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  • Author or Editor: Tiyesere Mercy Chikapa-Jamali x
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The massive abuse of public funds popularly called ‘Cashgate’ was the year’s most dramatic story. This saga affected yet again the donor confidence that President Banda had tried to rebuild after the death of her predecessor, Bingu wa Mutharika, and it resulted in the suspension of aid and loans. The year also witnessed a lot of activity by political parties as they prepared for the first tripartite (presidential, parliamentary and local government) elections in 2014. The Malawi kwacha (K) fell in value by almost half during the first part of the year after it was floated on the market, resulting in rises in the price of commodities and in the general cost of living. This triggered various kinds of industrial action in both private and public sector organisations, aimed at pressuring employers to raise salaries.

Malawi’s tripartite election was the first of its kind in the country’s history. The incumbent president, Mrs Joyce Banda, lost to Peter Mutharika, the Democratic Progressive Party (dpp) presidential candidate and brother of the late former president Bingu wa Mutharika. The suspension of aid and loans by donors continued in response to massive looting of public funds popularly known as Cashgate. This forced the government to adopt a zero-aid budget, which was to be largely financed by locally generated revenue with limited reliance on donor funds. The Malawi kwacha (mk) fell drastically in value during the second part of the year after it was floated on the market, resulting in a rise in commodity prices and the cost of living, while salaries remained static. This triggered various kinds of industrial action in the public and private sectors and by ngos, pressuring employers, including the government, to raise salaries.

Dr Bingu wa Mutharika's landslide victory in the presidential elections of 19 May caused a major transformation of the political landscape. The regional voting mainly determined by ethnic identities that had characterised the three previous multi-party elections was virtually absent. The dramatic swing of the political pendulum to a parliament dominated by the Democratic People's Party (DPP) ushered in a totally new political climate in the National Assembly. This was yet another year of international awards for Mutharika for his performance in various spheres of governance. The year also saw tobacco and cotton sales attracting lower prices, largely due to a decline in demand for these crops in Western markets, which were suffering from the global financial crisis. This resulted in a serious foreign exchange crisis, which haunted the country for a good part of the year. There were also some fuel shortages and a few labour disputes in major cities.

Poor socio-economic and political governance characterised the beginning of the year, with continued shortages of fuel and foreign currency. This resulted in the dollar competing with the kwacha (K) as a medium for purchase amidst continued executive arrogance and defiant presidential behaviour. The death in office of President Bingu wa Mutharika on 5 April was one of the most devastating episodes of the year. After a failed coup attempt by the late president’s close allies, who wanted to make Peter Mutharika, Bingu’s brother, his successor, Mrs Joyce Banda acceded to the presidency and was sworn in as the first female president on 7 April. This gave Malawi a new lease of life as donors that had suspended their aid indicated that they would renew support. Some diplomatic skirmishes in international relations, particularly in African policies, indicated a new course under President Banda. There was continued labour unrest and strikes over pay took place in various public and private sector organisations.

The year started on a good note as President Bingu wa Mutharika became AU Chairperson. Donors hailed the country for the progress registered in economic and social spheres over the last few years. Former president Bakili Muluzi announced his retirement from active politics, which resulted in notable divisions in the United Democratic Front (UDF) over the vacant presidential seat. The country’s laws were shaken by the marriage of a gay couple who were later imprisoned for 14 years with hard labour before being pardoned by Mutharika. The change of the national flag that had been in use since 1964 and other domestic and socio-economic issues also took the limelight, while foreign currency problems and fuel supply shortages continued to haunt the country.

2011 was the worst year in terms of political and economic governance since President Mutharika came to power in 2004. Mass demonstrations and unrest on 20 July resulted in the death of 18 people. Issues of academic freedom also dominated the political scene, which saw the closure of the University of Malawi’s major constituent college for eight months over the interrogation of a political science associate professor by the police. Foreign currency problems and fuel supply shortages reached a climax, with a decrease in revenue from tobacco. Relations with major donors were generally strained. Strikes took place in both the public and private sector.