April 12, 2012

New president orders inquiry and fires minister and police chief

Joyce Banda was sworn in as president, becoming Southern Africa‘s first female head of state and raising hopes for a fresh start after the death of her predecessor Bingu wa Mutharika. Banda, a 61-year-old policeman’s daughter who has won international recognition for championing the education of underprivileged girls, had served as vice president under Mutharika, who died following a heart attack.

She succeeds him under the terms of the constitution. She took the oath of office in the National Assembly in the capital, Lilongwe, as flags flew at half mast in mourning for Mutharika. “I want all of us to move into the future with hope and a spirit of unity,” Banda said amid loud applause and singing. And the Malawians, many of whom had viewed Mutharika as a stubborn autocrat, appeared to welcome their first female president as well. She is expected to run the country until scheduled elections take place in 2014.

In less than a week in office President Joyce Banda has announced that she would focus on winning over foreign donors who pulled out of the country over late president attacks on democracy. In a sharp departure from past leadership, she said that an investigation had been opened into the death of an activist who had criticized her predecessor. Ms. Banda, also said that she had fired the head of state broadcasting and the minister of information, Patricia Kaliati. Ms. Kaliati was said to have been suspected of being in a group trying to block Ms. Banda’s ascension to office. A day after Ms. Banda took over, she replaced the police chief, Peter Mukhito, who had been closely linked to crackdowns on antigovernment protesters. Speaking of the death of the activist, Robert Chasowa, 25, Ms. Banda said: "I am a mother, and I spent days imagining how my fellow mother felt on the death of her son. People should not just go about murdering people anyhow and get away with it." (Sadocc/Sapa)

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