JOHANNESBURG — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton praised Malawi’s leaders Sunday for reforms in the impoverished African nation before heading to South Africa to meet this week with government officials and Nelson Mandela.
In Lilongwe, Malawi, Clinton pledged continued American support as she met with President Joyce Banda, the first woman to lead her country and only the second female African head of state.
A longtime champion of women’s empowerment, Clinton encouraged Banda to stay on a course of economic reform to make Malawi more attractive to foreign investment. Later, Clinton visited a girls’ secondary school and an agriculture project supported by US assistance.
Clinton, the first secretary of state to visit Malawi, was clearly pleased to meet Banda and told her that the United States ‘‘strongly supports you and your government and your efforts on behalf of the people of this absolutely wonderful country.’’
Banda, a women’s rights campaigner who had been Malawi’s vice president, took over the top job in April after President Bingu wa Mutharika died in office. She told Clinton that ‘‘for a long time we have both been women and children’s activists and I was looking forward to the day that we would meet. And we meet today in an official capacity and I am proud.’’
Banda has been keen to differentiate herself from her predecessor, who had a rocky relationship with international development agencies and whose policies led the US to suspend a $350.7 million assistance package last year. In May, the country devalued its currency by one-third and loosened restrictions on foreign currency exchange. In June, the International Monetary Fund and Malawi agreed to a $157 million aid package to be distributed over three years, and the United States restored its aid, which is aimed at improving energy infrastructure.