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New Leadership Making A Difference In Malawi

Malawi's President Joyce Banda gives a press conference in Lilongwe. (file)

Though it still faces many challenges, meeting them has become a top priority.

Its economy once teetering on the brink of collapse and its relations strained with many in the international community, the southern African nation of Malawi has made significant progress in recent months. Though it still faces many challenges – food shortages in some areas, inadequate electrical power and transportation infrastructure, among others – meeting them has become a top priority since President Joyce Banda and a new administration took office this spring.

Serving as vice president under her predecessor Bingu wa Mutharika, President Banda resolved to take decisive action when sworn in following the former president’s death on April 5. Leading a landlocked nation that depends on foreign donors for as much as 40 percent of its annual budget, President Mutharika had alienated other nations with his policies and a security crackdown on popular protests against them. Since taking office, Malawi’s new leaders have worked hard to repair diplomatic relations with key allies and donors. President Banda visited London and Washington, and assigned new high commissioners to work with each country.

Her efforts and leadership convinced a bilateral U.S. foreign aid agency, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, to reinstate a $350 million compact aimed at improving Malawi’s energy grid. The International Monetary Fund similarly has agreed to restore a $157 million credit facility to help stabilize economic conditions.

At home, she has made economic revival one of her main concerns. Ending the link between Malawi’s currency, the kwacha, and the U.S. dollar has served to bring down prices for fuel, food and other necessities. Her administration organized a National Economic Dialogue to solicit ideas for economic recovery from government ministers, economic advisors, business leaders and civil society. Efforts are also under way to tackle corruption, promote the education of young girls, improve women’s health programs and diversify Malawi’s agricultural exports beyond its traditional crops of tobacco and tea.

The United States has long had a deep friendship with the people and government of Malawi, and in this next stage of the country’s political history we look forward to strengthening that friendship even further.