Joyce Banda′s first year in office | Africa | DW | 09.04.2013
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Africa

Joyce Banda's first year in office

Joyce Banda, Malawi's first female president, has been marking her first year in office since she came to power after the death of President Bingu Wa Mutharika in April 2012.

Malawian Vice-President Joyce Banda. REUTERS/Mabvuto Banda (MALAWI - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY)

Malawi Präsidentin Joyce Banda

Thousands of Malawians on Sunday (07.04.13) joined Malawi's President Joyce Banda as she celebrated her first year in office. She was sworn in on April 7, 2012 after President Bingu Wa Mutharika died of cardiac arrest. Africa's second female president came to power in accordance with provisions in the constitution which require that the vice president should take office automatically on the president's death.

Among the challenges President Joyce Banda inherited was the country's deteriorating economic situation, which was partly brought about by the unfavorable relationship between the late President Bingu Wa Mutharika and external donors.

When President Banda was sworn in, many Malawians hoped would fix the country's economy. But one year on, opinions over whether she has succeeded in improving  country's economic outlook are divided.

Painful austerity measures

Her decision to devalue the local currency, the kwacha, in a bid to stabilize the economy, was hailed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) but led to protests at home, including a nationwide strike by civil servants in February.

A Handful of maize seeds Photo credit: Anne Wangalachi/CIMMYT. +++CC / CIMMYT+++

Some Malawians blame President Banda's austerity measures for current economic woes

The civil servants were demanding a pay raise of more than 65 percent, saying that the devaluation has caused inflation which had seriously eroded their salaries.  The price of maize, sugar and salt and services had more than quadrupled, they said. 

According to the Centre for Social Concern, a local research institution investigating  the cost of living in urban Malawi, the food situation in the country remains dire.

In a country where the minimum monthly wage is about $20 (15 euros), a family of six needs an average of  $200 per month to meet their basic food needs.

One Malawian resident who is unhappy with President Banda's economic reforms is Clement. He told DW that she had failed Malawians. "Since Mutharika died, the inflation has risen from 7.9 to 37.9 percent, meaning our lifestyle is being affected," he said.

Drugs and maize instead of celebrations

Abel Mwanyungwe, economic lecturer at the University of Malawi, believes it was wrong of President Banda to spend money on celebrating her first year in office. The funds should have been used to supply Malawians with bare necessities.

"Why celebrate when people are suffering? Drugs are scarce, can't the president use the money to procure drugs and maize?" he asked.

But some Malawians think Banda has achieved a lot over the last 12 months, including bringing more donor aid into the country, ending the fuel crisis and forex shortage after consultations with the private sector.

One Malawian resident, Bettie, told DW that Banda had "made tangible decisions such as signing the power interconnector with Mozambique, renewing vital diplomatic ties with the UK, Zambia and Mozambique."

Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika. REUTERS/Irada Humbatova/Files (ETHIOPIA - Tags: POLITICS OBITUARY)

President Bingu wa Mutharika died of a heart attack in April 2012

Other moves that have earned her praised in some quarters include selling the presidential jet and awarding civil servants a pay rise after they called a strike.

But the opposition in Malawi is watching her very closely and they have a majority in parliament. Banda recently ordered the trial of a group of government officials and former ministers from the previous administration on treason charges. She is expected to seek election as president in May 2014. 

Some analysts say the trial of these top 12 officials could have impact on her campaign.

It also could be a catalyst for further unrest as Malawians are expected to face yet more food price increases later in the year.

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