DONORS DOOM JOYCE BANDA'S RE-ELECTION BID

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Joyce Banda

Apr. 14 (GIN) – One of the few women presidents in Africa stands to lose her post in next month’s polls since foreign donors have cut off support from the once popular leader over funds stolen or misappropriated by members of her administration.

 A news headline in the region summed it up: “Donors Desert Joyce Banda in Hour of Need”

During her two year administration, the 64 year old President spent her initial year in office pushing for rapprochement with the international donor community while grappling with spiraling inflation and an angry populace at home.

Among other efforts to address food shortages in the country, she sold off a jet which the former president bought for $22 million. Former president Bingu wa Mutharika, who died last year from a heart attack, had defended the purchase, saying the jet was cheap to run and a status symbol for the poor southern African nation.

Troubles came to a head in October when some 92 million kwacha ($230,000) were reported missing or stolen, allegedly by junior members of the Banda cabinet and staff. The incident was dubbed “Cashgate” by the local media.

The European Union then threatened not to release some 29 million euros ($40 million) to the aid-dependent country until the government cleaned up the treasury fraud. This, compounded by an IMF-backed devaluation of the kwacha currency, stoked inflation, raised the price of food for rural poor and cut into Banda's domestic support.

Currently the southern African country is bankrolled up to 40 percent by foreign donors.

More pressure is being exerted by the International Monetary Fund whose prescriptions – including the sell-off of national companies - would further squeeze the struggling population.

This week at an outdoor rally attended by some 10,000 supporters, President Banda warned that elements behind the stolen funds still face prosecution. “Ndipitiliza Kukumangani” (I will continue to arrest you), she warned.

A devout Christian, Mrs. Banda told the gathering that just like the biblical Nehemiah who embarked on rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, she has been rebuilding the walls since taking over government from the former ruling party.

Elections are schedule for May 20.

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