Malawi President’s voyages of discovery 

Chakwera set to smash flying record

…Kamuzu’s record was 36 trips in 28 years

…40,000 people still in Cyclone Freddy camps

…as the President will blow close to K1.5 billion

President Lazarus Chakwera’s leadership credentials will be under test this month if he goes ahead to travel for the 78th United Nations General Assembly summit in New York, blowing close to K1.5 billion (US$1 million) while 40,000 Malawians remain in 20 Cyclone Freddy camps without help, as rainy season is months away. 

The country is suffering from severe shortages of essentials including medical drugs with stocks estimated to be at 30 percent of the national requirement, foreign exchange and four million Malawians are facing severe food shortages coupled with the rising cost of living.

The frequent flying President decision to attend the summit would be a minus, as the International Monetary Fund team is expected to fly into Malawi on Monday for crucial discussions on the Extended Credit Facility which includes curbing expenditures on non-essential items such as foreign trips.

According to the United Nations website, the General Assembly general debate will be held from the 19th and 23rd September 2023, and this means, as preparations are ongoing, Chakwera will spend not less than 10 days in New York and his advance teams will cover at least 15 days including travelling days for him just to deliver a speech.

“What is it very important for him to spend K1.5 billion at the time we are in deep crisis?  If he has any humanity in him, this is not the time to leave Malawi and spend on speaking engagements. He needs to show that he cares, even just pretend, and send the money to people in camps to move into their homes and allow their children to go to school,” appealed a very senior government official, who said Treasury has no funds and forex to pay for basic essentials.

“Every time he travels, we are set back by not less than K300 million (US$200,000) someone should tell him that Malawians are suffering,” added another treasury official.

Chakwera’s 41st trip to smash other President’s record

The President who was elected under the promise of servant leadership will be making his 41st international trip, smashing records for all the former Presidents including Kamuzu Banda’s 28 years reign as a President (1966 to 1994) as he flew only 36 times, according to official records, most of years limited to one state visit or holiday in the United Kingdom a year.

Bandas busiest year was 1967, a year after he assumed office as President when he visited  UK, USA, Germany and Taiwan. His other busy year was 1971 when he visited South Africa and Mozambique.

From 1981, Kamuzu Banda stopped attending regional meetings, only attending the Commonwealth summit in India in 1983 and Zimbabwe in 1991. He went on a long holiday annually, usually lasting at least 30 days in the United Kingdom.

Kamuzu Banda in a file photo on one of his travels abroad

Bakili Muluzi, who stayed in power for 10 years did most of the travels in his first five years but usually combined them and stayed three to four days a trip, with the longest being a trip to the United Kingdom in 1997 where he stayed three weeks. He did a total of 38 foreign trips.

Bakili Muluzi upon arriving at CHileka international airport. Image Source; Getty Images

The third Republican President Bingu wa Mutharika took long trips but in his 8-year reign only managed to fly 33 times outside Malawi, with the longest being a United Nations trip he combined with holiday in 2009 to Portugal and a Chinese visit he stayed for a month flying into Singapore and Macau for holiday.

Joyce Banda, the fourth President was thought to have travelled quite often but during her two- and half-year reign only  managed at 22 trips most of which were combined between conferences.

Arthur Peter Mutharika, Malawi’s fifth President has the least record of travels in his six-year in office flying only a total of 16 times with the longest being his 2017 United Nations trip which lasted six weeks and generated rumours of his whereabouts.

Former President Peter Mutharika leaving Malawi for Addis Ababa Ethiopia at Kamuzu International Airport-Lilongwe

President Chakwera has spent half a year outside Malawi

The President who was sworn in June 2020 clocked three years in office last June and he has already spent at least 167 days outside the country out of the total 1095 days he has been in power.

The trips calculated by Malawi Elects (@malawielects) twitter shows that the President has been travelling almost monthly and at an estimated K300 million per trip for the shortest ones, he has blown off K12 billion, which is a whole budget for National Food Reserve Agency to buy food to feed Malawians.

The calculations shows that the President has been travelling every month.

In 2020 when he was elected, President Chakwera made six trips outside Malawi into five countries. Covid 19 might have limited his appetite for travel.

Though the world did not open until late 2021 due to Covid 19, the President still managed a record 13 trips, spending 33 days outside the country. He toured nine countries.

In 2022, the Malawi leader was competing with Airline staff in accumulation of airline milage,  spending 77 days (two and half months) outside the country. He visited 11 countries on his 13 trips. Among the countries were Ethiopia for AU summit in February later flying to Brussels and Switzerland during the same month.

In March, the President was in the United States of America, before undertaking a state visit in April to Mozambique. He only rested in May, and he was back in Geneva for the World Economic Forum in June.

President Chakwera made six trips outside Malawi into five countries. Covid 19 might have limited his appetite for travel

He went to Equatorial Guinea from Geneva, resting in July. In August he was in Kinshasa for the African Union summit and later the same month he was in Zambia for Kulamba ceremony.

For September he was in New York from the 14th to 1st October, after passing by Kenya to attend inauguration of President William Ruto. On his return he spent four days in Dubai, UAE.

Chakwera was up in the sky again in November attending the COP27 summit in Egypt before ending the year with the USA-Africa summit in December from 11 to 19.

While the economy was sinking, many expected common sense from their leader, but 2023 has seen the President spend over 48 days outside the country which is already over one month and half in six months. This means that for every month, President Chakwera spends a week outside Malawi.

He opened the year by flying into Qatar and did not return to Malawi immediately, even when  over 1200 people were being killed by Cyclone Freddy, coming in three days into the disaster. The victims still are yet to be fully relocated and sources at the Department of Disaster says there is no money.

Despite the urgent need to re-settle flood victims, President Chakwera has continued his flying sojourns unbated, flying into Zimbabwe for a 6th Transformation Summit on April 26 followed by coronation of UK’s King Charles in May, COMESA summit in Lusaka, Zambia in June, then to Ghana for a Afrexim Bank Annual General meeting.

The President only stayed in Malawi for four days and he was up in the air again from the 27th June to the 3rd of July in China for the Expo meeting and the same July he hitched the plane again to Tanzania for a Human Capital Summit.

His 8th trip in 8 months of the year, President Chakwera went to Angola for SADC summit before stopping over in South Africa for a BRICS meeting.

He is widely expected to travel to New York as preparations are at full throttle.

Ministers, Journalists, Chiefs out to dine in New York.

At least four Cabinet Ministers- Foreign Affairs Nancy Tembo, Gender’s Jean Sendeza, Health’s Khumbize Kandodo and Educations Monica Chiyang’anamuno are confirmed to be part of the 85-member delegation and more Ministers were expected to be added to the list, our Office of the President and Cabinet sources confirmed.

Apart from Ministers, Principal Secretaries, Government officials and even private media Journalists are all appearing on the list which we have seen to be travelling with the President.

Social media commentator Julius Mithi claims Chiefs and low-level office officials have been included in the trip.

An average stay of 10 days would see each of the team pocket not less than US$4,800 as allowances, spend at least US$1500 air ticket for economic class and US$4000 for business class as most are last minute bookings.

The State House pays for accommodation of all its staff and others such as Ministers and senior Government officials fly business, get transport allowance and telephone allowance.

We are yet to get responses from OPC and State House on the justification of the trip amidst socio-economic challenges Malawi is facing and Treasury referred us to the presidency.

None of his previous trip have brought any benefit to the country reducing his visits to speech making and photo opportunities.

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