Lilongwe – Almost a year after Joyce Banda
rolled into office as Malawi’s first female president, analysts and activists are
asking whether she is doing a better job than her predecessor and former boss,
the late Bingu Wa Mutharika.
Banda who went into the office with promises of good governance and economic prosperity seems to
have done well in devotion to human rights and the rule of law but her marks
have not been so high on the economy.
Some observers say that although Wa
Mutharika – who died in office in April last year - was veering towards autocracy
near the end of his tenure, the standard of living was generally better even
for poor peasants, who make up eight out of every ten citizens of the country.
Anthony Kasunda of the National Media for
Southern Africa (Namisa) which clashed repeatedly with state agents under Wa
Mutharika says there is a very fine line between the two presidents in terms of
"What we see is the continuation of
policies pursued by the previous government. What has changed is the rhetoric
from political players," he said.
The toning down in rhetoric has encouraged
political dissent and closer media scrutiny of the ruling elites leading to a
marked decline in political malfeasance and greater respect for people’s rights.
"From that perspective, president Banda has
brought change but when you look at the economy, one is tempted to think during
the Wa Mutharika time, things were better.
"So it is difficult to say this one is
better because both presidents have strengths and weaknesses," he said.
Social and political development
Lilongwe resident Eliya Njewa agrees that
Banda has not made any new economic, social or political changes, but insists
she should be credited with tightening fiscal management and ending the
profligacy of the Wa Mutharika era.
Malawi ranks among the least developed
countries in the world with a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $14.5bn and is
heavily dependent on tobacco exports for its sustenance.
The majority of the country's 15 million people
who live in rural economic backwaters and survive on less than $1 a day had
hoped for a huge jump in their fortunes under Banda.
Banda promised to erase poverty
by reviving the economy and stabilising social and political development.
Kasunda sniggered at suggestions that the
Economic Recovery Plan (ERP) would help crank the choking economy back into
life, arguing the much-vaunted farm input subsidy programme had only taken on
100 new beneficiaries while the social cash transfer programme was initiated by
But Centre for Human Rights and
Rehabilitation (CHRR) Executive Director Undule Mwakasungura lauded Banda for "bringing political sanity which was very poor in the past".
"She has opened up democratic space for all
to play regardless of which political party or any background they are coming
from," he said.
Mwakasungura refused to blame Banda for the
floundering economy, saying she inherited a creaky system that would take a
while to repair.
"Malawians should give the Joyce Banda
administration enough time to reform the social, political and economic
platform of the country…let her continue with the Economic Recovery Plan, more
tangible results will be registered in the next few years if not then the
critical voices can come out," he said.
Rising cost of living
While a gamut of reforms were swiftly
cobbled together and acted upon when Banda came into office, Mwakasungura said
it would be too early to start writing the political obituary of the
63-year-old former secretary.
Banda's adoption of a human rights culture
and willingness to appease the International Monetary Fund (IMF) by putting the
Bretton Woods Institution's prescribed economic reforms back on track have
endeared her to western donors, thus unlocking much needed foreign currency.
But this has come at a high price to the
majority of Malawians who now struggle to cope with the continuous rise in the
cost of food, especially bread and the staple maize meal.
Early this year, protests rocked the
country, owing to the rising cost of living and plummeting approval ratings of
Banda, who has tenaciously followed the prescripts of a $156m three-year IMF
programme approved in July 2012.
The IMF told Banda to de-peg the Malawian
kwacha from the dollar and scrap fuel subsidies and price controls.
"The IMF reforms are rejected by most
Malawians, who see them as externally imposed by an IMF taking advantage of
Malawi's economic vulnerability and weak leadership in order to justify its own
legitimacy at the expense of the poor," said John Kapito, of the
Consumers' Association of Malawi.
Sharp decline in economic indicators
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)
Legislature member Kondwani Nankhumwa has no kind words for Banda insisting
Malawians are economically and socially worse off under the mother of five’s
watch than they were under Wa Mutharika.
"The economy is fragile; the reforms which
have been introduced including the ERP have brought poverty to Malawians," he
He said there has been a sharp decline in
economic indicators since last year when the economy grew by 1.8%, the lowest
Malawi has achieved since attaining independence from Britain in 1963 and is
this year expected to grow by 5%, a far cry from the Wa Mutharika years.
Interest rates have jumped from at least
13% before Banda became president to 25% while inflation is now at 36.4% less
than half its value in April 2012. Also, the local currency (Kwacha) is now
trading at MK400 to one United States Dollar compared to MK167 in early 2012.
Nankhumwa said Banda had also presided over
a slump in staple food reserves across the country, leasing to widespread
"This administration is worse; it has
failed and needs to be changed."
But Njewa was more cautious, saying: "It's
hard to conclude whether or not JB [Joyce Banda] is better than her predecessor
Mutharika, after less than a year in power. We will have to wait for the next
five years to make a fair comparison." -
CAJ News Agency