Malawi's Banda becomes Africa's third female head of state
Vice President Joyce Banda took over as Malawi's president on Saturday. Her first challenge: restoring relations with donor nations to the poverty stricken nation.
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“Even God knows that I have been the most patient president on the continent,” Mutharika said at a police commissioning ceremony, after the mid-July 2011 protests. “Enough is enough. You wanted to take government by force, which is against the laws of the land. This time I will follow you into your homes. I will smoke you out.”Skip to next paragraph
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Malawi is one of the poorest countries of the world, with more than 75 percent of the population earning less than $1 a day. Many Malawians initially welcomed Mutharika as an “economist in chief” because of his experience as a World Bank economist. But as president, Mutharika had frequent disagreements with both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund over his government’s decision to continue subsidies to farmers for fertilizer.
Mutharika also had problems with individual donor nations, including Malawi’s former colonial ruler, Britain. Last year, Mutharika expelled Britain’s high commissioner, Fergus Cochrane-Dyet, after a leaked diplomatic cable quoted the British envoy as describing Mutharika to be “ever more autocratic and intolerant of criticism." In response, Britain froze further development aid to Malawi.
As president, Banda comes in as something of an unknown quantity, but she does not lack spunk. A women’s rights activist and former parliamentarian taken on as Mutharika’s vice presidential candidate in 2009, Banda was informed months later that Mutharika intended to have his brother Peter take over as presidential candidate in the 2014 elections. Banda objected, left the ruling DPP, and former her own opposition People’s Party. Mutharika attempted to have her removed as vice president, but under Malawi’s Constitution, it is the parliament and not the president who can remove a vice president. Relations between Mutharika and Banda had remained tense ever since.
It will take more than spunk to solve Malawi’s economic crisis, however. Financial mismanagement, government incompetence, and unpredictable rainfall have increased Malawi’s debt to crushing levels. By 2005, some 30 percent of the agricultural country’s national budget went to servicing its $2.9 billion debt. Much of that, about $2.3 billion, was forgiven by the IMF and World Bank, but Malawi’s economic isolation under Mutharika pushed the country back into an economic hole. Banda’s challenge will be to restore international relations without sacrificing Malawi’s ability to direct its own economic affairs.