Income Defeats Poverty
By Her Excellency Joyce Banda, President of Malawi
Becoming the second female head of state in Africa’s history is a great honor and responsibility. But mine is not a success story of an individual but rather a people.
A peaceful and constitutional transition was not inevitable when my presidency began. The people of Malawi made this possible: they have chosen democracy and pledged to work together to realize their destiny. It is my people’s courage and determination that has taken me into the presidency and it is that same spirit that we will not apply to our national development.
Africa has suffered too many conflicts and the burden has been carried too much by our women and children. While there are many sources of this pain, I think that poverty is the biggest threat and therefore sustainable development must be our focus. Too many Africans lack opportunity and hope. We are a capable people. But we must move our children from learning under trees and equip them with 21st learning tools and we must attack investments to build our economy.
For decades, I have fought these issues in Malawi as a social justice and human rights activist and through my work at the grassroots. I have experienced the struggles of the poor and the suffering of a Malawian woman.
I have championed the advancement of the oppressed and marginalized, fought for the rights of women and children, campaigned for the betterment of the rural and urban poor. Mr. President, I can attest to the fact that the experience of a poor and disadvantaged Malawian is intimately intertwined with that of Africans and indeed with that of the least developed countries.
Now, as the President of the Republic of Malawi, I have a vision. My vision is to eradicate poverty through economic growth and wealth creation. Malawi aims to create wealth by transforming the structure of the economy, promoting the private sector in order to achieve economic growth, accelerate job creation and protect the vulnerable and the excluded within a decentralized and democratic environment. My vision, specifically, is to transform Malawi to become one of the fastest growing African economies in the next decade. For me, growth is not merely GDP growth. Growth is about wealth and prosperity for all, opportunity for all, happiness for all, political and economic freedom for all. Growth is also about growing the number of children in school, and young people in jobs. Growth is about increasing the number of mothers who give safe birth in a hospital, and of growing the number of families who have plenty of food.
My government realizes that the potential of Malawi is great: the potential of our land, our resources and most importantly of our people. But this opportunity will only be seized through our own efforts. This is why my vision is not just hopeful words. Our willingness to take tough decisions does not end here. Our plans need to be translated into action. To this end, within my first 100 days, Malawi held an inclusive National Dialogue on the Economy to narrow down five priority sectors within our medium term national development framework (the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS II). The five priorities are: Energy, Tourism, Agriculture, Mining and Infrastructure Development.
Central to these priorities is our emphasis on delivery through partnership with the private sector. We will facilitate this by making changes that improve the business climate. My Cabinet has identified three specific projects within each priority sector and translated this into an implementation plan for the next two years. These projects range from completion of essential roads and rail lines, to setting up alternative energy sources, understanding business climate reform to attract investment into agro-processing and mining. These will set our country on a path of fulfilling its full potential. In addition, I have also launched two Initiatives; the Presidential Initiative on Maternal Health and Safe Motherhood; and the Presidential! Initiative on Poverty and Hunger Reduction to fast track the interventions needed to address the social needs of the disadvantaged groups especially women and youth.
Malawi refuses to accept what others may consider to be our destiny: state of underdevelopment. Malawi is committed to change this perception. But in doing this, my government and indeed the People of Malawi know that we need to engage the rest of the global community. That is why within days of taking office, I re-opened dialogue and engagement with our neighbors, with African leaders and indeed with the rest of the world. The People of Malawi are grateful for the goodwill that many have shown us and we are encouraged by the support of our partners.
Malawi will continue to need global support in the short and medium term. We need this support to protect the rural poor from food shortages caused by prolonged dry spells in some parts of the country. Malawi is looking for partnerships to build its energy capacity. Malawi needs support to attract private investment for the rich potential we have in agro-processing and mining, among others. We are looking for partnerships to support the development of our transport and communications infrastructure in order to improve the market access to markets.
Malawi is on a journey to change its trajectory. The dark clouds of our troubled past are lifting and we have taken the onramp to a real change that fosters private sector growth and engages the global community. Malawi is ready to take its turn to grow, not just wealth but more so the opportunities, hopes and freedoms for all the Malawian people. The process of social, economic and political emancipation is continual and it must constitute an evolving act of self-definition.
My government is committed to constructing a people-centered society guaranteeing the dignity of every citizen. We seek a society that fosters a good quality life for every woman, man, and child without regard to tribe, gender, or political affiliation. And we will not rest until we enjoy a society where every citizen can realize their full potential.
This job is too big for government alone. It is a national task that calls for the mobilization of all our people. I have challenged my people with a call for chaka chino ndi chaka chamayankho (a year of breakthroughs and favor). This will require us to draw on the energy and ingenuity of all Malawians to give birth to a new future.
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Photo by Freddy Maro