A Democracy of Chameleons: Politics and Culture in the New Malawi

By Harri Englund | Go to book overview

1.
The Politics of Poverty Alleviation
in Malawi

A Critical Review
Blessings Chinsinga

Setting the context

One interesting difference between the administrations of Kamuzu Banda and Bakili Muluzi is the purported intent of their economic regimes. The major emphasis of the former government was on estate agriculture as an engine of economic growth and development. This strategy of development was backed up by the 1967 Land Act which declared that all customary land was “vested in perpetuity in the President” (Sahn and Sarris, 1990:399). The Land Act was designed to reinforce a postcolonial agricultural strategy that distinguished estate farming from smallholder agriculture. The sectors differed in terms of land holding and types of crops which they could grow. While those engaged in estate farming were at liberty to cultivate a variety of crops without a limit, those within the smallholder sub-sector were legally prohibited from producing such cash crops as burley tobacco, tea and sugar.1 Furthermore, the land market that was created following the 1967 Land Act provided only for one-way transferability of land. Land could only be transferred to the estate sector, usually with only a small compensation.

Most supportive agrarian policies, including policies in related economic spheres, were deliberately designed to serve the agricultural sector in a generally preferential manner. The visiting tenant system, which was utterly exploitative, was systematically tailored to ensure considerable profit margins for estate agriculture (Kydd and Christiansen, 1982; Sahn and Harris, 1990; Kishindo, 1997). It is in fact not surprising that the two ten-year statements of development policies during the Banda era clearly emphasised agriculture as a potential source of revenue that would eventually lead to financial autonomy in other sectors.2

The data in Table 1, incomplete as it is, nevertheless suggests that the estate sector grew much faster than the smallholder sector. The reason for this discrepancy was that the majority of the élites moved into the estate sector, facilitated by cheap finances obtained through excessive taxes on peasants. The Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (ADMARC) played a central role in implementing these policies. Even recent statistics, Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) not-

____________________
1
The majority of those who were engaged in estate agriculture were often high-ranking party functionaries, senior civil servants, chiefs and high-ranking industrial and parastatal employees.
2
The statement of development policies outlined strategies to be pursued in various sectors in order to achieve satisfactory economic, social, political and cultural progress. The first statement of development policies spanned 1971–1980 whilst the second one was operational from 1987–96. Meanwhile, the ten-year planning cycle has been overtaken by the Vision 2020 planning innovation, which seeks to chart out the potential trajectories of development in all sectors of the economy whilst taking into account the aspirations, ambitions and fears of various segments of the population.

-25-

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