EU in Malawi – Avenues to empowerment and resilience

During my first trip to Malawi last year, I couldn’t help but notice the logo of the European Union (EU) as I drove up and down the country for my various clients. There can be no doubt that this organisation, which won the Nobel Prize for Peace back in 2012, is doing incredible things in this country through its European External Action Service (EEAS). So I approached the Head of Delegation in Lilongwe to see whether he might like me to help tell their story; the answer was ‘yes’. I therefore returned in late-February this year, and am now proud to present the fruits of my labours to you.

Gallery of images

You can CLICK EITHER IMAGE below to view all 71 images in a gallery of photographs from my assignment for the European Union. Usage rights may be purchased for all of these photographs, but note that ‘© Robin Wyatt’ must be stated. Before (or after) you explore these, you might enjoy reading one of the six articles I produced as part of this assignment, which follows here.

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CLICK THE IMAGE to explore the gallery.

Example article from the assignment

There is a Malawian proverb that roughly translates to, “if you have, give; if you need, seek”. In a continent that was subjected to years of oppression under colonial rulers, that is associated in many people’s minds with widespread poverty and hunger above all else, there exists a great spirit of enterprise. All too often, Africans are starved not just of their daily bread but also of the opportunities they need to secure growth and development. Working closely with both international and local partners, the European Union (EU) is serving as a beacon of hope, providing avenues to income-generation that will empower Malawians to provide for the coming generations in an environmentally and economically sustainable fashion. By providing frameworks for growth that are organised around market forces, the EU’s various projects give space for creativity and entrepreneurship to thrive, further strengthening what’s being built.

Improvements in the lives of individuals are already being seen. Whether it is Dominic Tchaya’s hope to build a house in the coming year or Wilson Mwandira’s plan to buy a motorcycle, Violet Chikoti’s desire to fully electrify her household or Dave Mulemba’s new-found ability to incite change in his community; these individuals’ stories show significant change in people’s mindsets. No longer are they content seeking whatever ‘piecework’ (casual labour) they can get, no longer are they willing to compromise on nutrition. Malawians are showing tremendous ambition as they seek to effect change in their lives. As they do so, Malawi as a nation is moving forward along the road to prosperity.

A particularly striking aspect of the EU-supported community development programmes is the impact that targeted training is having. From the COOPI stove-making groups to the Mzuzu Coffee Planters Cooperative, we see increasing prescience about the need to follow environmentally sustainable methods. Malawians are increasingly showing an acute engagement with the environment, responding to changes in rainfall patterns by planting different crops, and following up on the pressing need for soil conservation. Perhaps most admirably in the light of widespread poverty, they are showing a willingness to prioritise long-term growth over immediate benefits. Macdonald Ngulube, for example, struggled for eight years trying to plant coffee without access to technological and methodological know-how; the EU’s intervention has helped him to a position in which he can build houses for both himself and his relatives.

The issue that many people have with development is that it often involves piecemeal measures that throw money and technology at problems that are inherent within inequitable social structures. What these programmes have been able to do – without exception, and irrespective of their relative success or otherwise – is create an atmosphere that is conducive to social empowerment. The language of social empowerment, and also of gender parity, has become engrained in what were previously societies and families with a patriarchal division of labour.

The COOPI stove-making collectives and the Mzuzu Coffee Planters Cooperative have been instrumental in igniting business mindsets among men and women alike, who are consistently putting their new-found knowledge to use over the course of their daily lives. Whether it is buying a solar panel in order to provide a low-cost mobile phone charging service from one’s own home, or else building houses in the city to rent out, there are numerous signs of individuals confidently pushing forward on the road to self-improvement.

The EU’s approach to development in Malawi shows its recognition of the importance of seeking not only economic growth, but also environmental sustainability, women’s social empowerment and widespread public health. Aside from imparting technical know-how, facilitating technological innovation and providing high quality, high yielding input varieties, perhaps the organisation’s greatest contribution has been in generating a social consciousness in the minds of Malawian people. It is this social consciousness that allows citizens to build on what the EU has given in order to secure the best possible future, not only for themselves but also for the society of which they are part.

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