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New Malawi President Consolidates Power, Fires Late President’s Loyalists

Malawian Vice President Joyce Banda attends a protest against abuse of women, in Blantyre, January 20, 2012.
Malawian Vice President Joyce Banda attends a protest against abuse of women, in Blantyre, January 20, 2012.

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  • Listen to Butty interview with journalist Rafael Tenthani

James Butty

Malawi’s new president, Joyce Banda is moving quickly to consolidate her power.

On Tuesday, she dismissed Information Minister Patricia Kaliati and police Chief Peter Mukhito.

Banda also announced she was opening an investigation into the 2011 death of 25-year-old activist Robert Chasowa who had criticized late President Mutharika.

Malawi freelance journalist Rafael Tenthani said President Banda wants to put in her government people she can trust.

He also said President Banda was right to open an investigation into the murder of activist Chasowa.

“The former inspector general of police was at the center of the murder of the university student. At the press conference today, she [President Banda] also said that she too had some unexplained accident on her convoy. So, politically, I think she had no choice but to start with this case,” he said.

Chasowa was found dead on a pavement of a Blantyre university campus.  Then police chief Mukhito told reporters at the time that Chasowa killed himself.

Police also release two suicide notes, but Chasowa’s relatives and friends said he was not suicidal and that the handwriting on the note was not his.

Soon after the death of President Mutharika, then information minister Kaliati suggested that Vice President Banda, who had been critical of Mutharika and was expelled from the ruling party, could not be president.

Tenthani said President Banda told a news conference Tuesday that the dismissal of Kaliati was one of the decisions that she could not wait to make.

“You must recall that before the official announcement of the death of President Mutharika, some ministers led by Patricia Kaliati went to the television [station] to tell the world that Joyce Banda, although she was vice president and legally placed to succeed the president because she was expelled from her party, and therefore she was not eligible to succeed President Mutharika,” Tenthani said.

He said Banda, the second currently serving woman president in Africa, is trying to build on what Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf started when she was elected Africa’s first woman president.

“On Monday, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf actually called Joyce Banda to congratulate her on her ascension to power, and said that this is a new trend for women empowerment on the continent. So I think she’s [Banda] is trying to build on what Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has started in Liberia,” Tenthani said.

The Malawian president also appointed Mary Nkosi as Reserve Bank governor, the first Malawian woman to hold the post.

She also said Tuesday said she wanted to normalize relations with the country’s foreign donors, including the United States.

President Banda told reporters Tuesday that, in a phone call, she asked U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to unfreeze aid to Malawi that came through the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation.

Banda said she assured Secretary of State Clinton that her government will work to restore the rule of law and democratic principles in Malawi, as well as respect for human rights.

Tenthani said President Banda is trying to court foreign donors to return to Malawi because she believes the best way to revive Malawi’s fragile economy is to invite donors back in the country.

“The Malawi economy now is in a doldrums. We don’t have foreign exchange in banks. All this is because most donors left Malawi because of President Bingu wa Mutharika’s policies. So, she’s trying to woo the donors back to Malawi, and so far the donors have been warming up to her,” Tenthani said.

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