Red carpets rolled out and pomp and joy were the order of the day yesterday when Malawians welcomed United States of America (USA) First Lady Melania Trump for a historic visit to Malawi.
It was a short, five-hour visit, but during this first visit to the country, Trump must have appreciated why Malawi is called The Warm Heart of Africa, as thousands of people greeted her, dancing and singing for her wherever she went.
Host First Lady Gertrude Mutharika officially welcomed Trump on arrival at Kamuzu International Airport (KIA) at 1pm. They later drove to Chipala Primary School at Mgona residential area.
The school has a student population of 8 554 learners against 77 teachers and 22 classrooms. This represents a student teacher ratio of 111 learners to one teacher.
Soon after signing the school’s visitors book, Trump briefly said she was in the country try to appreciate how some of the American financed projects are fairing.
She said: “I came into the country to appreciate the success of progress of projects which our government is supporting.”
The US First Lady was also taken to US Ambassador Virginia Palmer’s residence before moving on to Kamuzu Palace where she was treated to a late lunch and some local dances of Vimbuza and Malipenga performed by National Dance Troupe.
Also present at State House were South African High Commissioner Thenjiwe Mtintso, Japanese Ambassador Kae Yanagisawa and British High Commissioner Holly Tett.
Trump later left for the airport to proceed to Kenya.
But a group of some 10 protesters—comprising mainly American medical volunteers and physicians at Kamuzu Central and Bwaila hospitals in Lilongwe—wanted Trump to see beyond the positive protocol.
The protesters hoisted placards critical of some of US governance policies, especially towards development aid.
Spokesperson for the protesters, Rachel Pope, said in an interview yesterday they had a ‘take-home’ message for Trump.
She said: “Our message is that Melania Trump should return home to persuade President Trump to reverse the serious budget cuts his administration has proposed concerning poor countries like Malawi.
“We see, first hand, in Malawian hospitals, the shocking effect the budget cuts may ultimately have. Up to 28 000 maternal deaths in this country can be prevented and thousands of children, women and HIV and Aids patients could be saved from death if, for example, the Pepfar funding could not be reduced.”
The special (US) President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar), established by former president George W. Bush in 2003, is credited with saving 11 million lives over the past 15 years across the world.
In its budget proposal for the fiscal year 2018, the Trump administration proposed cutting $800 million (about K588 billion) from the global fight against HIV and Aids, including Pepfar, which has provided treatment to nearly 80 million HIV-infected people in developing countries, the ONE campaign report says.
It adds that the new proposed cuts, if enacted, could force initiatives such as Pepfar to scale back their treatment programmes, potentially leading to 26 million additional infections and four million additional deaths in the next 15 years in sub-Saharan Africa alone.
In Malawi, over the last 15 years, Pepfar has invested nearly $700 million (about K502 billion) towards supporting the HIV and Aids response.
Trump is on a tour of four African nations—Ghana where she went on Wednesday before visiting Malawi, and Egypt where she will go after her Kenya visit. n
Additional reporting by Samuel Chunga, Lilongwe Bureau Chief