Working Paper
Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

The Limits of Foreign Aid on Malawi’s Democratic Consolidation

Since the era of one-party rule, Malawi’s relationship with the donor community has proved erratic and contentious. During the second term of Malawi’s current president, Bingu wa Mutharika, this trend has continued apace, with important implications for the consolidation of the country’s nascent democracy. Donors providing democracy aid have assisted with the conduct of elections and improved the technical capacity of parliamentarians. However, inconsistency across programme cycles, the concentration of funding around elections, and a reluctance to support political parties hinders the size of democracy aid’s long-term impact. Development aid, particularly general budget support, has tended to further sideline the role of parliament and indirectly has provided the incumbent party with an electoral advantage through support for the country’s fertilizer input subsidy programme. To prevent an erosion of democracy caused by violations of civil liberties, donors often have threatened to withhold aid to Malawi. Yet, they frequently only proceed with these threats when concurrent concerns exist over economic governance, including corruption and management of the exchange rate.