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A women’s right activist, Joyce Banda, Malawi’s first female vice president whose belief, vision and activities had been channelled towards making women independent and having a say and place in leadership had her dream brought to birth as luck thrusts in her path
recently the leadership of Malawi. Today, Joyce Banda holds fort as Malawi’s first female president. TOLUWANI OLAMITOKE looks into her activities.
A champion of women’s rights, Joyce Banda has become the first female head of state in southern Africa after taking over as Malawi’s president, following the death of Bingu wa Mutharika. who died last week Friday of a heart attack at the age of 78.
The 61-year-old mother of three who is the country’s first female vice president was sworn in as the country’s first female president in the landlocked and impoverished country under the terms of the constitution last week Saturday.
A winner of national and international awards for her work as a supporter of women’s rights, Banda was last year named by Forbes Magazine as Africa’s third most powerful female politician after Liberian President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Nigerian Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
Banda was kicked out of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in 2010 as Mutharika pushed to groom his brother Peter, Malawi’s foreign minister as his replacement.
Creating her own People’s Party, Banda maintained her state position as vice president.
After Mutharika’s death, there were fears of a power struggle following Patricia Kaliati, the Minister of Information and Civic Education, statement that “the conduct of the honorable Joyce Banda in forming her own opposition party precludes her from being eligible to succeed the presidency.” Malawi’s ex-President, Bakili Muluzi according to reports had insisted on “constititional order,” saying the vice president must automatically take power under the constitution. “I am calling for a constitutional order, for continued peace and order.
The laws of Malawi are very clear that the vice president takes over when the sitting president can no longer govern. We have to avoid a situation where there is disorder. Let us follow the constitution. We have no choice but follow the constitution. It’s very important that there must be peace and calm,” he had said.
Malawi’s security forces also wanted the constitutional order to prevail.
The Malawi Law Society has confirmed that under section 83(4) of the constitution of Malawi, she is the legitimate successor to the Presidency.
Banda after been sworn in had appealed for national unity. “I want all of us to move into the future with hope and with the spirit of oneness and unity. I hope we shall stand united and I hope that as a God-fearing nation, we allow God to come before us, because if we don’t do that, then we have failed.”
Prior to becoming Malawi’s first female Vice-President and later first female president, Banda was a member of parliament for the Zomba-Malosa constituency. She was also Minister of Gender, Child Welfare and Community Services before being appointed as Minister of Foreign Affairs by President Bingu wa Mutharika on June 1, 2006.
As Minister of Gender, Child Welfare and Community Services, she fought to enact the Domestic Violence Bill which had failed for seven years previously. She designed the National Platform for Action on Orphans and Vulnerable Children and the Zero Tolerance Campaign Against Child Abuse.
Until now the policeman’s daughter has spent a lot of her time and energy campaigning on behalf of poor rural African women, trying to pers-uade them that they should not simply accept the existence they have inherited.
She has said her ambition is to set women on the world’s least developed continent free from the cycle of poverty and abuse that has haunted them for centuries.
In an interview late last year, she cited the case of a childhood friend in her ancestral village as one reason she has kept on campaigning.
She said her friend, much brighter than herself, was forced to leave high school after just one term because her family couldn’t afford the $12 needed for the school fees.
“I went on to go to college and I became the vice president of Malawi. She is still where she was 30 years ago,” Banda was qouted to have said.
“The vicious cycle of poverty kept her there and took away her options. I made up my mind at that point, whatever would happen in my life, I would try to send girls to schools.”
This personal pledge was behind Banda’s decision to complete a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Early Childhood Education from Columbus University in the United States.
Setting up a garment manufacturing business and later a bakery, she said she used the proceeds to send underprivileged girls to school.
She also founded three major organisations in Malawi: the National Association of Business Women, the Young Women’s Leaders Network and the Joyce Banda Foundation.
“We know that early marriage, early pregnancy, and early death of young women in childbirth are connected to how long they stay in school,” she says.
She is married to Richard Banda, a former chief justice of Malawi and Swaziland.
Banda’s presidency seems set to usher in a fresh opportunity for Malawi, and many will be hoping that under her leadership, the small southern African state can reclaim its tourist brochure reputation as “The Warm Heart of Africa.”