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close this bookThe Courier N 152 - July - August 1995 - Dossier: NGO's - Country Reports: Belize, Malawi (EC Courier, 1995, 104 p.)
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Surprising Belize

The good thing about being as unknown as Belize is that this makes it very easy to keep a few surprises in reserve. Belize is certainly not stinting in its charms. To the traveller, this continental country feels like an island or an archipelago. Anyone preparing to land at Belize City Airport is first of all struck by the coral reef, which is the second largest in the world and which lines the entire coastline, forming a number of islands and myriad islets. He will have constantly before his eyes the spectacle of a country which always has associations of sand and coral lapped by water which is so clear that the shadows of aeroplane wings are seen on the seabed. Belize reveals itself in a succession of surprises.

Covering 22 000 square kiLomes, Belize is a small country but its population of 200000 gives it quite another dimension. It is easy to find on the map, just below the Yucatan Peninsula on the eastern coast of Central America. It is separated from Mexico in the North by the Rio Hondo, from which it got its earlier name of British Honduras. Guatemala is situated to the west and is separated by a straight line delineated by colonial surveyors. To the east, there is the Caribbean. Belize City is on the coast and legend has it that it is floating on the bottles of rum and logs of mahogany which are the reasons for its foundation. With 60 000 inhabitants, it is by far the largest built-up area in the country-essentially a very pretty small town with its feet in the water. It would not be going too far to call it a tropical Venice. And yet it is not the capital.

Nature's contribution

Tiny Belmopan has this privilege. It is certainly one of the smallest capitals in the world. Thirty-five years after its foundation, it still has fewer than 5000 inhabitants. Situated 80 kiLomes from Belize City in the foothills of the Mayas mountains, it is a garden city made up of official buildings. Those who work there, that is to say ministers and top civil servants, continue to live in Belize City or in some other colonial town such as the magnificent San Ignacio. Foreign diplomats have not chosen to settle in the small capital, apart from the British. The decision to move the capital was taken in the wake of Hurricane 'Jeannette' which ravaged Belize City and resulted in almost 300 deaths in 1955. The coastal town was held to be too vulnerable to tidal waves. In 1931, it suffered an even worse disaster in which 1000 people died.

Belize has a good road system. The network is composed of four main routes which take in all the important centres and construction of which is still supported by aid from the European Union. The question which quickly occurs to anyone who is starting to get to know this country is how can a territory, which is almost the same size as Belgium, be effectively occupied by just one sixtieth of the population of the latter. It is not an uncultivated country and the vast expanses of forest form a coherent geographical framework. The forest and Belize's wider environment, ranging from jaguars to rare ants, are a source of pride to the Belizeans. The appetite of the foreign companies engaged in exploiting the forests, especially from Malaysia, is, on the other hand, a source of concern for many of the inhabitants. Governments have long resisted encroachments of this kind but there are signs that things are changing. With its coral reef, Belize is also a renowned location for diving. Recent archaeological discoveries are increasingly turning it into one of the most important centres of Maya civilisation, if not the most important.

Other pleasant surprises offered by Belize are the well-established democratic system (elsewhere in the region, democracy is taking its first, halting steps), the relative economic prosperity, the good road infrastructure (relatively speaking) and the very good state of the telecommunications service, intensive use being made of portable telephones. Per capita income was $2000 in 1993, and the figure has remained stable in real terms in recent years. Economic growth has averaged 3% to 4% per annum over the past three years. In 1993, it was 3.8%, down from 5.3% in 1992, while inflation runs at about 1.5%- not a bad performance at a time of global recession. During the 1980s, growth rates in excess of 10% were recorded, with inflation averaging 2.5%. There are also other favourable indicators: an average life expectancy of 69.5 years, average school attendance of 4.6 years (1990 figure) and a 95% literacy rate. Belize comes 82nd (out of 173 countries) in the UNDP's Human Development Index.

A real country with real problems

The ongoing dispute with Guatemala, which one cannot avoid hearing about, soon shows the visitor, once he has finished marvelling at the splendours which first attract his attention, that Belize is a country like any other, with similar problems. This may perhaps come as the biggest surprise to those expecting a 'fairy-tale' country. At the moment, the main causes of concern stem from economic difficulties which lie at the root of the relatively high unemployment rate, especially in Belize City. The election of June 1993 saw the United Democratic Party (UDP) return to power, taking over the reins of government from the People's United Party (PUP). The incoming Prime Minister, Manuel Esquivel took the decision to support the Belize dollar, come what may. Having been aligned with the US dollar for some twenty years, the local currency is strong and is not subject to the kind of buffeting experienced by other Central and South American currencies. For ten years, the exchange rate has been maintained at B$2 = US$1 although there has been a depreciation of about 10% against the stronger European currencies which has caused some difficulties. Regarding the control of exchange rates, the arrangements that exist between Belize's Central Bank and the commercial banks are fairly representative of the pragmatic spirit which prevails. Officially, the Central Bank has authority in monetary affairs, but in actual practice it is the commercial banks which operate the policy, using the market as a reference point.

To take action against a high level of external and internal debt and a chronic balance of trade deficit, Prime Minister Esquivel decided to adopt a policy of restraint which provoked public discontent. The government ascribes responsibility for the economic problems to the over-optimistic forecasts of the previous administration which, it says, overestimated income and underestimated expenditure. The opposition, for its part, criticises 'ill-considered' promises made by the current team during the elections. This is a claim backed by a number of other commentators.

Stuart Khrone, a journalist and a director of Great Belize Productions, which runs a private television channel offering news and reports, is stinging in his criticism of the 'U-turns' of those in power.

An economy 'high' on oranges

The Prime Minister is keen on less government involvement in the economy, a policy first adopted by his predecessor who sold off the Banana Control Board and Belize Telecommunications Limited and partially privatised Belize Electricity Limited. The state currently controls only the major public authorities and employs 14.5% of the workforce.

Belize's economy is based essentially on fishing (mainly lobsters), and agricultural production, especially of citrus fruits, bananas and sugar. The decision to diversify agriculture in favour of citrus production was taken in the 1980s by the first Esquivel government. The central region of the country (Orange Walk), which was chosen for the experiment, is currently planted, as far as the eye can see, with citrus fruit trees of all kinds, but with orange trees predominating. Some people have expressed concern that this policy has increased Us influence. When the decision to focus on citrus products was made, Coca Cola purchased an option on 350 000 hectares, and the country benefited from an $80m investment by the company.

Citrus production gave a real fillip to the country's economy. At first, the sector was largely operated by small producers, but the latifundia are now becoming increasingly dominant. Belize exports most of its citrus fruit to the United States in the form of concentrates. America is a useful market, as these products enjoy the benefits of exemption from import duty under the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) instituted several years ago by the Reagan administration.

Belize has approved a large number of investments in the agriculture sector over the past few years, especially in banana production. The country has made full use of the provisions of the Lomonvention allowing free access of many Belizean products to the European market, in addition to penetrating the American market in a number of areas. But there are constraints. Export markets for agricultural products are generally governed by quotas (this is the case for bananas, sugar, citrus fruits) and for practical reasons (the local market is too small) most of the output has to be exported.

The new arrangements governing banana imports into the EU have also hit the country hard. Paradoxically, much of the investment in this sector has been made with assistance either from the Union, through the EDF and the European Investment Bank, or from the UK. With a quota of 40 000 tonnes in the KU, a figure which is to be increased slightly, Belize is forced to limit its production, which currently amounts to 90 000t, although capacity is much higher than this. Clearly, the economy suffers from a problem of scale. Belize's small size and population compel it to concentrate on a small number of products, making it very vulnerable to external factors. Another example of the fragile nature of the position is provided by the export of fabrics to the USA. This market has collapsed as a result of competition from Asian products. This has led to renewed agricultural diversification in favour of fruits such as papaya, and rice.

Virgin territory

Belize's economy has a number of 'virgin' areas which have not yet been brought on stream. Despite its outstanding beauty, the country sees few visitors other than diving enthusiasts, a few researchers who are interested in Mayan sites and an even smaller number of so-called ecotourists. Indeed, many Mayan sites are still completely unexplored. Those that have been opened up attract groups coming mainly from North America and Europe. However, politicians and cultural authorities are very cautious about the restoration of structures. They are inclined to favour limiting restoration to a few facades of monuments and a few sites, while public access will be strictly limited. In most cases, the absence of facilities and access routes is expected to deter tourists, allowing researchers to continue their work in peace.

To ecotourists, Belize can offer a vast expanse of virgin forest which is rich in species of rare trees and is intersected by slow-moving rivers broken up by waterfalls and inhabited by a very varied fauna. The Keys (islands) are just as suitable for lazing around as the Caribbean countries and you do not have to be a diver to appreciate the shallow emerald-green water lapping against the shelves formed by the coral reef. But the infrastructure does not yet match nature's splendours. Outside the larger Keys, where the infrastructure has been developing very rapidly, there is a shortage of hotel rooms and many of those that are available leave a lot be desired in comfort terms. This is clearly something that needs to be rectified. Most of the roads are in a good condition and internal air links are provided by small and apparently well-maintained private aircraft offering competitive prices. By contrast, international air links are infrequent and they often entail inconvenient detours and stopovers. Because of the coral reef, the sea is not deep, and this make it difficult to deal with large cargo vessels. This has a negative effect on trade (as well as tourism). For example, bananas have to be taken to deep-water ports in Honduras for transshipment-with all that this entails in terms of transport and storage costs.

Fishing is underexploited and is mainly concentrated within the passage bounded by the reef. Expensive equipment and well-trained workers would be needed to exploit the fishing resources beyond this limit. A number of joint-venture projects with foreign shipowners are currently being studied. As regards forestry resources, it is mainly primary products, such as boards, that are being produced. Production of semifinished products such as plywood or finished items such as furniture is very limited. On the energy side, hydroelectricity could be a significant power source and the government is facing strong criticism for having abandoned a project in this sector which had been set up by the previous administration. Oil prospecting has not yielded much, but in a country which is marked by the beauty and purity of its natural resources, it is difficult to say whether this is a good thing or not.

'Belize breeze': a lot less benign than it sounds

There is certainly no cause for rejoicing over the fact that there were 1500 drug-related crimes in 1994 alone, according to statistics released by the legal authorities. Even if most of these cases involved no bloodshed, the figure is worryingly high for a country of only 200 000 inhabitants. All the leading personalities whom the Courier interviewed saw drugs and the insecurity engendered by them as the curse of the country. Prees reports are revealing. Not a day passes without stories from the 'front' in this undeclared war between the forces of law and order and the traffickers. Conversations are peppered with names of gang leaders who claim to be untouchable. Belize may be small but the police raids described in the press sometimes sound like only slightly scaled-down versions of operations from Apocalypse Now. In January, a night-time air and sea operation was carried out jointly by the Crime Squad of the Belize Police, the Belize Defence Forces, the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and British forces. Helicopters and boats all converged on an estate where no less than 650 kilogrammes of cocaine was discovered. The wholesale value of this huge haul was estimated at $40 million. Also seized were chemicals used to camouflage the smell of the drug, weapons and technical equipment. The owner of the estate had judiciously decided to leave Belize and a follow-up operation involving four countries was required. The announcement in the same article, of a seizure of 120 kilogrammes of cocaine, in the possession of Belizeans, sounds insignificant by comparison. Drug trafficking and production are increasing, as is consumption. The need to use so many resources to track down so few offenders reveals the scale of the challenge. For the traffickers, a state of lawlessness is desirable-for the authorities, it is very costly to prevent. In the areas close to the Mexican border, stories are told of executions having been ordered, with detailed corroboration. The high quality of the roads, in this region in particular, makes them suitable for the landing of small aircraft. Aware of this, the British forces placed stakes strategically along the roads prior to their departure. Removing them became a popular pastime of the 'small fry' in the drugs trade, and the stakes have all now disappeared.

In 1983, at the instigation the United States DEA, a massive programme was launched involving the destruction of marijuana plantations using herbicides (paraquat). Unfortunately such operations are not selective. Marijuana is seldom cultivated as a single crop and other products are destroyed at the same time. The result of the programme was that honest farmers also suffered losses although hundreds of traffickers were arrested. It was at about this time that Belize became Latin America's third largest producer of marijuana. The 'Belize breeze' label is said to be very much in demand among 'connoisseurs'.

Small and large-scale drug-related crime is on the increase and there are some unexpected alliances in this war between the State and the traffickers. One such example is the fact that one of the country's senior politicians also acts as lawyer to a number of major traffickers who currently are in prison. It should also be understood that marijuana cultivation is something of a smokescreen. The really big drug money comes from cocaine dealing, large quantities of which have been passed on from Belize to other countries over the last decade. Though the insecurity generated by drugs is regarded as a curse, many people accept that the circulation of large amounts of 'dirty' money helps the country's economy. This is thought to be the main reason for the prosperity of the area close to the Mexican border.

Ethnic diversity: advantages and disadvantages

Belize's multicultural society includes Creoles (people of black and white ancestry), Mayas, people of mixed Indian and white ancestry, Garifuna (black Indians) and Mennonites, who are of European origin and are members of a Christian sect living in a small community in the mountains. Chinese, Arabs and people of other nationalities should also be added to this fabric and the result is a wide variety of hues and textures. The last people to arrive, considerably upsetting the ethnic balance in the process, were the refugees from El Salvador and Guatemala. Several thousand Salvadoreans fled to Belize during the civil war in their country, while Guatemalans are still arriving, joining 60 000 of their compatriots (almost a third of the total population) already in the country. 60% of the population is Catholic and 30% adhere to one or other of the Protestant denominations. The remaining 10% include Bahai's, Muslims, Buddhists and others. It is a minor miracle, and another of Belize's surprises, that despite a certain degree of friction, which is inevitable, there is no implacable rivalry between the religious communities, and certainly no hatred. The reason for this is probably that the usual victims in such situations of racial mixing, that is to say the Amerindians and former slaves, became literate very early this century and have been able to acquire a certain social status.

The welcome extended to recent refugees can only be explained by reference to the hospitality and openness of spirit of this society, where people have few 'hangups'. Their contribution to the agricultural workforce, and especially to that part of it involved in growing citrus fruits, has proved very useful. On the other hand, these people are in a weak position. Wage reductions in the citrus fruit-and construction-sectors could prove to be a source of discord. The trade unions negotiate with employers on their behalf but take care not to highlight their position for fear of arousing hostility. Mainly based in the areas close to Guatemala and Mexico, the immigrants are becoming better integrated all the time. There are concerns about the number of immigrants involved in drug trafficking but here, too, there is no sign of the development of a xenophobia mania. Most Belizeans continue to believe that 'ethnic harmony' is not under threat. It is at a political level that problems may arise. Which side will the immigrants or Belizeans of Guatemalan origin take, if positions harden in the trial of diplomatic strength over the location of the frontier between the two countries ? The opening of a Guatemalan consulate close to the frontier, in the areas inhabited by a large number of citizens of that country, points to a desire to look after their interests. But many Belizeans say that they are not fooled by this apparent willingness to treat the matter on a diplomatic level.

Another good sign is the increasing degree of mixing among ethnic groups, both through marriage and in housing. A relatively short time ago, people originating from Mexico generally lived in the areas of Corozal and Orange Walk, Black and Mayan Indians occupied the South, while Creoles tended to be concentrated in Belize City. This division is still marked, but communication facilities and the melting pot created by state education have encouraged mixed marriages on the one hand and internal migration on the other.

The claims made by Guatemala have paradoxically created an opportunity for Belize, by encouraging integration. The aggression shown by Belize's western neighbour during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s seems to have led to greater national cohesion and even to a pride in being Belizean, helping to inculcate a desire for independence.

A history against the tide

Although Belize's history is similar to that of several countries in Central America and the Caribbean, it is also full of the unexpected. The country gained its independence on 21 September 1981, remaining a member of the Commonwealth with the Queen as Head of State. It has a bicameral Parliament. The Senate's members are appointed by the government or co-opted by MPs with a guarantee that the opposition will be represented. The lower house is dominated by two parties which have traditionally alternated in power. This democratic interplay began well before independence. British forces remained in Belize until September last year, when the last units finally left the country. This withdrawal was accompanied by a promise that forces would be redeployed in the event of a threat to the sovereignty of Belize. Their presence had constituted a guarantee in this troubled area, particularly vis -is Guatemala which has always held that it had been deprived of territory in order to create the state of Belize. The British presence was also a source of income estimated at approximately 4% of GDP.

Independent in a colonial world

Let us go back in time. Between 2000 and 1000 BC, two million Mayas lived in Yucatan. At the beginning of the first millennium, the population of what now constitutes Belize was 750 000. Wheat plantations stretched as far as the eye could see. Extended towns and enormous religious centres appeared throughout the empire.

A thousand years ago, the Maya world collapsed. The arrival of the Spanish was followed by the disappearance of virtually all the indigenous population which fell victim to massacres and disease from outside. The survivors were concentrated in Guatemala. Campeachy wood (logwood) and mahogany invaded the land and took firm root in the vaults of ceremonial sites. For various reasons, the Spanish lost interest in Belize and the territory was abandoned. The English arrived at the end of the seventeenth century to exploit the Campeachy wood and, somewhat later, in the eighteenth century, the mahogany which had become an important commodity in Europe. This reawakened Spanish interest-the old reflex of the toy abandoned by the capricious child. They made five attempts to dislodge their adversaries, but all were unsuccessful. A treaty was signed, giving the British permission to exploit the forests, with the exceptions of commercial agricultural production and military construction in an area between the Hondo River (the Belize/Mexico border) and the Belize River which flows through Belize City. The British loggers became known as the 'Baymen, and they appear in an engraving which forms part of the Belize coat of arms. Shortly before the agreement was signed, the Baymen called upon the British government to come to their aid in the face of a Spanish threat but peace was restored shortly thereafter. Nevertheless, a British admiral sent to Belize overstepped the limits imposed in the agreement and, in 1765, promulgated an embryo constitution for the territory which had been allocated to the Baymen. This pseudo-independence lasted until 1862 when the population voted to become a colony. This period saw several reversals of fortune for the British. There was the loss of the American colonies in which Spain and France supported the American revolutionaries, while Spain went on to dismantle a number of British settlements, sending most of their occupants to Mexico or Cuba.

The 1847 Mexican revolution, begun by the Maya population, saw the first great flood of Mayan refugees arrive in Belize, alongside mestizo and even some Spanish refugees. The Belizean population doubled in a short space of time. This was also the period when sugar cane was introduced. Backed by popular demand, Belize approached London to ask for the status of a colony, and the request was duly granted in 1862. The colony was given the name British Honduras.

It was only after the Second World War that a big change in attitudes occurred. Many Belizeans had been recruited into the Allied armies and they resumed to the country with new ideas. The UK Government's unwise decision to devalue the Belize dollar in 1949 set the powder keg alight and the word 'independence' began to be heard.

An incongruous colony

From 1961 onwards, the British authorities acknowledged that the count down to the colony's independence had begun. Administrative autonomy was granted in 1964 although the tide of decolonisation taking place at that time did not reach this corner of the Caribbean. Belize had to wait until 1981 for full independence. The main reason for this was the fact that the British had no intention of handing the territory to Guatemala, which was threatening to invade.

