THEWORLDTODAY.ORG DECEMBER 2007
MICHAEL KEATING is United Nations Permanent Representative in Malawi and was a speaker at the recent Chatham House members’ conference. LAURA COLLINS also contributed to the article.
expressed by some donors about the wisdom of pursuing a scheme that stifled entrepreneurship and did not sharply distinguish between those able to afford to buy and those not. Some were wary of any subsidy scheme, inviting accusations of hypocrisy given the massive American and European subsidies to their farmers. Others made the case that the fertiliser subsidy should not only be universal, but free, and that this was a real opportunity for the G8 leading industrial nations, only weeks after their Gleneagles summit, to put their money where their mouth was. The target for some was the amorality of economists with no understanding of human security; for others, it was the irresponsibility of campaigners creating false expectations with no moorings in financial reality. The credibility of any government, not least in Malawi, depends on its ability to meet basic food needs. The president’s determination to go through with the subsidy scheme, along with awareness among development partners of their mixed track record in providing coherent and consistent support in the agriculture sector, won the day. The upshot is that Malawi is now entering a third year of a targeted seed and fertiliser scheme, one strongly supported by partners, including Britian’s Department for International Development, the European Union and the UN. Despite its success, helped by two good years of rain, the scheme has been beset with problems, ranging from late government purchase of seeds and fertiliser, irregularities in the distribution and redemption of coupons, fertiliser shortages, the crowding out and near collapse of the network of rural private sector dealers, poor communications and too much politically damaging rumour. In its second year, many of the problems persisted, but some were dealt with. Donor financial and technical support has helped bridge the deep distrust between business and government, with the result that the private sector is now involved in purchasing, distribution and coupon redemption. The outcome is improved access for farmers to the materials they need. The economic returns from the scheme have yet to be fully calculated but are likely to show that its cost to government has been more than recovered. The export of maize has generated precious foreign exchange. The humanitarian and social benefits are more difficult to quantify. One saved cost may have been an expensive humanitarian operation, such as the country needed in 2004 and 2005.
GREEN REVOLUTION So has there been a revolution? Or is this just another swing in the country’s fortunes? After all, Malawi has a recent boom and bust history in the agriculture sector, with good harvests interspersed with recurrent food shortages over the past decades. The optimistic argue that much now depends on whether the subsidy scheme can be used to reduce dependence on subsistence agriculture, not least as it is statistically highly likely the rains will fail in one of the coming rainy seasons. This requires the introduction of new agricultural techniques, greater crop diversification, access to micro-credit, especially by women, enhanced health and nutrition, improved education and adult literacy, better water management, investment in agribusiness and the strengthening of markets to buy seed and fertiliser and to sell agricultural produce. Many such activities are already taking place, but not systematically nor on a national scale. The Millennium Villages established by Professor Jeffrey Sachs are intended to showcasewhat can be achieved – starting with surge support for multifold increases in maize production. But a lasting revolution must have political and governance underpinning. Technical interventions and sustained support from donors are critical but insufficient. Food security and agriculture policies remain vulnerable to populist politics, particularly if the rains fail or when elections approach. Whether improvement in maize production will trigger broader economic and social transformation depends on the capacity of technocrats to plan and drive forward an economic growth programme, and the capacity of officials in the districts to implement it. It also depends on the government being responsive and accountable, both politically and financially, to small holder farmers, entrepreneurs and ordinary people. So it is too early to declare a green revolution in Malawi? Two, three and even four years of bumper maize harvests may turn out to be just another revolution in Malawi’s wheel of fortune, and its people will remain as vulnerable as ever. But in the last few years, a great start has been made. A winning combination has been found: leadership by government, a role for the private sector and coherent support from development partners around a shared agriculture-led, economic growth agenda. This needs to be sustained and buttressed by reinforcing implementation capacity and more robust political accountability.
| INDEPENDENT THINKING ON INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS REVIEW PORTRAITS FROM ANGOLA Alex Vines
THEWORLDTODAY.ORG DECEMBER 2007
ALEX VINESruns the British-Angola Forum at Chatham House which marks its tenth anniversary next year.
Painting Peace fIVEYEARSAFTERTHEENDOFONEOFTHEMOST protracted conflicts in Africa, Angola has recovered to rank among the most successful subSaharan economies. The country is preparing for legislative elections next year – the first since 1992 – in what is generally a peaceful climate. Recovering from over thirty years of war takes time but reconstruction is well underway. Last year, British artist John Keane visited, commissioned by Christian Aid and the Wolverhampton City Art Gallery, to paint post-conflict Angola. Keane’s work is respected. He was the official British war artist in the 1991 Gulf crisis and has been commission by the National Portrait Gallery to paint the late British government Minister Mo Mowlam and union leader Bill Morris. Keane visited Luanda, and Mavinga, the capital of the remote south-eastern province of Cuanda Cubango – which the Portuguese colonialists called the ‘lands at the end of the world’. This was Keane’s first trip to Africa – but his canvasses, rich in colour, focus on the dignity and resilience of Angolans. There are three paintings from Mavinga, one of a girl carrying a bucket of water back to her village – a snapshot of daily life for millions of girls and women. Clean, accessible water is a major challenge and non-governmental organisations such as Christian Aid have played an important part in helping to provide it. Keane also depicts two brothers, who were forcibly conscripted during the civil war to fight for the government and the UNITA rebels. Unknowingly they fought on opposing sides and only met once the conflict ended. Keane paints the face of the one who fought for the government framed with images of oil rigs and US dollars. His brother, who was with UNITA, is surrounded by antipersonnel mines and football teams. The landmines are understandable – UNITA used them as nuisance
weapons on paths to water sources and cultivated fields, or under shady trees and by bridges – but I am not sure football is uniquely identifiable with the rebels. Having said that, when I visited the then besieged and divided city of Kuito in 1994, occasionally contending forces would play football together along their frontline – before being ordered back to fight by their commanders. As in Mavinga, many brothers, cousins, fathers and sons were divided by war. Keane also offers the image of a woman carrying her baby in one of Luanda’s shanty towns. This could have been a timeless picture, but the single symbol of modernity is the mobile phone tucked into her skirt. The mobile revolution is important in connecting people and bringing them access to more information in Angola as elsewhere across Africa. Texting has become a fine art to keep costs down and the British Council is looking at whether innovative English language training can be done by text – is there mileage in a spelling a day? The post-conflict boom comes at a price. In 1994, there were few cars and I had to walk across the city to meetings. Now I do the same, but because roads are disrupted by construction and a massive increase in traffic. An Angolan official admitted to me recently that this has become the new national emergency as people spend their time in traffic, unless they get up before dawn to get to the office and return home late at night. Keane’s paintings are on show in Wolverhamption City Art Gallery as part of an exhibition on Children in Conflict which is scheduled move to London next year. His work is evidence that Angola is becoming normal, I only wish he had also painted that Luanda traffic – which has put the capital in a league with a Lagos go-slow, the mother of all traffic jams. But that is better by any measure than the mother of all battles.
PAINTINGS BY JOHN KEANE