President Joyce Banda, Southern Africa's first female head of state, concluded a successful five day trip to Washington last week, her first trip as the country's head of state.
Over the course of her visit, President Banda held over a dozen meetings with senior U.S. government officials, private sector stakeholders, and civil society leaders to build support for her Administration's "National Agenda for Malawi."
In addition to gaining approval of a $157 million International Monetary Fund (IMF) package and another $20 million from UK, President Banda met with the Millennium Challenge Corporation amidst strong calls from the Africa advocacy community as well as leading members of the US Congress for Malawi's compact to be reinstated as early as possible.
Alongside several other current or former women heads of state, President Banda participated in USAID's Frontiers for Development conference, hosted by Georgetown University. The conference was widely attended by leaders from international civil society, US government officials and the development community in Washington. The President provided the keynote address on the conference's final day, emphasizing that, "the way forward for Malawi, for Africa, for the world, is one of collaboration, where partnerships reap multiple positive outcomes across sectors and social strata."
President Banda devoted significant attention during her visit to human development issues in Malawi, with particular emphasis on women and maternal health. During a private dinner hosted by Vital Voices Global Partnership, President Banda was joined by key women leaders from the US government, private sector, and NGOs. President Banda also participated in a highlevel roundtable on maternal health at the Aspen Institute, moderated by Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, which included leadership from the Gates Foundation, the US and UK governments and international NGOs focusing on maternal health.
Given the President's renewed focus on attracting increased foreign investment into the country, she also held meetings with several private sector leaders in Washington, including Paul Hinks, CEO of Symbion Power, and the Citizens Network for Foreign Affairs (CNFA), the premier USAID contractor on agriculture. President Banda also shared her vision of agricultureled growth with the leaders of Cargill, one of the world's largest companies. Throughout all her meetings with potential investors, the focus was on developing a spirit of partnership to ensure that the priorities of the people of Malawi will be addressed under any potential foreign investment.
One of the public highlights of President Banda's time in Washington was an honorary reception for her and her delegation at the National Press Club, attended by over 250 members of the diplomatic community, as well as US government officials, NGO and business leaders. In her keynote address, President Banda emphasized a strong call to action for the many diverse groups present to join her in ushering in a prosperous future for all Malawians. President Banda was presented with an award by co-hosts The Whitaker Group, The Moffett Group, GB Energie, the Corporate Council on Africa, the Africa Society, and Constituency for Africa, in recognition of her history-making leadership and deep commitment to her people.
The US Ambassador to Malawi, Jeanine Jackson, was also in town to help champion Malawi's cause in Washington. President Banda thanked the US for its support during the difficult presidential transition in early April, and was particularly enthusiastic in praising the role of Ambassador Jackson, who she referred to as her "new best friend and sister."
Leaders from both the public and private sectors, policy and NGO communities are clearly taking a new look at the new Malawi under the pioneering and visionary leadership of Her Excellency the President Joyce Banda. President Banda and her delegation, which included her husband Chief Justice Richard Banda, and the Honorable Ephraim Chiume, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, departed Washington amidst great positivity, optimism, and widespread support.