Sunday, November 24, 2013

Oh, This Doesn't Look Good.

Starting in September of this year, while America was warming up to government shut downs and the roll out of Obamacare, Malawi was already knee deep in its own political upheaval. The Cashgate Scandal has rocked the nation. Billions of kwacha (millions of USD) have gone unaccounted for, seemingly blatantly pilfered from under the Government Accountability Office, both under President Joyce Banda's regime and the previous President. This post by a Malawian blogger provides a great summation of all the drama.

As a result, direct budgetary support by some major external donors (the UK) was suspended this month. There are rumors that this will lead to forex shortages, fuel queues, price hikes in the coming months. This is disconcerting because they are also the leanest months of the year for most Malawians, and this time around, it is also the run up to the May 2014 Presidential elections. This sounds to be like the definition of a tinderbox.

We've already seen the kwacha devalue by nearly a third (it was 330 MWK to $1 when I arrived in July; it's now at 415.) Good if you're holding US dollars, bad if you're not and trying to buy things in kwacha. Basic goods have already gotten more expensive, as the more inelastic goods show us - gas is up by 50 kwacha per liter, and 1/2 dozen eggs went from 390 to 449 MWK.

I recall back in March/April 2012, when fuel queues were long and the country was broiling in protest. We were saved that time around by the precipitous death of the President, and I was personally saved by not living in the country full time. This time though, I'm not leaving. I've made my home here, and I'm a bit nervous about what will happen next. My longer term Malawian friends say that it's par for the course; if not this scandal then another one. One only needs to batten down the hatches, keep your gas tank full and your wits about you.

Regardless, it feels weird to be surrounded by all this uncertainty, kind of like a frog in a pot of water, that may or may not be slowly boiling.

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