News24

Malawi’s Banda takes charge with energy

2012-04-13 13:26

Blantyre - In less than a week in office, Malawi's first woman president has fired the police chief, information minister and top state broadcaster and opened an investigation into the 2011 death of an activist who had criticised her predecessor.

Joyce Banda's decisiveness and energy is no surprise to those who have watched her rise from being a women's development advocate. She became president of this impoverished southern African country after the death of President Bingu wa Mutharika, with whom she had clashed even as she remained his vice president.

In a largely conservative and patriarchal society, Banda was a surprise choice when Mutharika made her his running mate in 2009. She showed her toughness when Mutharika tried to promote his brother over her as his successor, which many saw as a ploy by Mutharika to extend his influence beyond the constitutionally allowed two terms.

Banda's refusal to endorse Peter Mutharika as a presidential candidate led to her expulsion from the governing Democratic Progressive Party. A senior ruling party official said Malawi was not ready for a female president. First Lady Callista Mutharika derided Banda, saying she was a mere market woman selling mandasi, or fritters.

"Yes, she's right, I'm indeed a mandasi seller and I'm proud of it, because the majority of women in Malawi are like us, mandasi sellers," Banda shot back in a February interview with The Associated Press, when the controversy over Peter Mutharika was raging. She formed her own party after being forced out of Mutharika's DPP.

After Mutharika died on 05 April, the government took two days to confirm his death and allow Banda to step in. The delay had led to speculation that Banda's rivals were trying to prevent her from becoming president, even though the constitution decrees the vice president should take over.

Banda was sworn in on 07 April to complete Mutharika's second term, which ends in 2014.

Fighting poverty


Banda, 62, entered politics in 1999, winning a seat in parliament and being named minister for gender and community services by then-President Bakili Muluzi, once Mutharika's mentor. Muluzi backed Mutharika in 2004 elections, and after winning Mutharika promoted Banda to foreign minister. Banda sided with Mutharika when he broke with Muluzi.

Fighting poverty and helping women have long been Banda's focus. She founded the National Association of Business Women in 1989 to give start-up cash to women entrepreneurs.

"The women didn't go to school when they were young because parents preferred to send their brothers, the women couldn't access loans in their own right because the banks sought the approval of a male dependent, the women couldn't make decisions at household level because they didn't bring any income into the household," she told AP in February.

She saw giving them an economic lift as "a good starting point to changing lives of women for the better". She has said her work in rural areas has taught her about the "dehumanising" impact of poverty.

She comes to power at a time when Malawi is facing serious economic challenges. Mutharika, who was seen as growing increasingly authoritative and intolerant of criticism in his second term, had strained relations with most of Malawi's traditional Western donors.

At a news conference on Tuesday, Banda said she has received calls from Britain's Africa Minister Henry Bellingham and US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and spoken with International Monetary Fund officials.

Last year, Mutharika expelled Britain's High Commissioner to Malawi after the envoy was quoted in a local newspaper as expressing concern that the president was increasingly intolerant of criticism and human rights were under attack. Britain, a former ruler of Malawi, then indefinitely suspended aid to Malawi, which in the end invited the envoy back.

Last month, a US aid agency that rewards good governance suspended $350m worth of assistance to Malawi.

Abusive marriage

The IMF describes its programme with Malawi as "off-track". Mutharika had ignored IMF advice to devalue the country's currency.

Banda said she was working on normalising relations with donors. One issue may complicate her plans: Peter Mutharika, the late president's brother, remains foreign minister.

Banda walked out of what she called an abusive marriage to Roy Kachale in 1981. The couple had three children. Banda now is married to retired Chief Justice Richard Banda with whom she has two children.

"Most African women are taught to endure abusive marriages," she said. "They say endurance means a good wife but most women endure abusive relationship because they are not empowered economically, they depend on their husbands."

Liberia's Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who in 2006 became the first African woman elected head of state, has recounted being abused as a young wife by a husband she later divorced. In speaking out about abuse, Banda and Sirleaf share more than being political pioneers for women on the continent.

Earlier this year, Banda joined protest against attacks by men on women wearing miniskirts and pants. Some of attackers claim such dress is un-Malawian or a sign of loose morals.

"Some of us have spent our entire life fighting for the freedom of women," Banda told the protesters. "It's shocking some men want to take us back to bondage."

