Joyce Banda recently became the first female Prime Minister of a Southern African country. All eyes in the region are on Malawi to see what Joyce Banda will be able to achieve as the first woman to assume the top job in the country.
Joyce Banda is a confirmed female activist. She is also committed to civil rights and her political ideas show a massive change in political leadership after the former autocratic president, the late Mutharika. She rose to power after being heavily involved in setting up and running several organizations to help the people of Malawi. These include the Joyce Banda Foundation for Better Education, the Young Women Leaders Network, the National Association of Business Women and the Hunger Project.
Joyce Banda has also been an outspoken advocate for women’s leadership and for the empowerment of women in a country that has been dominated by patriarchal relations and that has commonly turned a blind eye to violence against women. She was voted ‘Woman of the Year’ in Malawi for 1997 and 1998.
In the ruling Democratic People’s Party (DPP) she has held the posts of Minister of Gender, Child Welfare and Community Services and Minister of Foreign Affairs between 2004 and 2009. She then became the vice president of Malawi. As it became clear that she had intentions to run for the top job in the country there was a struggle in the party between the progressives and those who felt that Malawi wasn’t ready for a female President.
The result of this power struggle was that Mutharika nominated his brother as his successor and kicked Banda out of the party in 2010.
This was unconstitutional since Joyce Banda was an elected representative. Nevertheless, she opted to leave the DPP and start her own party called the People’s Party.
Although Mutharika was buoyed by early success in improving agricultural output things got progressively worse for the DPP. The economy took a sudden downturn. Mutharika giddy with power started trampling on people’s civil liberties and countries such as Britain refused to give the country economic aid.
When Mutharika died the country faced high unemployment, disastrously poor crops and massive debts. Forced to do something when President Mutharika died suddenly, the parliament made Joyce Banda the president on April 7, 2012.
Joyce Banda now faces an upward struggle to gain the support of the majority DPP parliament and to implement changes that will improve Malawi’s finances, improve crop yields and restore international confidence in the country. She also has to implement what will surely be unpopular austerity measures to improve Malawi’s credit rating.
If she can succeed in doing all these things and bring Malawi back onto the track of growing prosperity while at the same time increasing rights for women she will have scored a massive victory for all African women.