Joyce Banda is President of Malawi


In her first order of business since being inaugurated as Malawi’s new president on Saturday, Joyce Banda fired the country’s top policeman. No reason was given for the firing, but the BBC reports that the police chief, Peter Mukhito, was in charge last year during anti-government protests over the worsening economy. Mukhito had personally questioned a University of Malawi lecturer over comparisons the latter had made between the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt and the fuel crisis in Malawi. The university was later closed. Then last July, police shot dead 19 protesters. Banda’s decisiveness does not surprise long term observers of Malawian politics and her appointment carries wider significance beyond the Southern African country.

For Malawians, it means a “triumph for democracy” in that the proper succession has occurred peacefully and smoothly. Given the rumors and some public statements after the sudden death of Banda’s predecesor, Bingu wa Mutharika, this is especially welcome news. So much for the Afro-pessimists. Senegal in March, Malawi in April. The Malian coup lasted only a few days. Who knows what May will bring?

Joyce Banda was the first woman Vice-President of Malawi. She is now the first woman President of Malawi and the first woman President in Southern Africa.

Banda has been a lifelong champion of women’s rights. She has spent decades organizing rural women, in Malawi and beyond. She has pushed and pulled women, and pushed and pulled with women, to demand equal access to education, to jobs, to land, to health services, to opportunities, to power. She has started women’s organizations and actively supported women’s movements.

In 2004, Banda entered government as Minister of Gender, Child Welfare and Community Services. She focused, both in legislative and delivery terms, on addressing domestic violence. She then moved on to become Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2006 and Vice-President in 2009.

In recent years, as the regime of Mutharika became increasingly repressive and autocratic, Banda remained an independent voice for women and for others who suffered systemic and structural disenfranchisement, in good times and in bad. When Banda was kicked out of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, she formed her own, the People’s Party, and stayed in office.

And there she has been. Speaking out for women when they were attacked by vendors in Lilongwe and Blantyre earlier this year. Speaking out for rural women constantly. Speaking out for more inclusive and democratic processes at all levels of state.

Joyce Banda has spent her life paying attention, learning, engaging, organizing, and effecting positive change. In particular, she watched and learned the difficulties and inequities of rural women’s and girls’ lives.

As a child, she learned that inequality intensifies with rural girls’ exclusions from school, and that the ways of those exclusions are numerous, entwined, complex, and structural.

At 21, Banda married and gave birth to three children. Her husband was abusive; the marriage was corrosive. Banda took her three children, left, and then got a divorce. For the next forty years, she has worked to end domestic violence and transform women’s positions in the world and at home.

When Banda gave birth to her fourth child, she suffered from post partum hemorrhaging and almost died. She realized she owed her life to easy access to trained medical care. From there, she began organizing and working for better access, especially among rural women, to reproductive health care and health care generally.

Joyce Banda’s ascendancy to the Presidency of Malawi is a moment to celebrate, to acknowledge, to hail.  Women know, “The future starts now!

Comments

comments

Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg is an Associate Professor at George Washington University.

12 Comments
  1. I am encouraged by the legacy of Mrs. Banda. After living in Malawi for 3 years I saw the struggle of women there at all levels. Concern for the rural and poor is so important. I am excited for Malawi and hope that this turn of events portends a new era in Malawi for the good of the people! Women’s rights, access to health care, and education are the most important issues facing this country (in my opinion). Blessings to Her Excellency Joyce Banda.

  2. This is indeed a triumph for democracy. Malawians have such a wonderful history of overcoming tyranny through peaceful bravery and sacrifice. I’m so glad that this transfer of power happend in a lawful democratic way. May God bless President Banda and may God bless Malawi!

  3. While I thoroughly enjoyed reading your summary of President Banda’s life and accomplishments, I am disappointed at your statement that “The Malian coup lasted only a few days.” I recognize that it sounds good for the flow of the article and lends a hopeful tone to the piece but the coup in Mali – and the ripple effects – are far from over. Better to focus on Senegal or simply Malawi and the work that President Banda will accomplish rather than compare her to countries on the same continent.

    It is also interesting to draw comparisons to her similarities to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and her similarly abusive marriage and subsequent divorce – and trailblazing work for women and country development. I’m sure the parallels don’t stop there.

  4. Joyce Banda is indeed an inspirational woman, and this is a triumph for people, for women, for democracy. For example, President Banda has very recently started an inquiry into the `curious’ death of Robert Chasowa last year. Meanwhile, if you’re looking for an in-depth, or even slightly extended, profile of Joyce Banda, don’t go to the New York Times, because there’s, thus far, none there. Perhaps people should write to the Times and ask about that absence?

  5. Best Wishes to President Joyce Banda for her future success in creating jobs and improving the quality of life in Malawi.

    Best Regatds,

    David and Debbie Fick,

    Overland Park, Kansas, USA

  6. Im more than encouraged by Mrs Banda, Wow woman u r so brave.U showed the world that a woman can do more even though womans are r smtym taken 4 granted in the this world, some peolpe didnt think that a woman can be a President they think presidency is a mans job.Good luck to you Mrs Banda n 2 all the Malawians “WATHINTA BAFAZI WATHINTI MBOKODO” u strike a woman, u strike a rock….!!! (Phliswa Vannesa Gom) South Africa, Cape Town, Phillipi

  7. Today’s woman is apparently known for its presence either in the house or at its office workplace promising its influence at both the places. As such it is very important that women health or say women reproductive health is of prime consideration due to rising female death rate due to unwanted pregnancies and other sexually transmitted diseases.Women health reproductive is primarily concerned with health activities like contraception, fertility, infertility and other sexually transmitted diseases. Here contraception by way of pills, condoms, diaphragm, intrauterine, vasectomy is important way to avoid unintended pregnancies and other hormonal diseases.’

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