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  • email: Effective States and Inclusive Development Research Centre (ESID) School of Environment and Development, The University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL, UK

    ESID Working Paper No. 40

    The political economy determinants of economic growth in Malawi

    Jonathan Said1 and Khwima Singini2 October, 2014

    1 Economic adviser to the Africa Governance Initiative in Liberia Email correspondence: 2 Consultant with Imani Development in Malawi Email correspondence: ISBN: 978-1-908749-40-6

  • The political economy determinants of economic growth in Malawi


    Abstract Since independence Malawi has failed to translate initial periods of economic growth (growth acceleration regimes) into sustained long-term growth (growth maintenance). This paper assesses why this has been the case and what feedback loops have existed between growth, the political settlement and institutions. This is done by assessing Malawis: (1) deals space are business-government deals credible and open to many, or not credible and closed? (2) rent space where do political elites source money for their political objectives? (3) product space to what extent does Malawis product base organically spur economic growth? Malawis long-term growth problem is that the rent space for the political elite remains too heavily tied to the powerbroker business elite that have a low propensity to invest and support exported-oriented reforms. There is relatively little alignment of political rents to magicians (value adders and job creators), rentiers (except mining and cotton) and workhorses (the poor). Developmental interest is increasing, though this comes about in dribs and drabs when politicians want growth, so that support is stop-and-go and lacks the continuity necessary to overcome major structural challenges to structural transformation and growth maintenance. This suggests that the nature of growth going forward will be volatile, with a number of booms and crises in short-term growth. While long-term growth is likely to remain positive, driven by improvements in technology, the financial sector, energy and regional integration, it is unlikely to be strong enough in the next eight years to support the welfare requirements of the burgeoning population so as to allow Malawi to maintain high long-term growth. Altering this route would probably involve the disintegration of Malawis deeply embedded patronage and clientelist political settlement through the emergence of a developmental dominant party or the easing of political pressures currently caused by a five-year democratic term in which the largest voter group is rural, subsistence farmers, who are too far removed from the governments policy-making process.


    Malawi, deals space, rent space, product space, growth regimes, political settlement, clientelism, elites

    Said, J. and Singini, K. (2014) The Political Economy Determinants of Economic Growth in Malawi. ESID Working Paper No. 40. Manchester, UK: University of Manchester. Available at

    This document is an output from a project funded by the UK Aid from the UK Department for International Development (DFID) for the benefit of developing countries. However, the views expressed and information contained in it are not necessarily those of, or endorsed by, DFID, which can accept no responsibility for such views or information or for any reliance placed on them.

  • The political economy determinants of economic growth in Malawi


    1. Introduction

    Endogenous economic growth literature is increasingly taking an interest in the role of institutions. Recent literature has attempted to understand why in certain political contexts, growth-enhancing institutions emerge while growth-impeding institutions persist in many developing countries for long periods of time (Acemoglu and Robinson 2012; Khan 2010). There remains an inadequate understanding of the political dynamics of economic growth. Three unanswered questions are: (a) why do some countries successfully initiate episodes of rapid growth while others suffer extended stagnation? (b) why do some countries sustain growth episodes over many decades, while other growth episodes end in reversion to stagnation or collapse? and (c) what characterises feedback loops between growth and institutions? This is a case study on Malawi and is part of a wider research project run by Effective States for Inclusive Development (ESID) that aims to contribute to the literature on the political determinants of economic growth. The objective is to help understand the political drivers of within-country growth, while applying the conceptual framework developed by Sen (2012) and Pritchett and Werker (2012). It is a qualitative assessment of the political factors that explain past and current growth processes in Malawi. It analyses the role played by the product space, the structure of rents around the product space, and the incentives of political and business elites in Malawis growth regimes and structural transformation process since 1954. The paper is centred around an assessment of Malawis four growth regimes registered between 1954 and 2013. In Section 2 Malawis economic and political history is presented, including its structural transformation story. Section 3 provides a brief methodological note. Section 4 presents a description of the evolution of Malawis rent space and Section 5 presents a description of how it currently stands: Pritchett-Werkers (2012) market rent matrix of elite interests is applied to Malawis product space to characterise the structure of rent around the product space. Section 6 concludes by summarising Malawis structural transformation history and characterising Malawis feedback loops relative to its ability to deliver a growth maintenance regime following a growth acceleration regime. A rationalising of Malawis failure to structurally transform since the 1970s is provided from the context of the market rent space. A potential future outlook for Malawi is provided.

    2. Political settlements, growth and structural transformation

    Malawis economic growth since 1954 may be characterised by four distinct phases: (a) stagnation between 1954 and 1964; (b) growth acceleration between 1965 and 1978; (c) decline of GDP per capita between 1979 and 2002; and (d) growth acceleration between 2003 and 2013. The growth of real GDP per capita in dollar terms from 1954 to 2010 is plotted in Figure 1 below. There are three structural

  • The political economy determinants of economic growth in Malawi


    breaks in Malawis growth path between 1954 and 2013 (Kar et al., 2013). These occurred in 1964, 1978 and 2002 and are indicated in Figure 1 below, together with its political regimes. Real GDP per capita peaked in 1977 at $778, at the end of a growth acceleration regime that started in 1964. Thereafter real GDP per capita slumped to $431 in 2001 at the end of a long period of decline that lasted 23 years. A second period of growth acceleration commenced in 2003, though at $656, real GDP per capita in 2010 remained below the peak achieved in 1977.

  • The political economy determinants of economic growth in Malawi


    Figure 1: History of Malawis political regimes and GDP per capita (1955-2010), US dollar prices, and breaks filtered from four possible Bai-Perron breaks

    Source: Penn World Tables 7.1 PPP converted GDP per capita (chain series), at 2005 constant prices.











    1955 1960 1965 1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010


    Growthregime3:Decline Growthregime4:



    Colony MutharikaMuluziHKamuzuBanda

  • The political economy determinants of economic growth in Malawi


    2.1 Growth regime 1: 19541964

    The stagnant growth regime between 1954 and 1964 reflected the final years of British colonial rule. Between 1883 and 1953 Malawi was a British Protectorate, initially under the name of British Central Africa Protectorate, and later Nyasaland Protectorate. Between 1953 and 1963 it was adjoined to the Rhodesias, forming the Central African Federation. Malawi became self-governing in 1963 and fully independent in 1964. The British pound was used as currency during this pre-independence period (Pauw, Dorosh and Mazunda, 2013). Malawi had no reserve bank and no independent monetary policy. The pound was not suitable for the Malawian economy. It was extensively overvalued, given Malawis trading position and its limited capacity to export. Fiscal policy was also ill-suited to Malawi. Between 1953 and 1963 the British protectorate of Nyasaland was federated into the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland with most fiscal expenditure concentrated in South Rhodesia, modern- day Zimbabwe. As such, both the productive sectors and the welfare system, such as education and healthcare, were relatively underdeveloped. Infrastructure investment in railways and roads had also dried up, following the investments made in the first half of the century. The period of stagnation at this time came about despite relatively low population growth at the time that averaged 2 percent per year. The Malawi Congress Party (MCP) assumed power after easily winning the 1961 elections for a new legislative council. It emerged from the Nyasaland African Congress that led the independence struggle from 1944. Its leader, Hastings Kamuzu Banda, became Prime Minister in 1963 and President in 1966, after Malawi adopted a new constitution that created a republic and a one-pa


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