I had to rise above party politics- Joyce Banda

Dr. Joyce Banda, the first female President in southern Africa, had a tumultuous two years in power. Two months ago she lost the election and left without a fight despite the election being messy. In this interview with Mabvuto Banda writing for the London-based New African Woman Magazine, Dr Banda explains her last eight days in office, why she believes the election was rigged and talks about her achievements and challenges of her presidency

Joyce Banda
Joyce Banda

Q: You lost the election two months ago. What happened?

A: I lost the election because the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) relied on tally sheet counts despite evidence pouring in that the number of people that voted in this election were more than the number of those who registered in most centers across the country. Many tally sheets were not signed by all monitors, discarded ballots were the order of the day and different voting centres had the exact tallies for each candidate, among other anomalies.

Q:Why then did you concede defeat if there was such overwhelming evidence?

A: Malawi was experiencing growing civil unrest and isolated outbursts of violence and I didn’t want a bloodbath on my watch. I had to rise above party politics. I did want to do something for my own good but for a greater good.

Q: Madam president, many condemned you when you annulled the election and called for a fresh election within 90 days. They said you wanted to avoid defeat. What do you say to that?

A: The MEC continued to count and release provisional results despite multiple political parties questioning their legitimacy. I sought legal counsel and found that the Constitution allowed me to make the proclamation to annul the elections and announce new elections. As far as we know, this provision has never been invoked in Malawi and to ensure that my decision was not misunderstood as self-serving, I stated I would not stand in the new election if the proclamation for a new election were enforced. I promised to prioritise Malawians and the unity of the nation two years ago, and I honoured that promise before my own political gain.

Q: But the courts and MEC dismissed this proclamation saying that you didn’t have such powers

A: It was understood that its use would be reviewed by the courts in a constitutional review. This is how constitutional case law develops. However, something had to be done to draw attention to these serious threats to a credible process.

Q: Madam President you are now out of office. Let’s recast and review your tumultuous two years in power. How do you think you fared?

A: I inherited an economy that was in a crisis. In my two years I tried to turn around the economy by making decisive actions to recover the economy, and build a strong foundation for growth. It’s been two years since our people spent hours in fuel queues; it’s been two years since businesses struggled to access foreign exchange.

Q: How did you manage to do that?

A: We agreed to swallow the bitter pill and made unpopular decisions such as the devaluation of the Kwacha, we had to choose between working with the IMF and other donors or face doom because our economy is still aid dependent. The bitter pills set the economy on a path to recovery and represent the foundation of a transformational agenda that this country needs for the next 50 years. I leave office with all economic fundamentals in better shape than what it was when I took over.

Q: Madam President let’s turn to Cashgate. Many believe that Cashgate cost you the election because you did nothing about it. Is this true?

A: Sixty-eight people, including a former member of my Cabinet, were arrested, more than 18 cases are already in court, 33 bank accounts have been frozen. I took on very powerful people, a risk which very few African leaders facing an election could have taken.

Q: As a woman President how much pushback did you get when you were in office?

A: I was a woman in a role dominated by men and therefore got so much pushback just because I am a woman.

Q: Forbes Magazine named you as the continent’s most powerful woman last year. Do you feel that powerful?

A: No, I don’t. I will feel that powerful when every woman in Malawi and Africa is free from hate and is empowered. I will feel powerful when women no longer have to lose their lives because they are abused, when they stop dying from avoidable pregnancy-related deaths. I will feel powerful when women in Africa take their rightful place as [men] equals.

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