Joyce Banda – For the sake of peace, she stepped aside
After an election defeat and a nearly seven-week trip to the United States, Malawi’s former head of state Joyce Banda is back home.
However, though Banda lost the presidency she stands tall as a peace champion. While she could have fought to retain the position, Banda felt that Malawi is bigger than an individual, and for peace to prevail, she stepped down because she did not want to see her people shed blood.
Malawi’s chaotic May 20 Presidential Elections are still fresh on her mind. There was a point in the immediate aftermath of the polls when she had to take responsibility, call for a recount and, in the end, step aside for peace to prevail.
“When we went into the elections, just within the first hour a lot of things happened that made Malawians uncomfortable. In Blantyre, materials were not there, people got agitated and started throwing stones. We knew straight away there was going to be trouble,” Bnada explains.
“According to the law in Malawi voting should take place within a day, but the people were voting four days later. So there were a lot of complaints, evidence that things were not right,” Banda says. She explains: “What I did was to take responsibility and call for a recount or an audit of the elections to reassure the people.”
According to Banda what brings conflict in most parts of the world after elections is when there is doubt and mistrust.
She then sought legal advice and was told she could ask for a rerun. “At that point, I realised if that if I call for a rerun, it would look like I have vested interests, or would want to influence the second part of the elections, so I said I was stepping aside.”
The next day, the Electoral Commission of Malawi announced it wanted to confirm that indeed there had been massive rigging, and they too endorsed the call for a recount.
“In the end, the judge ruled in favour of the current president,” Banda explains.
“People have asked me why I conceded. I felt it was important for me to allow peace to prevail. I have always said in life that Malawians come first, and this was an opportunity for me to demonstrate that. It was all in the best interest of Malawians,” says Banda. She adds: “Malawians did not have to shed blood. There is life after State House and so much more that I can do. I chose to concede, and I have no regrets. I respect the president.”
Passing through Johannesburg on her way back, Banda spoke about her intention to continue the work of championing women’s rights once she returns home.
Banda was returning home after a busy month in the United States, taking the message of the Joyce Banda Foundation, a social initiative she has been spearheading for the last 16 years, to the world. While in the US, she met several high-level dignitaries including Hillary Clinton and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
In Johannesburg Banda’s schedule was hectic. She had a meeting with South Africa’s Graca Machel where they discussed among other issues a maternal and child health programme. She also held meetings with “interested parties and friends” who want to support her Foundation and improve the services it provides to women and children.
“My mission in life is to assist women and youth gain social and political empowerment through business. We need to do more. For me, empowering women and achieving gender equality is my goal, not only in Malawi but across Africa. That is what brings me to South Africa,” explained Banda, southern Africa’s first female president.
During her short two-year presidency, Banda’s economic track record saw the country’s economy grow from 1.8 per cent in 2012 to 6.2 per cent in 2014.
“What gives me great pride is that I left Malawi at a better place than I found it. When I came in, the economy was on the verge of collapse. That year, growth was only 1.8 per cent. We did not have fuel for a day, companies were scaling down. I had to work very quickly…we devalued the kwacha, drew up an economic recovery plan,” she explains.
“By the time I was leaving State House, the economy had grown by six per cent. We had a harvest of 3.9 million metric tonnes. Companies were operating at 85 per cent. We now had a forex cover of three-and-a-half months [from a week]. By the time I left, we had fuel for 15 days at any given time. We had a model village in every district. We had reduced maternal deaths in two years.
“The one thing I was not aware of when I came into office is that there was massive corruption, and that corruption affects the gains one can make.”
For this, Banda had to revamp Malawi’s financial management system, which subsequently led to 68 arrests and several bank accounts being frozen.
“I was warned by colleagues from across the continent that it is not easy to fight corruption . . . because you are fighting very powerful people who are benefitting from that kind of money, and if you are not careful, you will get smeared on, be fought through and through, dragged to the ground.
“For me, the choice was simple, is it Malawians, or is it my career?…For me, it is Malawians first, even if it means putting my political career on the line…The good news is that the current president has also decided to go ahead with the fight against corruption.
—Courtesy of CNBCAfrica.com