Open letter from UK to Malawi President Joyce Banda

Your Excellency,

Please permit me to congratulate you on becoming Malawi’s president. I also wish to condole with you, and with your Malawian people, for the manner in which this position was made available to you. Your appointment to the office of Vice-President was thanks almost entirely to the late Bingu wa Mutharika. Your elevation to the Presidency was by virtue of his unexpected death.

Many people here in UK — myself included — are happy to see the end of that Mutharika presidency. You may imagine that his expulsion of our ambassador, Fergus Cochrane-Dyet, and our own retaliation, saw an end to British friendship for, and aid to, Malawi.

Not so.

New leadership, President Joyce Banda

All that ended with that silly diplomatic posturing was a small amount of direct budget support from Britain to Malawi. The £90 million annual supply of British taxpayers’ money to our Department for International Development (DfID) projects in Malawi continued much as before. An equal amount of UK taxpayers’ money, via the European Union and via other international agencies like the IMF to which Britain contributes, also remained securely in place. Although there are many of us here in Britain who feel that we badly need that money here at home to assist with our own serious economic crisis, and that our aid money is often wasted, we continue willingly to support our Malawian friends.

We British have a strong suspicion that Bingu spent a lot of our money on himself; on his international travel, his expensive cars and retinues, his Ndata palace. Not always on his poor people. We were roundly condemned for our neo-colonial arrogance by a man who seemed no less arrogant towards us and who openly favoured our enemies, like Robert Mugabe. When his election-rhetoric about his “anti-corruption crusade” turned to dust, we were as disappointed as you were.

I make these points to you, madam, not because I believe that our own British economic hardships and unemployment figures are as serious as yours in Malawi; nor because your predecessor was always more stupid than we were (over fertilizer subsidies, for example). Certainly not because we are free in Britain of high-level corruption (see, for example, how close our politicians have recently been to the Murdoch press).

I make these points because we are watching anxiously that you do not make the same mistakes as your predecessor. Your open and friendly nature is a refreshing change from Bingu’s closed, angry and suspicious world. Your personal awareness of the poverty of many of your people, and the particular hardships of women and children, should prevent you from indulging in ridiculous extravagances (like flying off, on a whim, to a friend in Liberia).

Your elevation to the Malawian presidency is both a reward for your great work in the Malawian community and also a very heavy responsibility. Please do not ignore that heavy responsibility, and remember to share it with your ministers and advisors and with your people via the excellent press and the MBC. You have many friends and well-wishers here in Britain who have contributed bilions of their pounds to Malawi’s economic and political development. Don’t treat them with contempt.

We honestly and respectfully — and (I hope) without any trace of neo-colonialism —- wish you well.

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