OSISA in Malawi
President Joyce Banda has transformed Malawi since she her sudden ascent to power in early April following the death of her increasingly autocratic predecessor, President Bingu wa Mutharika. Having watched from the side-lines as he centralised power, attacked critics, undermined the rule of law and ushered Malawi back towards one-party dictatorship, President Banda has moved swiftly to reverse some of his worst laws and put the country back on the path towards an open and democratic society.
In her first 100 days in office, she repealed Section 46 of the penal code, which allowed the Minister of Information to close any media house for not reporting in the ‘national interest’; ordered an inquiry into the killing of student activist, Robert Chasorwa; announced that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir would be arrested in accordance with the ICC arrest warrant if he came to the AU summit in Lilongwe; ordered the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation to act as a public broadcaster rather than a presidential mouthpiece; and restored the country’s relationship with key bilateral donors, which has seen funds flowing back to the country. Her government has also taken some critical economic decisions, such as devaluing the Kwacha by 50%.
However, the road to recovery will be long. There is still a considerable amount of work to do to repair the damage caused during the last three years of Mutharika’s rule and to address Malawi’s deep socio-economic problems, which have created an extremely unequal society where over half the population lives below the poverty line and many people do not have access to basic services. And President Banda and her new government could benefit from support and advice in several key areas, including economic justice, promoting the rule of law, education and women’s rights – all of which are key OSISA themes.
The Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) works with a wide network of partners in Malawi working on issues of human rights, democracy-building and good governance. Among many critical projects in recent years, OSISA has provided a grant to the Malawi Electoral Support Commission to promote civic and voter education, train election monitors and advocate for the government to hold credible, local elections. OSISA has also supported initiatives around law reform, monitoring resource allocation and community radio stations. OSISA closely monitors the situation in Malawi and recently undertook a week-long mission in mid-2011 to meet key stakeholders – including politicians, donors and a broad cross-section of civil society – to discuss current trends and build up a clearer picture of the realities on the ground.