In 1823, the United Provinces of Central America proclaimed their independence. Fifteen years later, the federation broke up into five states. One of these was Guatemala, which took the view that Belize ought to be returned to it since it had been recognised by the Spanish administration as forming part of the Captaincy General of Guatemala. Many historians believe, however, that under Spain, Belize had been linked to Yucatan. In any case, the Spanish were not in Belize before the independence of the Central American countries and had never occupied the territory. In 1860, influenced by the United States, a treaty between Britain and Guatemala was signed, recognising the current frontiers between the two territories. By way of compensation to Guatemala, a road and/or river route,

linking the Guatemalan capital to the Atlantic near Belize, was to be built by the two parties. Because this route was never constructed, Guatemala repudiated the treaty in 1940, 80 years after it was signed. According to their interpretation, the Treaty had not been a ratification of frontiers but an exchange or contract which had not been fulfilled. Thereafter, Guatemala regularly threatened its neighbour although, over time, its territorial claims became more modest. Ultimately, their demands came to be restricted to just a quarter of the territory but the dispute left Belize isolated for many years. The advent of civilian government in Guatemala did not solve the problem but at least it opened the way for progress. Jorge Serrano, Guatemala's second civilian President, recognised Belize in 1991 and established diplomatic relations. Only then was it possible for Belize to become a full member of the Organisation of American States (OAS). The country was now out of quarantine. Despite this, Guatemalan diplomats still occasionally demand the expulsion of Belize's delegates at international meetings. Guatemala has opened an embassy in Belize and there is a consulate in the zone where new Guatemalan immigrants live, but Belize's diplomatic mission in Tegucigalpa had to wait three years before it could open its doors. In 1993, the threat of a military takeover in Guatemala, just as the British were announcing the forthcoming departure of their troops, rekindled old fears. Fortunately, the new Guatemalan president, Ramiro de Leon Carpio, is a staunch defender of human rights. His government continues to demand land concessions, but the risk of an invasion has greatly diminished and, although the Belizeans still purport to be fearful of conquest by their neighbour, this is probably a continuing historical reflex rather than something founded on any realistic threat.

Central America has once again found the road to peace and attempts to play on national sentiment to conceal domestic difficulties are less likely nowadays. In any case, it is difficult to see how a country such as Belize, where American interests are so extensive, could fall victim to a show of force in the current climate. Moves are under way to find a diplomatic solution. Belize's long isolation made its participation in the Caribbean Common Market (CARICOM) very important even though, in economic terms, such membership has not always been to its advantage. It had, for example, to lower import duties to come into line with its partners, without the advantage of increased exports. Such was the price of diplomatic status.

Gender language for black Amerindians

At every international meeting on the defence of indigenous peoples, there are always some journalists who are surprised by the presence of black Amerindians. They have obviously never had the opportunity to meet Felicia Nunez. Although they might not recall everything they were told about the origins and history of this group, after one hour in her company, they would certainly have heard a great deal about it. What they would remember, without doubt, would be the warmth, passion, commitment and fighting spirit of this woman. They would learn that there are a considerable number of publications in Garifuna, including the Bible, books of poems, collections of songs and dictionaries, full of soldiers and folk heroes. This literature, crucially, forms the basis of the aspirations of a small population which has overcome fate despite the many attacks made on it.

Felicia Nunez is an employee of the Social Development Department. In her work, she helps underprivileged families cope with their day-to-day existence and enables them to meet their responsibilities. She deals particularly with women who have been left as head of the family and who are out of work, of which there are many in Dangriga and throughout the rest of the country. She acts as vocational adviser, teaching sewing to some and the rudiments of administrative organisation to others, and she also has a role as social assistant. She is a strong feminist and devotes her time fully to this, her professional work coinciding with the task she has set herself of improving the conditions of deprived women. When she is not with one of these women, she works in her small wooden colonial house, which is still sound despite the ravages of the humid climate. She is wholehearted in commitment to all of her activities but what really inspires her is speaking about the Garifuna people, recounting their history, defending their pride and speaking fighting words when she recalls their long suffering.

The Garifuna people, (the black Amerindians in Belize), are also to be found in Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala, as well as in their original land, the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent. However, it is in Belize that their future is to be found. This is because they are relatively numerous there, numbering about fifteen thousand. They also represent a sizeable proportion of the country's population and have been relatively successful within the society and in organising themselves. Right or wrong, the Garifuna suspect the current government of being unsympathetic to their cause, seeing evidence of this in the fact that the monument to their people, erected under a previous government, together with the neighbouring land, (in principle an integral part of the monument), were the subject of a government real-estate operation in favour of the Creole population. They have condemned acts of vandalism against the monument and have sharp words about the apparent laxity in dealing with the perpetrators. They imply that enquiries made were not followed up.

Theodore Aranda, one of the main leaders of the Garifuna cause, and one of its most dynamic representatives at international meetings, was an influential minister in the previous government. In considering the merits of some of their complaints, one must, of course, take care to remain objective.

Gender in speech

It is not entirely correct even to speak of a 'Garifuna people'. The word 'Garifuna' refers only to the language, the inhabitants being Garinagu, a word derived from a Caribbean expression meaning 'manioc eater'. However, we will take the liberty of using the word 'Garifuna' since this is what appears in the press even in Belize. Language is currently the battle horse of those who defend the people's cause. The Garifuna Language Workshop has set itself the target, firstly, of reestablishing Garifuna as the mother tongue in the six Garifuna communities in Belize. At present, only one of these communities really speaks the language on a daily basis, although language-linked culture is still alive and well in the others. Secondly, the Workshop aims to promote it in other Garifuna communities abroad. 1995 is an important year for them, being the bicentenary of what they refer to as the assassination of the Chief of Chiefs, Joseph Chatoyer, founder of the first Caribbean republic on the island of Yuremein (the old name for Saint Vincent).

The earliest traces of the two Amerindian peoples who were to populate the Caribbean, the Arawaks and Caribs, date from the pre-Christian era. They first settled in the north of South America, along the Orinoco and Magdalena rivers. During the second century AD, the Arawaks migrated towards the Caribbean islands and principally towards the Greater Antilles (Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica and Puerto Rico). In the 13th century, the Caribs used to invade islands in the south of the Archipelago, wiping out the male Arawaks and taking the women captive. The unions formed as a result of these abductions gave rise to the 'Caribbean/ Arawak' language, but, above all, to the bizarre phenomenon of the genderisation of the language. With the possible exception of Japanese, where male-female speech differentiation essentially is found in the accent, this is a unique phenomenon. Men and women speaking Garifuna are mutually intelligible but use different words and turns of phrase to denote the same meanings. Thus, for example, depending on whether the speaker is male or female, the word 'woman' is either 'wuri' or 'hiyaru', while the subject pronoun 'we' will be either 'amuru' or 'buguya'.

The arrival of Christopher Columbus put an end to the Carib raids to capture Arawak women, the people having, then, to concentrate their energy against the new enemy. As pacifists, the Arawaks and their descendants, the Tainos, were to disappear entirely. The much more bellicose Caribs survived, although in limited numbers. Having attacked the Caribs several times, up to the beginning of the 1 6th century, the Spanish subsequently left them in peace. The French also became discouraged and, in 1660, signed a treaty, acknowledged by the English, granting these indigenous populations perpetual sovereignty over the islands of Dominica and Saint Vincent. Shortly afterwards, the English reneged on the treaty and mercilessly hunted down the Caribs. This was to last for over a century, ending in the death of the Carib chief, Joseph Chatoyer. This episode sounded the death knell for the Carib presence in the islands which still bear their name.

'The last of the Mohicans'

A quarter of a century before the 1660 treaty, two Spanish vessels carrying slaves from Africa, principally from Nigeria, were shipwrecked on the shores of Yunumein (Saint Vincent). The prisoners who escaped were taken in by the Indians and ended up adopting their language and culture, retaining only a few religious practices and their music, together with the colour of their skin.

After the British victory in 1795, five thousand Caribs were deported to a small island off Honduras. Only two thousand survived the voyage to arrive at their destination. It is their descendants who are now to be found in Belize and the neighbouring countries, having moved to the mainland some years later. Today, there are probably about 300 000 of them worldwide. Their long suffering in recent years is marked, above all, by two huge massacres in Honduras, the more recent having occurred in 1937. It has principally been the benevolence of the Jesuits that has saved Garifuna culture. They were quick to begin teaching the new arrivals and, from the beginning of this century, they allowed members of the Indian community to instruct their own compatriots. It was one of these instructors who was to set up the first Caribbean cultural society in Central America, which began to crystallise Garifuna claims. In 1941, the 19th of November, which is the anniversary of the arrival of the Caribs in Belize, was made a Day of Celebration in the district of Stann Creek, where most of the people currently live. In 1977, the date was declared a national holiday. Currently, the Belize National Garifuna Council jealously monitors the community's interests. 'The last of the Mohicans' have survived.

Interview with Prime Minister, Manuel Esquivel

'We need correct a situation that has gone terribly wrong. In the process, everybody will have to make sacrifices'

For the second time, Manuel Esquiver finds himself presiding over Belize's destiny following the victory of his UDP at the polls in July 1993. He first gained office in 1984 during the economic 'golden age' of this small Central American country. But things are different nowadays. Belize may still be in an enviable position relative to many of its neighbours in the region, if one considers the social indicators and the strength of its democratic system, but it has not been able to avoid the negative effects of the global economic crisis. This is not perhaps surprising given its dependence on its powerful neighbour, the USA, which was also recently battered by recession. Manuel Esquivel wants, at all costs, to maintain the value of the Belize dollar and has decided to 'roll back the frontiers of the state' This entails a dose of strong medicine which he must persuade his fellow citizens to swallow. Thus far, he has at least some results to show for his efforts in the form of a significant reduction in inflation.

Unfortunately, growing unemployment and the people's reduced purchasing power threaten to undermine what has been achieved. There is also the problem of public discontent prompted by the government's austerity policies, not to mention potentially destabilising disputes within the government itself. On top of all this, despite a general feeling of harmony among the different groups who make up Belize's population, discontent has emerged within the Garifuna (black Amerindian) community. Members of this ethnic group, who are well organised, are resolutely opposed to government policies which they regard as contrary to their interests. Another area of worry is the ongoing diplomatic dispute with Guatemala which concerns no less than the legitimacy of the Belize state itself.

Belize may not be the best known ACP country but this does not make it any the less interesting, as we discovered when we spoke to Prime Minister Esquivel. In a wide-ranging interview, we discussed the above mentioned problems as well as some of the notable achievements of this relative haven of prosperity in the region.

· What are currently the main concerns of Belize and what are your most important goals ?

-Our main concerns are within the government itself. We are very concerned about the size of the government deficit so we are putting a lot of energy into finding ways of reducing and indeed eliminating it by next year. In that connection, we have several difficulties. In particular, our debt servicing has ballooned. This problem began last year and debt servicing will continue to be very high for at least the next two years. This is due to the fact that in the early 1990s, Belize entered into a number of credit arrangements with commercial banks. These are now having to be repaid and, as a result, debt servicing now absorbs about 20% of our recurrent revenue.

· So you consider that these problems result from actions of the previous government ?

-As regards these commercial loans. We try to confine our commitments to official loans for obvious reasons, but there was a departure from this approach. The result is a new stock of commercial debt that has caused our debt servicing to increase by about 30%. That will remain the case for the next two or three years.

Some newspapers and people in the opposition argue that the economic situation was good when you took over but now the economy is in decline. What is your answer to that accusation ?

-I would say that the situation appeared to be good at the time because there was a lot of government spending. But this was creating a deficit which was unsustainable. At the outset, that deficit was sustained by privatisation. Shares in the telephone and electricity companies were sold off. But obviously, that kind of financing cannot sustain a deficit in the longer term. It can only alleviate the problem from year to year. So the deficit has built up. There were also commitments made to the unions representing the teachers and the public service to increase salaries at a rate of 12.5 % per annum over a three-year period. This has meant that our wage bill now exceeds 50% of government revenue. When you put the wage bill and debt servicing together, you find that more than 70% of the state's income is being absorbed. This has created a tremendous problem with cash flow and with financing the deficit that has built up.

What we have done is severely to reduce government capital expenditure to try to restrain the growth of the deficit. Additionally, we are trying to find ways of restraining the growth in the wages bill. In practice, this means we are not able to meet all the heavy commitments entered into by the previous government. We provided half of those payments in 1994. The policy also involves proposing to the unions at this time that there should be a freeze on wages for the next two years.

The private sector is performing very well. Our exports are up. Because of various monetary measures, our imports have been reduced slightly, so we have reduced the trade deficit. But the government deficit remains the big headache. The government cannot function, cannot supply services, and cannot provide capital expenditure, so long as its domestic debt is the size it is. I am not talking here about foreign debt which has always been in deficit. I am talking about domestic capital expenditure which, in the past was sustained by government's own revenues. In the last two years it has been sustained, as said, by a combination of asset sales and domestic borrowing. And this is a quite crippling situation.

'A commitment to the entire economy must take precedence'

· When you came to power, you promised lower taxes and held out the possibility of higher wages. Do you not find yourself in an awkward position with the electorate now that wages are frozen and taxes seem to be increasing ?

-We have, in fact, reduced income taxes for everyone and have eliminated them altogether for people who earn less than B$200 a week. So we have kept that promise. The essential point here, however, is that the public service is just one segment of the economy. We believe that a commitment to the entire economy must take precedence over any previous commitments to just one sector, particularly where the effect is that the rest of the economy is being hurt. High government wages, even in times of prosperity, are unsustainable. They eventually do damage to the wider economy. The government should not be the most expensive organisation in the country. lt has to be as efficient as possible and pay realistic wages. When the government increases wages by almost 40% in three years, that has repercussions for the rest of the economy. There are pressures for other employers to do the same and that causes inflation, creates difficulties for investment, dries up investment capital and generally sends everything into a tailspin.

· What about the impact of your policies on private business. They are paying an extra 1% in tax. The same is true for the professions-doctors, engineers and so on. They have to pay 2% more and they can't pass this on to the consumer. Is this not likely to hit them hard in a situation where competition is fierce ?

-Obviously. But the question is, are we going to undergo the pain now and solve the problem, or will we do nothing. If we choose the latter, many of them will eventually be bankrupted. There will be a devaluation with all the negative consequences that flow from that. The point is that we need to correct a situation that has gone terribly wrong. In the correcting process, everybody will have to make sacrifices. The choice is between making the sacrifice to achieve the results, and not making the sacrifice in which case, we can just watch the economy go down the drain.

· What measures does your government plan to take to encourage investment in the country ?

-The first thing is to make clear that one of our primary objectives is the stability of the currency. We think that an unstable currency creates an atmosphere that is least conducive to investment. Secondly, we have to make sure that capital is available for investment at reasonable cost. It cannot be made available so long as the government is the principal borrower in the economy. The state absorbs funds that are needed for investment and puts them into nonproductive activities. This effectively deprives investors of the capital they need. And we certainly want to encourage domestic investment in the economy. That is why, in the short term, we have to take measures to eliminate the government debt, freeing up the banking system so that it can begin to finance investment in the country. As far as foreign investment is concerned, we have had for a long time, a programme of development incentives which includes tax holidays and freedom from import duties for export businesses.

· It seems that the authorities have cancelled some of the commitments entered into by the previous government Two examples I have come across are the 'Hydro-electric project 'and the 'Milk plan'. Is there not a danger that this kind of action might affect the credibility of the country, and prove offputting to foreign business people who might be considering investing here ?

-Let me explain what we have done. The arrangements that the previous government made in respect of the two projects you mention were, in fact, quite disgraceful. In the case of the hydro project, we have managed to rewrite the terms more-although not completely- to our satisfaction. As a result, we estimate that over the life of the project, which is 40 years, the country will save about $100 million overall. We think it was worth the fight to get that changed. As regards the milk project, the arrangement was essentially that the government should pay for it. The government was to reduce excise duties on beer by 50% to allow a company to produce milk. We certainly do not see any reason why the government should be paying for the project. I should say we have done nothing to stop it. They have a development concession which includes tax breaks and exemptions from import duties. But at the end of the day, it is a private business and it is for them to make the investment, not the government.

· There are apparently some disagreements within the government: reports of a dispute between Hubert Elrington and the Deputy Prime Minister Dean Barrow. Are you worried that this lack of unity might be damaging to the administration ?

-I don't know that it is necessarily a bad thing. In all political parties and all governments, people have differing opinions. If everyone had the same view, we would stagnate. So I think in fact it illustrates the openness and democracy that exists within the government. People are able to express their ideas freely and to put their points of view forward. I don't see that as a bad thing at all.

· Turning to foreign policy, what is the current status of the dispute with Guatemala. Is it now over ?

- No, because while Guatemala has accepted our independence, they still do not recognise our borders. Until they are prepared to do that, we will have a problem. The situation at the moment is calm and there are friendly relations between us. In fact, the current government in Guatemala is something of a 'lame duck' for two reasons. It was not elected and, in any case, its term of office expires towards the end of this year. Because of this, we do not foresee anything significant happening towards solving the problem, at least in the short term.

· But don't you have the support of virtually all the countries in the region who accept the position of Belize ?

-No they don't

· Are you saying that some have supported Guatemala ?

-No, but they have no view on the border issue. None of them has come forward, including the United States, to say that they accept the territorial boundaries of Belize. Yes, they support our independence. That is very clear. So does Guatemala. But when it come to 'what is Belize', there is no agreement. And I am not sure that we can count on support from anyone on this issue, in the way that we could for our independence. I don't think anybody will get involved in the question of what is Belize's territorial boundary.

· So how do you think the master can be resolved ?

-From our point of view, the territorial boundaries of Belize are not a matter for discussion, so I don't know how it will be resolved. I think it can only be concluded by a change of attitude in Guatemala City. Having accepted our independence, it should follow that they accept the boundaries as set out in our independence constitution.

· And do you think the fact that the British forces have left will make it more difficult for you ?

-I think at the moment that everything is on a diplomatic rather than a military level. So I don't see that the departure of the British is going to have that effect. The effect it does have, however, is to encourage adventurism on the border because people may feel we are unable to react. We expect there will incursions of civilians from time to time, and that this will be supported by political elements within Guatemala. There was a case in point last year. We were engaged for the greater part of six months in getting Guatemala to assist in removing a hundred Guatemalan families from our territory. But I think we have demonstrated that we will be very firm where that is concerned.

· In similar situations, a solution has been found through the United Nations or the International Court of Justice. Do you not think you could use this possibility to reach a solution more quickly - pushing Guatemala to accept your boundaries.

- Firstly, I don't think Guatemala sees that as an option. They consider it a constitutional matter on their side and therefore would not subject themselves to that. Secondly, I don't think anybody really cares about this kind of border issue. They care about independence, but as to where a country begins and ends on a map is not of much concern to anyone.

· For Belize whet are the most important areas of foreign policy-your relations with the United States, Central America, Caricom, Europe or what ?

