How an intriguing drama made Malawi’s Joyce Banda Africa’s second woman president

Nii Ntreh Apr 16, 2020 at 09:30am

April 16, 2020 at 09:30 am | History

Nii Ntreh

Nii Ntreh | Associate Editor

April 16, 2020 at 09:30 am | History

Joyce Banda, vice president of Malawi is at Harvard for a week participating in a two-day gender conference at Radcliffe and visiting the Medical School and School of Public Health. Here she is seen in the Sheraton Commander at Harvard University. Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

In attempts to make sure vice-president Joyce Banda would see her own way to the door out, Malawi president Bingu wa Mutharika began delegating some of the vice-president’s roles to the first lady, Callista Mutharika, in 2011.

Banda and second vice-president Khumbo Kachali, had been accused of “anti-party activities” in December 2010.

Banda had been President Mutharika’s running mate on the ticket of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), a center-right liberal party, in Malawi’s 2009 presidential election.

The said anti-party activities were accusations Banda denied. A number of observers of Malawi’s political scene have submitted that the fact of Banda’s womanhood and her position in power was in itself a problem in a largely conservative patriarchal society.

But with specific regards to what her party claimed she did, it has become the theory that it is because Banda stood up to President Mutharika who wanted Peter Mutharika, the president’s brother, to take over after 2014.

President Mutharika was set to retire in 2014. Peter, Bingu’s brother, was the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Bingu’s choice to lead the DPP even though technically, the mantle should fall on Banda.

First lady Callista Mutharika is reported to have said about Banda’s determination to be president: “She will never be president, how can a mandasi [fritter] seller be president?”

Misogynist tactics from women against other women could be tricky to deal with. But Banda showed political fortitude and understanding of Malawian society.

Banda had a response for Mrs Mutharika: “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 identified with the vast majority of working Malawina woman who were small-scale retailers.

She was also not going to resign in spite of calls from many within the leadership of her political party to do so. Banda and Kachali were eventually fired from the DPP.

In 2011, Banda formed her own party, the People’s Party. There were mass defections from the DPP to the People’s Party because of the way in which she had been treated.

Banda planned to stay on as the country’s vice-president until the election in 2014 and then compete on the ticket of the party she founded. But as fate would have it, she did not have to wait till then.

President Mutharika died in 2012. But even then, the DPP government was not interested in allowing Banda to take over the reins of the country in spite of the Malawian constitution clearly giving her the mandate.

This prompted fears of a constitutional crisis but Banda remained resolute.

Thankfully, one of Banda’s supporters was a former president, Bakili Muluzi. According to the AFP, Muluzi said in the wake of uncertainty in Malawi:

“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.”

Other powerful organizations such as the Malawi Law Society backed Banda. But the late president’s cabinet still moved to block Banda’s swearing-in.

However, on April 7, two full days after the death of President Mutharika, Banda was sworn in.

This might not have been possible if she had not secured the support of the country’s highest-ranking soldier, Henry Odillo. Commander Odillo ordered soldiers to guard Banda’s home until she came into power.

Peter Mutharika, the preference of the DPP, eventually became president too. He defeated Banda at the polls in 2014, a victory that has been attributed to Banda’s failure to lock down the goodwill she had received in 2012.

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