How Malawi President Joyce Banda fooled the West

On 7 December 2012, under the headline “The Eight Most Fascinating Africans of 2012”, the online version of the reasonably respectable magazine, The New Yorker, included in its list Joyce Banda, President of the Republic of Malawi.

According to the article, what fascinated “The New Yorker” was that the Malawian President “took office in April, after an epic power struggle in which the late former President’s allies tried to block her from rightfully assuming the position, and she has since made a promising impression. She took a substantial pay cut, put the Presidential jet and cars up for sale, vowed to arrest the Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, an accused war criminal, if he entered Malawi (a promise that several other African presidents have shied away from), and has spoken out against proposed anti-gay legislation. She also has been a prominent advocate for women and children, famously leaving her first husband because he was abusive.”

To me, the only fascinating thing about this article is how clearly it exposes western gullibility.  If only these western overlords could take time to check their facts before listening to cheap propaganda that is carefully designed to tell them exactly what they want to hear!

Everyone, even those only remotely interested in the truth about what is going on in Malawi, knows that all the facts alleged in this article are simply lies perpetrated by the Joyce Banda administration to hoodwink her way into the donors’ good books.

President Banda holding talks with US Foreign Secretary Hillary Clinton

To begin with, there was no such thing as an epic power struggle in the manner in which President Joyce Banda took over office. When late Bingu wa Mutharika died, I was working in a high position in his administration, and I was an eye witness to everything that happened regarding the succession of Joyce Banda. The only persons that tried illegally to block her from taking over were opportunistic politicians such as Ephraim Chiume and others, whom she had been using as her moles in the Mutharika government.  She soon quickly hired these same individuals as her most trusted confidants and ministers.

If Joyce Banda has made any impression on ordinary Malawians, it is with the skyrocketing prices that have followed her monetary policy decisions. Upon ascending to the Presidency, Joyce Banda immediately devalued and floated Malawi’s currency and the devaluation is now at 101 per cent. Inflation has gone up to 30 per cent compared to around 7 per cent in April when Mutharika, her predecessor died.

President Joyce Banda made a great ceremony of announcing to her revered western donors that she would sell ministerial Mercedes limousines and the presidential private jet, and that she would cut the salaries of her vice and herself by 30 per cent. Unfortunately, the donors’ eagerness to praise Joyce Banda, borne from their discomfort with the tougher and more strong-minded Mutharika, has prevented them from following up on these announcements to see if they have in fact been implemented and if they reflect the reality on the ground.

Even a casual investigation would very quickly reveal that 8 months after the announcements were made; cabinet ministers still have their Mercedes limos. President Joyce Banda failed to take away and sell the luxurious cars after her cabinet threatened a revolt, arguing that they needed the Mercedes cars because they are fast. 8 months after President Banda made her flamboyant announcement, the presidential jet is yet to be sold and both she and her vice are still drawing their full salaries.

Another certain impression Joyce Banda has made must be the impression on her Bank account, which is now boasting of millions of Dollars, which seem to have been acquired from sources unknown.

Upon ascending to the Presidency, President Joyce Banda famously refused to declare her assets and blocked the Malawian parliament from evicting members of parliament that crossed the floor and flocked to her party. President Banda in fact supported the mass defections by promising the defecting parliamentarians ministerial positions and government contracts to their business enterprises. President Banda has continued to defy the Malawian constitution by sabotaging Parliamentary efforts to implement section 65 of the constitution, and in unilaterally suspending laws when the constitution gives this mandate only to Parliament.

While she is busy playing the role of darling to western donors, to the IMF and to the World Bank, consternation has continued to grow among Malawi who are worried about prices of basic commodities that are rising every day, the indecisive manner in which their president is handling the dispute with Tanzania regarding Lake Malawi, and the President’s seeming cluelessness regarding what to do about the collapsing economy.

Western donors and their media are so eager to believe the official propaganda that they have not taken time to check the true facts behind President Banda’s claims that she left her first husband because he was abusive, or her claims that there is hunger in Malawi. It would be interesting to hear their comments about her making up a story that there is hunger in the country so that she can use Malawi’s strategic grain reserves as campaign handouts to try and build up her rapidly diminishing popularity.

I can only think of two possible reasons why the so-called advanced western media can tolerate and perpetrate President Joyce Banda’s lies. Either the western donors are desperate to maintain the Joyce Banda regime, or they are plain foolish and gullible, and are in fact easily fooled. Either way it is disturbing that, as exemplified by the article in The New Yorker, the western world and the international community are so quick to believe President Banda without checking if her statements reflect the truth of what is happening in Malawi.

The western world might, for their own reason, wish to believe that Joyce Banda is popular, but a recent poll by a respectable Malawian Newspaper demonstrates otherwise. Just last week, a Poll by The Nation newspaper in Malawi showed that president Joyce Banda has a very low job approval rating as she came in 3rd on the option of individuals Malawians would vote for if elections were held today.

Whatever the reason or the motive behind this gullibility and eagerness to be misled, the unfortunate consequence is that the sort of untruthful publicity perpetrated by western media does a disservice to Malawians as the international community get a wrong picture, believe that President Joyce Banda is fascinating and doing a great job, when in fact the truth is that Malawi is rapidly going down the road of Zimbabwe. Malawi is in desperate need of a more objective and truthful commentary if the challenges it is experiencing are to be surmounted effectively.

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