‘US impressed JB administration’s progress’

US Ambassador Jeanine Jackson comments on Malawi President Joyce Banda’s administration and what her country has in store for Malawi in terms of aid.

She also comments on other important issues that have taken place in Malawi in this interview with News Analyst Deogratias Mmana and Weekend Nation Editor George Kasakula.

Tell us your impressions on the new administration of President Joyce Banda which came to power on April 7 2012.

The US government has issued a number of statements congratulating government and people of Malawi for the successful, peaceful and constitutional transition and one statement was also issued after President Banda made her State-of-the-Nation speech. We know that a lot of accomplishments have taken place in the past six to seven weeks—repealing bad laws, reconstituting institutions, leadership, making difficult choices on economic policy, coming up with austerity budget and renewing relationships with neighbouring countries including the UK and also working towards improving trade and investment. The list is long. The US government is very impressed with the progress that has been made.

President Joyce Banda has recently come under fire for travelling a lot. What do say to her recent trips to other countries?

First of all, the travelling she has done in my opinion is very necessary. It was necessary to mend relations with neighbouring countries such as Mozambique. She travelled to South Africa, the economic power house of southern Africa region and Liberia. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is a good partner for her in terms of leadership mentoring.

She travelled to the UK, mending relationships and attending many functions related to Malawi’s governance and economic policy. Then she travelled to the US.

I must say that that was money very well spent. She was sponsored by the US Agency for International Development and participated in the Frontiers in Development Forum. She met very influential people. She told the story of her life and her ascendancy to the presidency and what her vision is for the country. In that regard, she reached thousands of people, including big decision makers.

 The US is still debating the issue of gay marriages. Some states have not legalised it. Coming from a country that has had such long debate, how do you advise Malawians to tackle the issue?

Having debated at all levels is a good thing, whether it be in class, civic education area, among the different religions of the country, whether be it in the villages, among women and men. It should just be continuous. I would not call it a debate, but a dialogue.

What are Malawi’s chances of getting the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) energy sector development compact? If Malawi qualifies, how soon would the compact come on the table?

MCC was established by US Congress as a unique entity in US government to assist countries to do well for their citizens in three categories; ruling justly, investing in people  and economic policy. It does have conditions. It is only working with 13 countries in Africa. Now there are 12 because Mali had its compact cancelled and not even suspended.

It is important to understand that our systems in Malawi have never stopped. MCC is a different component of our systems. MCC has been very impressed with the progress made in very short period of time in the ruling justly category, in the investment of people category and economic policy category. The board is meeting on Thursday. In general, government officials and members of the board have been impressed by the progress Malawi has made in short time and the commitment to continuing with the progress.

When a government signs the MCC compact, they agree to continue to meet the conditions of taking care of the economy and the people over the period of the compact.

The MCC compact is in three categories; revitalisation of some of the generating power capacity, another component is the transmission of electricity and another component is the economic policy. By putting in transmission lines, interconnection from Mozambique, obviously investment comes in. That is what we hope MCC will stimulate.

The compact has to be updated and there has to be procurement and contracting process done. So, it will take some time but once it gets moving, it really moves.

What should Malawi expect from US in terms of aid?

I would like to emphasise that US government never left Malawi.  Most donors never left Malawi. They redirected some of their assistance. We have over $200 million from 2011. We have priority areas, health, agriculture, education, governance and security cooperation. We will be announcing additional programming.  We have one programme which is called feed the future. It is in seven districts and will focus on value change of dairy and legume.

What is your take on Malawi’s decision to stop President Al-Bashir of Sudan from coming to Malawi and subsequently refusing to host the AU Summit?

It was up to Malawi to decide how to handle the situation. AU Summit being here might have been a distraction when there are some things to be done. The President had to balance a number of things. She had to balance Al Bashir coming and derailing progress in Malawi. She had to balance the business in Malawi.

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