Malawians are hoping the country’s new president, Joyce Banda, will resolve social and economic problems faced during the administration of the late President Bingu wa Mutharika who died earlier this month. After just a few days in office President Banda is taking steps to meet some expectations.
The challenges faced by Malawi President Joyce Banda are daunting. Malawians are hopeful she can turn the nation around from the poor governance, economic trouble and curtailed freedoms many blame on the late president Bingu wa Mutharika.
Many people are hopeful that Malawi's financial woes will ease under the leadership of President Banda. Former president Bakili Muluzi says the economy should be given high priority and he is ready to assist the new president with advice. “We need to address issues of economy first so that people can breathe some air. The last three years have been very difficult," said Muluzi. "I do drive to my village seeing the queues of cars and people looking for petrol diesel paraffin [the increase in] prices of our commodities. These are things the government should look into and I am optimistic that these things can be addressed.”
Mike Banda, of the Malawi Economic Justice Network, says that in addition to improving the lives of its citizens, President Banda needs to restore Malawi's relations with donor partners, including the International Monetary Fund and U.S. Millennium Challenge, that felt forced to suspend their support because of Mutharika administration policies.
“I think the issue of mending diplomatic ties with donors like Britain and other European countries, is also paramount so that we revert back to the relationship that we used to enjoy and [financial] support that were being given to us,” Banda stated.
Citizens are hopeful
Journalists in Malawi also have expectations of change. They want President Banda to repeal laws they feel limit media freedom that were enacted during president Mutharika’s time in office.
“Our initial plan is to seek an appointment with her [President Banda] and present our issues on media because it’s not about bad laws [alone] but also issues to do with general media freedom in Malawi. So after the burial of the late president we will take it from there to engage the new government. Our expectation is that she will hear our plea to repeal the laws that are infringing on media freedom,” said Anthony Kasunda, chairman of the Malawi chapter of the Media Institute for Southern Africa.
There's been movement in the first few days of the new administration. President Banda says she is on a path to mend souring relations with Britain, which declined last year when President Mutharika expelled a British diplomat for remarks made in a leaked diplomatic cable.
“The Minister for Africa in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Mr. Henry Bellingham, indicated to me that the British government’s commitment to send a new British High Commissioner to Malawi is real and it will happen with the shortest period of time as part of the restoration of the cordial relations between our two countries,” Banda explained.
President Banda says she is also seeking to mend Malawi’s poor relations with its neighbor, Zambia. Bad blood between Mutharika’s government and Zambian President Michael Sata began before he was president with a 2007 political rift. Since his election as Zambia's president last year Sata has been refusing to visit Malawi. Banda now says diplomacy is back on course.
“I spoke to President Sata of Zambia. We both committed ourselves to restore the cordial diplomatic relations between our two governments. It is important for us to improve and strengthen relations between our countries knowing how critical Zambia is to Malawi as a neighbor,” noted Banda.
In a change of heart, Sata has donated five million liters of fuel to Malawi to help facilitate funeral arrangements for Mutharika.