Malawians hope for better economy under new President Joyce Banda

Chimwemwe Chinkango wanted to spend Easter Sunday with his children, but instead sold doughnuts on a sidewalk, hoping Malawi’s new president would heal the economy so one day he could take a day off.

“I should not be selling these doughnuts on Easter Sunday at this hour,” he said in the early morning light outside a Shoprite store, a South African general dealer.

I should have been in church on Easter Sunday. But I need to survive and feed my family. I hope the new president will put the economy back on track,” the 24-year-old father of two said.

Her Excellency Joyce Banda: Hope to rebuild Malawi economy

Many Malawians blame the late president Bingu wa Mutharika for their dire economy. The country is one of the world’s poorest, with a gross domestic product of $343 per person.

The government relies on foreign aid for up to half its budget, including key services like health care. But Mutharika picked fights with donors, who have suspended aid, and battled over fiscal policy with the International Monetary Fund, whose programme is Malawi is stalled.

“Let his soul rest in peace, but Bingu messed up in all facets of our lives… from the economy, relations with donors and human rights and governance,” Chinkango told AFP.

Mutharika died Thursday after a heart attack, but his government left the nation in the dark for two days as his inner circle sought in vain to keep his Vice President Joyce Banda from taking power.

The two had a falling out that led Banda to form her own party, as she accused Mutharika of running the economy into the ground.

It’s an ironic epitaph for a former World Bank economist, who seven years ago brought in hugely popular farm subsidies that ended one of the country’s worst famines in living memory.

The programme came at enormous expense to state coffers and donors, as Mutharika gave almost free supplies to small farmers to shore up their maize production, the staple crop.

Veronica Mayere, balancing a basket of bananas and avocado pears on her head, said she would fondly remember Mutharika for “ending hunger in Malawi”.

“But I will not shed a tear for him for not changing my life,” she said. “At my age of 50, for how long can I be pacing up and down the streets selling fruits?”

The subsidies proved a drain on the Treasury, which took a double knock from the suspension of foreign aid and a drop in prices for the main export tobacco proved too much. That left Malawi without enough foreign currency to import all the fuel it needs, causing shortages that have hobbled the nation.

“Joyce Banda should go to the donors… to kneel down. They should bring forex here in Malawi,” said Alexander Mountain, 34, in the capital Lilongwe.

“We have hope that they will be back in Malawi,” added Abdallah Nkalawire, 29. “Because in Malawi right now, I can tell you, even sugar is a problem. Even money, everything you can say.”

Apart from the officially-ordered sombre music played on state radio and flags flying at half staff, there is little public emotion over Malawi’s late head of state.

Instead, the nation focused on the smooth transition of power to Malawi’s first female leader, despite the failed scheming by Mutharika’s ruling inner circle to instead install the president’s brother, Foreign Minister Peter Mutharika.

A prominent Catholic priest, Joseph Kimu told his congregation that “God has shown it’s possible for Malawi to be run by a woman.”

In his Easter homily, broadcast live on the church’s Radio Mary, he said the usually peaceful country had “taught the world that we can change power without war.”

“All African countries should come here to learn real democracy,” he added. He did not mention Mutharika once during the service.

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