Malawians were red faced this week after President Lt Gen Ian Khama declined a request by Malawi’s President Joyce Banda for a ride on the Botswana presidential jet to America.
Flush with embarrassment, the Malawi media reported that “this is the lowest embarrassment Malawi has reached in recent years under the leadership of President Joyce Banda”.
President Banda alongside president Khama and other African heads of state have received an invitation from President Barack Obama to attend a summit for Africa leaders in the United States of America. Following the invitation, the Malawi Government sent an official request begging the Botswana Government to allow the Malawi leader to hitch a ride on Khama’s presidential jet to the USA.
The Botswana government has since sent a letter of regret to Malawian authorities. Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Relations Phandu Skelemani has confirmed that government has declined to fly Malawian President Joyce Banda to America because President Ian Khama will not be travelling to America.
“It is true she requested to fly with us but we declined because the President will not be going to America,” said Skelemani. The said meeting is to be held end of March this year. The meeting is expected to address, among others, developmental concerns, democracy and the rule of law.
According to Skelemani, Khama will not be attending the meeting because he has other more pressing engagements to attend to locally. Skelemani said that Banda is scheduled to visit Botswana on the 25th of March this year. She will after that leave for America to attend the meeting hosted by President Obama.
When she assumed power in 2012, Banda sold Malawi’s 14 seat Presidential Jet and used the money to help the poor in an effort to improve relations with donors.
Banda, Africa’s second female president, has never set foot onto the presidential jet that her predecessor bought ÔÇô- a decadent purchase that outraged donors enough to cut back significantly on their funding.
Since inheriting an economy that “almost collapsed” when former President Bingu wa Mutharika suddenly died in April, Banda has been working to repair relations with key donors, including the International Monetary Fund. She’s taken a number of austerity measures to improve the economy, but is also standing in solidarity with her citizens to show that she empathizes with their struggles.
For example, Banda cut her salary by 30 percent back in October, taking her income down to $42,000.
Banda has recently either been flying commercial airlines or banking on the goodwill of other African Presidents. Earlier this year she flew out to Abuja, Nigeria, in a Nigerian Airforce plane to give a keynote address at the Seventh Summit of the African First Ladies Peace Mission. Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan extended the goodwill after noting concerns about the economic hardship Malawi has gone through in the recent past.
The decision by Botswana has provided fodder for Banda’s critics in Malawi who were recently quoted in the country’s media saying: “Whilst the Malawian leader is busy embarrassing herself going about begging for air transport, the country has a state of the art official presidential jet that President Banda has put up for sale in order to please western donors. President Banda claimed she wanted to sell the jet in order to raise money to assist poor people in the southern African country. Following the decision, President Banda has been seen using commercial flights on her official trips jumping from one plane to another.
“However, sources close to the State House and the Office of President and Cabinet in Lilongwe say that the president has been begging the hosting countries to provide her with transport whenever invitations arrive. Good examples are her most recent trips to Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea. Both countries at Mrs. Banda’s request provided her with jets to allow the Malawi leader and her delegation honour invitations to these respective countries.
President Joyce Banda is the first of Malawi’s four presidents to be begging from fellow leaders for air transport since Malawi attained her independence from former colonial masters Britain in 1964. The presidential jet that President Banda has put up for sale was bought by her predecessor, late Professor Bingu Wa Mutharika to preserve Malawian dignity and symbolise it’s aspirations while also saving costs on the chartering of jets for presidential trips.”