Malawi leader defends China links, tells the West: ‘Don’t tell us what to do’

Malawi’s President Joyce Banda has candidly told the West to stop telling Africans what to do saying they should come to Africa only as partners and not to dictate on what African governments must do.

“We don’t want the west to come and tell us what to do,” said President Banda who is in the United Kingdom on official visit at the invitation of the British government.

President Banda made the remarks in an exclusive interview on BBC Two’s nightly current affairs and investigative program, Newsnight on Thursday evening hosted by presenter Gavin Esler which was monitored by Nyasa Times.

The Malawian leader was responding to a question asking her if she thinks the west misunderstands Africa because for years, decades, the image of Africa in the developed world has been coloured by pictures of war, feminine, misery and disease while at the same time it appears that governments are tackling man-made problems like corruption.

President Banda
President Banda

The Malawian leader blamed the western media for painting Africa black with negative stories, saying the world need to realize that Africa has a lot of good things contrary to what is portrayed to the outside word.

She said: “What I would like to say is that the world needs to appreciate that Africa is not all about the bad news they see on the western media. Africa has a lot of opportunities. In Africa you find good leadership, good leadership all the way down to the grassroots’ level. Yes, in a country like Malawi, there is abject poverty, 50 percent living on One Dollar a day that is why the west needs to come in and partner with us.”

Malawi is one of the impoverished countries in the world with a majority of the population living below belt of a dollar a day.

‘Good Partner’

Asked if China is a good partner than the west in the way it conducts its business, President Banda, who is Malawi’s first female ruler but Africa’s second, said both China and the west are partners who goes to Africa to help.

“The west and China are partners that have come to Africa, they have take different approaches, but at the end of the day they all want bring benefit for Africans so I wouldn’t want to criticise China or the west,” she explained.

She added: “China has come, for example in Malawi; they’ve given us both grants and loans just like World Bank has done, just like IMF has done.”


But when probed further as to why Africa enjoys doing a ‘business relationship’ with China other the west most of whom are colonial masters who only help on certain conditions such as adherence to human rights, the rule of law and other conditions, the Malawian leader, who looked composed throughout, Malawi would take aid from anybody for her people.

“I personally, as Malawi shall take aid from the west with its conditions and meet those conditions, because the money belongs to the west but I shall also deal with the Chinese. I hope we shall never get to a point where it’s a condition from any part of the world to say we will only give you aid if you don’t deal with the Chinese. That must never happen,” she emphasised.

President Banda explicated that the good thing about the Chinese is that they deal with you as a partner saying that they don’t impose most of the strict rules that maybe a western country would do.

“The Chinese are more lenient. The Chinese respect African countries, that how we feel,” she said.

‘Mandasi Seller’

When put to her if she on what she thinks about the former First lady, Callista Mutharika tirade about her that she is just a Mandasi (Fritters) seller, President Banda played it down by saying that it’s Ok because she is not bothered.

“Do you think it as insult? For this definitely isn’t a sisterly remark?” asked Esler.

“That’s Ok. She is fine. She is right because I’ve spent 30 years of my life empowering rural women including herself,” she calmly said.

The Malawi leader then said she does not consider the ‘Madasi seller jibe’ as an insult but as a compliment because 85 percent of Malawians are rural people.

“Three quarters of the women I’ve worked are market women and if I am aligned with a majority of women who have to struggle everyday come rain, come sunshine, that’s fine. That’s my mission,” she stated.

‘Cleaning up’

President Banda said she is poised to root out corruption and put thing to order saying that is why she had to shed off the country’s only presidential jet and ditching 60 Mercedes Benz cars  bought by the former regime saying she is used to hitch-hiking.

Immediately she came into power President Banda brought in tough economic reforms and the currency has been devaluated by a third to try and kick-start the economy but this brought intense criticism.

She said she is trying so hard to drum up support for the country’s fragile economy.

Questioned if she is finding the office of the presidency tough because she is a woman, president Banda emphasized   that she not finding it tough because she is a woman rather things are rough because she inherited a rotten economy.

She said: “Yes, it has been tough because I have been cleaning up the mess that I found. I think it would’ve been different if I ‘d found a thriving economy but I got into office when the economy had collapsed literally and so we had to get back on track, to get back on track we needed to make some very bold decisions. Bold decisions that resulted in some negative impact on the poor.”

The President added that her government had to come up social programmes that cushioned that shock, saying that, that cannot be easy.

“I must do what I think is best for the people of Malawi including as well as reducing my salary by 30 percent. It meant very little but at the end of the day all I wanted was to demonstrate, to my fellow Malawians is that I’m prepared to suffer with them,” she said.

The Malawi leader ends her official visit to UK on Saturday.

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