Comments
  • senny.tloubatla - 2012-04-13 13:54

    Viva Joyce Banda Viva, I love you my sister, you are true a symbol of what a leader needs to be. Gob bless your tenure as President.

  • Tamaryn - 2012-04-15 10:40

    Atta girl, you show them what African Women can do!

  • Fidelis - 2012-04-15 17:32

    Mai Joyce Banda congratulations!! I want to come back home now just to work helping rural people to help themselves and to have reverence for God. I know God is with you. God bless you.

  • thalaley - 2012-04-17 17:20

    THE SO CALLED FAILED COUP MEMBERS MUST FACE THE LAW.THEIR AIM WAS TO DESTABLISE THE COUNTRY DELIBERATELY.BEING CABINET MINISTERS THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO SAFEGUARD THE CONSTITUTION AND TELL THE NATION THE TRUTH ABOUT THE FORMER HEAD OF STATE`S CONDITION.

  • thalaley - 2012-04-17 17:40

    THE OTHER ISSUE WHICH NEEDS TO BE ADDRESSED BY THE NEW GOVERNMENT IS SERVICE DELIVERY TO URBAN AREAS OF MALAWI.THE ROADS` CONDITIONS IN SOME CITY LOCATIONS ARE VERY BAD,THERE ARE HEAPS OF REFUSE EVERYWHERE.THE CITY ASSEMBLIES OVERLOOK THESE AREAS.THE LAND LORDS ARE HASTANT TO PAY CITY RATES BECAUSE OF POOR SANITATION AS A RESULT OF POOR SERVICE DELIVERY BY CITY ASSEMBLIES FOR EXAMPLE NO ASSEMBLY VEHICLES TO COLLECT REFUSE IN THESE HIGH DENSITY AREAS.ALMOST EVERYWHERE THERE ARE PIT LATRINES,THE BLEEDING FACILITIES OF MOSQUITOES AND FRIES.WELL QUALIFIED CITY ENGINEERS ARE TO BE EMPLOYED TO ADDRESS THESE PROBLEMS. MANNUAL ROAD GLADERS ARE NOT ENOUGH AND THEY CANNOT DO THE WORK PROPERLY IN MANTAINING THE ROADS.

  • picheII - 2012-04-18 19:36

    ALSO THE LEADERSHIP AND ADMINSTRATION OF CITY ASSEMBLIES NEEDS TO BE LOOKED INTO.IN SOME CITY LOCATIONS THERE IS NO CITY ASSEMBLY SERVICES. REFUSE HEAPS AND PIT-LATRINES ARE EVERYWHERE AS BLEEDING FACILITIES FOR MOSQUITOES AND FRIES. LAND LORDS ARE REFUSING TO PAY CITY RATES BECAUSE THE CITY ASSEMBLIES DO NOT PROVIDE SERVICES IN THESE AREAS. THE ROADS IN THESE AREAS ARE NOT MANTAINED. THERE IS NEED TO EMPLOY CITY ENGINEERS WHO WILL PLAN THE CITIES TO ENSURE SERVICE DELIVERY IS REACHED IN THESE AREAS.

  • picheII - 2012-04-18 19:49

    EVEN SOME CITY MARKETS LIKE LILONGWE MARKET ARE NOT UP TO STANDARD.EVERYDAY THE CITY ASSEMBLY COLLECTS MARKET FEES FROM THE SELLERSAT DAILY BASIS.THESE FEES WERE SUPPOSED TO REHABILITATE THESE MARKETS.IN DEDZA THEY HAVE BEAUTIFUL MARKET AND BUS DEPOT AND THEY ARE CLEAN AT ALL TIMES.I ALWAYS HAVE THIS QUESTION IN MIND,WHY LILONGWE BEING THE CAPITAL CITY HAVING UNMANTAINED MARKET?

  • picheII - 2012-04-26 20:10

    Please Your Excellency Mrs Joyce Banda consider the introduction of Permanent Malawi Identification Documents,at the moment we don`t know who Malawians are and foreign nationals are.Passports are strictly travel documents.Malawi Voter Registration Documents are denied as an identity document in many major banks.Malawi Green Book will enable the citizens acquire basic services be at hospital,banks eat.I hope the new Home Affairs Minister will take note of this and it must be tabled in Parliament.

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