The 55-page speech set out the myriad of challenges that this beautiful but impoverished country faces as it emerges from the pandemic.
He spared no punches, citing corruption, particularly among public officials, rising inflation (currently at 9.3 per cent), and poor access to electricity – only 12.4 per cent of households have it – as just three of the barriers to economic growth and prosperity.
He ended, as politicians always do, on a high note, urging people not to despair. “We may not be a developed, or large, or populous nation, but we are an accomplished one, a generous one, a brave one, a kind one, an intelligent one, and an entrepreneurial one.”
Chakwera’s speech, titled “Fixing the system to deliver long-term priorities and defuse short-term pressure”, got me thinking about the state of our own nation, both across the UK and here in Scotland.
Frankly, we are in a mess. We may have a much bigger economy than Malawi’s, but we face similar problems. Sitting in the African sunshine yesterday morning, I read, with increasing horror, of the impact of rising energy prices in the UK. Even with the Chancellor’s £200 loan, every household, apart from the richest ones, will struggle to pay their energy bills over the next year.
But the poorest in our country – single households on the minimum wage, families on Universal Credit, people on the basic state pension – will suffer the most.
People who use prepayment meters in an effort to manage their energy use face the biggest increase of all, with their average annual bill rising to £2,017.
These already vulnerable households face monthly energy bills of £168, an impossible sum to find when a single person over 25 on Universal Credit gets £324 a month to live on. Millions of people will face the choice of eating or heating.
And with inflation forecast to hit seven per cent and more, food bills will soar, but it is not your typical Waitrose shopper who will suffer.
Only two weeks ago, Jack Monroe, food writer and activist, exposed the real cost of food inflation when she showed that it is the cheapest products, those marketed as the “value range”, that have increased the most, sometimes by as much as 140 per cent, yet “luxury” food items, such as upmarket ready meals, have remained the same price for years.
The cost of living explosion will destroy lives. Figures out this week from the National Records of Scotland (NRS) show that the poorest Scots will spend more than one third of their lives in poor health.
Men can expect only 60.9 years of good health, while women can hope for slightly more, at 61.8 years. According to NRS, people living in our most deprived communities enjoy, on average, 24 fewer years of good health than those in the most prosperous areas.
Ponder that for a moment. If you’re poor in Scotland, you can no longer afford to heat your home or eat well, and you will spend much of your life in bad health. To say nothing of the attainment gap in education, unaffordable housing and poverty wages.
It is legitimate to argue that the perfect storm of Brexit and Covid has created the economic and social crisis we all face, with the poor suffering the most. I would argue, however, that the biggest single cause of our current, and future, woes, is poor leadership and bad governance. And that the terrible state of our nation is down to two people: Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon.
I won’t waste my words on Johnson. He is the worst Prime Minister of my lifetime, an amoral, narcissistic, immature buffoon. If the Conservative Party does not have the courage to rid our country of this scoundrel, then they should never again be in power.
Nicola Sturgeon is a more complex character. On paper, she is the perfect millennial progressive. Female, left (ish) of centre, working class background, legal education. Hard-working, committed.
In reality she, as much as Johnson, has failed, if for very different reasons. She is perhaps the most over-rated politician of my lifetime. She does not govern Scotland well, using her considerable powers to improve the lives of the most vulnerable, while encouraging economic growth and flourishing communities.
Instead, she uses the Scottish government budget and her bully pulpit in Holyrood to further her teenage ambition of leaving the UK. That’s all. She’s not interested in Chakwera’s aims of ‘fixing the system to deliver long-term priorities and defuse short-term pressure’. She only cares about one thing – pushing the nationalist message.
Instead of setting out how she will guide us through the cost of living crisis, in partnership with the UK government, she picks fights at every turn with Westminster.
Her long-term priority is not clearing the NHS backlog caused by Covid, which has seen a surge in heart disease and stroke deaths. Her plan ‘to fix the system’ is to force Scotland to spend the next two years embroiled in a phony war over a second independence referendum.
When we should be focusing all our efforts on rebuilding our country from the bottom up, we find ourselves arguing whether low-income taxpayers in England will pay Ian Blackford’s state pension if Scotland leaves the UK.
Like Malawi, Scotland stands on the precipice. Even the most competent leader would struggle to get us through the next few years unscathed. With Nicola Sturgeon at the helm in Holyrood and if Boris Johnson clings on at Number 10, we face certain disaster. The state of our nation is fearful.