Malawi President’s foreign trips are beneficial -State House

My brief here is to talk about why the State President Dr Joyce Banda makes foreign trips.

It is difficult to over-emphasise the need for Malawi to have strong external relations – with other governments, donors, international investors and Malawian diaspora.  Malawi is a small economy that cannot develop without collaboration with the outside world. In this context, the President uses her foreign trips to meet with other world leaders and dignitaries, business people, and Malawians living overseas. In the last year, a lot of the focus has been on mending broken relations; now it is increasingly about forming new partnerships.

The President’s recent foreign travel provides a good case in point; she visited six countries – Ethiopia, the United Arab Emirates, Japan, China, the UK and Switzerland –  in three weeks.  In some of these countries she delivered addresses on issues that have long been close to her heart and the hearts of all Malawians – such as maternal and child health, labour issues, food security and nutrition.  Her Excellency’s long activism on these issues in Malawi makes her a credible speaker on the challenges of dealing with these issues – and she is an excellent ambassador for our country and Africa as a whole.

But in terms of measuring the success of this trip, the focus should really be on the strong economic outcomes that will have a long-term impact on our country’s development and prosperity.

On step with Malawi revival:  President Banda
On step with Malawi revival: President Banda

Major outcomes of the Japan leg of the trip included  Japan’s agreement to fund the Sena Corridor which will promote regional integration, linking Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC);  the signing of a Grant Agreement for the construction of the Lilongwe Teachers’ Training College which will increase the number of qualified teachers; and an agreement for the building a state-of-the art hospital and provision of 10 dialysis machines and specialised training for medical staff in surgery.

In China, the Government signed co-operation agreements for over $2bn of investments in Malawi. This includes an agreement with a private company to construct or upgrade power transmission lines for the Phombeya-Salima-Nkhotakota-Chatoloma transmission; an agreement for the design and construction of a coal-fired power plant at Kammwamba in Neno; as well as broader investments into infrastructure, mining, food processing and building materials. The China Jiangxi Corporation for international Economic and Technical Cooperation has committed to drill and donate over 1000 boreholes to Malawi, which will improve access to water in rural areas.

In the UK, President Banda attended the G8 New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition event. The Alliance aims to align Malawi’s agricultural initiatives with financial and technical support to significantly accelerate private investment into the agricultural sector with the overall goal of reducing poverty, ending hunger and improving nutrition. In preparation for the event, the Ministry of Agriculture obtained letters of intent from over 20 local and international investors worth over $100m.  Under the New Alliance Co-operation Framework the Government made key policy commitments and undertook to pursue policy objectives in order to build domestic and international private sector confidence.  Malawi’s development partners in turn – Belgium, Canada, Germany, European Union, Ireland, Japan, Norway, United Kingdom and the United States—made commitments to the tune of US$493 million for Malawi.

The President’s travel abroad should therefore be understood in the context of her government’s vision of eradicating poverty through wealth creation; and her Government’s priorities for improving agriculture, energy, infrastructure, mining and tourism under the Economic Recovery Program.

Looking further back at this year, the President’s travel has been necessary in mending broken relations, particularly with donors.  Memories are still very fresh of how in 2010 and 2011, the actions of the former administration put the economy on the path to crisis due to policy slippages and neglecting diplomatic relations. Her Excellency has worked tirelessly to restore relations with our international partners and they have responded positively across a wide range of Government activities.

The President’s visit to Washington in June last year and commitment to sound macroeconomic policies and good governance led to the approval by the IMF of a new ECF programme and resumption of donor support to Malawi. Malawi has since drawn US$100 million from the facility.

For its part, the World Bank has lined up several projects for funding. They include the Shire Valley Irrigation Project with a total budget of US$450 million, Higher Education Project, Interconnector Project, MASAF 4 and General Budget Support, Agriculture Commercialization Project. These are projects which could not have been possible without the leadership engaging Washington.

The US Government also reinstated the US$350 million Millennium Challenge Compact for Malawi’s energy sector which had been suspended due to the previous government’s poor governance record. The compact was reinstated following President Dr Joyce Banda’s visit to the US and commitment to sustained governance reforms.

While there are encouraging signs of economic recovery under the Government’s economic recovery program, the impact of some of the macroecomic measures on vulnerable members of the population, has been hard. Government initiatives to soften the impact on the poor and vulnerable – such as the Public Works Programme, Cash Transfer Programmes, School Feeding and Bursary Programmes and a Food Aid Programme—would not have been possible without the support of donors.

Thirteen months down the line, it is gratifying to hear a village headman in the rural area of Chief Chitera in Chiradzulu appreciate how the cash transfer programme, for example, brought smiles to many faces during the most difficult period of the reforms.

Donors have also played a role in areas beyond social protection. Those that took the lead under grants are DfID, AfDB, World Bank, EU, Germany, Ireland. The World Bank led the Agriculture SWAp-pool; while DfID, Norway and Ireland contributed to the FISP. Ireland and Norway were again on hand for the Food Security programme. NAC benefited from the World Bank, Global Fund and DfID. The Health SWAp received funding from DfID, Norway, Germany, Flanders, UNICEF and UNFPA. Funding for the Education SWAp came from DfID, UNICEF, World Bank, GDC. The Road Sector received support from the European Union.

Total grants have, according to the Ministry of Finance, increased from US$400 million in the 2011/12 financial year to US$700 million in 2012/13.

In short many new opportunities have opened up through the President’s contacts and meeting with other world leaders and dignitaries, and business people.

This week a Nation newspaper survey showed that a majority of Malawians support the President’s travels because they have seen that they are beneficial to Malawians. They understand that the President’s travel is driven by her commitment to her vision for Malawi, and her understanding that Malawi cannot develop alone.

  • The author is Presidential Press Secretary and a seasoned journalist

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