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Malawi riots spread as president blames Britain, IMF for economic woes

President Mutharika says that opposition and civil society groups that led protests over Malawi's deepening economic troubles are behind the violence that left at least 10 dead.

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In a statement, NAMISA said police have the responsibility to protect both civilians and journalists who were exercising their constitutional right to express themselves through peaceful demonstrations.

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Who's to blame for Malawi's economic woes?

For much of yesterday afternoon, there was a strange disconnect between the violence going on out doors, and the president’s attempt to cajole opposition and civil society leaders to, in effect, behave themselves. In an afternoon “lecture,” Mutharika told Malawians that it was not his government’s fault that food and fuel prices are rising, and that beneficial foreign exchange rates are difficult to obtain. Instead, he blamed the British government’s aid policies and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for Malawi’s failure to stabilize its economy since independence in 1964.

The IMF, at present, has counseled Malawi to devalue its currency in order to attract more foreign investment and to reduce the cost of goods bought and sold in Malawi.

“IMF believes the kwacha [Malawi's currency] is overvalued but that is not true,” Mutharika said yesterday. “If this is true, let them tell us the equilibrium rate of the kwacha. Malawi has big structural problems since 1964 and the solution cannot only be devaluation of the currency.”

Mutharika was touted for turning the economy around and revitalizing the agriculture sector – turning Malawi from a food beggar to the region’s breadbasket. When he took over the mantle from retired President Bakili Muluzi, Mutharika said his intention was to leave Malawi in a much better condition “when my term ends than when I was just being sworn in.”

Mutharika insists that Malawi can do better without donors. In any case, most of Malawi’s bilateral donors have halted their budgetary support, citing increasing levels of corruption and lack of accountability for how funds are spent. Mutharika’s government went so far as to expel the British ambassador after a leaked memo by the ambassador was published. In the memo, the ambassador called Mutharika intolerant of criticism.

“After 47 years we are still heavily relying on foreign aid,” Mutharika said yesterday. “We are operating an externalized economy, export proceeds are externalized, your money, our money is not within banks here. Your money is in Pakistan, India, Dubai, United Kingdom….”

But Billy Banda, executive director of political and economic watchdog Malawi Watch, blamed the economic malaise on poor government decisions and policies that are not pro-poor. Most Malawians still live on less than $1 a day and can only afford only a single meal a day.

“Against this backdrop our president has a tax-payer-sponsored jet, a hefty salary, a salaried wife and listens to no one,” Mr. Banda says. “Even his own cabinet can’t advise him on anything contrary even if heavily criticized.”

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