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Anger builds over Malawi cash scandal

Malawians plan to march over multimillion-dollar corruption that has engulfed poor southeast African country.
Last modified: 2 Dec 2013 20:55

Malawi is facing a multimillion-dollar corruption scandal that has swallowed up to a third of the budget. Millions of US dollars are missing - believed to have been stolen by senior government officials.

International donors have stopped giving aid until the matter is resolved.

It's a corruption scandal that's been dubbed "cashgate" by local journalists.

Most people anywhere else in the world would be livid too. In some places people would be protesting, burning and looting buildings by now - demanding answers and that someone resign. But not here.

People on the streets of Lilongwe seem to be going about their business. Vendors selling fruit and vegetables in the market try to entice customers by offering fresh produce at reduced prices.

But scratch beneath the surface and you get a sense of how quietly angry and frustrated the poor are about the scandal.

I meet Banya Phiri, a carpenter making furniture in the market.

"We can't see anything change," Phiri said.

"We are still poor. And we keep going down, we going deeply down."

Mourning for economy

In another part of Lilongwe, activists from the Grand Coalition in Malawi meet to strategise.

They are all dressed in black. They say they are in mourning because the economy of Malawi isn't doing well.

They are planning nationwide demonstrations in protest against corruption in the government. They say they are "finalising a few things, strategising and co-ordinating logistics".

"The 40 percent that the donors have suspended, that's a big percentage," Voice Mhone, the group's chairman, said.

"Part of the money has been looted. That will cause suffering.

"Very shortly we might see fuel will not be there in filling stations, the forex to buy most commodities will not be there."

Mhone is right about finding foreign currency here. Most people go to the black market to get it.

The money changers on the street corner look nervous. They know what they are doing is illegal.

When I convince them I am not a police officer, they relax. They tell me business is good.

The local currency, the Kwacha, continues to lose its value.

Interest rates are going up and so is inflation. So it’s become more practical to exchange the kwacha on the black market to stronger currencies like the South African rand or the US dollar.

Malawi is already one of the poorest countries in the world. Donors cutting off aid is the last thing people here need.

But I have met a few Malawians who seem glad funds have been suspended by the donor community.

"We don't need donor funding," John Kabwato, a student, said.

"The money comes with strings attached. "The West makes us do what we. Don't want because they think we need their money. This incident will make Malawi wake up - find other ways to fend for herself."

Peaceful protests

Activists say they are planning peaceful protests from December 9.

They say there will be a protest every Monday until the general election in 2014. People will gather at designated places and march.

At certain times those in their vehicles will hoot and people will embark on whatks being called a go-slow. They come to work but do as little as possible.

After the scandal broke, President Joyce Banda dissolved her cabinet.

Some senior members of government have been fired and arrested. She's promised to do everything she can to end corruption.

But questions are being asked like how can millions of dollars disappear under her watch?

Some Malawians say they support planned Black Monday protests. Others are against the move, worried police will try and disperse gatherings and there will be violence.

In a few days time we will know how many people are angry enough to protest - or will it be seemingly business as usual in Malawi.