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Can a Private Jet Help Poor and Hungry People?

Malawian president Joyce Banda (center, meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2012) will auction off a presidential jet and use the funds to help the country's poorest citizens. (Photo: U.S. Department of State)

By Nina Keehan

On Jan. 29, Malawi’s President Joyce Banda announced something unprecedented. She is auctioning off the private presidential jet bought by her predecessor, the late Bingu wa Mutharika, and using the proceeds to help hungry and poor people.

The jet’s purchase for $13.3 million five years ago was heavily criticized by international donors and resulted in backlash aid cuts of $4.4 million to the country. Auctioning off the extravagant jet is just one of the measures Banda has taken to repair relations with key donors since she took office in April 2012. In October, she reduced her own yearly salary by 30 percent, to $42,000. According to Banda, that action, along with devaluing the local currency, helped mend relations with Britain and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The prevailing hope is that selling the plane to the highest bidder will put Malawi, and its president, securely back in the good graces of international donors. But for Banda, eradicating poverty is always her highest priority. And what a difference a jet can make!

According to data provided by the World Food Program (WPF), if Banda receives purchase price for the plane, that money could provide 532 million meals, or feed 266,000 food insecure children for an entire year.  In a country where the poorest families spend nearly 65 percent of their income on food, Banda's act could make a huge difference in the lives of many.  Bread for the World Institute’s 2013 Hunger Report, Within Reach: Global Development Goals, reported that 23.1 percent of Malawi's general population remains hungry, 13.8 percent of children are underweight, and 47.8 percent are stunted.

“Malawians must look forward toward a better future,” said Banda, outlining her vision for Malawi to Voice of America on Jan. 22. And while there is still a long road ahead, Banda’s devotion to the health and wellbeing of her country and its people make us hopeful that future is coming.  

Nina Keehan, a media relations intern at Bread for the World, is a senior magazine journalism and public health dual major at Syracuse University. After graduation she hopes to indulge her passions for travel and international development.

 

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