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You'd think after the last few years of increasingly autocratic government that Malawians would be keenly interested in anything that might help to entrench the rule of law, and secure the independence of the judiciary - so that there are enough checks and balances to prevent the country from ever returning to the bad old days of Bingu.

One of the most controversial foreign policy decisions taken by the government of Malawi in recent times is the barring of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir from entry into Malawi to attend a planned summit of the African Union.

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In the wake of the massive looting of government money known as cash-gate, Malawian President Joyce Banda came under pressure to act decisively. Civil Society leaders called on her not to shield any big wigs within her government and party and to fire any officials connected to the escalating corruption crisis.

In response, Banda did more than most people expected – by dissolving her entire cabinet. The questions on everyone’s lips were what would she do next? And what would her new cabinet look like?

The electoral bandwagon in Malawi is gathering pace after the presidential candidates officially entered the race – along with their respective running mates. Escorted by diehard supporters clad in their party paraphernalia, the candidates passed through Blantyre last week on their way to file their nomination papers with the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC).

Following the massive looting of taxpayers’ money known as cash-gate, Joyce Banda’s government promised Malawians that they would thoroughly investigate the scandal so as to bring the culprits to book and to let Malawians know what really happened.

Malawians should brace themselves for even tougher times ahead after donors under the Common Approach to Budgetary Support (Cabs) decided to suspend budgetary aid to the government estimated at K160 billion (US$400 million) until they got assurances from independent sources that their money would be used for its intended purposes if channelled through the government system.

If you do a search of President Joyce Banda’s speech on May 18 2012, you will find a range of international media articles with headlines such as “Malawi president vows to repeal gay ban” (BBC, Huffington Post); “Malawi to overturn homosexual ban” (Guardian); “Malawi president to repeal gay laws” (Al-Jazeera) or “Malawi’s Banda seeks repeal of gay ban” (South African Independent Newspapers). These headlines do not reflect the truth of Banda’s speech, and unfortunately they completely miss the significance of the occasion.

President Joyce Banda has transformed Malawi since she her sudden ascent to power in early April following the death of her increasingly autocratic predecessor, President Bingu wa Mutharika. Having watched from the side-lines as he centralised power, attacked critics, undermined the rule of law and ushered Malawi back towards one-party dictatorship, President Banda has moved swiftly to reverse some of his worst laws and put the country back on the path towards an open and democratic society.

Zambia’s 2011 elections were a boost for democracy in the country and the region – as the opposition Patriotic Front of Michael Sata swept to power and Rupiah Banda graciously accepted defeat. Sata’s victory and the smooth transition underlined the growing strength of Zambia’s democracy.

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