uel prices went up on Friday. Naturally Malawians had to grumble. School fees are up across the board, in some cases they went up by as much as a hundred per cent.
Everything is going up, up and up, you can’t afford to keep up on basic commodity prices. Everything from everyday stuff - like sugar, stock margarine - everything...is up. You can’t fault Malawians from grumbling. My son is only six but if I give him K20 today he make faces. I get the message; even kids know times are hard, K20 can’t even afford them even kamba puffs.
Like the Egyptians of old, who crossed the River Jordan into the Promised Land, you can’t fault Malawians from lamenting that things were better off with the departed tin-pot old dictator.
It’s easy to be in this mode. Bingu scoffed off suggestions to devalue the kwacha although he had no better reason of keeping the Malawi currency artificially strong. Certain commodities we took for granted, like sugar and cooking oil, were disappearing from the shelves. Indeed, big companies, like Unilever, were closing shop because they just couldn’t get enough forex to make their continued existence in Malawi make sense.
But people easily don’t take into consideration such fundamentals when analysing a situation.
So when Bingu suddenly died during those crazy three days in April (we are still arguing when the old dude actually died) and Joyce Banda not only allowed for a 49 per cent devaluation of the kwacha but also its floatation, things went hey-wire. Everything shot through the roof and everyone now blames Abiti Ntila for accepting the Breton Woods dosage wholesale.
But we conveniently ignore the fact that the Western donor nations, who left town when Bingu called them names, are now back in town consorting with Abiti's government. Everybody from the difficult Breton Woods gods at the World Bank and the IMF to the White Hall and Brussels now want to have the ear of amai.
Andrew Mitchell, the British International Development minister, was in town recently, so was his White Hall colleague - the British Minister for Africa, Henry Bellingham. Not to be outdone Hillary Clinton, US President Barack Obama's chief diplomat, was also in town. Throw into the mix the visit by former British premier Tony Blair and Nelson Mandela's partner, Graca Machel.
All these visits couldn’t happen before the April 5 events because Malawi was - like Somalia - a failed state, a pariah to the civilised society. These high-profile visits signify that Malawi has graduated from the semi-pariah state under the abrasive Bingu administration to something the world could work with.
But with all this goodwill from the West - with the East (read China) still very much in town - why are things seem not to be working?
Several things have to be analysed but chief among them is that under the Bingu administration things were so bad that Joyce Banda needs more than to finish her predecessor's term and her own constitutional two terms to make things right.
But she doesn’t have such luxury, no; impatient Malawians want her to right away correct things which took Bingu a good seven years to wreck. As long as she is Her Excellency the President of Malawi, Malawians want her to perform now - not tomorrow.
Nobody, including the orphaned DPP government, thought Bingu would die when he did. Indeed nobody, even Joyce Banda herself, thought she would be called to duty earlier than 2014.
But, notwithstanding that, Malawians want Joyce Banda to solve their problems. And the problems are not few; they are a myriad.
Because Malawians experienced hell under Bingu they expect President Banda to be the miracle girl. Within weeks she cleared queues from filling (service) stations, of course. But Malawians want more. They want the pump prices to be low and manageable. How Joyce Banda can afford that in the wake of a global recession they don’t care.
So Friday's hike on fuel prices will surely excite comments like: "Look at JB, Bingu knew what he was doing on devaluation!"
Of late there have been wide-cat strikes from all manner of parastals. From universities, who demanded a whooping - if not obscene 113 per cent - to water boards and ESCOM, everyone is up in arms asking for Abiti's pound of flesh. Very soon the core civil service may join the fray. Everyone is crying for astronomical salary hikes which Joyce Banda must deliver. Everyone wants her to have a key to where the solution of their problems was locked by whoever. Everyone wants her to have the formula of creating 1, 500 jobs where 300 were shed. She has to have the magic wand...somehow!
Certainly Mama Joyce doesn’t have the solutions to all these problems. What she needs now is a sober communication strategy that while she can do as much she has some limitations. For example, you can’t expect prices of fuel to be low when the kwacha is floating and oil prices on the international market aren’t constant.
But is the message reaching the people? She and her team need to package the information for people to appreciate.
---©2012 The Maravi Post