(Photo: STAFF/Reuters /Landov)
Just days after being sworn in as president of Malawi following the sudden death of Bingu wa Mutharika, Joyce Banda stepped into her new role without skipping a beat and cleared a number of Mutharika loyalists from the country’s top posts while attempting to set the tone of her term as one of unity and human rights.
"Although we are in mourning, certain decisions cannot wait," Banda told a news conference in the Lilongwe, the country's capital, according to AFP.
Among some of Banda’s first firings were Patricia Kaliati, the information minister who fueled false reports that Mutharika was still alive days after his actual death, and Perks Ligoya, the infamous reserve bank governor who pursued the rigid exchange rate policy that has been cited as the source of Malawi's current economic woes.
She has filled the critical posts with Moses Kunkuyu, a progressive parliamentarian who broke from Mutharika's party to press for reforms, and Mary Nkosi, the first female to hold the post of reserve bank governor.
Banda previously served as vice president of Malawi until she fell out of favor with Mutharika after a squabble and was expelled from the ruling party in 2010. Her return to public office in the position of her former adversary has given her the freedom to reverse many of Mutharika’s decisions.
"I want all of us to move into the future with hope and with that spirit of one-ness and unity," she said as she was sworn in on Saturday, alluding to the deep political divisions that were fostered by Mutharika. "I just sincerely hope that there is no room for revenge. I just sincerely hope that we shall stand united.”
In addition to the cabinet changes, Banda announced the opening of an investigation into the mysterious murder of student activist Robert Chasowa. Local rumors suggest police loyal to Mutharika orchestrated Chasowa’s death. The announcement accompanied Banda’s firing of Police Chief Peter Mukhito.
"As a mother, I feel for my fellow mother who doesn't know what killed her son. I understand how painful it is, and I will make sure we find out who killed our son Chasowa," Banda said. "We don't want people to go about murdering people fearlessly."
Banda also pledged to win back foreign aid that Malawi lost on account of the repressive policies of Mutharika. Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Banda said she has asked U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to unfreeze aid to Malawi previously granted by the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation.
“On my part, I pledged that Malawi will resolve the issues that led to the suspension of the MCC. And particularly pledged that we want to restore rule of law and democratic principles in our country, respect for human rights and freedoms as guaranteed by our constitution, and to demonstrate good governance, especially economic governance," she said, according to Voice of America.
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