-Obviously, relations with the USA will always be of great importance to us and everyone else in this hemisphere. Events like the Summit of the Americas are a clear indication of this. Our primary and long-standing relationship is with the English-speaking Caribbean and we are continuing to foster that through our membership of Caricom. Our relationships with Mexico have always been excellent and we will certainly try to do everything we can to maintain that. As for our links with Central America, these have improved considerably over the last year, now that the Central Americans have accepted the idea of Belize's independence. As you rightly say, they have not supported Guatemala in any suggestion of excluding Belize from the Central American arena. In fact, our inclusion has been consolidated day by day, with no objections from Guatemala.

As for Europe, as you know, we have some difficulties, particularly with regard to the banana regime. Europe itself is divided on this issue. Our relationship with the EU is, by and large, one with the United Kingdom. As regards the other EU countries, there are some with whom we have hardly any relations - not in a negative sense-but just as a matter of fact. There are others with whom we have some exchanges-a little bit of trading and perhaps technical assistance, and we hope to keep building these links.

Belize appears largely to have achieved a sense of unity but there seems to be some problem with the Garifuna people. Is this significant ?

-I don't believe so. Any minority group will always feel that more should be done, and perhaps justly so. But you will also get elements within any group that will attribute failings or problems to the fact of their ethnicity rather than to other factors. I think the Garifuna people have, in fact, come an extremely long way in terms of their image and acceptance among the rest of the community. The Garifuna people are to be seen in all walks of life whether in the private sector or the government. Anybody who sees the difficulties as something which stem from attachment to a particular ethnic grouping is, I think, probably not looking at the whole picture.

· What about the specific issue of the monument to the Garifuna people and the surrounding land ? With only 200 000 people in Belize there is a lot of empty land that could be used.

-Well there are several factors here. That land was acquired by displacing Garifuna people. It was taken away from people who traditionally farmed in that area and we feel that that was an injustice. But there are, within the Garifuna community, just as many people who are convinced that if it is a competition between people's access to land and homes, and a monument, they would rather choose the former. As for the point that there is a lot of land available elsewhere, that fails to recognise the fact that one has to have access to utilities such as water and electricity. It is not logical just to say that there is plenty of land available. That is not a sufficient base on which to build a community.

'We need to be prepared for the era of trade liberalisation'

· Finally, can you recapitulate your key objectives for Belize ?

-As I said, we need first to straighten out the government's financial position. Government must extract itself from the private economy. We must get out of the way of the private sector by eliminating our domestic debt. In addition, we obviously need to be prepared for the era of trade liberalisation. This has the potential for great benefits but also for a great deal of damage to our economy. We are, therefore, seeking alliances-with our traditional partners such as Caricom and with non-traditional partners such as the Central American countries - to better prepare ourselves to deal with the challenge. It is particularly important in the field of agriculture. A totally free market could easily disrupt our domestic agricultural activity, perhaps beyond repair. So we aim to ensure that we develop the markets that must be developed in the region, to give our farmers more export outlets. Once foreign agricultural products are freely able to invade the domestic market, the only solution is for us to penetrate external ones. We have very little time, but through these alliances mentioned, we have a lot of skill available to us in the region to help us accomplish this objective.

The overall message must be that the government has a very serious situation to correct. To do that, it has to take measures which will be painful. But the bottom line is that if you take the measures and suffer the pain now, you can solve the problem. If you carry on as if there is no problem, then you finally end up in a much worse situation. Fundamental common sense dictates that we must act immediately, even if there is a cost attached, so that we can move forward in the shortest possible time.

Interview with opposition leader, George Price

Architect of Belize's independence

Since Belize's first election under universal suffrage in 1954, George Price, the current leader of the opposition, has spent more years than anyone else at the helm of his country. He was e/so one of the key players, and some would say the main architect, of its independence. A founding member of the PUP, he rose quickly to assume the leadership. In 1958, he was prosecuted by the British authorities for sedition -and his popularity with the voters soared. He went on to win five successive elections and to leave his imprint firmb on the nation. When he opted for a new seat of government in the interior, the pretext was a cyclone which had threatened the coastal capital. The real reason was George Price's desire to bring government closer to the people, removing it from the dosed world of Belize City. It was also Price who led the first post-independence government He went out on a limb in 1983 when he refused to sanction the invasion of Grenada by American forces and despite US pressure, he kept a number of ministers in his government who were regarded by Washington as 'socialists' Having lost to the UDP in the 1984 election, the PUP regained power in 1989 and George Price again became Prime Minister.

The regular swing of the pendulum between two political parties with few ideological differences, and the fact that George Price himself has long experience of office, have moulded him into a moderate but by no means complacent opposition leader. He has recently stepped up his criticisms of the rigorous policies of the current government - policies which appear to have hit the UDP's popular standing. But having held the reins of power for so long himself, he cannot dissociate himself entirely from the problems which Belize now faces, particularly when government ministers seldom miss an opportunity to attribute most of the blame to him.

· Mr Price, you have recently increased your attacks on the policies of the govern

- Our criticism is that the economy of Belize is in trouble and, for the most part, the trouble has been caused by the government. When they came to power in July 1993 they did certain things that adversely affected the economy. In particular, they cancelled or suspended contracts that were ongoing. This led to a loss of confidence among the business and financial community. If the government can go back on contracts, what else might it do in the future. It also created unemployment and the result was less tax revenue going into the state coffers. They incurred additional expenditure by employing their political officers and discharging a number top civil servants. That represents a double expenditure. Money has to be found to pay the salaries of the new people and to compensate those whose service has been ended. They have spent a lot of money on new vehicles and also on travelling. In a poor country like Belize, official travel should be controlled and, where it is necessary to attend conferences, we should try to keep the size of delegations to the minimum. Perhaps just two or three people, or sometimes even just one, instead of six. We see ministers taking unnecessary trips too many places. As a result of all this, The economy is in trouble.

The first thing they did when they gained power was to present a deficit budget. It was the first time in our political history that this had happened. In 1993, the deficit was something like $20 million and in the following year, they presented another budget containing a deficit of $40 million. So they have had to find ways of collecting more money. They have done this by imposing a tax known as the 'gross proceeds tax'. When the importer brings in goods and sells them to the wholesaler, the wholesaler has to pay 1% tax. And when the wholesaler sells the goods to the retailer, the retailer in turn has to pay 1%. When the product finally reaches the consumer, he has to pay anywhere from 3% to 5% of the value of the goods. The effect of all this is to increase the cost of living. And one of the results is that there are fewer jobs available and more unemployment. In addition, there are virtually no significant projects in the pipeline. The only projects that are ongoing are those that our government set up. For example, there was the Rehabilitation Programme of Belize which was designed to improve the canals, and roads like the Southern Highway.

· Members of the present government would argue that if there are problems now, it is because your administration spent too much and took on to many expensive commitments.

-Let me address that point. We did not leave the state bankrupt. At the time there was the change of government, the central bank had $89 million in foreign reserves. There was another $40 million deposited in the commercial banks. So there was money there. We also left a midyear budget which would have been balanced had they chosen to work with it.

The income that was projected from customs duties was all collected. There has been a lot of talk about the five buildings that were constructed by an Italian company when we were in power. It has been suggested that the government could have built them for less but I think this is misleading. When the Ministry of Works puts up a building, they don't include a number of charges in the calculation: for example, the architectural plans or the cost of supervision, because these are done by the Ministry of Works and absorbed in their budget. And the new buildings are serving a very useful purpose. There is the market itself, of course. The police needed more room and now there is a new police station. We had to have a customs building for the new seaport and now we have got it. There is also a fire station, which was clearly needed, and a library for the students. They may have appeared to cost more than the usual buildings but they clearly have a value.

· Can I ask you about the milk project that your government started. The Prime Minister says that it would have cost the government money and that was why they had to cancel some of their commitments.

-Yes. There was a plan in place when we left office whereby an investor would build a factory to process milk. And that would have saved the foreign exchange that pays for the import of milk. We thought the project was feasible but, for some reason, the government cancelled it.

· You say, regarding investment in the country, that the government lacks credibility. Isn't it the case that a lot of countries are finding it difficult to attract foreign investors Wouldn't you face the same problem if you were in power ?

-I should say that the problem is self-induced. The government brought about the loss of credibility through the actions they undertook when they gained power. They have caused it and they now have to solve the problem. Meanwhile, the people suffer. The cost of living has gone up.

· Looking beyond the economic issues, what are your other major concerns ?

- We are worried about an imbalance of power within the government. There was a recent change in cabinet portfolios and we now have one that encompasses the security forces, the police, the attorney-general and the courts. We think there is too much concentration of power within a single ministry and that that imbalance could lead to trouble in the future.

· What kind of trouble.

-The same kind of thing that happened in Haiti. You shouldn't allow one person to control the army and the forces of law and order. The power has to be distributed. Before, the police came under one ministry, while defence was the responsibility of another.

· Why do you think Mr Barrow has received all these different responsibilities.

-I am not entirely sure. There is an impression that the Prime Minister is not strong enough in Cabinet to do what he thinks should be done.

· What about the disagreement between the two Ministers-Hubert Elrington and Dean Barrow. The Prime Minister argues that this is evidence of freedom inside the government and of a healthy democracy.

-He may think that but I think it reveals the weakness of the Cabinet. A Cabinet should be strong and united behind a government's policy. Democracy has certain rules. When a minister doesn't agree with a policy, that minister should resign.

· Belize appears to enjoy a reasonable sense of national unity but a problem seems to have arisen involving the Garifuna community and the fate of the Garifuna monument Do you see this as a significant problem.

-That could be a problem. They were going to build a park and a monument and the government changed that by taking a part away for housing. I think they made a mistake. They should have allowed it to go ahead. A lot of money was invested in the monument and the park. It is really a case of undoing what we set out to achieve in preparing for independence.

Our party, the PUP, had to bring the six districts of the country together. At one time we were separated. Everything was in Belize City and the outer districts were isolated. We got them united under a name-Belize-the old name of the settlement in the Bay of Honduras which is derived from the Maya expression for 'road to the sea'. We also gave the country a flag and an anthem. That brought the people together as a nation: a small one admittedly but, nevertheless there is a feeling of nationhood. And we have been very careful to maintain this sense of unity. Now there is a danger that the cancellation of the monument could introduce divisions. We are a country of various races and our challenge is to keep everybody together-different origins but one nationality. I think that is one of the big attractions that we have for tourists. Admittedly, we have seen an increase in crime, and a drug problem which is hard to avoid, but in relative terms, the country enjoys good security, certainly in comparison to other countries. And as a tourist base we can offer big attractions: the barrier reef, the extensive ruins of the Maya civilisations, beautiful scenery and very diverse wildlife.

· Finally, can you sum up the difference between your party and the UDP.

-Belize is a democracy and we see it as our duty to do everything possible to develop the whole country. We don't think the government should be used as an instrument of a single political party, discriminating against people or practising victimisation. And that is what is happening at the moment. We feel that members of our party are being penalised. I think that is a big difference. We would be a compassionate government-one that feels responsible for the whole country. Another big difference, I think, is that we are better administrators, as was shown in the last government. We do not promise more than we can fulfil. You need to show responsibility in working out a programme of government. We are also more concerned about the 'little' man. We are there to improve his life condition. The weaker you are the more you should benefit from the protection of the government.

'The Queen's man'

The Queen's representative in Belize is Sir Colville Young, a poet, musician and intellectual who pot litely greets the visitor with a permanent and completely natural smile. He is the Governor-General, representing the Crown in Belize. He is so affable that you continually have to remind yourself of the position this man holds. He, in the meantime, does his utmost to make you forget it.

His humility matches Belmopan, the modest capital, and his language harmonises with these calm surroundings. Sir Colville appears to be at ease in his comfortable, but not excessively luxurious, official residence, although he would appear just as comfortable, one imagines, in an even more modest setting.

A half-hour session is frustrating when you do not want to conduct an interview but rather to allow your interlocutor free rein. It is all the more frustrating when you rapidly discover that what he has to say is really worth listening to. And all the while, he makes it clear that he is quite prepared to listen to you.

Given his reputation as a connoisseur of his country's culture, the simplest thing was to ask him what constituted culture in Belize-a nation of 200 000 inhabitants divided into innumerable groups originating from all quarters. His calm replies are punctuated with the modest 'l believe ...', an expression characteristic of those who, in fact, know.

Each group still speaks its own language; the Chinese speak Chinese, the Mayas speak Mayan, the Garifuna speak Garifuna and so on. The lingua franca, however, is Creole, the tongue which emerged from the interbreeding of Europeans and Africans. It has become the common language of communication- an example of something originating in one group which has been accepted by everyone. There is also a degree of commonality in eating habits: the typically Creole dish, 'rice and beans' is eaten everywhere. So too is goat meat, which was originally 'Spanish' (brought by the mestizos). The empanada, a maize flour patty, is also widely consumed. As Colville Young puts it, 'there is thus an intermixing of our cultures'.

Unfortunately, this intermixing does not extend to matters of religion. There are a number of indigenous rituals, for example, when the Garifuna celebrate their settling in Belize, but generally there is little 'native' input, and European religions predominate. 'I think that is a great pity' says the Governor General. He continues, 'although the Bible's message has remained the same, the way in which the message is passed on, and the medium, could have been adapted throughout the world. For example, here, there could have been a Belizean approach, after the fashion of certain countries where music and local rhythm also play a part.'

The predominant religion is Catholicism, which may seem surprising for a former British colony. When the English first arrived, the religion was obviously Anglican, with a little Methodism thrown in. The trend towards Catholicism was natural, however, given the large numbers of immigrants who arrived subsequently from Mexico and other neighbouring countries and who all helped to forge the nation. The newcomers often came to escape political systems against which they had revolted or revolutions which had got out of hand. And as Mr Young observed, 'despite the fact that we were living under a colonial system, which was intrinsically bad, they appreciated the stability and peace of this small country.'

Immigrants do not pose problems of integration for the simple reason that they resemble and speak like a sizeable part of the population which is of the same stock. The people living in the North and West of the country were also originally from Mexico and Central America. In addition, those who arrive want to become Belizean. 'I am pleased about that,' says the Governor-General.

'They are loyal to Belize'. Immigrants tend to have little schooling and they accept very low wages. With unemployment rife, this causes friction, but there is not the same type of tension as in France, for example, between the local population and Algerians or other foreigners. But, as our interviewee wryly observed, 'when our people go to the United States, they face problems of prejudice, and this opens their eyes'.

Admittedly, Belize is not very well known abroad. The Governor-General agrees that it does little to advertise itself, but then, the country does not have sufficient infrastructure to receive large numbers of tourists He thinks it could be a mistake for Belize to sell itself too well- people would want to come and there would be nowhere to accommodate them. Also, too many tourists might destroy the simple way of life while, in environmental terms, species such as alligators and some birds might not be able to withstand too great an intrusion onto their territory.

By contrast, bringing tourists into closer contact with the people and through them, with the country, in a regulated way, could perhaps be promoted. This would provide some income for individual citizens instead of all the profits going to big companies.

All the contributions made by different groups have been melded together to forge a culture. It may appear to be threatened by Americanisation through the medium of television, amongst other things, but Colville Young 'believes that' the local culture is strong enough to resist, although he admits he does not know for how long or at what level. American culture, he observes, has made inroads everywhere, even in Russia where hamburgers are now commonplace. One of the reasons why American culture is infiltrating more and more into Belize, apart from the fact that approximately 60 TV channels are received there, is that tens of thousands of Belizeans live in the United States, where they have gone in search of better opportunities. When they return to Belize, these people import a lifestyle which seduces those who remained: these expatriates have an air of success about them and the USA thus acquires the image of being a paradise.

However, in country areas, tales and myths are still very much alive and these have not been diluted by American influences. 'We have to make a major effort to keep our myths, proverbs, traditional healing methods, dances, arts and artisans alive and well', says Colville Young. But who is to do this ? Sometimes, people think that it should be the government, but is it a good idea for it to interfere too much in cultural matters? On the other hand, if everyone wants someone else to deal with the problem, nothing will ever be done.

Approximately ten years ago, Colville Young wrote a stage play based on a Belizean story. In a sense, it was more like a short opera, including music that he composed himself. He sees this as his own modest contribution to this work of regrouping local culture which has to consist of using the country's legends in all areas of life. Even television could be used to this end.

The Queen's man in Belize has not only made this contribution to the defence of national culture: he has also written, published and recorded stories, a collection of proverbs, songs, traditional music and books of poems. The most recent was published in 1993 and was entitled 'From one Caribbean Corner'. It begins with a delightful composition in memory of Bob Marley in which he addresses the dead star thus:

'(...Beat for 1)
Mixing ingredients of your protest
Like pepper-hot bitterly bubbling:
Apocalyptic visions
Of an evil Babylon burning
And haunted haunting melodies
Where shanty-town black children
Bite in emptiness
Of bloated bellies that wondering
If throat cut above
And, under it all
The driving pulse
(O. Beat man, reggae-man, beat for 1)'

In a spontaneous gesture, Sir Colville Young gave us his book of poems, dedicating it with the simple words 'From Colville'. He is certainly a man of rhythm and style.

Still images

There was no way, with an ordinary vehicle, that we were going to be able to drive back up that four kiLome long slope. Persistent rain had fumed it into a quagmire of fine, slippery mud. Yet our young driver only finally lost heart when the clutch gave out. For two hours, we had been moving forward in fits and starts in the vain hope that all our pushing, aided by the use of scores of branches under the wheels, would provide sufficient grip. The possibility of being towed out by a Canadian globe. trotter, complete with a fourwhee-drive, also came to naught. He had proudly announced to us that he had just crossed North America and was preparing to drive down to the south of the continent. Rut our hopes soon evaporated as he too found himself bogged down in the mud. In fact, he did manage to extricate himself an hour or so later having resumed to the bottom of the hill. There he managed to get up enough speed to tackle the slope. Unfortunately, our putative rescuer fumed out to be a 'hit and run' driver. In his attempt to beat the mud, he drove straight into our door and, perhaps fearing the consequences of the accident, had kept on going, disappearing into the darkness. In fact, the prospect of spending the night in the forest, and of having to walk several kiLomes the next day to seek help, made the collision seem a trivial matter. We pretended to sleep in the muggy heat of our vehicle which had become an oven, the windows wound up to protect us from mosquitoes, cunning snakes and, who knows, a crafty jaguar or two. Then there was a miracle. On their routine round, with a fully-equipped vehicle, the owners of the inn just inside the protected zone caught sight of the dim light from our headlamps. Covered in mud, we were taken back to civilisation and then, after hot tea beside the big open fire in the Hidden Valley Inn and a three hour taxi ride, we were back in our hotel in Belize City.

This was our only (slightly) adventurous episode-and an involuntary one at that-in a country which attracts true adventurers. These are the people one encounters at Eva's Restaurant in San Ignacio, a small town full of character at the foot of the great Mayas mountains. In Belize, they can throw themselves wholeheartedly into the pursuit of their passions, whether it be climbing, caving, rafting or walking. There are also those who specialise in diving into the 'Blue Holes'. One such is to be found off Belize City, on the coral reef. There, it is possible to dive down into the deep blue of a 1000-foot-diameter, 480-foot-deep shaft. Altematively, one can stop on the Hummingbird Highway, not far from Belmopan, in Blue Hole Park and take a phenomenal leap from the rocky promontory or the surrounding trees into a sapphire-blue shaft of sparkling, icy water about ten metres deep, set in the middle of a pool. You have to aim carefully though because it is very narrow. The abundant foliage which shades the pool and the shadow of the half-open grotto create a kind of religious serenity which envelops the visitor.

