the heart of the giver that we receive a gift.
I therefore receive this professorship as a symbol of goodwill from this great university and the wonderful people of China.
And I came to say: Thank you!
I accept the professorship conferred upon me. I accept to be a member of this distinguished university. Thank you!
As you honour me for what Malawi has shown to the world today, this professorship is an honour to the people of my country. It is a recognition of the people’s hard work, and for the love of our country.
However, history should never say— an African leader came to this University and we honoured him for what he did for his people and his country. But he never told us about his country and his people.
Today, I want to tell you the story of my country and the people of my country. These are the people who inspire me to achieve victories such as the one we celebrate today.
Malawi is not a poor country. Malawi is a rich country whose people are poor. And this is our shared story.
Five decades ago, Malawi was ahead of China on per capita income. China was then one of the poorest countries in the world.
Today, China is one of the developed countries in the world, although you insist on being modest to say you are only a developing country. China has outpaced us in economy and improvement of the quality of life of her people.
With a population of 1.3 billion, China’s per capita income is times 15 that of Malawi – which has a population of 18 million people.
While Malawi remains a predominantly consuming and importing nation, China is the world’s largest manufacturing economy and exporter of goods.
Today, China is giving aid to Malawi – when Malawi could have been giving aid to China in 1979.
Today, we come to China to ask: how do we move a country from poverty to prosperity? We come to China to learn our lessons.
China’s history is a great lesson to Africa. It is an inspiring story that tells us that it is possible for an African country to move from poverty to prosperity.
But there is this other question! What is it that China began to do well from 1979 that Malawi did not do right? This is a question the rest of Africa must ask.
It is a question that begs a bigger question. Why is Africa still poor when it is the richest continent in terms of resources? Why is Malawi where we are, far behind China when we were both struggling in poverty only half-a-century ago? What happened?
At this point, allow me to say what people must hear rather than what they want to hear. Our poverty in Africa is a result of the choices we made over the last few decades.
But today, I want to share a story of a different choice. As a country, Malawi has made a choice to walk from poverty to prosperity. It is not an easy walk. But we have chosen to walk that path.
We have chosen to believe that we can achieve greatness out of the little we have. We have chosen to begin our journey with what we have as a country.
The last four years I have led my country have been a great lesson to us. We have learnt that we can make a great country out of a vast crisis. And there are times when great nations are forged out of crises.
And I believe, every crisis is an opportunity to make a difference. For us, the years of national crises taught us to be resilient, to work hard and depend on the little we have.
I came to lead Malawi in May 2014. The country was on the brink of economic collapse. We had just suffered the worst plunder of public funds ever known in modern history.
This national plunder was called Cashgate. This was a state-sanctioned scheme by the administration which I took over from.
In reaction, donors withdrew support for our budget. As I speak, many have not returned with budgetary support.
We inherited a deficit that almost equalled our national budget at the time. We were technically bankrupt. Everyone thought the country was going to collapse. Most people lost hope – and you could see it in their eyes.
We began with a man-made economic disaster. Then the natural disasters followed. But remember— Malawi is an agro-based economy whose agriculture sector relies on rain.
About six months into our term of office, we suffered the worst floods in 500 (five hundred) years. More than half the country experienced floods. And crops were washed away.
The same year, drought came and scorched crops in the other half of the country. There was famine across the whole country. That was in 2015.
As if that was not enough, we suffered another drought in 2016. Our crops failed again. There was famine for a second year. This was the worst drought disaster in Malawi in decades.
When our economic situation was tough, when suffering was real, and pain felt; we chose to be a resilient nation. We chose determination and not fear.
When donors stopped budgetary aid, we did not choose to go begging. We chose to cut spending and enforce austerity measures to save the little we had.
We recovered our economy out of a crisis and without donor budget support. All our macroeconomic indicators speak of a rising economy of Africa.
Four years ago, inflation was at 24 per cent. Today, we have achieved single digit inflation.
Four years ago, interest rates were at 25 per cent. Today, interest rates are at 16 per cent.
Four years ago, our foreign currency import cover was below 2 months – the lowest in Malawi’s history. Today, our import cover is at 6 months – the highest in our history.
When we came into power, GDP Growth Rate was at 2.4 per. Now our economic growth can rise as high as 6 per cent.
Four years ago, our local currency was volatile and unpredictable. Today, the local currency is stable and predictable.
Ladies and Gentlemen
By 2017, our economic performance was higher than the rest of the SADC region. In fact, our economic growth is above the average of the sub-Saharan region and the global average growth.
However, it has been a challenge to run a country with limited resources.
It has been a challenge to lead people who think development is something that happens overnight. But I understand, because they are impatient with poverty of so many years.
Now more than ever, we are determined to take ourselves out of poverty.
We have chosen to stop depending on aid. Much of the aid to Africa was spent on services and consumption, and not so much on production.
As such, we have chosen to move from aid to trade. But you cannot trade if you don’t produce goods.
Therefore, we have chosen to become a producing and exporting nation. We have chosen to invest in key drivers of the economy that will see Malawi become a producing nation.
One of the necessary steps we have taken is to start a Foreign Direct Investment Program. We have opened Malawi to do business with the world. And we are rising on the Global Index of Doing Business.
According to both Forbes and CNN, Malawi is one the 15 best destinations to visit on earth. But we are also one of the best investment destinations of Africa.
Now we are inviting investors in irrigation agriculture, manufacturing, processing, infrastructure and ICT because these are key drivers of production in our economy.
But we are also creating productive human capital by empowering the Youth with skills. No human society can develop without a skilled labour force.
As a result, we started establishing community technical colleges across the country where we empower the Youth to become a skilled labour force of the country.
As an African and Global Champion of the Youth myself, I believe the rising Youth population should never be viewed as a problem. The Youth should never be defined as a burden of economy. Let us define our Youth as an opportunity, especially if we invest in them.
These measures we have taken are working for Malawi. The macro-economic trends I have outlined above show that the economy is working. And we are slowly improving the quality of life for Malawians.
When my party took over Government for the first time in 2004, the life span of Malawians was only 37 years. Now the life span has risen to 62 years. We believe that the essence of development is improving the life of the people.
We have chosen to believe that we take Malawi from poverty to prosperity. China made it. Israeli made it in the desert. Many more have done it. We believe we can do it! And we will do it!
In conclusion, let me put it this way. The first step a nation needs to take out of poverty is to believe in itself. And believe that prosperity is possible.
The second is to focus on production from whatever you have. The rest is the path you must walk to prosperity.
Challenges will come but victory is possible. This is our conviction. After all, it takes a war to conquest. It takes a challenge to victory.
And as I receive this honourary professorship today, I pledge to my country that we will take our people from poverty to prosperity. We are doing it! And we will do it!
Contact: Dr. Bright Molande, Executive Assistant to the President
+265 991 73 6787