Malawi: Politics

The most encouraging thing that I experienced was Malawians' excitement and praise for their new president, Joyce Banda. The former president, Bingu wa Mutharika (right), who died of a heart attack in April, was known for as much corruption as any other African head of state. After his death, millions of dollars and cash in other currencies were found stashed in his house (rumored to be enough to fund their govn't for 5 years); the fuel crisis abruptly ended; sugar and other imported goods were back on the shelves where for months before they were on ration. 

After Joyce had been fighting corruption within their government for years, Bingu had tried to throw her out, but since her office was elected, the best he could do was kick her out of their party. In the face of a plan Bingu had set to have his brother come to power in his absence, Joyce quickly and quietly took control. The constitutional succession is that the vice president takes control, and that was Joyce. Now that she is in charge, she has said she will care for her country like the mother she is, including disciplining those who have done wrong. Some corrupt ministers fled the country after she was sworn in. One tried to cross the Moçambique border wearing a burka. 

Now over two months into office, she has supported investigation of the late president's death and continued to bring corrupt officials to justice. In a bold move, she agreed to devalue their currency, the Kwatcha, to come into IMF compliance so that international aide can once again come into the country. Aide, which the late president scorned and then refused, accounted for 40% of their national budget. Now that the country is accepting the international rating of their money, aide can come back in.

$120 = K20,000 when I was there. And the smallest bill is K500. Getting $120 in kwatcha was the biggest stack of bills I've ever held. Impossible to put in your wallet, and enough to make your pants two sizes smaller as you jam it into your pocket.

July 6th was Independence day. 48 years of self-governance since being a British protectorate. Instead of a usual, large, festive day filled with parades and parties costing 150 million kwatcha, the president pardoned prisoners and held a simple national prayer meeting. Promoting good will, 377 prisoners were set free who had served at least half their terms and had not committed serious crimes. With Christian and Muslim religious leaders and political leaders from all parties attending, she decried the practice of defilement (raping virgins, often children, in the belief it will heal STDs like AIDS) saying male rape offenders could "die there. It will be possible to bury them in one mass grave. This is a serious matter" (1). 

While their economy continues to decline from Bingu's policies, and over a million are now receiving food aide, Madame Banda is a beacon of hope among politically troubled and consistently oppressed southern Africans, a rare example of a selfless leader.



Popular Posts