BLANTYRE, Malawi - Malawi's new president, Joyce Banda, is moving quickly during her first month in office - firing officials and implementing financial reforms to lure back foreign aid and investment.
Since her inauguration in April, President Banda has fired Police Chief Peter Mukhito, Central Bank Governor Perks Ligoya and Malawi Broadcasting Corporation head Bright Malopa.
Banda has championed the resumption of talks with the International Monetary Fund over an Extended Credit Facility program that was suspended during her predecessor's administration because of Malawi's troubled economy.
She has devalued the country’s currency by about 50 percent and appointed a cabinet that includes representatives of all of Malawi's main opposition political parties as well as members of late President Bingu wa Mutharika’s Democratic Progressive Party.
Banda has told Parliament her government plans to move quickly to repeal laws that infringe on people’s rights, including a law that criminalizes same-sex marriages.
“In the 2012-2013 fiscal year, we will continue with the law reform programs," she said. "Some laws which were duly passed by this august house and were referred back to the Malawi Law Commission will be repealed. These include Section 46 of the Penal Code [that restricts press freedom] and the provision regarding the indecent and unnatural acts contained in Sections 153 and 156 of the Penal Code [that criminalizes homosexuality].”
Moving too quickly
Some critics like political scientist Vincent Kondowe of The Catholic University of Malawi say she is moving too quickly.
“I think she is moving too fast to the extent that probably one day, we might end up regretting some of the things which she has hurriedly committed herself to. Let her be slow a little bit," said Kondowe. "Though she must be resolute, let her exhaust all the advisers that she has. I am speaking this especially when it comes to this repealing of the law regarding the issue of homosexuality in Malawi.”
But Kamlepo Kaluwa, leader of the opposition Malawi Democratic Party and a vocal critic of the Mutharika administration, backs President Banda’s actions.
“So far, so good; she has started very well,' said Kaluwa. "In fact, she has capitalized on the weaknesses of her predecessor, the late president Bingu wa Mutharika. She is doing what people of Malawi are expecting her to do. And this is the only way to restore the [financial] donor confidence in our country.”
But according to Kaluwa, it is too early to assess President Banda's leadership.
“No, no, it’s too early for any political commentator to say she has either fallen short of or maybe she would have done this," said Kaluwa. "No, I mean, let us give her time so that in the process of her national leadership, she will come up with solutions. But after 100 days, we will be able to say, ‘No, no, no. You should have done this and you should have done that.' Here the speed is too much, but now it’s too early so not let us push her too much.”
Political scientist Vincent Kondowe disagrees.
“No, no, no [she is] running government machinery," said Kondowe. "We cannot say it’s too early to start criticizing her. You don’t run government on trial and error basis. It’s the lives of Malawians which are at stake here, so you can never say, 'It’s too early to make an assessment.' No.”
Malawi's former Finance Minister Friday Jumbe, one of the county’s leading economists, says it will be difficult for President Banda to make progress solving Malawi's economic challenges in a highly political environment.
“These things are about team work," said Jumbe. "And without being prejudicial about the people that have surrounded her in terms of economy, perhaps she is more surrounded by politicians than economic people."
Jumbe says Malawi is not facing a political problem, and that the new administration should focus more on economics than politics.