US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton became the first US chief diplomat to visit Malawi as she arrived in Lilongwe.
A military guard of honour and groups performing traditional dances, chanting and beating drums welcomed her at Kamuzu International Airport. Clinton met with President Joyce Banda, Africa's second woman leader after Liberia's Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, at her official residence, where the two exchanged warm words.
"For a long time, we have been women and children activists. I have been waiting for the day when we would meet," Banda told Clinton as the two held hands. Clinton "commended the decisions of Banda's first 100 days" including a move to float the currency, according to a state department official who attended the meeting.
Malawi devalued the kwacha by nearly 34% against the US dollar in May, which had been trading at double the official exchange on the black market. The disparity had caused a severe foreign exchange shortage, as the currency was driven into the hands of informal dealers.
Clinton also warned the Malawi government against corruption, which she called a "hidden tax on the Malawi people". She "encouraged Banda to be a role model in Southern Africa for more democratic governance and also regional integration among the states of this region".
Clinton next sped off for a short trip to the US embassy, where she gave a brief pep talk to embassy workers. As part of a marathon 11-day Africa tour she was due to fly later on Sunday to South Africa, where she would meet with anti-apartheid icon and Nobel Laureate Nelson Mandela in the week.
A state department spokeperson confirmed Clinton tagged visits to Nigeria and Benin onto the trip after South Africa. She is also expected in Ghana for the state funeral of late president John Atta Mills.
Banda was sworn in as president in April following the death of late president Bingu wa Mutharika.
She swiftly set about restoring relations with foreign donors, who had suspended funds due to concerns about hardline governance and rights issues under Mutharika.
In June the US – the impoverished nation's largest bilateral donor – said it would restore aid worth $350-million to Malawi's energy sector in light of Banda's "bold actions" to reform the government. – AFP