While descending the last slope leading to the waterfall (which few Belizeans have visited), we knew that what we were doing was unwise. There was a steady drizzle and the car was already sliding about. Yet even at the most awkward moment, we had no real regrets. Perhaps we should have insisted on taking the 4 x 4 we had used before. Perhaps we should have asked for the cellphone (wrongly seen as a new toy, purely for show). But the site of the Hidden Valley Falls, and the drive in silence down a one-thousand-foot-drop to the invisible bottom of the funnel-shaped mountain range, was an unforgettable experience. Down in the valley, we were flanked by the mountains, standing as if ready for some bizarre formation dance. The lights of our vehicle, diffuse in the yellowish, drizzly dusk, barely illuminated the scene. We could sense the site more than we could see it but, in our admiration, we became part of it.

The flight of the jabiru

With his dented straw hat, khaki T-shirt and fatigues, John Masson looked like a guerilla fighter, an experienced guide, an archaeologist in search of hidden treasure and a holiday-camp group leader all rolled into one. John, who is the Site Manager for Programme for Belize is, in fact, a bit of each of the last three. Above all he is a professional-a manager who knows the scientific subtleties or perhaps a researcher with management skills. No matter. To discover the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management area with him is a privilege. He tells you about the creation of the Programme for Belize, a private but non-profit-making company which has bought 230 000 acres (about 100 000 hectares) of tropical forest. He speaks knowledgably about research into biodiversity, the natural habitat and horticulture. And he waxes eloquent about the 60 or so Maya sites located on the land he is responsible for. One of these is La Milpa, one of the three most important sites in Belize, which has recently come to be regarded as the birthplace of the classical Maya period. The work of the archaeologists, he says, is geared to finding the answer to one single question: why did this civilisation collapse. You may find it difficult to remember all the details from this flow of erudite information, as you try to keep up with the names of the flowers and the birds (the yellow tones of the Ludwigia on the Chichibe hedges, the purple bells of the Morning Glory). Yet you cannot escape the feeling that here is someone who wants to share his encyclopedic knowledge. The facts may get jumbled but the essential remains: the sugary aroma of the coffee bush which grows in the shade of ancient trees; the mixture of smells of flowers and damp earth; the rare sight of the jabiru taking flight on its six-foot wings; giant mahogany trees and Maya structures standing side by side; roots embedded in the stone; sensations of freshness; the harsh contact of leaves and branches; the soft moisture of droplets of dew on your neck; and your own frisson of alarm on learning from your guide that the musky smell is that of a jaguar who wants to remain hidden. Then there are the sounds-the cries of animals -and the silences. Seeing a jabiru is a good omen.

The route to the park from Belize City is circuitous-up towards the border with Mexico, then west and back down in a south-westerly direction until you are almost level with your starting point. The sight, however, is well worth the detour.

'Made in nostalgia'

It is also worth staying in Belize City. This town's languid air and the affability of its people make one forget the advice to be cautious and the fears about lack of security. Criminality, although it probably exists, must lie below the surface. Belize City invites you to relax, with its colonial houses, tree-lined avenues, flowery squares, meanderings and, above all, the sound of water from the lagoons, Haulover Creek river which dawdles its way through the town, and the many canals. You are reminded of the charm of Venice as you watch the swing bridge in operation, or the balletic dance of the fishing boats with their sails, leaving at dawn and coming back at dusk, always surrounded by an unreal light. Friday is market day, but street vendors can be seen every day: players on a daily stage of colour and fantasy. You see a little girl in a colourful satin dress with lace and flounces. The label could be 'made in nostalgia'. She is probably a Mennonite, descended from 19th century European immigrants, who has come this very morning from the western mountains, accompanying her parents who sell wooden artifacts and thereby keep the old crafts alive. It is this feeling that time has stopped which is the magic of Belize City. It is a magic that has been spotted in Hollywood. Films crews are not uncommon and one might easily encounter stars like Harrison Ford in the foyer of the Fort Georges Radisson Hotel. It is a pity, though, that the films made here (Mosquito Coast, Dogs of War or Heart of Darkness) should have titles which give no hint of the town's true seductive nature.

Flying over the coral reef in a light aircraft at low altitude offers a different kind of thrill, but one which depends on the vagaries of the weather. Normally, the islands guarantee sun and relaxation but when we went to San Pedro, it had been raining. The potholed streets, which are covered in sand for the comfort of barefoot walkers, had become waterlogged. We found warmth again in the atmosphere of a family 'pension' called the 'Seychelles'. Its owner, Sandra Cooper, combines the friendliness and reserve characteristic of many Belizeans. She lived in the USA for some years, but decided a short time ago to settle in this small comer of her country, offering visitors something other than the artificial gaiety of the hotels; something of the real Belize. It is rare to find extensive beaches on the islands - you have to go to Placencia on the coast for these, but the striking views of the sea and the rocks will soon take your mind off them. There is always a quiet corner to be found, wherever you are in Belize. This is particularly the case at Caulker Keys, the wildest and least tourist-oriented of the islands which tends to be visited mostly by locals. If you want peace and quiet, though, perhaps you should avoid the cemetery on the beach. This unusual juxtaposition, not surprisingly, is a draw for visitors!

EU-Belize cooperation - An end to isolation

by Jose Morgado

Situated at the meeting point of the Caribbean and Central America, Belize is geographically part of the latter, but its culture and language place it in the former. Although it has been a member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) since 1974 and of the Organisation of American States (OAS) since 1991, Belize has always been somewhat isolated from both regions and up, to now, it has not fully benefited from the many economic and cultural advantages which such partnerships can bring.

Its small size (22965 km²) and sparse population (9 inhabitants per km²) mean that its internal market is very small, and its per capita socio-economic infrastructural costs very high. This makes it vulnerable to outside forces and dependent on aid from the international community to enable it to cope with the rigours of development and economic growth.

Despite these constraints, it has managed to record some remarkable economic results. During the 1980s, Belize achieved a real GDP growth rate of 10% and kept inflation down to less than 2% on average. Between 1992 and 1994, a period of international economic crisis, a real growth rate of 4% in GDP was maintained with inflation at an average rate of less than 1.8%. This sustained economic growth was achieved thanks to a very tight macro-economic policy, favourable export prices for agricultural products and access to the preferential markets of the European Union and the USA. Privatisation of the banana and sugar industries and of the telecommunications company also contributed to these good economic results.

Keepers of the Maya mystery

As investigations into the causes of the disappearance of the Maya civilisation continue, Belize is coming to be seen as one of the most important centres of this highly developed and dynamic culture and is therefore arousing the interest of archaeologists and tourists alike. Belize also enjoys the benefits of a magnificent coral reef (the second largest in the world) along its coast, numerous keys (heavenly islands of sand and palm trees surrounded by the enchanting sea) and its tropical rain forest, 80% of which has been preserved and which offers flora and fauna the like of which are not seen anywhere else in the world. All these assets make Belize a tropical paradise, whose tourism potential has yet to be promoted and developed.

Like many of the EU's other ACP partners, Belize has to cope with the usual constraints faced by small developing countries. The small size of the internal market very much limits the possibilities for industry to stimulate production. Other problems include the aforementioned high infrastructure cost per inhabitant, dependence on the outside world, limited resources, a fragile environment, and vulnerability to natural disasters (especially tropical storms). Action taken to aid development of the most important sectors, such as agriculture, tourism and the private sector more generally, entails, amongst other things, developing the infrastructure to increase competitiveness. European assistance is geared towards achieving this aim.

The main projects implemented under Lom (1975-1980) involved the construction of three secondary schools and a veterinary laboratory equipped with modem equipment, and the expansion of the international airport. ECU 2 million was also provided towards the construction of the new Belize City Hospital.

The LomI national indicative programme (1981 to 1985) continued to provide assistance for the social infrastructure, and in particular the Belize City Hospital. The existing wood and concrete building, which was 100 years old, was the only large hospital in the country and it did not provide adequate levels of medical care.

Under LomII (1986 to 1990) and the first financial protocol of LomV (1991 to 1995), about 90% of NIP resources were devoted to social and economic infrastructure. The two main projects here are the upgrading of the Hummingbird Highway, the sole road link with the south of the country, which is crucial for the transport of produce such as bananas, citrus and rice, and the continuing work on the hospital. The latter does not just include design and construction, but also covers training of hospital staff, and technical assistance for the Health Ministry to advise on its preparations for the transfer to the new building and for the day-to-day management of the hospital. By the end of 1994,99% of total scheduled assistance (ECU 29 million) had been allocated, and 95% actually spent, the project being 98% complete.

Through the European Investment Bank, Belize has benefited from additional EU assistance in sectors which as a rule do not satisfy the assistance criteria of the European Development Fund. Under the four Lomonventions, the EIB has financed five loans to the Development Finance Cooperation for the promotion of small and medium-sized enterprises and a pilot gold mine project, and two loans to Belize's electricity company. Total EIB assistance amounted to ECU 10.1 million in the period between 1983 and 1994.

Regional cooperation to improve integration

The various Lomaribbean regional programmes offer considerable scope for development but this is one area where Belize has perhaps not been able to maximise the potential of EU assistance. Notwithstanding this, under Lom and 11, the country did benefit from three financing operations amounting to ECU 2.1 million in total which focused on agricultural research projects.

The Belize Government is cooperating with the EU to implement a project intended to preserve and promote the most important Maya monuments in the country (Caracol, Xunantunich, Altun Ha, Nim Li Punit etc.). This project also includes the construction or improvement of access routes, and of small museums on archaeological sites, and the opening of centres offering tourist information services, accommodation and catering under one roof.

Out of the total of ECU 90 million allocated under LomV to the Caribbean Regional Integration Programme (via Cariforum), ECU 2.1 million has been provided for research and technical assistance projects in the fishing sector, management of which is carried out by Belize in its capacity as the regional authorising office.

The political stability of Belize in the violent central American region has attracted some 35 000 refugees and displaced persons from neighbouring countries. These people have been settled throughout Belize for a number of years now. Under LomII and IV, the EU financed four projects, at a cost of ECU 2.5 million, to help improve the living conditions of refugees and to assist them to integrate. There is also a project, costing ECU 0.5 million, which aims to explore ways of preserving the barrier reef and managing the coastline. This was approved in 1992. In December 1994, the EU approved a sum of ECU 1.5 million for a research programme into the conservation of the tropical rain forest. Finally, between 1990 and 1994, the EU financed projects managed by non-governmental organisations to the tune of ECU 1.3 million.

Future work will not just be limited to maintaining the current macroeconomic policy of the government, and establishing a coherent and well-maintained infrastructure. There will also be intensification and diversification of the agricultural sector (in response to food shortages), the promotion of tourism as an important source of income and the development of various aspects of the fishing sector covering such areas as research, training, production and promotion. Finally, there will be support for the private sector, with a particular focus on small and medium-sized enterprises, reflecting the fact that this is a key area for future economic development and growth.


Total assistance to Belize, 1975 to 1994 (in ECU million)

A much happier country

As international was focused on South Africa in May last year for the inauguration of Nelson Mandela as State President, a drama of similar historic proportion was unfolding without fanfare in Malawi. Thirty years after imposing one of the most brutal autocratic rules Africa has seen this century, Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda was heavily defeated in a presidential election. The fear that gripped this nation for three decades, which had begun to lift a year earlier following the approval of multiparty democracy in a referendum, suddenly disappeared. Only then did the full extent of Dr Banda's legacy become apparent: 19 presidential palaces, an economy in shambles and a population living largely in appalling ignorance and poverty (income per capita is less than $200, one of the lowest in the world).

A year on, The Courier, which for more than fifteen years was effectively unable to cover Malawi, visited the country to see how the government of President Baklili Muluzi is dealing with the legacy. It found a much happier country and a functioning democracy making considerable efforts to overcome both the psychological effects and the economic consequences of Banda's misrule.

Although the political atmosphere has relaxed considerably and the media are becoming more and more vigorous in their pursuit of transparency and accountability, a residual fear among the population is discernible. The fall of Dr Banda and the full meaning of democracy have yet to sink in: people generally are still cautious about voicing criticism. Civil servants remain largely afraid of taking decisions, even at very low levels, for fear of retribution with the result that administrative processes are inordinately slow and considerable delays are caused to vital projects. Such is the seriousnesss of the situation that the donor community led by World Bank is supporting a programme designed to remove some of the bottlenecks. The government, meanwhile, plans a more profound reform of the service, and has in this regard set up a cabinet committee, chaired by Vice-President Justin Malewezi, who happened to have headed it for a period under Banda. The committee was due to produce a paper in June.

Mr Malewezi told The Courier that reforms would not be easy because they include changing the whole concept of the civil service in Malawi to make it neutral and capable of serving any government in power. To start with, there has to be a census to establish its exact size and then to institute new gradings and salary structures. There is an urgent need to improve the efficiency of the middle ranks which are, at the moment, very weak. People at different levels should be comfortable enough and courageous enough to take certain decisions which are appropriate at their level, said the Vice President.

With hindsight, the now widespread belief in Malawi that Dr Banda had a policy deliberately designed to keep his people ignorant, impoverished and subjugated can hardly be disputed (see the article Banda-the making of a despot). Yet it cannot be denied that he began in 1963, when he came into office as Prime Minister, on a very good note, keeping his pre-independence promises of more schools, roads, clinics and clean drinking-water to rural communities. He appeared then to be genuinely popular but as he set about consolidating his one-man rule, a couple of years later and began to see plotters in every corner, he hit upon an ingenious system of private enterprise which transformed Malawi literally into his private domain, a system in which he distributed patronage to a select few.

Battle against ignorance

Under that system, primary education became extremely expensive and a luxury, especially for the 90% of the population who lived in the rural areas and at subsistence levels. For over 25 years, a large number of children were denied any education. Of the approximately 70000 children who left primary school every year only a fraction found places in the 118 secondary schools in the country. The sole university-the University of Malawi- admitted no more than 800 students annually. The Kamuzu Academy, which Banda set up ostensibly to educate bright but disadvantaged children and claimed to finance himself, turned out to be of very limited use for the country. Specialising in the classics with exclusively expatriate tutors recruited from the UK, the Academy took children (most of them foreigners), from rich family backgrounds or with connections to the ruling Malawi Congress Party.

Suspicion of subversive activities in the academic community meant that students, lecturers and professors of the University of Malawi were constantly intimidated, harassed and often thrown into jail. Standards inevitably fell. The statistics speak for themselves: there are fewer than 200 doctors (the majority expatriates) and fewer than 100 lawyers in the whole country! The illiteracy rate is 61%, second in Africa only to Mozambique which, as is well known, was beset by civil war for over fifteen years.

The impact of this neglect of and indeed vandalism to the economy and society, as will be seen elsewhere in this report, has been devastating. This is generally recognised and there is a cross-party consensus in Parliament to make education the top priority. Indeed it is the only sector that has been spared in the overall financial squeeze the country has been enduring since the beginning of the year. It received the highest allocation under the last budget (23% of the total).

In March last year the Government introduced free primary education, abolished compulsory school uniforms and undertook to provide textbooks and exercise books free of charge. The response was overwhelming. Over 3.2 million children enrolled. 'It was totally unexpected but we are delighted', says the Minister of Education, Sam Mpasu. 'We suspected all along that costs were deterring many parents from sending their children to school. We knew that costs involving textbooks, exercise books and uniforms were very significant to a person who is on a subsistence level. We did not have to wait for researches and studies to establish that', he explained.

The Minister revealed that with that number of children, an additional 38 000 classrooms are needed. 'As I am speaking they are studying under trees, in mosques and churches and so on, and the pupil-teacher ratio is 60:1; not an ideal situation but acceptable under the circumstances.' Some 22 900 teachers have been recruited, 90% of whom are school leavers who require training. Mr Mpasu said that the annual requirement for exercise books is 18 million (6 million per term).

The World Bank is again intervening here, leading a group of donors willing to help out with the construction of classrooms and the training of teachers. USAID is putting up $25 million for a programme with a bias towards the education of girls-who were particularly disadvantaged under Banda's regime.

Aware of the bottlenecks the current situation could produce in the coming years, when these children will be seeking places in the secondary schools, Mr Mpasu says that plans have already been laid for the establishment of 250 day-secondary schools (about 10 additional secondary schools for each of the 25 districts, to ensure that one at least is within the walking distance for any student. 'We are moving away from our emphasis on boarding schools which are very expensive to nun.'

As to tertiary education, Malawi has stopped sending students abroad because of the shortage of foreign exchange. 'We are trying to establish another university, but in the meantime we are expanding the existing one to meet the demand which will increase shortly.'

Those who have missed out on secondary and tertiary education are not being forgotten either. A lot more effort will be put into vocational training and 'distance reaming', the latter calling for better use of the 40 000 distance reaming centres which already exist throughout the country. The Ministry of Education is working closely with the newly created Ministry of Women's and Children's affairs to upgrade and expand basic adult literacy programmes, especially in the rural areas.

Poverty alleviation

These educational measures, as well as reforms in agriculture, on which 90% of Malawians depend, are part and parcel of the government's policy of poverty-alleviation. Inflation, meanwhile, which has shot up to 45% in recent months, is placing severe strains on living standards. The Government was obliged, despite financial difficulties, to increase civil service salaries by 25% across the board last April. But what is really contributing to the country's survival at the moment are the better than expected maize harvests this year. This is a direct result of the last year's timely intervention by international donors (including the European Union) to finance an input programme which enabled the Government to provide free fertilisers and seeds to over one million smallholders.

The task of improving the living standards of Malawians is a daunting one. However, there are three things going for country. The first is the people's understanding of the seriousness of the economic situation and their willingness to make sacrifices, the second is the country's significant untapped resources, and the third is the enormous amount of goodwill towards Malawi in the donor community which is reflected in its readiness to support the government's efforts.

Consolidating democracy: strengths and weaknesses

The sight, in May, of a Member of Parliament on the government benches waving a fly-whisk at the opposition, in an obvious mockery of Dr Kamuzu Banda, and the general humour in which the whole episode was received, were poignant evidence to this observer of how firmly democracy was taking root in Malawi. It even lent credence to assertions that nowhere else in Africa is it functioning better than here. Two or three years ago, such an episode would have been unthinkable. The MP would have been arrested, tortured and probably killed. The current President, Bakili Muluzi, is constantly under attack for one reason or another and the press has never had it so good, enthusiastic in the pursuit of good governance, sometimes to the point of absurdity.

The Speaker of Parliament, R Munyenembe told The Courier that Malawi is passing through an interesting period after being subjected to one-party rule for 30 years. 'If the press can be left free,' he said, 'I'm sure the future for democracy in this country is bright, but if it muzzled, we will go back to the one-party system, and to one-sided stories. But as things stand, we are hearing balanced views on what is happening in this country.'

For a nation that has never had experience of real democracy, and has enjoyed freedom for just one year, this comes as a surprise. Even more surprising is the attitude of the political class, whether in government or opposition, to the experiences of the past three decades. Many of them spent years in prison, either for minor political offences or on trumpedup charges. Yet there is a total absence of bitterness, making the task of national reconciliation much easier, at least on the surface. Parliament has set up a National Compensation Tribunal to probe the injustices of the Banda regime and to compensate innocent victims. Indeed, a few have already been compensated. A new Constitution, in which human rights and press freedoms are enshrined, was passed by Parliament in May.

Increase in insecurity

Democratic freedom has brought with it a rise in crime and insecurity, and the reaction of some Malawians, in the absence of a trustworthy police force and an efficient judiciary, has been to take the law into their own hands. There have been lynchings, sometimes using the notorious 'necklacing' method first employed in South Africa. This type of mob justice is a source of serious concern for Minister of the Interior, Peter Fachi. Although the suggestion has been discounted by many, there are fears that remnants of the Malawi Young Pioneers, who sought refuge in Mozambique, may be linked to the crime wave and that, in the long run, they may constitute an even greater threat to democracy.

The police force is also considered a threat to democracy although it must be stressed that this view is held by only some ministers. Their suspicious handling of some recent murders, supposedly criminal but in reality political, have raised doubts as to their loyalty. The loyalty of certain elements in the Malawi Congress Party, who'it is believed, may not have fully come to terms with their loss of power, is also questioned.

On the side of democracy, however, is a well-disciplined army which steered clear of politics over the years, and to whom the nation should be grateful for bringing the MYP reign of terror to an end, thus facilitating Malawi's transition to democracy. Following the murder in April of the army commander, General Mamkin Chigawa, ostensibly by armed robbers near the border with Mozambique, a new commander has been appointed by President Muluzi. In recent months, the army has been conducting operations throughout the country to recover illegally held arms.

Reform of the judiciary

Reforms to the judiciary, designed to guarantee its independence and ensure equal and easy access of all to justice, have been greeted with considerable relief by the people of Malawi. The traditional courts have been stripped of most of their powers, being restricted to cases involving customary law, and they have also been brought under the jurisdiction of the High Court.

During the Banda regime, high court judges were chosen from the administration and were civil servants. Although the new government has made it possible for people from the private sector to enter the judiciary no one has taken up the offer: there is a paucity of qualified people in the Malawi legal profession and the low level of remuneration does not make the job particularly attractive. Vice- President Justin Malewezi says that there are proposals to separate the judiciary from the Civil Service and for judges to have a different scale of remuneration. 'When these reforms are in place,' he asserted, 'it will be easier for lawyers in the private sector to accept appointments to the bench.'

The Vice-President indicated that reforms will also be necessary in the police. Observers point out that the force behaved, under the previous regime, as if it were an arm of the ruling party. Like some MCP politicians, there are police officers who have difficulty coming to terms with the new political order. The prison service is also earmarked for transformation with the aim of making it less punitive and more focused on rehabilitation. This is seen by Mr Malewezi as a challenging but crucial aspect of the government's overall human rights approach. A whole programme of retraining and training will be necessary for both the police force and the prison services.

The Court system, meanwhile, faces a huge backlog of cases, some of which are murders dating as far back as 1990. This is causing considerable unease in the country, because, as Mr Malewezi observes, 'justice delayed is justice denied.' The problem is compounded by the fact that some districts have no magistrates' courts. In the opinion of High Court Judge, Anastasia Msosa, who is also Chairman of the Electoral Commission, an interim measure would be 'for us judges to tour the country on circuits to hear these cases and dispose of them.' But as some of them involve murder it will not be easy. Murder cases require to be heard by a jury and Malawi has almost lost the habit of jury trials. Judge Msosa, however, told The Courier that she had been one of a group of judges who had recently toured the United Kingdom to 'familiarise ourselves' with jury trials. 'In the UK,' she said, 'we saw how the system operates. There isn't much difference with what we were used to, but there was no harm in re-acquainting ourselves with the procedures to see where we can make changes.'

Transparency and accountability

Of great concern to the donor community in Malawi's young democracy are the issues of transparency and accountability. The experience of the previous regime, with its abuses of power and nepotism are still fresh in the memory. So too is their expropriation of public funds. The resources available to Malawi, which are needed for development, are meagre and the country cannot afford to have them salted away. Today, corruption in Malawi is thought to be on a relatively small scale, certainly in comparison to other African states, but there is a view that it needs to be 'nipped it in the bud' before it becomes more widespread. The focus, of course, is on the ministries, in particular the Ministry of Works where awards of contracts have always provided opportunities for bribery. The Government says it is dedicated to ensuring transparency and accountability. Indeed in his interview with The Courier, President Muluzi indicated that an Anti-Corruption Bureau was being set up to investigate all cases of corruption. Finance Minister, Aleke Banda, meanwhile, gave an assurance that anyone found to be defrauding the Government would immediately be prosecuted, as a deterrent to others. The Auditor-General's Office, he revealed, is being beefed up and henceforth its reports will be closely examined and acted upon, unlike previously when they were simply consigned to the archives. Any discrepancy or whiff of corruption will result in the Ministry concerned being scrutinised by a team consisting of representatives of the Ministries of Justice and Finance, and of the Police.

But these are currently just words and promises. They underline the need for a strong and independent press in a country where the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation still sees itself as the Government's mouthpiece. Independent newspapers, which have found their way on to the streets since the advent of multiparty democracy, have been engaged in recent months in a campaign against corruption on a scale never before seen in Malawi. Unfortunately, despite this vibrancy, there is a great danger that a good number of them will disappear in the not-too-distant future for the simple reason that advertising revenue, on which they depend, is not sufficient. Currently they depend on the few advertisements placed by parastatals which are still controlled by political appointees of the previous regime. Lately there have been signs of discrimination in the distribution of advertising. With politicians who own newspapers increasingly using them as political tools, and few prospects of an appreciable expansion in the private sector in the coming years, democracy continues to be under threat. That, at least, is the opinion of E. Chitsulo, editor of the Michiru Sun and President of the Malawi Journalists' Association.

Although licences for private radio broadcasting are being issued, no Malawian group has yet met the conditions. So far, only a foreign evangelical organisation has secured one and has gone on to set up a radio service. At the moment, Malawi has no television station but it is understood that Malayasias 'TV Three' is planning to set one up in the near future.

Political manoeuvring and tribal divisions

In addition to the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), two major political formations emerged during the transitional period. These were the United Democratic Front (UDF) led by Bakili Muluzi and the Alliance for Democracy (AFORD) led by Chakufwa Chihana. Although not really tribal in outlook as in most African countries, the support of all three parties is regionally based; the MCP in the centre, AFORD in the north and the UDF in the south. Since the May 1994 elections, there has been considerable manoeuvring for position in the new democratic Malawi.

Both AFORD and the UDF, it should be recalled, suffered considerable harassment immediately after the unbanning of political parties and before the referendum on multiparty democracy in June 1993. They had little access to the media, and their rallies were tightly controlled. UDF leader, Bakili Muluzi was even arrested shortly before the referendum and charged with misuse of public and party funds when he was MCP secretary-general 12 years earlier. Yet the opposition successfully campaigned for a 'yes' vote. But the months leading up to the presidential and parliamentary elections saw divisions within the opposition. Whereas the smaller parties-the UFDM and the Congress for the Second Republic -rallied around the UDF to ensure the defeat of the Malawi Congress Party, AFORD remained independent, accusing the UDF of being made up of former members of the MCP and torturers.

In the May elections, Bakili Muluzi of the UDF came first in the presidential race, ahead of Dr Banda, with Chakufwa Chihana of AFORD coming third. In the parliamentary poll, the UDF won 85 seats, the MCP 56 and AFORD 36. The UDF formed a minority government. Surprisingly, AFORD initially went into an opposition alliance with the MCP, although several of its members had defected to the UDF. The explanation ? There was a need to preserve the country from tribal divisions. By September, Mr Chihana had accepted President Muluzi's proposal to become second vice-president, a post not foreseen in the Constitution and which Parliament had to create. He was also made Minister of Water and Irrigation and his party, AFORD, was allocated three other ministerial posts. Together AFORD and the UDF have 121 seats in the 177 seatparliament. The President's explanation? There was a need to preserve the country from tribal division. Yet AFORD claims it retains the status of an opposition party.

Among the recommendations made by the Constitutional Conference set up by Parliament were the abolition of the post of second vice-president, a limitation of 24 on the number of ministers and the creation of a second chamber - the Senate. Parliament, which retained the right of veto, rejected the first and second proposals, stating that the President must be free to determine the size of his cabinet.

They accepted reluctantly, however, the proposal for a Senate - to be implemented in 1999.

Advocates of a second Chamber argued that it would provide women, who constitute 52% of the population but currently have only 6% of the seats in Parliament, with the opportunity of greater representation. But the debate in Parliament, which focused on the need for affirmative action for women who had suffered discrimination and oppression for years under Dr Banda, revealed considerable unease. It was argued the main beneficiaries would be a few educated urban women who have nothing in common with women in the rural areas. In any case, observers note, it is unlikely that the proposal will see the light of day. By 1999, a new unicameral Parliament will have been elected, and it is doubtful whether the mechanisms for the election of a second chamber will be in place.

Interview with president Bakili Mulizi

'For the first time in 30 years, people can live as human beings'

In May 1994, Bakili Muluzi was elected President of Malawi. He defeated Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda who had ruled the country with an iron rod for 30 years. A Moslem from the South, in a predominantly Christian country, he served for a while as Secretary General of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) before falling out of favour with Dr Banda. He left politics and went into business. With the lifting of the ban on other parties in 1993, following a referendum, he founded the United Democratic Front (UDF) which went on to win the largest number of seats in the Parliamentary election. In this interview with President Mulizi, The Courier reviews the current political situation in the country.

· Mr President, it is now a year since multi-party democracy was ushered into Malawi and you came to office. How do you characterise your first year? What have been the main achievements ?

-It has been a very difficult year, particularly on the economic side although politically we have done very well. I think our achievement has been the fact that in Malawi, for the first time in 30 years, people can live as human beings. We have a democracy where people are now free to express themselves. This has been the main concern of all of us. What is left now is for us to consolidate these achievements.

· Remaining with the issue of democracy, you have had to create the post of second Vice-President and provide ministerial positions for AFORD. These moves have been approved by Parliament, and you have explained that they were aimed at promoting national unity. But the first generation of African politicians began this way-getting all the political parties into one fold-and within a short time, they established de facto or de jure one party states. What do you say to that ?

-Let me tell you that I am one of those who advocated and fought for a multi-party system of government. I don't believe in a one-party state. I want to see a strong opposition in this country, because it keeps the Government on its toes. Although AFORD is with us, it is just to make the government work. I certainly would not advocate that we go back to a one-party state: it is a bad system. AFORD has come in as our partner in government but they are not members of the UDF. They remain on their own as a political party, with their own views. They have their own policies just as the MCP has. We will make sure that the democratisation process continues and that Members of Parliament can express their views freely in the chamber.

· Parliament has just approved a new Constitution, having rejected some of the recommendations made by the Constitutional Conference. Given the country's experience over the last 30 years, would it not have been more appropriate for the Constitution to be the subject of a more extensive national debate and, possibly a referendum ?

-I should say that they were a great many consultations on the Constitution. When we started at the Conference Centre almost 18 months ago, people discussed the issues exhaustively and indicated what they wanted. Consultations also took place all over the country. Groups from the Parliamentary Committee on the Constitution went to all districts, to listen to the people's views on all the issues. There was a week-long conference in Lilongwe. You may say a week is not enough, but the views of the Chiefs, religious leaders and political leaders were all well canvassed and it was a good conference. The Constitution contains all that it should contain. No Constitution is ever perfect. There always will be amendments needed here and there, but in the process, we certainly tried as much as possible to have widespread consultation.

· Women, who represent 52% of the population, suffered considerable injustice under the Banda regime. In view of this, would a policy of 'affirmative action' in their favour not be appropriate ?

-I think what we need to do is address the question of education for women. That's the most important thing. Girls in this country have been denied education at higher levels. Early marriages, and the system that we had under the one-party state, meant that parents could not afford to educate girls, or to let them continue with their education. I have, as a matter of policy, introduced free primary education. With the help of an American donor fund, this specifically encourages the promotion of girls' education. Once we have succeeded in improving their education, we think they will be able to participate very intelligently in national debate. It is important that women participate in our parliamentary life. They should be able to take part. That is why education, for the moment, is the most important thing.

Meanwhile, my government is trying everything possible to put women into responsible positions. I have appointed three as ambassadors. In the last 30 years, we have never had a female ambassador. I have appointed women to the chairs and boards of parastatals. So we have made a start and I am sure we will make progress. We think that in the next five to ten years, we can bring women up to participate fully in national political and economic life, reflecting their importance in the population.

· Why did you order the closure of two prisons ?

- For obvious reasons. They evoked bitter memories of years of torture by the previous government. They were a legacy of the past that had to be closed.

· What instruments have you put in place to ensure that human rights are respected ?

-One is the Constitution itself. We have ensured that fundamental human rights are within the Constitution, enshrined in a bill of rights. All the specific human rights aspects have been very well addressed within the Constitution. I think that is very important. It means, for example, that nobody, not even myself as President, can order the police to arrest anybody without cause. I have no powers to do that. The second important factor is that within the government, you have people like myself, who fought for human rights and democracy. We said we had had enough and rejected what had gone before. So the will is there to guarantee human rights for all.

· Were the UN Declaration and African Charter on Human Rights incorporated into the new Constitution.

-Yes. In fact they have always been there, clearly stated even in the old Constitution. But the previously government simply ignored them.

· Donors are taking a keen interest in what is happening in Malawi at the moment How committed are you to the principles of transparency and accountability in government, and also to the fight against corruption ?

-Very, very committed. I must tell you that I was one of the first to speak out against corruption and I am very much against it. We are now trying to establish an anti-corruption bureau which will be completely independent. When the bill to set this up was being drafted, there was a question as to whether it should be made responsible to me as the Head of State. I objected to this idea. I said I wanted the Bureau to be free to check even me. That shows my commitment.

I am determined to ensure that we have transparency, and that ministers, civil servants, customs officers, the police and so on, are properly accountable to the people of Malawi. Having said this, those who allege corruption need to come up with evidence that it exists. That is very important. It happened in Zambia where everybody was talking about corruption in government and President Chiluba ended up dismissing almost everybody. I am saying that if anyone can come forward and say to me 'your Minister A did this or that in a corrupt manner', and there is evidence to prove it, I can assure you that that minister will be dismissed immediately.

· You have spoken about the Bureau that is being set up. Will it investigate the past as well ?

- i don't know exactly how wide its terms of reference will be, but broadly speaking, we are talking about anything that is viewed as unacceptable conduct in government. If it happened a month ago or last year-in other words, within my mandate-we will definitely investigate it. We would also like to know what happened during the previous government if possible. We want to know about it if there is any evidence of corruption, particularly in connection with embezzlement of the people's money. The people have a right to be protected.

· The Opposition tells me you now have in your hands, the results of an enquiry into a corruption allegation. When will that report be made public ?

-Well a report was made and there was no evidence of corruption. What I saw in that report was that Malawi was being cheated by some unscrupulous business people who overcharged us for exercise books which are vitally needed in our schools. The Minister of Education went ahead and bought these without even checking the price. The matter has been investigated and we have found that there was no money involved in terms of somebody being bribed. There is no evidence of that nature in the report. What there is, is an indication that we were overcharged. I have said that we will not pay unless the company that supplied us can prove to us that it was a good price that they were offering. Two officials are currently in London now to negotiate with them and if they don't come up with a better, fairer price, we are not going to pay. They can take us to court if they want.

· For the sake of transparency would it not still have been better to have made the report public ?

-It will be made public. What we are waiting for, is the group that has gone to the United Kingdom to put the finishing touches to the investigation. Once that has happened, we will make it public.

· Are ministers required now to declare their assets ?

-Under the constitution, yes. i have done so and so have all but two of our ministers.

· There has been rising crime recently. What measures are you taking to tackle the problem ?

-The problem is not only in Malawi. I think the whole region is facing very serious difficulties in this regard. With all the wars on the continent - in Mozambique, Angola and the Horn of Africa-there are a lot of people moving here who have weapons. That has made it very difficult for us to cope with the situation, given our limited resources of manpower. The issue of security here, as in any country, is important because without it, many investors will be put off, and people become firghtened of moving around. So we are doing everything possible to address the security question.

We are going around all locations to identify those who have got weapons. K we find them, we confiscate them, unless the owner can prove that he has a licence. We have found quite a few this way- often coming from Mozambique.

· That leads me to my next question. How much of a threat to democracy are the remnants of the Young Pioneers who, I am told, are taking refuge in the neighobouring country?.

-Well, I wouldn't like to use the word 'threat' although I suppose anybody who has got a weapon is a threat in some sense. It is true that some of the former Young Pioneers have run away, fearing perhaps that the new government would arrest them. But we are saying to them that we will not do that: 'You are Malawians, come back because this is your country'. On the other hand, there are some who have bad intentions. They want to subvert the stability of the country. We hear that some of them may have fled to Mozambique but we have no proof of that. We are investigating the claims. But I don't think we are talking about a large number-just a handful of people.

· Dr Banda's tentacles reach very deep into the Malawian economy. How do you propose to deal with it ?

-You are talking about the Press Corporation ?

· Yes

-What you say is true. We have an economy where a great deal is in the hands of just one person and that is very dangerous. Naturally my government will not allow that. We believe in a free market economy-not concentration. We do not feel it is proper that Banda should have personal control of almost 30% of GDP. We are vigorously examining the issue and discussing it with them. We are civilised people and we want to involve them in the discussions. So we are looking into that.

· Including the issue of ownership ?

-Yes, that is a key aspect.

· The European Union has been involved in development in Malawi for a number of years and has played a significant part during the transition period. How do you see this relationship developing in future ?

-Let me start by expressing my deepestt thanks to the European Union. They have been our partners for a long time. They have contributed greatly to recent developments in this country, for which we are most grateful. We want this partnership to continue. i have always said that poverty is a danger to democracy and if we don't get assistance, then our democracy is endangered. The expectations of the people are very high, and the poverty is very deep. So I hope to see continuing close cooperation between us and the KU.

· What kind of emphasis do you place on regional cooperation ?

-We think we have an important role to play in the region. I happen to be the current chairman of the COMESA- the Common Market for Southern Africa. I believe that in the region now, in order for economies to be improved, regional integration will be very important. We already belong to SADC and COMESA and we must work together for regional integration of both resources and development. The region has got all the resources necessary but they need to be tapped and to do that, you have to attract investors: businesspeople who will come in with their money. The market within the COMESA region is about 300 million people. The SADC countries have about 130 million. So we need to develop these wider markets. And in order to do that, there must be the full participation of all the member states in our regional bodies.

· In conclusion, is there any key area that you would like to highlight ?

