What To Learn From Brexit? Malawi Needs A Pan African Daredevil (Guest Post)

The recent public outcry against government’s decision to raise tuition fees in the University of Malawi has reminded citizens of the turbulent times the world is sailing through. Employment freeze in the civil service, ever-rising unemployment levels, continued high inflation rate, rising cost of living and the 0% salary increment for civil servants have made the hike even more unreasonably despicable. But as Britain realized its economy was being crippled by the adoption of policies imposed by Brussels, responsibility has rightly been shifted back to the MK577billion (the Malawi currency) government plunder in between 2012 to 2014.

This is the same country that was the world’s second fastest growing economy only after Qatar in 2009. That time, President Bingu wa Mutharika, late brother to the incumbent, had defied advice from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) against implementing his policy of subsidized farm inputs to subsistence farmers who are the bulk of the economy. He had explained to IMF that some of the policies the organization was advancing only worked with major economies.

President Mutharika’s death in 2012 ushered in a new president who quickly denounced the zero-deficit budget as an alternative out of despair. It was cremated along with the late president’s tough stance on corruption. The Pan African dream that was started by Mutharika had crashed.  When Prof. Peter Mutharika replaced Dr. Joyce Banda in 2014 however, he immediately reintroduced the zero-aid budget. We seemed to agree whoever controlled our budget controlled our destiny.

The young Mutharika is however currently undergoing one major test. It appears he has been listening to the IMF too much and that is a cause for worry. The IMF’s advice needs to be embraced selectively. It has so much theory in its policies. Some won’t work with our economy. For example, mid last year, the president attempted a ridiculous fee hike in secondary schools. This was disaster for a country whose people depend on subsidized education to keep its children in school. Government seemed determined to raise the fees until parliament halted the proposal.

Just a few weeks ago, Council of the University of Malawi has announced a tuition fee hike. From MK275000, students will be paying MK400 000. However, when the fees was raised from MK55000 the previous academic year to the current MK275000, there was mass withdrawing of students. The hike was also accompanied by the abolishment of stipend allowance to students. The argument was they would be fending for themselves. It was a joke of a policy for someone aware of the plight of the country’s economy.

The fee hike has again divided Malawi between the usual classes. The wealthy oligarchs argue the hike will ensure high quality education. But they are not addressing the poor’s concerns that this is daylight robbery of their right to university education. This is as exactly advanced by IMF on a global level. The horizontal violence that our leadership suffers is translating into vertical violence on the common man. The argument in raising the fees, that the economy is bad and students need to meet the costs more than ever, is somehow as sick as the IMF anti-subsidy advice they gave to Bingu in between 2005 to 2009. Can’t one understand that the first to be affected by the crippled economy are the masses to whom the government is pushing the responsibility of tertiary education?

We do not have to rush into IMF-leaning policies when the result is detrimental to our efforts of narrowing the gap between the rich and the poor. With the hike, more mass withdrawals in the coming academic year are inevitable.

For once, we should borrow a leaf from Britain. It has defied all odds and ignored 48% pro-EU voters for a less-travelled route over the European Union. Brits are aware of the predictable move results into predictable outcome adage. We must apply that in reverse. IMF thinks subsidies are detrimental to economies, and from the way our finance minister over-referred to its recommendations in his budget presentation last month, we could tell a spell had already been cast on us.

We should be bold enough to continue with our own heavily subsidized tertiary education because we know the thousands of people it has freed from claws of poverty over the years. We already have very few public universities that have been accommodating the poor. The fee hike will permanently seal the fortress around university education with the poor trapped outside. That is pushing the poor too far. The Eurocentric approach to tertiary education will only lead poor students to a slaughterhouse for their dreams.

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