Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika has pushed in more ministers from his home region and reduced the number of ministers from the centre and the north – the two regions that gave him the presidency.
Mutharika, who has been criticised for his autocratic style, has increased the number of ministers from the southern region from 18 to 19, and reduced the number of ministers from the central region from 13 to five.
He has also reduced the number of ministers from the northern region, where his party lost a seat this week, to eight from nine ministers previously.
His new cabinet has already riled some reformists, even though the overall size of the cabinet has dropped from 42 to 32. University of Malawi political analyst Dr Mustafa Hussein on Thursday said the new cabinet disadvantages people from the Centre.“The spread of the Cabinet disadvantages the Centre because in terms of population the numbers of people and constituencies in the Central region are higher than those of the North.
One would expect to have more ministers from the Centre than the North. “With the southern region, the population is already the biggest but the difference in terms of regional disparity is a bit wide. Officials would be expected to better balance that in future,” said Hussein.
He, however, said it was difficult to speculate why few DPP Members of Parliament have not made it into the Cabinet.
Leading civil rights activist, Udule Mwakasungula, speaking in an interview on BBC Network Africa programme said that the President had given his wife a bigger job in the government despite anger over her previous role, when she drew a salary for doing charity work.
“We’d like to see the contract of the First Lady withdrawn,” he told the BBC’s Network Africa programme.
The shake-up is part of the response to deadly protests in July against the worsening economic plight of many people who face high food prices, daily shortages of fuel and foreign exchange despite official annual growth figures of 7 percent.Nineteen people were killed in a police crackdown on the unprecedented demonstrations, which revealed the deep resentment to Mutharika who has presided over an economic revolution that has seen the country produce bumper yields, reduce inflation to single digits and reduced interest rates.
Civil society groups also want Mutharika to declare his wealth, address the dollar and fuel shortages and restore diplomatic relations with former colonial ruler Britain.
More protests are likely if the groups and government team fail to agree on the UN facilitated dialogue, activists have warned.
“We are happy to note that the president has responded to one of our demands and reduced the cabinet,” Udule Mwakasungula, a leading activist, he said.
“Our prayer is that he meets all our demands before September 21. Some of the DPP MPs at the Centre dropped from the cabinet include former Finance Minister Ken Kandodo, former Gender, Child and Community Development Minister Gloria Theresa Mwale.
“One would assume that may be the President would like to appease the North in view of the support the region has given the party in the past…definitely, the Centre should not be ignored because the Capital city is there. That may affect overall political support,” said Hussein.
However, Institute for Policy Interaction (IPI) — a local think tank on Thursday said that regions do not matter in cabinet.
IPI Executive director Rafiq Hajat said that what matters is one’s contribution to government business and not where they come from. “I see human beings in that Cabinet. I am a Malawian, what is important is not ethnicity but who you are and what you bring to the table,” said Hajat.