With the new year celebrations still fresh, President Joyce Banda enters her 10th month since taking over from the late Bingu wa Mutharika on April 7 2012. Many developments have unfolded since then, regarding how Banda has fared so far. GEORGE MHANGO speaks to Humphrey Mvula, a political researcher and social commentator on what he thinks of the new administration so far.
Q: Briefly, how do you assess President Joyce Banda’s leadership so far?
A: It has been a very difficult journey into leadership because she took over a government that had lost people’s trust to govern; an economy that was down on its knees characterised by long queues at fuel pumps; a country that was isolated by its neighbours and its co-operating friends, a Legislature-cum-government that was passing bad laws that were infringing on people’s rights as enshrined in the Constitution; and a leadership that had turned oppressor of its own people, among many other challenges. Her resolve and determination was inspiring and not least a demonstration of a President determined to make a difference to the lives of many Malawians.
Q: What have been her major challenges in governing the country?
A: From my analysis, the state of the economy, particularly dealing with the macro-economic crisis that had erupted during the past three years was number one; repeal of bad laws like the change of the national flag and the repeal of anti-media Section 46 of the Penal Code and others could take position two; attempting to calm down an angry nation which had become too tribalistic could be the third challenge; dealing with other friendly countries and international organisations was another challenge. In short it was a plateful of challenges.
Q: What opportunities has the People’s Party (PP) administration created for the ordinary person?
A: While this is a difficult question; it may be answered from two perspectives: One, from a realisation that the current administration has come into being by the unfortunate circumstance where a sitting president passed. Therefore, the PP administration is carrying out some of the programmes and policies that were already in motion; the second perspective would be an appreciation that the PP administration has reversed some of the bad laws and refined some of the programmes and policies of the past regime besides the many new programmes. The advantages that this government has brought to the people during the short term include repealing some bad laws and dealing with the difficult economic reforms that saw the economy grind to almost a full stop. Besides, the political environment has been rendered less acrimonious and vengeful……we do not hear of the tit-for-tat policy, we do not hear of the shoot to kill, we have not heard citizens being described in the most derogatory manner, just to mention a few.
Q: Critics say PP has not succeeded in its leadership style as evidenced by the continued high cost of living?
A: It depends on whether one engages in a political argument or simply one wants to state economic imperatives. The truth is the high cost of living among many other reasons, has come about because of the devaluation of the Malawi kwacha. The kwacha should have been devalued three years ago during the reign of the late President and the delayed devaluation has resulted into massive effects and giving rise to high prices on domestic goods and virtually prohibitive prices on imported goods. The rationale behind devaluation is to restrict the out flow of foreign exchange and increase the quantitative volumes of exports. However, Malawi being a net importer despite the vast resources that it has at its disposal and against a low absorption dimension where most of us are addicted to buying foreign goods coupled with the low real wages, the scenario may not be in a position to provide quick respite. The truth, however, is that the economic reforms are an imperative to this country so that it is able to move from this difficult position to something better, with a clear understanding that the country has to go through a difficult economic situation before improvements can be registered.
Q: Having observed what PP is doing, would you predict which party is likely to do well in the coming year?
A: As a political researcher, it is difficult to predict which party will do better next year. You need to carry out a comprehensive research covering a large template of women and men of different age groups, and resident in both rural and urban areas, among many other factors, that such a research proposal would cover. Look, it is not enough to see so many individuals attend mass rallies organised by individual political parties. It’s about identifying voters that would vote for a particular party that espouses policies that are attractive across. The party must also have national appeal.
Q: What is your advice on what the PP administration should do to improve in this New Year?
A: It is equally difficult to advise because PP could have within their strategic plan issues reserved for the last bit of the campaign. But one can only advise PP that the battle for 2014 is going to be very fierce, therefore; requiring that the party must embrace and take on board any member wishing to join it realising that democracy is a game of numbers. The party must also put into productive use all those members that held positions in the parties that they hailed from, as keeping such members idle is denying PP of seasoned campaigners.
Q: Any final remarks?
A: President Banda must be commended and encouraged for the economic reforms that her government has embarked on so far despite the challenges that these are posing to many Malawians. The Malawi economy fails to satisfy the principle of economies of scale because its products are priced cheaply on overseas markets, as a result the economy cannot muster sufficient foreign exchange to meet bulging volume of imports, hence; the need to carry out quick transformation of the structure of production ensuring that it is compatible with both the evolution of the domestic demand and the dictates of international trade. The country must promote agro-processing and invest in manufacturing, among other initiatives.