Written by EVE JONES
There is no doubt about it. The final years of President Bingu wa Mutharika’s in power left the country in a difficult position. At the time of his death on April 5, of this year, Malawi had lost diplomatic and cooperation relations with Great Britain, the United States, Germany, the European Union, Norway, the World Bank and the African Development Bank. Of all the countries and organizations to break from, these were the worst in terms of money. Since taking over from Mutharika this year, President Joyce Banda has sought to improve diplomatic relations again to help improve the Malawian economy. Some of these are starting to bear fruit at last.
Britain restores ties
As reported on the Maravi Post, President Banda has succeeded in restoring diplomatic ties with Malawi’s former colonial power, Great Britain. Relations between the two soured after diplomatic cables were leaked reporting former envoy Fergus Cochrane-Dyet’s uneasiness with Mutharika’s authoritarian ways. After the cable was released Mutharika expelled Cochrane-Dyet, which led to the expulsion of Malawi’s envoy to London, Flossie Gomile.
The new top diplomat to Malawi will now be Michael Nevin, who presented his letters of accreditation to Banda last week. It's hoped that Nevin’s presence will help spur on British investment in the country and a resumption of aid programs and projects. Britain is still Malawi’s top international donor and contributes millions of pounds in aid each year. In order to regain this cash, Banda will have to prove the money is being spent correctly and not on presidential jets. In terms of Western diplomacy, Banda is also negotiating with Hilary Clinton to restore aid from the United States.
A more immediate impact will be made by the two deals signed between Lilongwe and Abuja. These appear to be the first of 10 treaties due to be signed between Malawi and Africa’s most populous nation. The central tenet of the deals will be economic relations, trade and natural resources. One of these deals will see Nigeria importing rice from Malawi. This is part of President Banda’s Cassava Commercialisation Programme. Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan, admitted this when he declared “I would like to take this opportunity to ask Malawi to start supplying us with rice.” Part of the deal will see Malawian and Nigerian scientists work together to improve rice production in the country. Furthermore, Nigeria will lend its expertise in the oil industry as Africa’s largest exporter of the substance.
Discontent ahead of 2014
The objective of governments are to look after the needs and rights of the people and to create a favourable environment for them to thrive. Part of this in ensuring that the economic set up favours a balance between employees and businesses in such a way the economy can develop and the standard of living rises. Banda appears to be making slow progress, but a number of people are unhappy with her progress. These voices of discontent are vital for a democracy and a free press, but will present challenges to Banda during the 2014 general election.
Cedrick Ngalande of the Nyasa Times has called Banda nice, but not very good in his article published on Sept. 12, while here on the Maravi Post, Wiseman Chijere Chirwa has claimed that Banda is not sophisticated enough to be Malawi’s leader. Chirwa’s criticisms built on those by John Kapito, who heads up the Consumers Association. The biggest criticism is that the Kwacha devaluation has hit the economy hard and the president has not helped either the people or the businesses. Ngalande went further in calling Banda a failure for this act. He also criticises Banda for a lack of a manifesto outlining her party’s ideas, philosophies and policies for the general election.
Mutharika’s undermining of diplomatic relations with nearly everyone had stemmed the flow of money into the country. This meant that a large number of privately and publically employed staff were facing the threat of redundancy and unemployment. Oil exploration can help Malawi become more self-sufficient in terms of energy or it can help raise money and living standards. The Cassava Commercialisation Programme and deals with Nigeria will help develop agriculture in the country and food independence. If done well, Malawi will never have to worry about famine. These are top priorities along with reducing redundancy in the workforce and increasing employment.
Welcome Eve Jones, MaraPost's new news analyst. A journalism and business school graduate, Jones will from time to time share her insights with Malawi readers.