Malawians protest peacefully against President Banda

20130117-184130.jpgMalawians in the three major cities marched in the first major protests against President Joyce Banda’s painful economic reforms.

Heavily armed police in riot gear cordoned off streets  to ensure peaceful demonstration and avoid the 2011 protests that left 20 people dead.

In Blantyre marchers chanted anti – government songs, waved banners slamming Banda for not being assertive enough in addressing the country’s economic problems and presented a seven-point petition to local authorities.

In the capital Lilongwe, the demonstrations were stopped by police because of the visiting Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki.

“There will be no quick fixes, but any U-turn from staying the current course will be disastrous. What is needed is a credible and consistent policy,” said Ben Kalua, head of the economics department at Chancellor College, part of the University of Malawi was quoted by Reuters.

Banda has been trying to rebuild an economy sent into a tailspin by Mutharika, but prices have soared since she devalued the currency on the advice of the International Monetary Fund.

The economy of the aid-dependent country teetered under Mutharika, who picked fights with donors that led to a freeze in major assistance packages.

The cut in aid, which has traditionally accounted for 40 percent of the budget, coincided with a steady decline in sales of Malawi’s biggest cash crop, tobacco.

Banda has restored aid flows, taken a personal pay cut and put her predecessor’s presidential jet up for sale.

But soaring commodity prices pushed inflation to 33.3 percent in December – far higher than the forecast of around 18 percent for 2012.

Banda could see her reform plan hit snags when parliament convenes next month, with many members of her ruling coalition backing away from a leader who once garnered strong support.

IMF chief Christine Lagarde urged Banda to stay the course during a visit to Malawi last week.