As voices of the return of former President Joyce Banda grow louder, Malawians are eager to know whether or not she will return to active politics. A quick scan on the prevailing political environment reveals that most Malawians compare her favourably against the current leadership in as far as management of the economy is concerned.
Former President Banda left Malawi in 2015 after she left office following the declaration by Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) that Peter Mutharika of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) had won the highly contentious 2014 presidential elections. She has stayed in what other media circles called ‘self-imposed’ exile for a considerably long time, which has left many of her supporters frustrated. However, she has still kept a firm grip on her People’s Party (PP) despite attempts by some leaders to topple her.
A few top-rank members have defected to other the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and main opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) but a bigger chunk of the membership, particularly at the grassroots, remain intact and loyal to PP and JB, as she is fondly called by her adorers.
But after such a long absence, is JB still interested in politics and that if she is, will she be joining the presidential race in 2019 under her PP banner? Has she not lost touch with the majority of the voters due to the prolonged absence? Is the time too short to make any meaningful political mark between now and 2019 when next elections are due? Is she contemplating teaming up with one of the candidates in the polls?
Indeed, these questions are extremely pertinent because JB, her strategists and her political party have to concretely deal with them in order to make an informed decision about which feasible political direction JB has to take.
While JB’s prolonged absence may have some negative bearing on her political future, it does not completely harm her chances to return to State House in 2019. In fact, it has actually increased her chances to win next year’s presidential polls.
It was crucial for her to go into political ‘hibernation’ in order to scan the political situation in Malawi from a far and then come back with renewed political vigour and fresh ideas.
JB’s decision to leave the Malawi stage was a ‘tactical withdrawal’ in order to let Malawians make an uninterrupted assessment of her successor, Mutharika and his DPP administration.
Being a vastly experienced politician, JB may have realized that if she stayed on in Malawi after the elections, it was much easier for the DPP leadership to blame their own failures on JB ‘political machinations’. The DPP leadership may have accused JB, being an immediate past President, of putting a spanner in their works for her own political expediency.
Former President Banda is a top-notch politician. She has brilliant political organizational skills. She has risen through the political ranks, from the grassroots, to become head of national women’s body and secretary general of governing parties; she has held various cabinet positions; and she has been Vice President of Malawi and first female Head of State.
It is obvious that when she steps her foot again on Malawi soil soon, politics will certainly take centre-stage. She will return to frontline politics and seek election in 2019. This will certainly send shivers across the governing DPP’s spine because it is obvious JB will give them a good run for their money owing to her fairly good political track record.
Since she left Malawi, former President Banda has not escaped media and public attention. She remains a prominent political figure in Malawi to be reckoned with. In the few years she has been away, she has undertaken many international engagements, which have attracted local and international media attention, sustaining her dominant profile in the process.
There have been constant positive headlines in the media, through her local charity work under the Joyce Banda Foundation International (JBFI) and international speaking engagements, which have kept the JB brand ever shinning.
Indeed, Banda’s presidency between 2012 and 2014 struck a chord with the people of Malawi. In 2012 when she became Head of State, Malawians were then just smarting from a nightmarish late President Bingu wa Mutharika’s dictatorial presidency.
The late Bingu’s policies were some of worst, especially with regard to democratic ideals, rule of law and human rights. Bingu did not tolerate criticism. He dismissed government officials and harassed civil society activists who opposed his policies.
Despite Malawi’s heavy dependence on donor support, Bingu went on a warpath with development partners, denying the country much needed resources and potentially derailing economic growth and investments in education and health that are crucial to the poor.
On March 5, 2012, President Mutharika told donors to “go to hell’ and accused them of supporting local groups who wanted to topple his government.
There was no forex, which resulted in the scarcity of fuel, electricity and water. Malawi was going through economic tumultuous times under Bingu before he died.
Bingu died in office in April 2012 and Banda, Bingu’s deputy then, succeeded the fallen President. As new President, JB and her government introduced various corrective reforms to steer the country in the right socio-economic development direction.
Her administration implemented a well-thought through Economic Recovery Plan (ERP) to resuscitate crucial sectors of the economy such as mining, agriculture, energy and tourism, among others. Indeed, the economy rapidly grew from 1.8 percent to 6.3 percent. Malawi improved from one week’s import cover to 3.9 months. Uninterrupted fuel, power and water supply was restored.
Compared to the Bingu era, it is on record that during JB’s tenure in office, Malawi registered tremendous strides in micro and macro economy, good governance, rule of law and human rights, press freedom, women’s empowerment, international relations, manufacturing industry, tobacco production and favourable prices, safety and security, among others.
It was during her tenure in office that JB took a crucial step away from the authoritarianism of the past towards the path of constitutionalism and democracy.
For example, it was during JB’s presidency that Parliament repealed the repressive Section 46 of the Penal Code, which empowered the Minister of Information to ban any publication that was deemed “not in public interest”.
With such a glittering leadership track record, JB is positioned strongly as the one of the most favorable presidential candidates in the run up to 2019 elections hence her obvious return to frontline politics when she returns to her native land soon.
*The author is a social and political commentatorFollow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :