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!

Further Reading

A power crisis

Andre De Ruyter, the former CEO of Eskom, has presented himself as a simple hero trying to save South Africa’s struggling power utility against corrupt forces. But this racially charged narrative is ultimately self-serving.

Cinematic universality

Fatou Cissé’s directorial debut meditates on the uncertain fate and importance of Malian cinema amidst the growing dismissiveness towards the humanities across the world.

The meanings of Heath Streak

Zimbabwean cricketing legend Heath Streak’s career mirrors many of the unresolved tensions of race and class in Zimbabwe. Yet few white Zimbabwean sporting figures are able to stir interest and conversation across the nation’s many divides.


After winning Italy’s Serie A with Napoli, Victor Osimhen has cemented his claim to being Africa’s biggest footballing icon. But is the trend of individual stardom good for sports and politics?

The magic man

Chris Blackwell’s long-awaited autobiography shows him as a romantic rogue; a risk taker whose life compass has been an open mind and gift to hear and see slightly into the future.

How to think about colonialism

Contemporary approaches to the legacy of colonialism tend to narrowly emphasize political agency as the solution to Africa’s problems. But agency is configured through historically particular relations of which we are not sole authors.

More than just a flag

South Africa’s apartheid flag has been declared hate speech by a top court. But while courts are important and their judgments matter, racism is a long and internationally entrenched social phenomenon that cannot be undone via judicial processes.

Resistance is a continuous endeavor

For more than 75 years, Palestinians have organized for a liberated future. Today, as resistance against Israeli apartheid intensifies, unity and revolutionary optimism has become the main infrastructure of struggle.

Paradise forgotten

While there is much to mourn about the passing of legendary American singer and actor Harry Belafonte, we should hold a place for his bold statement-album against apartheid South Africa.