Critics condemn move to spend millions to put ‘Dr’ on Malawi Pres Banda’s portraits

Malawi government has been criticized for its move to start printing new portraits for President Joyce Banda this month  to accommodate her new doctorate title, a move which would cost the struggling southern African country millions of money.

South Korea’s University of Jeonju awarded Banda an honorary doctorate degree in economics. University President, Dr. Kern Koh said the college conferred the doctorate degree to President Banda in recognition of her achievements in furthering global peace, economic reforms in Malawi and furthering the dignity of mankind in the world.

The initial portrait of President Banda has a ‘Mrs’ on its title, however, with the new accolade, the government intends to replace thousands of portraits with those bearing the new title of ‘Dr’.

Malawi academic and social activist Dr Jessie Kabwila has said it is wrong for the Joyce Banda administration to spend millions in printing new portraits to reflect the honourary title when the country is touting austerity measures in its bid for economic revival.

New portraits for President Banda to add prefix Dr
New portraits for President Banda to add prefix Dr

“Honorary degrees, whilst being welcome, are not titles. Why do I see endorsements for new potraits that will show Dr Banda. After all, are we not in times of severe austerity, we do not even have money to buy medication but we are endorsing potraits. Let us be serious,” wrote Kabwila on her Facebook timeline.

The University of Malawi lecturer at Chancellor College in Zomba added: “And, please, do not tell me other people did it. It does not make it right. Honorary degrees are not titles.”

Commenting on the same honourary degree subject on Malawi civil society internet discussion forum, renowned social political commentator and historian Professor Wiseman Chijere Chirwa  of Chancellor College wrote: “An honour is not a title. An academic degree  is something you earn or are awarded after fulfilling some stated or established requirements – and that is the reason it becomes a title. In other words, you have to go through some kind of a ritual to enter into  the community of those who are in that group, then you become titled.”

But government spokesman Moses Kunkuyu said they will be “no financial implications” in the printing of new portraits, justifying that the President’s new title be featured on the portrait as it was an honour to all Malawians.

“We are not going to incur additional costs as we print the President’s portrait every three months. The production of portraits is ongoing,” Kunkuyu, who is Minister of Information and Civic Education, said.

However, the minister could not justify why the country prints the President’s portrait every three months only saying: “The portraits are printed on demand basis.”

Presidential portraits have been a thorny issue in Malawi. Former president late Bingu wa Mutharika also spent millions of Kwacha to change his portrait bearing the title ‘Dr’ to accommodate ‘professor’ soon after a Chinese University recognised him.

Despite the Malawi government’s intention to spend millions on portraits, it has been going to donors with a begging bowl to meet obligations, including the purchase of essential drugs that are currently scarce in all hospitals in Malawi.

Malawi Presidents normally play up honorary titles. Of the country’s four leaders so far, only Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda was awarded a doctorate degree academically.

The country’s second President, Dr Bakili Muluzi, had an honorary doctorate attached to his official title and former first lady Shanil Muluzi was also awarded a doctorate by Mzuzu University for her charitable works but she never uses the  title.

President Banda, holder of Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education from the University of Columbia and Masters of Arts in Leadership from Royal Roads University in Canada, has since her ascendancy to Presidency in April last year been instrumental  to the  positive economic  reforms that have happened in Malawi.

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