Reading Malawi Politics Through Joyce Banda’s First Hundred Days in Office
July 30, 2012 2 comments
President Joyce Banda has just celebrated 100 days in office, a very short period for any tangible assessment on her leadership. And the media analysis of the event reflected this fact – it had very little to say about Banda’s policies other than obvious comparisons with her predecessor, Bingu wa Mutharika.
Such comparisons are inevitable and of course happen all over the world. Yet in Malawi’s case such limitations also reflects a specific issue: the lack of any significant party policies and ideological fault-lines on the local political landscape. This inevitably leads to personalised politics, and the electorate are forced to try and distinguish between a haze of politicians to determine which way to vote.
Like the two preceding administrations since Malawi’s return to democracy in 1994, the current regime does not really have any policies to speak of. It is difficult if not impossible to see what President Banda’s administration will do next after “correcting” all the wrongs of the Mutharika administration. A lack of a clear policy line is an enduring feature of Malawi politics, decisions are made on the go. A political party or any candidate in Malawi wins elections without any campaign manifesto where one ought to set out their policies.
It is from this background that the dominating opinion among analysts is that President Banda has the 2014 elections to lose. The view is that it works to her advantage that she is not a Mutharika and that she managed to distance herself from the Mutharika regime when it lost all popularity – nothing to do with what she will do or will not do for Malawi. In 2004 former president Bakili Muluzi successfully campaigned for Mutharika largely on the grounds that Mutharika was not John Tembo – a remnant of Kamuzu Banda’s 31 years of brutal dictatorship.
Like all the former presidents before her, President Banda has started well. Insofar as praises go, she has had them in abundance, at home and abroad. All this for her reversal of Muthaika’s unpopular and sometimes catastrophic policies that set him at odds with influential donors and the international community in general.
Yet President Banda has done this by default: she needed to gain the confidence of the donor community in order to revamp a faltering economy she inherited from Mutharika. Credit to her for knowing what was needed, and she has done it with some level of success: fuel queues that epitomised Mutharika’s last months in office have disappeared, electricity outages have somewhat eased and foreign currency is increasingly available via official outlets.
President Banda like anyone in her position would need time and space to adjust, especially that her ascent to the highest office was incidental (not necessarily accidental as she was a vice president). Yet it is also important to remember that president Banda leads her own political party that should have had national policies.
In short, the first 100 days of President Banda have shown that the backbone of the Malawi politics is still intact – politics and the running of government in the country is business as usual. There are more continuities and less change.
Currently, the most visible feature of local politicians are two opposing sudes , fearlessly facing each other: Mutharika’s apologists at one end and Banda’s cheerleaders on the other. Banda has played her cards carefully, nonetheless. She has appointed into her cabinet some of the political heavyweights that would have formed a formidable opposition to her regime. This has severely weakened the opposition.
Apart from Mutharika’s Democractic Progressive Party all the political parties represented in parliament are more or less working with President Banda. In Malawian politics this makes it nearly impossible that all those political parties working with the incumbent will be preparing for the 2014 elections against Banda’s People’s Party. Meanwhile, president Banda has her sights on 2014 elections. While it is not a foregone conclusion, it has to be said that so far President Banda has the 2014 presidential election to lose.