Malawi’s JB must travel abroad: Five reasons in support

There is hysteria in the media that President Joyce Banda is travelling too much. Calls for her to slow down are coming every week, if not every day. The media’s justification for these cries is that each time the State President travels a lot of money is wasted. The recent trip to the United States, for instance, cost K308 million, and has led to cries reaching a deafening crescendo.

The media, however, is being one-dimensional in its criticism. In some cases the truth is being manhandled to pander to sentiments that might appear to be popular, especially now that the fuel scarcity is threatening to occur again. But when governing, a leader should not always do what is perceived to be popular. Some decisions might appear bad now but will be vindicated when the dividends are reaped in future.

Here is one caveat, before I proceed: This column does not condone wasteful spending in any office in this country, and I have at several times criticized the government for this.

Joyce Banda: Next stop, Brussels

Except,  however, that reports about JB’s frequent travel and wasteful expenditure are exaggerated.

JB needs to travel.

Calls for a reduction in international travel are influenced by history, I know. The founding president, Ngwazi Dr H. Kamuzu Banda, hardly travelled outside Malawi. He’d go to neighbouring countries (Zimbabwe in 1991, for instance, or Zambia in 1975 or South Africa in 1971), but his visits were limited to these neighbouring states. Once in a while he’d disappear to the United Kingdom for a month or two, but that was mainly to holiday.

The first Banda lived during an entirely different map in which a nation’s economic survival was determined by the Cold War. It was enough to declare support for the United States without necessarily having a head of state visit theUSA, and aid would roll in. In any case it was the other way round: Dan Quayle, Vice to President to George H.W. Bush, visited Malawi in 1991.

Now times have changed. You have to be visible or you die.

 JB HAS TO GET AID

We have the Common Approach to Budgetary Support (CABS) donors such as the European Union, Norway and the African Development Bank.  JB has to travel to some of these partners to finalize agreements and sign them off. This is the sole reason she must now travel to Belgium.

  JB NEEDS TO MEND BROKEN BRIDGES

JB’s predecessor was reckless in destroying relationships such as with United Kingdom, a key partner in our development efforts. It became necessary for JB to travel to the UK to mend fences. The relationship has been reset such that Mr Michael Nevin has now been installed as the UK’s High Commissioner to Malawi.

 WOOING POTENTIAL INVESTORS

On her way back from the USA JB stopped in South Africa for a day to address a Nedbank forum. This is part of wooing potential investors. Our economy would forever be wobbly if foreign direct investment fell short. In 1967, for instance, the Kamuzu Banda government managed to convince the Danish beer giant, Carlsberg, to invest in Malawi, the only country in Africa Carlsberg invested in. Let JB invite more, enticing them with cheaper factors of production and tax concessions in the earlier years.

 RAISING MALAWI’S PROFILE

I had lunch with a British parliamentarian in the restaurant of the House of Commons recently. ‘Your new president,’ said the Baroness, ‘is getting good press here in the UK. I think she has started well.’

That, dear readers, is what we mean when we talk about raising the profile of a country. We can forever talk about Malawi being a potential tourism attraction, but for that potential to be realized Malawi must be known.

Malawi is not well known as of now. Yes, efforts by JB alone to raise the profile may be a drop in the ocean of ignorance, thereby inadequate to raise the profile enough. But she has to play her part. The Flames, our national football team, have to play their part. Writers have to play their part. The Ministry of Tourism has to play its part. Everyone has a role to play.

The raising of Malawi’s profile is not for tourism purposes only. It feeds into various other sectors. Investors, for instance, need to have confidence in the country’s profile, and this takes more than mere visits. Peace and calm, law and order, good governance, respect for human rights, financial prudence and many more. As JB recently said, her vision is to take Malawi into the top 100 of World Bank doing business ranking. All this is part of profile-building.

 STATE VISITS

A state visit is a formal visit by a foreign head of state to another nation, at the invitation of that nation’s head of state. State visits are the highest form of diplomatic contact between two nations, and are marked by ceremonial pomp and diplomatic protocol.

This cannot be taken away from President JB. Much has been said about her recent visits to Liberia and Nigeria, but these were state visits. In the spirit of quid pro quo President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria visited us. Many will be coming; and JB will have to be honouring return visits. It is part of the business of being Head of State. This cannot be taken away from JB.

It is fashionable these days to declare anybody who does not oppose the President as ‘bought’ or ‘on JB’s payroll.’ That is nonsense. Where any government organ – including the presidency –  has made a misstep, this column has been among the first to criticize, and frequent readers will attest to this fact. But one cannot be criticizing anything and everything, just so you should be hailed as not having been ‘bought.’ We have to be objective and help in building the nation.

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