Malawi is a multiparty democracy with a population of approximately 13 million. Constitutional power is shared between the president and the 193-member National Assembly. International observers noted substantial shortcomings in the 2004 general elections, including inequitable access to the state‑owned media, the ruling party's use of state resources to campaign, and poor planning and administration by the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC). The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, unlawful killing by security forces, police use of excessive force, occasional mob violence, arbitrary arrest and detention, lengthy pretrial detention, official impunity and corruption, societal violence against women, trafficking in persons, restricted worker rights, and forced child labor existed.
In recent years, the United States has been dedicated to advocacy of better economic policies, better health service delivery, and more effective control of corruption. The country has made considerable progress in these areas. However, after multiple impeachment attempts and inconclusive legal battles between the president and parliament, the national elections scheduled for mid-2009 present a major challenge to protecting the country's young democratic system. The United States has already allocated available resources to support the conduct of the elections, but continued engagement with other nations, NGOs, and government institutions will be critical for effective civic education and coordination of election observers to discourage fraud and instill credibility.
The Millennium Challenge Corporation's Threshold Country Program (TCP) has already demonstrated that targeted assistance to strengthen democratic institutions such as the legislature, the judiciary, and the media can yield large benefits. The conclusion of the TCP will reduce available U.S. government funding for democracy and governance programs, making public diplomacy programs, multilateral efforts, and bilateral advocacy all the more important. U.S. officials will continue to take part in multilateral task forces on media, elections, anticorruption, and governance; collaborate with NGOs and government through participation in working groups on topics such as human trafficking and child protection; empower civil society organizations to speak out on perceived injustices; and encourage government and opposition political parties to maintain an open dialogue and seek political solutions to political problems.
Support for the development of the country's young democracy is a top priority for the United States. The ambassador has frequently engaged in advocacy with the president, members of the National Assembly (both government and opposition), senior officials, and civil society in support of principles and institutions of democracy and the need for political compromise during the period prior to the 2009 elections. The United States supports democratic political processes by aiding preparations for free and fair elections in 2009 through financial support to the MEC for civic education. Additionally, the U.S. government participated in a multilateral election task force. The United States regularly engaged with government and opposition political parties as well as civil society organizations to encourage open dialogue between parties to resolve political disputes. American volunteers fostered student-driven community development clubs in secondary schools to teach democracy and encourage grassroots problem solving skills to the next generation of local leaders.
The embassy promoted political rights, judicial independence, independent media, and anticorruption efforts through the International Visitor Leadership Program, which exposes local decision-makers to U.S. culture and political and legal systems. Additionally, the embassy hosted many events to raise awareness of key issues related to advancing freedom and democracy, including a symposium on money laundering to encourage support for the Anti-money Laundering Bill, which eventually passed; a symposium on trafficking in persons; and a digital video conference on corruption for World Press Freedom Day.
Using programs available to the embassy, the United States assisted in the development of an independent legislature by financing seven new clerks for the National Assembly and providing training to all clerks and committees via lectures, digital video conferences, and study tours enabling all committees to meet in 2007 for the first time since 1994. The United States contributed to improving judicial independence by providing a resident legal advisor to the Ministry of Justice who helped build trial advocacy skills in the Director of Public Prosecutions, Malawi Police Service, the Anti-Corruption Bureau, the Law Commission, and Chancellor College of Law. The project led to the drafting of a speedy trial/plea bargaining law and an asset declaration law, as well as the creation of a Financial Intelligence Unit to investigate money laundering and other financial crimes. Additionally, the U.S. government purchased equipment and case management systems for the Director of Public Prosecutions to improve case tracking and reporting and speed up time to trial.
The U.S. government supported anticorruption efforts through continued engagement with the Anti-Corruption Bureau, the Malawi Police Service, the Director of Public Prosecutions, and the business community. The United States was a participant on the multilateral anticorruption task force. Through participation with government and NGOs on the Malawi Child Trafficking Network and Child Protection Working Group, the United States encouraged combating of human rights violations and trafficking in persons. The U.S. government supported civil-military relations through military training programs that encouraged professionalism and respect for human rights. The Malawi Police Service also was trained through the International Law Enforcement Academy to improve management capacity and human rights awareness.
The United States supported many programs to promote an independent media, including hosting a media stakeholders conference on the privatization of public broadcasters, funding investigative journalist training, assisting in the review of the Access to Information Bill, and supporting the revival of the Media Council of Malawi and its efforts to draft a code of ethics for journalists. The embassy supported interfaith dialogue through the story workshop project, which provided outreach to the Muslim community in a traditional format. Other outreach activities to the Muslim community included a roundtable discussion on Muslim youth and the intellectual challenges of modern civilization and a digital video conference between an American imam and Muslim youth on "How American Muslims Practice their Faith."
To help support anticorruption efforts and combat human rights abuses, the United States placed a law enforcement advisor at the Malawi Police Service to assist in the development and training of an internal affairs unit, which opened in October 2007. The U.S. government supported the country's anticorruption efforts through small grants to anticorruption advocacy groups, support for awareness and sensitization campaigns, and funding for corruption surveys. The United States also supported the Malawi Business Action Against Corruption task force in its creation of a business code of conduct.