-The most important point at the moment is that Malawi is trying to tighten its belt. Fiscal discipline is the only effective medicine for restoring the economy. It is an area where we in government are doing everything possible. Because of the very difficult economic situation we inherited from the previous regime, I am still asking the donor community to be sympathetic to Malawi's situation. It is not a normal one. We have had 30 years during which the economy has been progressively ruined. We are trying to build up a new system and that is bound to take time. In the meantime, we need a sympathetic ear and a helping hand from our partners. As for the Malawian people, we believe that they understand the challanges that we face and will give this government time to implement its programmes.


Malawi

'MCP not guilty' - An interview with Gwandaguluwe Chakuamba-Phiri, Vice - President of the Malawi Congress Party

Gwanda Chakuamba was sentenced to 22 years in jail in 1980 for sedition. He had been a member of the ruling Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and, for a period in the 1970s, he was Minister for the Southern Region. He was released in July 1993 after serving 13 years of his sentence, following a vigorous campaign on his behalf by the opposition movement A few months later, he was appointed Secretary General of the MCF, a post that had been vacant for nearly ten years. More recently, he has become the party's Vice - President, deputising for the ailing Kamuzu Banda. The Courier spoke to him during its recent visit to Malawi.

· The Malawi Congress Party of which you are Vice-President, was in office for decades as the so/e political party in the country. Its record on human rights and economic management have been described as appalling. Does the MCP acknowledge these accusations ?

-It is true that the MCP was in power for more than three decades and during that period there were certain things that it did well and certain areas where it didn't perform well. Instead of emphasising those things that the MCP did not do well, however, I would rather talk about the future management of the country. But if our record of human rights did not meet international expectations, I think that should be accepted. I too suffered under MCP rule. I was sentenced to 23 years in prison of which I served more than 13 years. But that situation has been corrected by the recent elections. The MCP is a new party now. It is no longer being run by one person. It is recruiting new members and developing new policies in line with the new political environment.

· In a multi-party setting, don't you think it would be wise of the MCP at least to apologise openly to the Malawian people for what happened in the past ?

-When you say MCP I am not sure exactly what you mean. On the day that the Mwanza Report, published by the Commission of Inquiry, was presented to the President, I made a statement that it was not the MCP as such-as a party- that was guilty of sanctioning improper behaviour. It was individuals acting outside the framework of the party. The country should look at it from that point of view.

· As you said, you yourself were a victim of MCP rule. Why did you choose to rejoin the party that treated you in the way it did ?

-Many people ask me that question and I answer it in a very simple way. Before I went to prison, I was not a Christian. When in prison, I decided to look at various religions of the world. I read the Koran and the Holy Bible from beginning to end-many many times-and I came to the conclusion that I should become a Christian. I asked God to forgive me for all my sins. And the Bible says that you cannot ask for forgiveness if you do not forgive others. So, if I am to follow the Bible, the only thing that I can do is forgive and forget. Forgiving means coming together and working together.

· Dr Banda is still the Life President of the MCP. He is old, that and sick. Given his kind of leadership, which involves taking all decisions personally without delegating

-Under our new constitution, we have a national executive committee of 36 members. Dr Banda is number one, I am number two. I chair all the meetings and we make decisions collectively. It is not a single individual who takes the decisions.

· With your party's past record, how can you be an effective opposition in Parliament ?

- We are trying to be an effective opposition but, you know, even the ruling party is having to learn the process of democracy. So are we of course. We are not used to arguing for or against. Under a one-party system this didn't happen. So it is something that concerns both sides; government and opposition.

· The one-party system meant that it was difficult to distinguish between party property and state property. It all seemed to be interlinked. Now that you are in a multi-party democracy, how do you pro

-Ever since it was established, the MCP has been an independent entity. The Life President of the MCP also established businesses in his own right. People have tended to associate the two, seeing his business interests and, to be specific, the Press Corporation, as part of the MCP: alternatively, believing that the MCP is looked after financially by the Press Corporation. This has not been the case. Of course we get funding but it is not from business, it is from the Life President of the party. So there is a distinction between the two.

· So at the moment, the MCP is financed by Dr Banda

-Yes.

· What about the members of the party who are involved in the Press Trust ?

-That is Dr Banda's business. He owns, I think, 96.5% of the shares. As the owner of the company, he can choose anyone he likes to be a member of the board. But that has nothing to do with the MCP. For instance, in my case, I have just been recently appointed a board member of the Press Trust. But that is not the same as the Press Corporation and I have nothing to do with it.

· In the ideological sense, what does the MCP stand for?

-After a long period of one party rule, the MCP is now coming up with a programme to accommodate itself to the present economic and political set up. We want our members to understand what democracy is and that is our major hurdle. So our first step is a programme to make our own members understand that times have changed. They must adapt to a democratic society and they must accommodate other people's criticisms, viewing them not as enemies but as people contributing to the welfare of the country.

· There are rumours that the MCP still has contacts with a group of the Malawi Youth Pioneers operating in Mozambique. Is this true ?

-That is absolutely not true. Before I went to prison, I was actually the commander of the MYP and I know most of the people involved. After my release, I got involved in the disbandment of the military wing of the MYP. I obtained all the records-how many people were in the armed wing, what sort of firearms they had and so on-and I personally handed these over to the army and the police for their study. But they did not believe the figures. So we are not in contact with these people. Personally, I don't believe there are many of them in Mozambique.

· How do you see the future of Malawi, both politically and economically ?

-The future of Malawi depends upon us, government and opposition alike. We on the opposition side have a duty to make sure that things don't get out of hand. Things now are getting out of hand economically. The situation of the country is not as we would like to see it and we are pointing this out to the government. The government's response is that we are in a different society now, but we are saying that much more must be done for the people to be assured of a good future. You read in the paper about corruption, sugar being smuggled, and high-ranking figures being involved. They are allegations for which we do not have proof but they are frightening nonetheless. So the government must be made more democratic and transparent than it is today. The personal business that they are doing, should be left for other people to do and they should concentrate on the management of the country.

· You mention corruption which is very interesting. Would you be in favour of an inquiry being set up to investigate corruption in the past and for action to be taken in future against anyone found guilty of corruption ?

-Yes. You know there has been a rumour, which was published in the paper, about a Minister receiving 6 million kwacha. At the last budget meeting in Parliament, we proposed the setting up of a parliamentary committee to inquire into these and other allegations. But I was told that the British High Commissioner had already instituted a committee of inquiry (the newspaper that published the report was stopped from appearing). So I am in favour of that, and I also support legislation against corruption. We must take a dealings with it because it is very serious and that is what we will tell the government. Whoever goes down that road should be held accountable and the President should take appropriate action.

Banda: the making of a despot

History will not judge Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda kindly but it certainly cannot accuse him of having been a hypocrite. Throughout his 30 years in office, his totally uninhibited utterances, as recorded, for example, in John Lwandas book 'Kamuzu Banda of Malawi-a study of promise, power and paralysis', revealed him as a manic dictator probably worse in callousness than Amin, Bokassa or Ngwuema. He made his intentions quite clear from the beginning. European-style democracy was not for Africa. He would brook no opposition and anyone who dared challenge his authority would be ruthlessly dealt with-thrown to the crocodiles or into jail to 'rot'. Kamuzu, he boasted, was law in Malawi. And he lived up to these threats.

That the West turned a blind eye to his regime during the Cold War was not only due to his profound dislike of communism and his close links with apartheid South Africa, despite condemnation from the rest of black Africa. He also espoused a brand of private enterprise which was sweet music to the West-and whose true nature did not become clear until recently. He ran Malawi as his own private domain and controlled businesses that account for nearly 35% of the country's GDP (see interview with President Muluzi). Those who knew Dr Banda, first as a medical student in Edinburgh (he used to describe himself as the 'black Scot' and was a prominent member of Church of Scotland) and then in the early 1950s, when he practised medicine in London, have spoken of their dismay and difficulty in reconciling his humanity then with his subsequent career as a brutal despot.

The early years

Although he lived almost 40 years abroad, Dr Banda kept in touch with developments back home. He first appeared on the political scene in the then Nyasaland in 1958 when he was invited to assume the leadership of the Nyasaland African Congress (NAC). This was campaigning for independence and against the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland which the British had created in 1953. The NAC needed someone of Banda's political stature, popularity and oratory. The choice was an effective one. Within a year of his return, the political temperature in the colony had risen so high that civil disorder broke out. A state of emergency was declared. Dr Banda was imprisoned and the NAC was banned. However, a new party, the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) was formed a couple of months later with the jailed Banda as leader.

Britain, having accepted the inevitability of decolonisation in Africa, despite the opposition of white settlers, released Banda in 1960 to lead a delegation to London for a constitutional conference. The resulting elections in 1961 were won overwhelmingly by the MCP which had built up huge support in the rural areas. In 1963, the Federation was dissolved and Nyasaland achieved self-government with Dr Banda as Prime Minister. Independence (as Malawi) came in 1964 and two years later, the country became a republic and one-party state with Banda as President.

Even before independence, major policy differences in particular over the pace and manner in which the economy should be Africanised, had emerged between Banda and the young educated radicals who had been instrumental in his return home. These included Henry Chipembre, Kayama Chiume and Orton Chirwa. The dispute came to a head in 1965 when several ministers, led by Chipembre, revolted. Dr Banda's willingnesss to maintain the status quo ensured he had the support of expatriates. On the advice of the Governor - General, he sought and won a confidence vote in Parliament. This sealed the fate of the rebel's: they were either arrested or forced into hiding or exile. An attempted 'invasion' by some of them in 1967 failed, resulting in the death of the former Home Affairs Minister, Yatuta Chisiza.

Dr Banda's grip on power tightened in 1971 when he was voted President-for-Life. From then on, no opposition was tolerated, as he installed a system of intimidation and of political and economic subjugation through an emasculated MCP. A wing of the party, the Malawi Young Pioneers (a paramilitary organisation) was set up and within it, the Youth League (political intimidators and extortionists) literally went on the rampage. They forced Malawians to buy party membership cards, without which they had no access to such things as land, bank loans, government jobs and even public transport. There was also the Women's League, whose only purpose was to entertain Dr Banda wherever he went-a humiliation of which the women concerned were quite unaware until after the dictator's fall. Most had considered this thankless duty as an honour. They had to wear uniforms bearing the image of Dr Banda and their husbands often ran up big debts to purchase them from firms linked to the President.

With a loyal police force and a network of informers throughout the country, no one dared openly to express dissent. The nation lived in fear. Dr Banda took on the title of Ngwazi (conqueror) and insisted on being addressed by his full list of titles: His Excellency the Ngwazi, Life-President, Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda. Malawians had other reasons to live in fear. The judiciary was reorganised to strengthen Dr Banda's authority following a few early court cases whose results displeased him. He was reported to have said at the time that his word was law in Malawi and no judge could acquit or show leniency to any of his political enemies. In 1964, for example, when Machipisa Munthali, the chairman of the Electoral Commission and the state marketing organisation ARDMAC, was sentenced to five years in jail for subversion, the government appealed and secured a term of 11 years. Munthali was not in fact released until 27 years later. Under Dr Banda, the jurisdiction of the traditional courts was extended to cover a wide range of issues, including criminal cases. Presided over by Chiefs who were loyal to the President, these courts were reserved for Malawians, while the High Courts and magistrate courts dealt with Asians and Europeans.

Initial economic success

Although the Cold War partially explained why, unlike Amin and Bokassa, Banda attracted little attention from the West on human rights issues, his initial success in improving Malawi's economy silenced most critics. He pursued the policy begun by the NAC of improving the lives of peasants, albeit with donor support providing rural areas with improved water supplies and sanitation, schools, health facilities and roads. He also ensured that farmers had access to subsidised inputs. His encouragement of private enterprise, with a range of inducements such as low-cost factory space, generous tax allowances, tariff protection and free repatriation of profits, together with his friendship with apartheid South Africa, produced the necessary foreign investments (particularly South African). Boosted further by increased flows of official assistance, the economy grew rapidly, averaging 8% per annum during the 1970s. Food production rose steadily to match the rate of population growth (a feat few African countries have achieved) and the commercial sector expanded as the production and export of the main cash crops-tobacco, tea and sugar-doubled. Manufacturing grew on average by 11%.

In the early 1980s Asians were banned from trading in the rural areas. Dr Banda believed this was a sector that should be reserved for Malawians. But observers also noted a political motive: the need to keep the rural areas, where he drew his main support, from being influenced by a group of people who were becoming wealthier and as a result were likely to become influential.

Between 1978 and 1981, the economy declined as rapidly as it had grown in the early 1970s. Growth dropped to 1.7% per annum (below the population growth rate), mainly as a result of severe drought and the growing conflict in Mozambique. Indeed these were to be the two major factors behind Malawi's economic misfortunes during the 1980s, when GDP growth seldom exceeded 2.5% per annum. Another significant element was the global recession, which was particularly strongly felt in South Africa. Although real growth improved to reach 3.6% in 1988 and 4% by 1991, as a result of IMF supported structural adjustment measures, the economy as a whole was characterised by reduced ODA, falls in investment, lower export receipts, depressed wages and widespread poverty. In 1989, the World Bank reported that Malawi's annual income per capita was only $160 and it was classified among the six poorest nations on earth. Whether Dr Banda was living in 'cloud-cuckoo-land' or deliberately chose to ignore the report is difficult to ascertain. To him, Malawi was making great economic strides and he, Kamuzu, had banished poverty.

After the initial spate of investment in education and health (mostly through donor assistance), these areas suffered neglect for over two decades with the result that Malawi not only has the highest illiteracy rate in Africa (Mozambique excepted) but also lacks skilled manpower. Low wages and a distorted system of private enterprise translated into a lack of savings and a failure to develop an indigenous entrepreneurial class. When Asians were banned from commercial activities in the rural areas, a vacuum was created which Malawians were not equipped to fill. 'They did not have the finance, did not know where to start and did not get government support', P. Kalilombe, Chairman of the Malawi Chamber of Commerce, told me Courier. The lack of job opportunities in the urban areas explains why Malawi is one of the least urbanised countries in Africa.

Personal control

In maintaining the dual agricultural system inherited from the colonial era, in the name of private enterprise, Dr Banda ensured personal control and exploitation of the country's agricultural output. The estates which produced the main export crops of tobacco and tea occupied the most fertile lands. With the blessing of the 'Life President', members of the MCP had easy access to choice land which was often not put to good use. Peasant smallholders, by contrast, occupied marginal areas. Their main product was the staple food, maize, grown largely for subsistence, and there was also some tobacco growing under a quota system. The Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (ADMARC) bought their produce at fixed prices.

Although parastatals were and still are involved in agriculture, manufacturing and mining, foreign investors usually went into joint-ventures with either the Malawi Development Corporation or the Press Corporation, 96% of which is owned by Dr Banda. The latter company dominates the modern sector with large tobacco, tea and sugar estates. It also has numerous other interests in transport, cattle ranching, property development, retail and wholesale activities (some of which were taken from Asians) and even civil engineering. There is a 'Press Trust', to which profits from the Corporation are paid, purportedly for the benefit of the Malawian people. Through the Press Corporation Dr Banda indirectly controlled the economy. In addition, he did as he pleased with the nation's finances.

With such huge resources at his disposal, a firm grip on the internal political situation and control of the security forces, Banda was able to reach his political opponents wherever they were. In 1979, Attati Mpakati, leader of the Socialist League of Malawi (SOLEMA), was injured in a letter bomb attack in Zambia. In 1983, he was murdered while on a visit to Zimbabwe. In the same year, the leader of the Malawi Freedom Movement (MAF REMO), Orton Chirwa, and his wife Vera, were abducted in Zambia and brought back to Malawi. Tried for plotting against the government they were sentenced to death but this was commuted to life imprisonment following appeals from several Heads of State. Like thousands of Malawians imprisoned for political reasons, the Chirwas were tortured. Orton died in prison in 1992 and his wife, who was not allowed to attend his funeral, was released in 1994. A journalist who was an opponent of the regime was killed along with his entire family in Zambia.

Perhaps Dr Banda thought he was immortal. No one was allowed to emerge as an obvious successor. Anyone who showed any sign of popularity was eliminated. In 1983, the Secretary-General of the MCP and minister without portfolio, Dick Matenje, was reputedly involved in a controversy over an eventual successor. He and three other prominent politicians were murdered, with their deaths attributed to a road accident. The post of MCP Secretary-General was left vacant for 10 years until 1993, when Gwanda Chakuamba was appointed.

In the late 1980s, the ageing Dr Banda began to show signs of senility and power began, for the first time, to slip from his hands. It was effectively exercised by his trusted lieutenant, John Tembo and his official companion of over 30 years, 'Mama' Cecilia Kadzamira '. The end of the Cold War, which saw the winds of democratic change blowing across Africa, the weakening of apartheid in South Africa and further economic difficulties at home, signalled the beginning of the end for the regime. Dr Panda initially resisted pressure for change, hoping he could weather the storm, but the die was cast. In 1989, when 10 people, including a senior MAFREMO official, were killed in a bomb attack in Zambia, a spate of reports on human rights violations in Malawi appeared.

Amnesty International issued a damning report on detention and torture of political dissidents. In 1990 another human rights organisation accused the Malawian security forces of having shot dead 20 anti-government protestors and, from then on, international donors began to demand democratic reforms. When two groups of human rights lawyers from Britain and America visited the country in 1993 and issued separate reports giving graphic details of murder, torture and the inhuman conditions in Malawian prisons, the regime finally realised it had an unwinnable battle on its hands.

Emboldened by developments, exiles in Tanzania met in 1991 and formed a new opposition movement, the Malawi Socialist Labour Party. Later that year other exiled groups-MAFREMO, SOLEMA and the Congress for the Second Republic formed the United Front for Multiparty Democracy (UFMD).

The latter was supposed to have been replaced by the Interim Committee for a Democratic Alliance, with Chakufwa Chihana as chairman, when all the exiled opponents met in Lusaka the following year. But Chihana's immediate return to Malawi changed that. He was arrested on arrival at the airport and while in prison, the internally constituted Alliance for Democracy came into being with him as leader.

In March 1992, Roman Catholic bishops made their unprecedented intervention with a pastoral letter criticising the lack of freedom and human rights abuses in the country. With pressure mounting, President Banda carried out his own 'democratic reforms', holding elections in June 1992 for an enlarged legislature with, some 675 MCP candidates taking part.

The electoral supervisor reported an 80% turnout and claimed that this was further proof 'that democratic elections as conducted in Malawi produce democratic results.' Donors, who had suspended development aid awaiting the implementation of reforms, were unconvinced.

The months that followed saw the failure of attempts by John Tembo to hijack the process of change (see the article: Malawi's transition to democracy). In 1992 he sought unsuccessfully to win over the army commander, Lt-Gen Melvin Khanga, in his struggle to succeed Banda.

When the commander refused, he was forcibly retired and replaced with General Isaac Yohane who would not budge either. The army (mainly the lower ranks) took on the Young Pioneers the following year, shortly after Dr Banda's return from a brain operation in South Africa. The MYP was disbanded at the insistence of the army which was bitter at having lost out to them in terms of both conditions of service and equipment over the years. The of the MYP was a devastating blow to John Tembo and the MCP, but the best thing that could have happened to Malawians in their fight for democracy. Overnight the instrument of intimidation had gone.

