BLANTYRE--Malawian President Joyce Banda, criticised at home for taking numerous foreign trips recently, on Sunday flew to Belgium to attend the seventh European Development Day meeting, backed by the European Union in Malawi which said the trip was of "extreme importance" for the president to "mend fences" with donors.
"We are totally convinced that this trip is of utmost importance. It has great value. The EU remains a strategic partner and cannot be ignored," EU Ambassador to Malawi Alexander Baum, told reporters.
He said Malawi's image in Europe was "severely battered by the past regime" of the late president Bingu wa Mutharika, who died in April after key donors withdrew aid concerned about governance and economic issues.
Banda, he said, needs to "salvage the battered relationship with its biggest bilateral donor."
Baum said while Banda, then vice president, took over as the new president, "the perception about Malawi in Europe has not changed."
Saying Banda will be able to meet Jose Borosso, president of the European Commission, Baum said said the poor southern African nation, which has embarked on an economic recovery programme, will not be able to get support "so easily and the EU has to be convinced of Malawi's standing because in Europe, we also have a crisis."
He said the Malawi leader remained unknown in Europe and "needs to be get exposed for the European public to support Malawi's aid package."
Banda told reporters before departure that since she became head of state, she has had no opportunity to sell the country to the European countries.
"I consider the trip very useful to me and the country, as I shall be discussing with president Barroso on the need to assist the country in order for us win the economy back.
“I shall also be discussing with the EU Commission about the Economic Recovery Plan which is one of the major steps that the country has taken to bring the economy back on track,” Banda said.
She was under fire in Malawi last month by critics for blowing $1 million to lead a delegation of over 40 people to the Gneral assembly of the United Nations last month.
This time around, she has taken a delegation of six, in a trip funded by the EU.
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