LILONGWE, Malawi – Last year, Joyce Banda inherited the leadership of a country spinning out of control. Her predecessor, Bingu wa Mutharika, left Malawi with a failing economy, wrecked international relations, and weak government. But since her election, Ms. Banda has been restoring the country.
Ms. Banda’s first line of action has been to address gender equality. She has appointed women in important governing positions, including chief justice, head of public service, and members of the executive cabinet. According to President Banda, putting women in leadership is key to empowering and mobilizing over half of Malawi’s population.
“When we talk about poverty, suffering and underdevelopment, we are talking mostly of women,” she said in an interview recently. “That’s why I believe that the promotion of gender equality, women’s empowerment, improvement of maternal health, and achieving education for girls is a transformational strategy to achieving development.”
Ms. Banda has also been trying to restore and protect Malawi’s biggest source of revenue: its donors. Development assistance makes up 40% of the government’s budget, but major donors like the U.K. recently suspended aid to the country after its ambassador accused Mutharika of autocracy last year. To restore the aid, Banda has been courting the IMF and advocating on international platforms for increased bilateral lending.
Pending renewed aid commitments, Ms. Banda has also taken several approaches to bolster Malawi’s staggering economy. She has ramped up private sector development, particularly in the agricultural sector, by introducing programs to improve agricultural inputs, increase market access for local farmers, and sophisticated export marketing. Austerity measures, such as slashing her personal income and auctioning off executive extravagances (such as a personal jet), have gone a long way in restoring the confidence of a nation long accustomed to corruption.
Under Ms. Banda’s leadership, Malawi recently partnered with the Clinton Health Access Initiative to increase prevention of HIV/AIDS, reduce child mortality, and improve maternal health. In June of this year, UNAIDS applauded Malawi as one of the countries in Africa with the sharpest decline of child and maternal deaths. The multilateral institution also named Joyce Banda a “global champion” in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
– John Mahon