Malawi, COVID-19 and Reason for Optimism

Like most countries across the globe, Malawi has been struck by the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. The virus has taken lives, dampened economic activity and caused great uncertainty. However, Malawians do have cause for optimism. On June 23, a new government was elected with a vision for change and progress. In these dark times, their message was an inspiring one and there is now much hope among the people.

Malawi hasn't yet escaped the worst of the global pandemic. The death count still sits at low double figures which seems like a relatively better situation when you compare it to the huge numbers that are reported out of countries like the United States, Britain and Brazil. Of course, much of the comparison between nation states depends on the verity of the data that is being released, thus a plausible point could be made that the confirmed numbers communicated by the Malawi Ministry of Health may not be a true reflection of the reality on the ground. Malawi was one of the last nations in the world to report a coronavirus case but as we have seen in many countries, the reported figures depend on a robust healthcare infrastructure.

While the death count may appear low, it is important to note that the coronavirus has still had a severe impact on the country. While Malawi has not yet had to endure the crippling effect of a country-wide lockdown, their economy is still very much related to the fortunes of the global economy.

And as global economic output has fallen drastically since the beginning of the outbreak, so too will demand for Malawian exports. The IMF recently forecasted that global economic growth will be -4.9% in 2020 and more specifically -3.2% for Sub Saharan Africa of which Malawi is a part. In April, they described the coronavirus as an unprecedented threat to development in the region.

Despite the cloud that the Covid-19 pandemic has cast across the country and the world at large, there are some silver linings that are appearing for this African nation.

In a victory for democracy and anti-corruption efforts, the judiciary in Malawi overturned the results of the Presidential election of May 2019 and ordered a revote for June of this year. There was widespread activism and unrest after the election last year in which many voting irregularities were discovered. On June 23, this historic re-election took place and the people voted for Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera to be their next President, under the Tonse Alliance grouping of political parties. This victory will have inspired the nation in as much as believing in the country's institutions and its democracy.

With this momentum and huge popular support (locally and internationally), the new President has a great opportunity to push the country forward. The first challenge he faces is how to effectively combat Covid-19 in the county. If he can successfully control the pandemic, it will be a sign of his ability to govern effectively and will provide him an even stronger mandate for continuing to bring change to Malawi.

One of the first steps that the new government must take is to improve on the already existing virus testing infrastructure. There is aid, assistance and medical expertise available from developed nations who have already fought against the virus and managed to halt its spread significantly. But the key for those countries which have handled the pandemic best has been testing, in addition to the precautionary measures outlined by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Without knowing how badly the virus has managed to infiltrate the population, it is impossible to fight it.

A sufficient testing strategy is important, but more so is having the support of the people. The new President has this support and he must seize the opportunity to show the people of Malawi what an effective government can do.

Note: As stated by the WHO, a complete eradication of Covid-19 will be obtained through vaccinations.

James Woods-Nkhutabasa, CEO of AJ Africa, a UK and Malawi based consultancy that works in the world's emerging markets, award-winning Africa Achiever of the Year. He holds a BA. Hons, Political Science and MSc in Social Policy and Development from the London School of Economics and Political Science. You can follow him on twitter @jamesfwoods

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