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Malawians Debate Banda’s First 100 Days in Office

  • Lameck Masina

Malawi's new President Joyce Banda gives a press conference in Lilongwe, April 10, 2012.

Malawi's new President Joyce Banda gives a press conference in Lilongwe, April 10, 2012.

BLANTYRE — Malawi’s new president, Joyce Banda, marks 100 days in office Saturday. Since assuming power after the death of president Bingu wa Mutharika, Banda has reversed many of her predecessor's policies and laws which had cost the country much needed foreign aid. But Malawians are divided on their new president and are engaging in heated debates on local radio talk shows and social media networks.

Malawians are not united in thinking President Joyce Banda is as good for the country as the international community thinks she is.

Just tune into many of the call-in radio shows or log onto Facebook and you’ll find a flurry of negative and positive comments about Banda’s first 100 days in office.

Rhodes Msonkho hosts Capital Radio’s News Talk program and he has been engaging listeners like this caller.

“To be honest, 100 days has been prosperous, but I think the only issue which the current regime ... [must] look into is the issue of security, which people are worried [about]. If I have given her percentage [out of 100] I think 75 [percent] can do,” said a caller.

Host Msonkho also looks at Facebook, where show listeners also posted concerns about security under the Banda administration.

“Ephraim Chirwa writes on Facebook page: 'She has started well but there is no security. She needs to improve in that area sending this one from Blantyre, otherwise 55 percent. Anderson Makelu: 'I am a critical person but this woman has impressed for putting Malawians first, e.g., the healed relations with donors, 94 percent. [Another commenter:] 'The constitution is not respected, e.g., section 65, gay rights and poor security, 23 percent, sir.'”

Since taking office in April, Banda has made efforts to improve Malawi's diplomatic relations, which deteriorated sharply in the last years of President wa Mutharika, costing the country hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign donations. The effort appears to be paying off, as donors such as the United States have restored the aid.

While many here believe Banda’s economic policies are headed in the right direction, they are concerned about a recent surge in crime since the new government revoked the police's shoot-to-kill policy as a violation of civil rights. The controversial policy was introduced last year during anti-government demonstrations and did not go over well with the public. But neither have the brazen armed robberies taking place in recent weeks.

Despite such concerns, Banda is focusing on her accomplishments this week.

“Ninety-seven days ago we set on a journey to economic recovery," she said in a speech Wednesday in the capital, Lilongwe. "We knew as a nation that it will not going to be an easy ride. I asked Malawians to make sacrifices and the Cabinet cleaned up the mess that we had found.”

The president's critics says "cleaning up the mess" is really just a cover for settling old political scores. They cite arrests of senior government officials deemed loyal to the previous administration and illegal dismissals of public servants. Banda had feuded with President wa Mutharika, and was kicked out of his party.

His death set off a brief constitutional struggle in Malawi before Banda was sworn in as president.

The new president's critics also accuse her of self-glorification. In a special program on state radio, President Banda defended her short record.

“I don’t think it is fair to say that there is a dent in these 100 days," she said. "I think that Malawians and my government need to be congratulated for making those bold decisions that today we don’t have fuel queues, we have at least forex [foreign exchange] in the banks, we are getting drugs [medicines] and we will get much, much, more.”

President Banda’s Peoples Party is organizing official celebrations of the president's 100 days in office this Sunday in Blantyre, where several international dignitaries are expected to attend.