Joyce Banda may be Africa's 2nd female president

By Tusekele Mwanyongo 

Unpredictability is one of the major aspects that characterize politics. Nobody ever dreamt of President Bingu wa Mutharika’s popularity hitting all-time low today after he unprecedentedly trounced all presidential candidates in the May 2009 presidential race.

After that convincing electoral triumph and probably drunk with power and a majority in parliament, he set out in his second term in office to destroy all the democratic gains that Malawi had made since 2004 when the first multiparty democratic elections were held. He declares, without any sense of remorse, that he does not mind being called ‘dictator’.

But before Mutharika came onto the scene, Malawi also had a dictator in the name of Dr. Kamuzu Banda. He went. There have been dictators around the world too numerous to mention before, they are all part of the world history.

Mutharika retires in 2014 and with the seemingly negative legacy that he may leave, Malawians are set to be extremely careful in electing Mutharika’s successor.

Joyce Banda (R) with Liberian and Africa's first elected female president

Indeed, the 2014 contest is likely to be exciting as already names of would-be successors to Mutharika are sprouting up, notably the state Vice President Joyce Banda; the president’s younger brother Professor Peter Mutharika who was recently endorsed by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) National Governing Council (NGC); former Head of State Bakili Muluzi’s son, Atupele: and Malawi Congress Party (MCP) leader John Tembo.

Joyce Banda is likely to run for the presidency following her unceremonious dismissal as DPP First Vice President in December 2010 apparently for not supporting the idea of a ‘dynasty’ where power revolves around brotherhood. She formed the People’s Party (PP), which she leads.

Banda is likely to give the president’s brother, Peter, a good run for his money in 2014. With the declining governance and economic record of the DPP administration under a ‘Mutharika’, it is unlikely that Malawians would opt for a ‘Mutharika dynasty’.

This article attempts to analyze chances of the first female Vice President of Malawi of becoming the second female Head of State in Africa come 2014 after Liberian Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson.

Women and African politics     

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the President of Liberia and the first elected female President in Africa recently said African politics has often excluded women, but Africa’s women have played a much bigger part in it than they are given credit for. It is time for our women to be judged on their own merits and stake their rightful claim on the new Africa, she said.

“My presidency is the latest in a long line of women who have stepped up to the responsibility of serving their people,” she said.

According to Johnson-Sirleaf, to break the final barrier and become the first elected female head of state in Liberia, and indeed in Africa, was not an easy road. She spent the early years of her career earning respect in a man’s world, something that women should not have to fight harder for than men.

With her charity work that dates back to 20 years ago and rising through the political ranks to become the first woman Vice President in Malawi, the PP leader must have earned herself the pre-requisite respect “in a man’s world” by now.

There is a notion going around in Malawi and that is “Malawi is not ready for a woman President. But as Johnson-Sirleaf observes, when she announced her intentions to lead Liberia, she was dismissed by some who declared that no woman could govern Liberia, a post-conflict country, and who had ever heard of such a thing in Africa.

Consistency goes a long way. Women stood firm and put their trust in her. That is how political barriers were broken, and she prays that African women everywhere now know that the sky is the limit. Once at the helm, leadership is lonely, and all the more so when you are one of a kind, Sirleaf says.

Smear campaign turns advantageous  

Since Mutharika launched a smear campaign against his own Vice President, the public opinion has favoured her. She has won the people’s confidence because of her level-headedness. Being an explosive public orator; she may not have much difficulty swaying the electorate in 2014.

Banda’s popularity continues to grow notwithstanding the fact that until recently, she seldom made any public statement on her expulsion from the DPP and insists she still respects her President.

On her behalf, however, the international and donor community and local and international NGOs have reprimanded Mutharika for the “inhumane manner” he has treated his Vice President, which included withdrawing her official security vehicle, underfunding her office and stripping her some of her administrative responsibilities.

However, despite the odds seemingly in favour of her, there is much homework that the Vice President ought to carry out if she indeed has to completely win the hearts of Malawians and win the mandate to rule this country.

Banda will have to identify and motivate young professionals in the academic world; the financial sector; business sector; the Church and professionals in Diaspora who will bring in an element of real change to the whole political landscape.

Coordinated research will have to be undertaken on her behalf by competent research professionals to correct vital data that would form the basis for important and relevant policy decisions.

Opportunities 

One of the most important opportunities for Banda is the recent President’s incitement of his DPP youth cadres to “deal” with his government’s critics, which has been widely translated into an attempt to bring back the dark ages of the Malawi Young Pioneers during MCP’s dictatorship and the Young Democrats during the UDF rule, which were militias that terrorized anti-government critics.

The DPP government’s heavy-handedness in peaceful demonstrators on July 20, 2011 which resulted in the killing of at least 18 people may have a long-standing resentment against President Mutharika and his administration. Malawians obviously may not tolerate a return to one-party totalitarianism.

The abuse of MBC as DPP propaganda tool; the continued castigation of the members of the Clergy, leaders of civil society, and members of the diplomatic community; are also some of the major issues that the electorate may be inspired to vote for a ‘cleaner’ leader and political party.

The enactment of the Police Act, which empowers the police to conduct searches without warrant; the infamous Injunctions Bill; and government interference in the University education delivery system, with alleged spies planted, which has stalled learning for months, among others indeed spell doom for the incumbent leadership and translate into opportunities for any well-meaning 2014 presidential aspirant.

Banda’s well-documented humanitarian work and as women and children activist, particularly when she formed the National Association of Business Women (NABW) to economically empower women is a plus in her pursuit for the presidency.

Indeed, throughout history women have played a central role in policies and have been able to take any role and meet any challenge.  Banda must raise her voice and express a view on any subject, not just “women’s issues”.

Banda and indeed all Malawian women must be given a fair chance to prove their own merits. The 21st century is time for adulthood and proper respect for women; it is one of the strongest signs of maturity. A confident Malawi is emerging. Malawians must now learn to value the attributes of women, reward their merits, and protect their rights.

The author is a freelance journalist and political analyst based in Blantyre

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