It is with vivid memories that we remember April 5, 2012; the day when President Joyce Banda became President of the Republic. Save for the fact that she was inaugurated two days later, the Constitution made her our leader at around 11am when a dark cloud engulfed State House (now Kamuzu Palace) due to the demise of former leader Bingu wa Mutharika.
As power shifted from the expanse of Kamuzu Palace to her official residence in the suburb of Area 12, President Banda made sure the nation accorded the dark moment with the respect it deserves. From day one, even when others had not recognized her, she rolled into action and she has never rested even once for 365 days.
Stretched between sorting out the economic mess, correcting the political malaise and patching up foreign relations stains, President Banda had a task too huge to handle.
Hours turned into days and days into months. Men started having dinner at the dining table with their families instead of searching and waiting for fuel at filling stations. Newspaper publishers and workers were assured of booming business after repressive laws against them were repealed. Civil society leaders were seen driving around town in broad daylight as there was no government zealot intimidating them anymore. Arson cases ceased and the police became civilized as government proved tolerant of opposing views by day.
It was a new Malawi which ironically reverted to the old flag. Not that the new one was bad but it was adopted after a leader acted without honest consensus with his subjects. Nepotism was dismantled; meritocracy settled in.
University lecture rooms were cleaned of state agents; espionage was swept off the academic spaces.
At this point the country remembered the song “Freedom is coming tomorrow” which was blatantly abused by Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) at some point. Prophetically, freedom had indeed come to Malawians.
There was no time for a breather. The former Head of State had to be buried and mourned for a month after which the nation had to forge ahead with one purpose.
Malawi, a political island, was supposed to be bridged with the rest of the world. There was no need for arrogance here and President Banda has done her job well in mending those fences.
Her experience as Foreign Affairs Minister in previous regimes has helped her build meaningful relationships with leaders all over the world. She has interacted with more influential world leaders in her one year than what any of the previous Presidents achieved in their inaugural year.
Don’t read much into names of world leaders she has met such as Barack Obama, David Cameron, Jacob Zuma, Goodluck Jonathan, Queen Elizabeth II, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Christine Lagarde, Armando Guebuza, Mwai Kibaki and many more. Instead focus on the international relations fences she has mended thereby opening the country to huge prospects both in diplomacy and trade.
For the past 365 days, Malawi (whose financial aid taps ran dry from 2010 to 2012) has seen close to 1 billion US dollars of financial inflow in form of aid and grants.
A year later we look back at President Joyce Banda’s focus on job creation for the youth bulge. Not surprisingly this is what she has been doing since the mid nineties when she founded Joyce Banda Foundation International. Thousands of young people and women have found a platform for self employment through this institution.
Her government has placed agriculture at the pinnacle of the national economic strategies and a fulcrum of social advancement in the country. This is in line with World Bank estimates which indicate that accelerated agricultural growth is four times as likely to reduce poverty as any other sector. In return the sector will provide a bulk of jobs thereby raising incomes in the rural areas where the bulk of the population is.
This interlocking economic thread will also see a boom in agribusiness ventures thereby giving the much needed boost to the country’s budding industrial sector.
President Joyce Banda’s focus on agriculture has shifted the institution from being a rain fed to a brain fed business. Now graduates from the country’s agricultural institutions can take the challenges of self employment because a conducive environment has been created.
Besides the jobs created within, government has also started tapping into job creation through skill exports and training. Notable among initiatives under this approach is the South Korea-Malawi pact which will see thousands of young people working and being trained in the Asian economy before returning home to impart the same skills to other youths.
We look back at the past year with appreciation for many good things that have happened. Our eyes are now set on the future which promises many positives.
We at The Civil Forum cannot live with inadequacy of words and expression. What President Joyce Banda has done in one year should be a stepping stone to a better Malawi in many years ahead.
May the soul of former leader Bingu wa Mutharika rest in peace and may God continue granting wisdom to President Joyce Banda as she drives the nation into the future.
God Bless Malawi, God bless our democracy.