Just weeks after Malawi’s new president, Joyce Banda, began her charm offensive to the West, the International Monetary Fund is about to hand her a $157 million check.
This loan comes hard on the heels of a $51 million cash infusion pumped into Malawi’s coffers by the British government. Since taking office in April, Mrs. Banda, 62, has devalued the currency by a third, a move her predecessor had resisted. She also vowed to decriminalize homosexuality. All this was done in a bid to entice donors back to Malawi.
Those donors and international partners who had deserted Malawi in recent times were pleased when she announced her decision to sell off the presidential jet and a fleet of 60 Mercedes Benz limousines.
Just a few months ago, the mother of two was the vice-president to Bingu wa Mutharika. It was he who bought the plane and declared it a necessity for the presidency back in 2009. “The jet that I purchased is not mine. It belongs to the nation,” he said then. “It will be used by 10, 11 other people coming after me. So that’s an asset.”
But that was not to be. He died of a heart attack in April and Mrs. Banda became Africa’s second female head of state. She was quoted as saying she was happy to jettison the official jet with its nearly $341,657 annual maintenance costs and fly — gasp! — commercial.
“I can well use private airlines. I am already used to hitchhiking. ”While the I.M.F. loan is still subject to approval by its executive board, it looks likely to sail through. Christine Lagarde, the head of the fund, recently indicated that she had Africa on her mind even when dealing with thorny issues like Europe’s fiscal crisis. In the controversial and attention-grabbing interview she said:
“No, I think more of the little kids from a school in a little village in Niger who get teaching two hours a day, sharing one chair for three of them, and who are very keen to get an education. I have them in my mind all the time. Because I think they need even more help than the people in Athens.”
Malawi is a poor country and desperately needs the cash to tackle fuel shortages and to run government programs. A $208 million cash injection could go a long way toward alleviating the poverty of 60 percent of the 15.4 million Malawians. Mrs. Banda now has the credit line she longed for. Now all eyes will be on her to deliver in ways many men haven’t been able to there.