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New president presses on with change in Malawi


Natalie Calkin
WVoN co-editor

Malawi president Joyce Banda continues with a programme of change designed to shake off the vestiges of corruption in the country.

Banda came to power in April when the former president, Bingu wa Mutharika, died suddenly of a heart attack.

She has already dumped the presidential jet and fleet of Mercedes cars held dear by her predecessor.

Despite only being in office a month, Banda has also taken swift and decisive action to improve accountability and transparency.

She sacked the police chief, Peter Mukhito, who had been accused of mishandling anti-government riots that resulted in 19 people being shot dead.

She also  replaced the head of Malawi’s state broadcaster.

Mutharika bought the presidential jet in 2009 as he felt it was a “must-have” for a national leader.  The presidential jet cost £220,000 a year to run and is worth £8.4 million, a potentially vital income source for impoverished Malawi.

Banda clearly felt these were luxuries she could do without, saying:

“I can as well use private airlines.  I am already used to hitchhiking.”

She proved her point when she travelled to the UK for Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations last weekend.  She left the presidential jet in Africa and instead travelled by British Airways.

Many welcome the decision and see it as a distinct move away from the opulent style of living displayed by Mutharika.  In 2010, he was accused of using £2 million of public funding to build new roads so that he could travel comfortably to his second wedding.

In the same year, he commissioned the building of a multi-million pound statue as a tribute to his former wife.

At a time when many Malawians were and are still living on less than a dollar a day, the donor community were increasingly frustrated by his spending habits and autocratic leadership style.

In 2011, Britain (traditionally one of Malawi’s biggest donors, along with the EU, Norway, Germany and the World Bank) ceased giving aid to the country.

Following the appointment of Banda, the UK has been supportive of her leadership and change in direction.

Andrew Mitchell, the UK’s Minister for International Development, said: “The importance of an African leader giving up the jets and Mercedes is iconic.”

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