During Banda's absence in South Africa, a three-man presidential council had been set up, in accordance with the Constitution. It was headed by Tembo who seized the opportunity to make several appointments to strengthen his position. After the referendum of June 1993, which approved a return to multiparty democracy he, in anticipation of elections, made a number of cabinet changes, clearly designed to bolster the MCP in the North and South where he knew it had little support.

Gwanda Chakuamba, released from prison in 1994 after serving 13 years of a 22-year sentence for sedition, had joined the United Democratic Front which had fought for his release, but he was persuaded to rejoin the MCP as Secretary - General. He was expected to deliver the votes of the Southern Region. But in the May 1994 presidential poll, the Malawians, seizing the opportunity to break from the longest and the most brutal dictatorship Africa has seen this century, gave victory to the UDF, consigning Banda's regime in the process to the dustbin of history.

Malawi's transition to democracy

by Peter Beck Christiansen

Between 1992 and 1994, Malawian society underwent a complete 'end peaceful' change with the holding of multi-party elections. This took place against a backdrop of often violent transition in neighbouring Mozambique and South Africa.

The effects of more than 30 years of one-party, one-man, autocratic rule have been described elsewhere in this report. All services were geared towards the glorification of one person and the development of a whole class of sycophants perpetuated this. The consequences included nepotism and a divided society- a very rich and small upper class alongside a very big and poor underclass, with hardly any middle class or skilled labourers. There was also the siphoning of the economic surplus from the rural areas, both through the pricing systems and party taxes of various kinds. This went to the dominant congLomtes such as ADMARC, Press Trust and its offshoots, and into private property. The practical results were unparalleled poverty and a desperate health situation, even without the scourge of Aids. All this in a country which, unlike many others, had not suffered the miseries of armed conflict.

There was, furthermore, a complete disrespect of established international human rights and other general legal principles. The government/ruling party exercised absolute control over the population and their property. There was no separation of legislative, executive and judicial powers, despite provision for this in the Constitution. Human rights violations were recorded throughout the 1970s and 1980s but they had little impact on the outside world. However, the crumbling of the Berlin Wall and of communist regimes throughout eastern Europe finally led to a change in the attitudes of donor countries.

In the meantime, an opposition had emerged both within and outside Malawi. Those involved placed themselves at considerable personal risk, as witnessed by the bombing and arson murders of members of the opposition in Lusaka and Harare. Perhaps the most important factor, however, was that the people of Malawi had become tired of their continued subjugation and the lack of hope for a better future. The one party monolith, despite its all-pervasive surveillance network, completely underestimated this fact.

Pastoral letter

The decisive move which was to spark the changes was the publication, in March 1992, of a pastoral letter by the eight Catholic bishops in Malawi. This was read out in all the Catholic churches in the country. How the printing and distribution was able to take place without being discovered remains a mystery. Read today, the letter appears rather innocuous. It only lightly condemned the one-party government and its human rights violations. However, it represented the first open challenge to the government. Although the authorities did not openly respond, it emerged that the murder of all eight bishops was contemplated. A tape of the relevant discussions was leaked, and subsequently broadcast on South African radio.

In April 1992, trade union leader, Chakufwa Chihana returned from a visit to Zambia and was promptly arrested. During the 12 months which followed, his High Court trial attracted extensive local and international interest.

In May, the international donor community informed Malawi at a meeting in Paris that new commitments had been frozen pending required changes in the treatment of human rights in the country.

Despite this, on his return from Paris, the Minister of Finance told the press that the meeting had been excellent for Malawi!

In the same month, strikes broke out in Blantyre and more than 30 people were killed by government forcm. At the same time, the authorities undertook an intensive search for people with access to photocopiers and fax machines. The aim was to put a stop to the growing distribution of 'seditious literature'. Many hundreds were imprisoned and tortured.

In the second half of 1992, an umbrella organisation called the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) was formed. This brought together such bodies as the Law Society, the Chamber of Commerce and all the religious organisations, and its purpose was to act as a conduit for discussions with the government. The President responded by naming a Presidential Committee on Dialogue (PCD) for this purpose. He also announced a referendum to be held by the end of the year, under UN auspices. The UN's Electoral Assistance Office demurred, stating that it not would be technically possible in the time available. In addition to the need for proper voter registration, there would have to be civic education for the population, many of whom believed that 'Multipati' was an alternative party to the ruling Malawi Congress party (MCP).

The government finally backed down but then went on to provoke new controversy over the issue of voting procedures. They insisted that there should be separate ballot boxes for the 'yes' and 'no' votes in the referendum. The PAC, the donors and public opinion generally wanted a single ballot box so as to avoid any possibility of fraud. After another prolonged tug-of-war, with intervention by the International Commission of Jurists, the government again had to give way. In the meantime, the PAC had started a civic education campaign which was financed mainly by the EU budget line for democracy and human rights, while the UN had assembled a team of experts to advise on such matters as voter registration, campaigning and voting procedures.

In the run-up to the referendum on 14 June 1993, the government consistently misused its dominance of the media and most notably of the single radio channel. This gave extensive coverage to President Banda's campaign but studiously avoided mentioning the opposition except when quoting the President. The independent press, which had only emerged in 1992 in the face of opposition from the authorities (initial issues were banned), succeeded in getting a number of copies of its publications on to the streets. These sold like hot cakes and rapidly became collectors' items.

A vote for change

At the end of the day, the referendum was a well-organised affair. Of the 4.7 million registered voters, 3.2 million cast a ballot. In fact, the turnout was probably close to 90%, the discrepancy being caused by widespread double registration. It must be doubted whether everyone voting fully understood the issue at stake, but the outcome was nevertheless clear. 66% voted in favour of a multiparty system. In the Northern and Southern Regions, the figures were 88% and 85% respectively while in the government stronghold of the Central Region, the result was 47% in favour and 53% against. When the result was announced, crowds took to the streets in the major cities to celebrate and demand further changes. The following day, President Banda broadcast a remarkable speech in which he conceded defeat and called for a general election to take place within a year.

The new opposition wanted a government of national unity to oversee the country in the period leading up to the election. Following prolonged discussions, however, a transition mechanism was put in place instead. Seven parties had been registered, and in September 1993, the National Consultative Council (NCC) was established containing six representatives of each party. In the period up to the General Election on 17 May 1994, this non-elected grouping discussed all aspects of the transition including the setting up of an electoral commission and defining the rules for campaigning in the media. It also oversaw the drafting of the new Constitution. This was voted into being on the day before the election by the outgoing one-party Parliament-which abolished itself in the proces. The importance of the NCC cannot be overemphasised. It served as a forum for compromise but more importantly as the venue for the creation of democracy.

One major event of this period was the disarming of the Malawi Young Pioneers (MYP), a process which began on 3 December 1993. The NCC had discussed the need to undertake this task for several months but the MCP prevaricated with all the means at its disposal. The catalyst was the killing of two Malawi Army soldiers by MYP members in a bar brawl in the northern city of Mzuzu. The army, which had always regarded itself as being politically neutral, had seen resources, including weapons, increasingly being diverted to the MYP in recent years. A group of younger officers at the Lilongwe barracks led the seizure of the MYP headquarters. The building was sacked, along with several shops belonging to the Press Corporation, and in three days of violence, a total of 28 people were killed. During this period, the Government was not in evidence. Indeed, on 4 December, the radio broadcast a football match live from Blantyre pretending that there was peace in Malawi. In the following weeks, the army searched and destroyed all the MYP's military bases and confiscated its heavy weapons. The possibility of an army takeover could not be ruled out but, in the event, they withdrew to their barracks following the obligatory sacking of the three top generals.

During this period, following concerted pressure by the International Red Cross Federation and other donors, all political prisoners were freed. Several of those released from prison now serve in the government. One result of this gesture was the general resumption of development aid.

Funds go astray

With the one-party government's power thus reduced, it was possible for the election campaign to commence. This began with voter registration under the auspices of the international community. The government still held the financial levers, however, and during this period, a deficit of more than 500 million Kwacha (approximately ECU 80m at the time) was run up. No satisfactory explanation has yet been given as to what happened to these funds.

The campaign was more balanced than in the earlier referendum in both the written press and on the radio, but there were still accusations of electoral malpractice and intimidation levelled by international NGOs. It is doubtful if the elections could have been deemed free and fair if the outcome had not been a change of government.

In the event, the Presidential and Parliamentary elections followed the pattern established in the referendum. The UDF emerged as the biggest party with 45% of the votes (78% in the South). The former ruling party, the MCP, took 37% of the vote with its support heavily concentrated in the Central Region (65%). AFORD won an overwhelming victory in the North (85% of the poll) but only scored 17% of the national total. Bakili Muluzi of the UDF assumed the Presidency while his party formed a minority government.

The ageing President Banda again took to the airwaves to concede defeat, sounding a great deal more frail than a year earlier. His apparent invincibility had already been undermined the previous year when he had been flown to South Africa to undergo minor brain surgery - although strenuous efforts were made to keep this trip secret. His military arm, the MYP, had been shattered and his financial muscle proved inadequate to maintain him in power.

The change of government and political system took place without incident. After thirty years, the task of sorting out the economic mess, and tackling the all-pervasive poverty in the country, had begun. The move to a free, democratic system, with full respect for human rights, was necessary for this to happen but Malawians are well aware that this is just the first step. There is still a long way to go before the effects of 30 years of economic and psychological malpractice can be overcome. The people of the country can, however, be justifiably proud of having made the transition without any major bloodletting-and largely outside the international limelight.

Poverty alleviation: 'it has to get worse to get better'

'Cash budgeting.' These two words summed up Malawi's dire financial circumstances when The Courier visited the country in May. It is a system of allocating resources in accordance with available revenue. In practice this has meant priority ministries like Health and Education, which saw their share of the budget increase substantially in March, receiving 50% of their requirements and others getting only 30%.

Set against the background of the often inadequate and, in some instances, rapidly deteriorating social infrastructure, in health and education for example, these measures appear incredibly harsh. Education admittedly is getting a fair share, with donors showing considerable interest in providing assistance. But the health services are in a deplorable state. This at a time when Malawi is facing a serious Aids epidemic. A visit to the Zomba Hospital is a heart rending experience. The hospital lacks almost everything-personnel, equipment, maintenance and drugs-and patients, including children, sleep on the floor and outside under trees, in Southern Africa's wintry conditions. They wait for hours for treatment, and a lot of them are dying.

Yet the tough, no nonsense fiscal discipline, imposed by Finance Minister Aleke Banda, is sweet music to the International Monetary Fund and the donor community. It is designed to pull Malawi as quickly as possible out of the economic mess into which the Kamuzu Banda regime plunged it. A few indicators reveal the extent of the crisis: a budget deficit of nearly $57 million, an inflation rate of 34.7% and a declining per capita income.

Persistent droughts since the beginning of the 1980s and the world recession have both played a significant part in the reversal of the country's economic fortunes after the good growth of the 1960s and 1970s and the improved performance following the implementation of structural adjustment programmes. But the last months of the previous regime also saw reckless spending on an unprecedented scale. According to Finance Minister Banda, government borrowing rose from K637.8 million in 1993 to K1133.3 million in 1994. With the floating of the kwacha in early 1994, at a time of serious foreign exchange shortages (following the suspension of international assistance pending implementation of political reforms), the currency depreciated sharply. This fuelled inflation and GDP fell by almost 9%.

It was clear that drastic measures would have to be taken to avoid economic collapse. There could be no growth, no attraction of foreign investments and no chance of the government achieving its main objective of poverty-alleviation until the economic distortions were tackled. 'We have made it very clear from the beginning,' said Mr Banda, 'that as a Government, we are in a very difficult situation; that this country is poor, that things will get worse before they get better.. and that we have to make sacrifices.'

Transfer of departmental accounts

Cash limitations apart, there is a reaming process involved in the whole exercise, for ministers and civil servants alike. They have to learn the simple truth that Governments do run out of money, according to Reserve Bank Governor, Professor M. Chikaonda. Under the previous regime, extra-budgeting was an accepted practice and it worked perfectly for spending units which had their accounts at the Reserve Bank. According to Mr Chikaonda, ministries presented cheques at the commercial banks who had no way of checking the balances. In this manner they obtained overdrafts, created excess liquidity and increased government debt vis-a-vis the banks. Since April, all Government accounts have been moved from the Reserve Bank to the commercial sector to make it impossible for any department to obtain credit surreptitiously. With 'cash budgeting', each has to make savings in whatever area it deems necessary. Departments, of course, are not barred from borrowing. But those who wish to can only do so through the non-bank sectors and that 'is less serious in terms of the inflationary impact,' says the Reserve Bank Governor.

The impact of the austerity measures on the population has been less traumatic than expected. This is due to the fact the majority live on subsistence farming in the rural areas and are less dependent on consumer goods, but there is undeniable hardship, especially among wage-earners, who have seen inflation put a number of basic commodities out of their reach. The Government was forced to increase civil service salaries by 25% across the board in April.

Relief on the way

But there is relief on the way. According to Aleke Banda, these shortages of funds are unlikely to last for the whole year, because of the various tax measures he announced in the March budget. These, he hopes, will start yielding revenue by June. Indeed the Government is pinning its hopes for financial salvation, at least in the short to medium term, on improved efficiency in revenue collection. Studies have revealed that there are considerable slippages, particularly in the customs department, and if plugged, the result could be a substantial increase in income. For example, large amounts of goods are often declared to be in transit to neighbouring countries when, in reality, they are being dumped in Malawi because there are is no-one to supervise their onward movement. As well as ensuring that this is stopped, the Minister of Finance indicated that pre-shipment inspections are being reinforced and that measures are being taken 'to investigate people who want to defraud the Government.'

Doing these things, of course, requires building up more capacity by recruiting and training more police and customs officers and this entails more expenditure. The IMF and the British Government are understood to be providing assistance in this field. Mr Banda admits, however, that, 'no matter how much we raise from our own resources, we are still dependent on balance of payments support from our donors.' In May, Malawi's foreign reserves were down to only 0.7 months of import cover (1.9 months if all the foreign currency denominated accounts of the banking sector were included). The adjustment programme, which the Government has agreed with the IMF, requires the Central Bank to increase the figure to 1.9 months by the end of the year and Mr Chikaonda appears confident that this target will be met. The aim is also for the interest rate to be reduced from its current 34.7% to 20%. The Governor's optimism is partly based on the fact that the foreign exchange market has been liberalised and a programme of foreign exchange auctions has just been introduced which is designed specifically to build up reserves.

The liberalisation of currency exchanges, coupled with the government's directive to exporters to release 60% of their foreign exchange earnings into the market, as well as the law which prohibits banks from having no more than 20% of their capital base in foreign currency, have resulted in an abundance of foreign exchange. The impact, according to Mr Chikaonda, was seen recently both in the stabilisation of the kwacha's value and in the specific case of the Petroleum Control Commission which was able to raise $60m from the market in just one week, having previously had difficulty paying its foreign creditors.

Foreign assistance

With donors satisfied with the Government's fiscal measures, there is an enormous amount of goodwill towards Malawi. Indeed there are no shortages of offers for assistance, and these in almost every sector of the economy. Last year, the IMF provided a $22 million eight-month standby credit for the structural adjustment programme while the World Bank began a $40m programme designed both to assist the Government in its reforms of the various economic sectors and to import maize to overcome shortages. An input programme, financed by a group of donors led by the Bank, in which free fertilisers and seeds were distributed to the poor before this year's planting season, enabled the country to have better maize yields this year, despite erratic rainfall.

The reforms being carried out in agriculture should ensure better standards of living for peasants. Although Dr Banda's regime claimed to espouse the free market, agriculture, like very other sector of the economy, was, in reality controlled by the government, particularly in terms of pricing. The result was not only a subsistence existence for the vast majority of the people, but also a contraction of the economic base. 'The price regime was so static that it provided the smallholder with no opportunities to take advantage of emerging domestic as well as international markets', explained Agriculture Minister, Dr Mapopa Chipeta. So agriculture is being liberalised both at the production and marketing levels. Restrictions on the export of a number of commodities, except maize, have been removed so as to encourage farmers to diversify and expand the agricultural base. Farmers are being encouraged to move into other food crops such as sorghum, cassava and sweet potatoes as well as into industrial products such as cotton, oilseed, soyabeans and sunflowers. But the emphasis goes even further, with encouragement for agroforestry and livestock development. In addition, Malawi still has available the fish resources of Lake Malawi not to mention the country's considerable tourist potential.

The Minister admits that the tobacco industry, which most farmers find more lucrative, is not yet fully liberalised. It is still governed to some extent by a quota system. Most of the country's tobacco crop is cultivated by estate farmers but smaliholders grow it in small quantities and in accordance with quota allocations. The explanation for this policy is that 'Malawi has to respond to certain market allocations at the international level.' The plan, however, is progressively to deregulate the sector allowing farmers themselves to organise production and marketing, in collaboration with the Tobacco Control Commission.

Aside from the policy aspects, agriculture in Malawi faces a number of practical constraints including a shortage of arable land, lack of access to inputs and credits, environmental degradation and the increasing frequency of drought. Smaliholding is declining in Malawi because of the rapid increase in the population. The average farm size has fallen from 1.6 hectares per family in 1969 to 1.1 ha in 1989 and this is projected to fall further, to 0.3ha by the year 2000. The result has been increased poverty. Yet there are the estates, employing a small number of people, that occupy the best arable land in the country and produce only a narrow range of export crops (tobacco, tea and sugar). One might have expected the government to have land reform at the top of its priority list. But as on all issues concerning private property and enterprise, it appears to be treading warily. Dr Chipeta spoke, instead, of the need for more efficient use of land to make it more productive. 'It is true,' he said, 'that a large number of our farmers are on marginal lands and are not able to produce food for themselves, let alone participate in domestic and international markets for industrial crops. But we feel that market forces must determine how best land should be utilised.'

The Minister also looks to the market as far as inputs are concerned. To him the government's role should be that of a facilitator, creating the environment for 'private entrepreneurs to participate in the provision of inputs to the agricultural sector.' At the same time, however, the government is taking an active interest in ensuring that smallholders have access to credit. Through the assistance of the donor community and the World Bank in particular, it has set up the Malawi Rural Finance Company to address smallholders' needs. This follows the failure of the extension unit in the Ministry of Agriculture to provide an effective service in this area.

Dr Chipeta said that over the next few years, the government would be adopting an environmental protection and management strategy for soil and water conservation. Malawi faces an immense problem of erosion and drought but it also has tremendous potential for irrigation. There are an estimated 400 000 hectares of land that could be irrigated and the future of agriculture will depend on progress in this area. The government will not be aiming for big projects, which require sizeable investments. Instead it intends to emphasise small and medum-scale irrigation. 'Our proposal is for farming communities to establish and manage these schemes themselves, with the Government providing extension cervices,' the Minister said. A number of pilot projects, supported by donors, are already up and running.

Dr Chipeta regretted the lack of encouragement to farmers to organise themselves in the past, as well as the inability to relate research to their needs. The government, he said, was taking measures to rectify these failings. Farmers' organisations are now being encouraged so that ideas on new techniques and technologies can be transmitted to them through these organisations.

Manufacturing and job creation

A successful broadening of the agricultural base should result in significant improvements to the living standards of Malawians. It should also encourage the growth of the manufacturing sector and the creation of jobs, although it has to be recognised that an inadequate raw material base is just one of several factors that has hamstrung industrial production over the years. Others include the smallness of the domestic market, the high cost of transport, a lack of investment capital and an insufficiently educated workforce leading to a lack of skilled manpower.

Overcoming these disadvantages will be a long and hard task. Indeed they already impinge negatively on the government's privatisation programme which is part and parcel of its poverty alleviation policy. The fact that Malawi had a political system for 30 years which did not promote the emergence of a middle class, and that widespread poverty translated into a lack of savings and capital formation, puts the authorities in a somewhat awkward situation today. Very few Malawians can afford to buy shares let alone enter joint ventures with foreign investors. But ways have to be found, according to Vice - President Justin Malewezi, who is in charge of the programme. He suggests, among other things, that Malawi may have to do what was done in Eastern Europe 'where they allocated shares to the masses.'

Another big challenge facing the government in this area is what to do with the Press Corporation, the congLomte which is owned by former President Hastings Banda, and which dominates the private sector. There is also the question of the Press Trust. 'This is an intricate area,' Mr Malewezi admits. 'It is not just Dr Banda's concern, but also that of the Malawi Congress Party, because all the trustees are members of the MCP. We would like to see the depoliticisation of the congLomte.' What is remarkable here is the concern in government circles for legality. Whereas, in most countries, the Press Corporation would be considered to be public property, that could be legally declared as such, ministers again approach the issue with caution. 'We have not abandoned the legal option as a last resort', the Vice-President told The Courier. 'But we feel an attempt should be made at negotiation. If that fails, we will then go through the legal procedure. Parliament can introduce an Act and take it over, but we fear that the message we will be sending to prospective investors and others who do business here may not be the right one.'

Whatever the difficulties Malawi faces at the moment, observers are united in predicting a better economic performance in the future, thanks to the liberating effects of the current political situation. As P. Kalilombe, who is Chairman of the Malawi Chamber of Commerce, told The Courier, 'the changes now taking place are more dramatic than people imagine. It is not just the movement from one party to multiparty democracy; it is a movement of attitudes as well. People are beginning to feel that the individual matters and that as an individual, one can contribute to the development of the country. Previously the attitude was that 'Kamuzu will do something for us'. We used merely to be passive but that has now changed.' At long last, Malawi is not only politically free, but economically free as well. In short, the process of development is only just starting after 30 years of independence.

Palaces for sale

Among the follies of President Kamuzu Banda's 30 years rule were a collection of 19 palaces which have become more of a burden than an asset for Malawi in terms of maintenance. Five have understandably been sold, but the one which presents the Government with its biggest dilemma is the palace in Lilongwe.

By far the largest, the most expensive and almost certainly the most luxurious presidential palace in Africa, it took 15 years to construct. The story reveals a striking parallel with that of Nicolae Ceausescu's palace in Bucharest. Dr Banda was said to have ordered the reconstruction of the staircase several times, and the final result was a series of ornate and individually-carved balustrades alternating from top to bottom. 'Mama' (as Banda's companion and official hostess was called) was also closely involved in the design, choice of decoration and furnishings-and what tastes she had ! The cost, calculated from vouchers found in the Ministry of Works, totalled $250 million, but it was almost certainly more than that.

Sitting on about 550 hectares of land, of which 200 are well-manicured gardens, it has the obligatory ministadium. This was reserved for Banda's famous Women's League who were dedicated to his entertainment in dance, songs and praise. The palace has five presidential suites complete with offices, appartments for first ladies with accompanying offices, innumerable rooms for entourages, banqueting halls, toilets and kitchens. Dr Banda's appartment and Mama's were decorated with incredible luxury and taste, each fitted at strategic points with communication panels to enable the President or his companion to summon anyone within the palace at the press of a button. There is an in-built theatre for live orchestral music. The Courier was given a one-hour guided tour of the building but nobody there could confirm with certainty how many rooms the palace actually has!

300 gardeners

Beyond the garden area, appartments were built for staff who would have numbered up to 1000. Even today, the Government employs some 300 gardeners just to maintain the grounds and overall, the cost of the palace's maintenance is put at one million kwachas a month.

The dictator was only days away from moving in when he was defeated in the presidential election. His successor, President Bakili Muluzi has shunned the site preferring Sanjika in Blantyre instead. Except perhaps for the palace in Zomba which he appears willing to retain, all the others are up for sale-11 in all. Any offers ?

The Lilongwe palace, which has been used a couple of times by the new government to host conferences, is being treated differently. Despite the huge cost of maintenance, the current plan is to keep it, both as a monument to Banda's folly and as a national asset, nonetheless. It would not be right to sell it, officials told The Courier, given the money that was spent on construction and the amount of land that it occupies. The Government is currently examining various ways of making use of it to derive an income, if only to reduce the cost of maintenance.

The EU and the Mozambican refugees in Malawi

Although the European Union's presence in Malawi is felt in almost every sector of the economy, one aspect of its activity that is not particularly well known is its crucial role in the settlement and repatriation of Mozambican refugees. The Courier visited the now empty Luwani refugee camp in Lisungwe (Mwanza district) and saw what must be a classic example of how relief can be linked successfully to development.

The story began in 1988, at the height of refugee influx, when all the camps in Southern Malawi were full to their maximum capacity and the UNHCR made an urgent appeal to the EU for assistance. A senior UNHCR programme officer told The Courier that the European Commission's prompt response to the request was both timely and exemplary. It enabled the UNHCR to start work immediately on the site which it had secured from the Malawian government in a forest reserve area. It had prepared plans for permanent structures - a school, a clinic, waterpoints and feeder roads. Most importantly, it included an environmental project involving tree planting by the refugees to counter the anticipated deforestation which they themselves were expected to cause.

The camp was built to accommodate between 80 000 and 100 000 people. In order to relieve pressure on the border areas, refugees from Nsanje and Mulanje were transported to the new site and by 1992, it had reached its maximum capacity. An open camp, refugees here constructed their own huts, came and went as they pleased, and lived in families as normally as possible. The camp's facilities also catered for the needs of the local people, particularly in the field of health services.

After the signing of the peace accord in Mozambique, there was a spontaneous departure of refugees who wanted to return home as well as an organised repatriation. By the end of last year, the camp that had once been a hive of activity, was empty and eerily quiet. To avoid an outbreak of disease in the area, the UNHCR again appealed to the EU to finance a clean-up campaign involving, in particular, the destruction of huts, the closing of latrines, and refuse clearance. Again, the Commission responded promptly.

In April this year, the UNHCR, which has all but wound up its activities in the country, handed over property and equipment worth some $36 million to the Malawi government. The inventory included vehicles, education and health facilities, waterpoints, warehouses, roads and rehabilitated forests in locations throughout Malawi. Included, of course, were the facilities of the Luwani camp- vehicles, a clinic, a school, 500 boreholes and more than 375 hectares of afforested land planted with local tree species.

The Courier visited the Luwani facilities to see what plans are being made to ensure that they are utilised effectively by the local population. Although the people living in the immediate vicinity number only 2300, the clinic, which is still functioning, now serves a population within a radius of 40 sq km-about 184 000 people. Even former refugees still come across the border to seek medical attention there. The clinic has a doctor, two nurses and a medical assistant. At the time of The Courier visit, a two-way radio communication system was being installed to link the hospital with other medical centres. It still needs equipment for a planned operating theatre. The aim is to avoid having to send patients to distant hospitals, as currently happens, for minor operations that could easily be dealt with locally. Luwani also needs one or two ambulances and a supply of essential drugs to make it properly operational.

As for the school buildings which are modem and furnished, the Government has yet to decide what level of education to provide there, given the country's pressing needs in both primary and secondary education.

The Union's assistance for refugees was not restricted to the Mwanza district. The Commission also funded the extension of the Ntcheu district hospital in Boma, providing a maternity wing, a paediatric ward, a store room and an extension to the mortuary. In Biriwiri, it built a health centre to meet the needs of the huge number of refugees in that area while in Dedza, it funded the construction of the Mulangeni maternity wing. All of these facilities, which are of a higher standard than those in many urban areas (such as Zomba) are now being used by Malawians as well as Mozambicans who travel over the border (as in the case of the Luwani camp). Ironically, the refugee crisis has resulted in an improvement in the quality of life of the local people. But this is no less than the Malawians deserve, for they were generous to those who came seeking shelter. The UNHCR and the European Commission also deserve praise for their foresight in ensuring that permanent rather than makeshift structures were built and that environmental destruction and degradation were limited.

EU-Malawi cooperation - Linked to changing needs

by Jurgen Lovasz

Malawi has been associated with the European Community since the entry into force of the first Lomonvention in 1976. Until the beginning of the 1990s, the cooperation was of a financial and technical nature. Since then, the political dimension has become an important part of the relationship.

Community development assistance to Malawi under Lom-IV is principally given in the form of financial support and technical expertise funded from the EDF. Besides receiving grants under the four National Indicative Programmes (NlPs), Malawi is benefiting from support under the Structural Adjustment Facility, regional cooperation, emergency aid instruments and Stabex, together with risk capital and interest subsidies managed by the European Investment Bank. Activities financed in Malawi under the Community budget (i.e. outwith the Lomonvention) are, in particular, for cofinanced projects together with NGOs, food aid and, more recently, for the ongoing democratisation process.

The overall total assistance allocated to Malawi by the European Community amounted to about ECU 529 million (excluding regional and EC budgetary support) up to the end of 1994. In addition, 440 000 tonnes of food aid was provided to Malawians and refugees from Mozambique.

The provision of Community assistance to Malawi under the Lomonventions has always been linked to the development needs of the country. These needs have changed over the last 20 years and the programming has had to adapt accordingly.

Lom

From the time of independence until the end of the 1970s, Malawi experienced strong economic growth. GDP grew in real terms by an average of more than 6% and in per capita terms by 3% annually. This impressive performance was due to substantial increases in agricultural output thanks to the timely availability of inputs and credit, the expanded provision of extension services and increased research activity. The increased output not only provided an export base but also fuelled the expansion of secondary sectors such as manufacturing. Total productive activity also benefited from the balanced development of basic infrastructures, notably roads, railways and public utilities.

Community assistance under Lom (1975-80) supported this development with an emphasis on increasing agricultural production and the incomes of smallholders in the fields of tobacco and coffee. In the fisheries sector, development activities concentrated on boosting fish supplies to improve the nutritional status of the population, in particular in the Lakeshore are. From a total NIP of ECU 67.9m, 32% was devoted to agriculture and fisheries. A further 25% was allocated to the energy/industrial sector while 19% went for the development of road transport. Water/sanitation and education/ training received some 18%. The overall EC allocation of funds to Malawi under Lom amounted to ECU 74.3m (excluding regional and EC budgetary support).

LomI

The content of the LomI NIP (1980-85) was influenced by the deteriorating economic situation in the country after 1979. On the domestic front, Malawi suffered two years of drought in 1980 and 1981 while externally, there was a worsening in the terms of trade due to steep rises in imported fuel prices, capital imports and intermediate goods. There was also a decline in the export prices of tobacco, tea and sugar. The debt servicing problems of the country grew sharply as a result of increasing interest rates on the international money markets and higher transport costs for exports following the disruption of Malawi's traditional routes to the seaports. In the light of these constraints, the Community concentrated its development assistance on supporting food security and on expanding the national and regional road network. Thus, out of an NIP of ECU 80m, 39% was allocated to road transport and 32% to agriculture and fisheries. A further 11% was spent on social infrastructures and training programmes while 7% went to trade promotion and micro-projects. 6% was allocated to small enterprise development. The total LomI allocation to Malawi amounted to ECU 101.5m.

LomII

During the second half of the 1980s, Malawi experienced further external and internal shocks. The terms of trade continued to weaken, the rail lines to the ports of Mozambique were cut off completely and capital inflows fell leading to an accelerated loss of foreign reserves. The country also suffered two further droughts in 1986 and 1987. As a result, real GDP stagnated and inflationary pressures intensified. Having implemented a number of measures at the beginning of the 1980s, with the financial support of the IMF and the World Bank, aimed at restoring external and internal equilibrium, the country now issued a 'Statement of Development Policies 1987-1996' and formulated a comprehensive structural adjustment programme.

The LomII NIP took account of the balance of payments constraints and allocated ECU 12.5m to the Industrial and Trade Policy Adjustment Credit (ITPAC) developed with the help of the World Bank. It was becoming increasingly apparent that the food security of the majority of Malawians would depend on domestic agricultural development for the foreseeable future. Consequently, out of a total of ECU 114.5m in the NIP, 67% was allocated to agri-rural development. This involved an integrated socio-economic approach to the development of the rural areas of Malawi where 85% of the population lives.

This development programme also incorporated, for the first time, a 'child-spacing' programme. It was only in the second half of the 1990s that most ACP governments, including Malawi, accepted the need for measures to address the increasing socio-economic pressure caused by high population growth rates. Between 1964 and 1987, Malawi's population doubled. As a small country (94 200 km²) with one of the highest population densities in Africa (110 people per km²), Malawi was facing increasing pressure on its arable land. The average farm size of smallholders fell from 1.6 hectares in 1969 to 1.1 ha 20 years later. During this period the Community also continued to assist the development of the road infrastructure.

From 1986 onwards, the increasing conflict in Mozambique saw Malawi being confronted with a growing influx of refugees. In response, the EC provided ECU 16.8m for refugee relief programmes undertaken in the country by the UNHCR and various NGOs. The total support to Malawi under LomI amounted to ECU 167.7m.

LomV

As of 1988, Malawi's economy began to show signs of recovery. This was mainly due to the changed policy environment. Real GDP growth reached 7.8% in 1991 and the annual rate of inflation fell to 11.9%. The fiscal deficit (including grants) was also reduced to 1.8% of GDP by fiscal year 1991/1992 while the current account deficit amounted to 8.9% of GDP. How

ever, the basic development constraints remained. Accordingly, Malawi's NIP under the first financial protocol of LomV continued with the approach of concentrating on agri-rural development and road infrastructure. Of the ECU 121m available under the NIP, 65% and 25% were allocated to these sectors respectively. The remaining funds were earmarked for, among other things, balance of payments support.

Since the beginning of the 1990s, Malawi has experienced fundamental political changes and yet more internal and external shocks. With changes in the world political situation, western industrialised countries began to make more political demands on governments and put pressure on those that violated fundamental human rights. Since the 1960s, Malawi had been governed by an authoritarian and highly centralised political system. The government exercised very tight political, economic and social controls on both organisations and individuals, intimidating the entire population in the process. This approach also often had the effect of paralysing decision-making within government. In May 1992, the international donor community, including the EC, decided to freeze non-humanitarian aid to Malawi until such time as the government introduced and practised basic human rights in accordance with recognised international standards. This policy, combined with internal pressures, induced Dr Banda, the former President, to hold a referendum which took place in June 1993. In the poll, the majority of Malawians opted to abandon the one-party state in favour of a multiparty democracy. The first multiparty elections were held in May 1994 and the opposition -which had previously been proscribed -assumed power.

Because of these developments, the EC made no decision on a new development programme until after the referendum when the international donor community decided to end the aid freeze. In the interim, donor countries nevertheless supported various activities linked with the democratisation process. Thus, the EC provided ECU 1.2m towards aspects of the organisation of the referendum. In addition, Malawi received massive assistance during this period to help counter the effects of the 1991-92 drought, which was particularly severe. The EC was one of the main donors in this effort contributing, up to the end of 1994, some ECU 15m under LomV for the relief activities of the UNHCR and NGOs.

The effects of the drought and the economic insecurity resulting from the political changes contributed to a serious worsening in the balance of payments situation after 1991. The absence of market-determined exchange rates and the prospect of devaluation also led to increased currency speculation. In February 1994, the government and the Reserve Bank finally decided to liberalise the exchange rate system. After the aid freeze was lifted, and in view of the severe balance of payments situation, the EC decided to provide balance of payments support to the tune of ECU 30.6m. It also continued with its work on a comprehensive support programme for the agriculture sector. Work on a road project in the south of the country, which had been frozen, was accelerated during 1994. The appraisal of a rural health and population programme is currently under way while the Community (now the European Union) is also providing support to a number of programmes designed to enhance the democratisation process in the country.

Two further developments have also had an impact on recent EU support. Since the middle of the 1980s, the AIDS problem has grown rapidly. In Malawi, the present HIV infection rate is estimated at about 30% of the urban population and 12% of those who live in rural areas. In response to this crisis, the EU has been implementing an information, education and communication project since the beginning of 1990. This is aimed at target groups such as bar girls and lorry drivers as well as at the general public.

The second development has been the environmental degradation of the country. This has resulted both from the increased population density and the additional strain caused by the large-scale influx of refugees. Within its agricultural and afforestation programmes, the EU aims to address the issues of sustainable food security and the need for tree planting.

A final comment relates to the EU's regional activities from which Malawi has benefited. Several road projects have been supported from regional funds because they have improved the regional network. This have been of particular importance for Malawi's access to the outside world. In the context of EU/SADC regional cooperation, Malawi is responsible for fisheries, forestry and wildlife and assistance is provided to the Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Control Programme and the College of Wildlife. Studies on regional wildlife and the Southern African Centre for Ivory Marketing have also been undertaken.

Finally, Malawi also plays an active role in the framework of the more recent Cross Border Initiative (CBI) which aims to facilitate intra-regional trade and investment. In December 1994, the government sent a letter to the Commission setting out CBI policy and specifying comprehensive reforms for implementing the objectives of the initiative. In response to this, the EU is providing additional balance of payments support to the tune of ECU 12m.

Outlook

To summarise, EC-Malawi cooperation under the Lomonventions has been determined by the evolving requirements of the country. The EU is playing a leading role in the policy dialogue with the government and it provides a substantial proportion of total development assistance to the country (85% of whose development budget is currently financed by the donor community). But in spite of major international assistance for the development of Malawi, critical analysis reveals that the standard of living of the majority of the population has not improved over the last 30 years, and the social indicators are still among the worst in the world. As indicated above, both external and domestic constraints have hampered a more rapid development.

Without donor support, however, it can be assumed that the majority of the population would have been even worse off. Thus, there is no alternative to development aid, although the man-made constraints need to be addressed better. In other words, better coordination of development efforts is needed involving the social partners within Malawi and the international donor community.

Under the 'Poverty Alleviation Programme', the achievement of household and national food security is the main theme. This implies the development of natural resources, particularly in the agricultural sector, as well as consideration for the environmental impact of such efforts. Improving the health of the population, controlling population growth and providing better education and vocational training are further important components in the drive to achieve food security. Under the second phase of LomV, the EU will certainly be willing to consider supporting Malawi in addressing these and other development-related issues.

The new government must, however, also display a full commitment to these concerns and demonstrate that it is in a position to manage scarce financial resources in such a way as to achieve determined development objectives. In this context, the structural reforms that are needed in the public sector must be implemented in order to overcome the current severe fiscal deficit. Finally, it is hoped that the government will take the lead in prioritising development objectives, strategies and activities. Where required, external expertise may be provided, but the 'ownership' of the development process must rest with the people of Malawi and their representatives.