Of female state leadership in Africa: Malawi’s Joyce Banda

Nyasa Times Editor’s Note:

This article was published a long time ago, when H.E. Joyce Banda was still in the DPP. What we like about this article is that it was able to bring out JB’s presidential credentials long way before we could imagine the accidental death of the former president, Bingu Mutharika. There were comments here on Nyasa Times despising JB’s intellectual and moral credibility. It is surprising that today, opportunistic and greedy fortune-tellers have all of a sudden believed that JB is the wonderful leader that we have been waiting for. Even though here at Nyasa Times we did not agree with the salient pro-DPP sentiments expressed in parts of the argument, what is wonderful about this article and the then public reactions to it, is that it brings out the sad thing about Malawi’s politics: That we deny opportunities to credible leaders based on their tribe or political affiliation. Aleke Banda is a case in example. He was rejected by his constituents just because he was UDF – and perhaps this contributed to his rejection at the national level. We at the Nyasa Times commend Pascal Mwale and Linje Manyozo for writing an article back in 2010, that foretold something that most of us did not agree with, that Joyce Banda has always had presidential credentials – even at a time when Peter Mutharika’s name was being thrown around. Forget the other political sentiments in there; this was a brilliant analysis that most of were not able to see then. We hereby present the edited version of the prophetic article:

President Banda waves and Sirleaf Johnstone of Liberia

 Without visionary thinking and critical insight, the Malawian nation-state will perish. This article is a work in visionary thinking and critical insight. From the foregone, we maintain our thesis that it is opportunistic and manipulative to garner support for oneself and one’s political party from a tribal or religious grouping. We further maintain that it is not only opportunistic and manipulative to garner support for oneself and one’s political party from a gender grouping, either male or female, but it is also abusive and exploitative of such a grouping.

The only legitimate grouping from which a political party and its individuals can legitimately garner support is the Malawian citizenry. In the preceding articles of ours, you have seen how sectarian and exclusionary thinking has led to the demise of two major post-independence political parties, the UDF and AFORD, which, sadly, remain in sepulchral form today, a month before the next general elections.  In similar vein, we have cautioned the DPP, the current leading – not ruling (archaic notion)- party, which will also be the leading party after the May 2009 general elections, against playing this kind of cheap, monkey politics. […]

Moreover, importantly, since its incumbent party president, Dr. Bingu wa Mutharika, will be serving his second and final term between 2009 and 2014, the DPP needs to start now grooming the running mate, Mrs. Joyce Banda, as the party’s president and hence the country’s state president(2014-2024) . Joyce Banda ought to be the next state president of Malawi because she is, so far, indubitably selfless, hardworking and generous. Crucially, she is not greedy.

Malawian State President Joyce Banda (2014-2024)

Joyce Banda, now lieutenant to Bingu wa Mutharika, is the 2014-2024 state president of Malawi. Banda will succeed Mutharika smoothly because Mutharika will not seek a third term in 2014. Mutharika will not seek a third term in 2014 because he is not Bakili Muluzi. Joyce Banda’s support – and hence vote- in 2014 and 2019 will not be women. Her support and vote will be drawn from the electorate, all voting Malawians, regardless of tribe, religion, or gender.  Thus, the DPP should avoid wedding Joyce Banda to women as a gender category.  Rather, her support base will be Malawi. Her support base will not be just Malosa, her political constituency, but all of Malawi. The DPP should avoid boxing the first female state president of Malawi in rigid, constraining, and suffocating categories such as kwawokummwera,azimai.

When Joyce Banda takes over the helm of power in 2014, hers will not be womanpower, a genderised category that could prove fatal for her. Drawing on the party’s manifesto, which engenders a national development vision, State President Joyce Banda will lead Malawians to their next level of development- however one conceives of development.

The odds against Joyce Banda succeeding Bingu in 2014 are monumental – some internal to the party, others external to it. (We address one of these external obstacles below). This is in spite of the fact that her entrepreneurial wisdom (her interventions in women-run small-scale and medium-scale businesses) and political acumen are common knowledge in Malawi and southern Africa. Joyce Banda will be the second female state president in postcolonial Africa. Liberian state president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is postcolonial Africa’s first elected state president. She rose to the utmost position of political power in January 2006 after beating male candidates in the 2005 presidential election. She had failed to beat them in previous elections.

Prior to this women’s victory in the political sphere, Johnson-Sirleaf served briefly (1979-1980) as Finance Minister under state president William Tolbert. She has proved her political acumen not only by bringing peace to war-ravaged Liberia – which has meant disbanding rebel groups and sending to the international gallows (the ICJ) for indictment rebel leaders such as Charles Taylor- but also beginning the gargantuan task of reconstructing the war-plundered infrastructure such as the reinstallation of electricity and water in Monrovia for a start.  Africa needs more female state presidents, not just female state ministers and vice state presidents. […]

Today, some of Africa’s political office spaces are tendentiously undemocratic; discrimination based on sex continues to happen in the political office spaces. Such being the case, the equality thesis is notirrelevant and that is why some gender critics continue to draw legitimately on the equality thesis. However, the assumption of opposition and division between women and men in the equality thesis is counter-progressive for postcolonial Africa.

This is not to be complicit to the enduring traditional condition of patriarchy in Africa, an archaic condition in which the intellectual, spiritual and other capacities and talents of women remain constrained and largely unrecognized in the male-dominated political sphere. Due to the various accidents of history, the first forms of political organization leading to the political independence of Africa from its colonizers were male-dominated; men led nearly all the early political parties. These independence political parties had women in them but the women played subservient roles in the business of political organizing.

Majority of independence political parties abused and exploited women, reducing them to dancers, praise singers, spies and sycophants. […]

The stubbornness of patriarchalism(belief in patriarchy as male domination over women)  within political parties today is enough motivation for us public intellectuals to pause and then survey the current political landscape, assessing the potential of political parties to unleash the potential for women leadership up to the highest political office, the state presidency.  Once more, an archaic tendency towards patriarchy is the obstacle to the attainment of state presidency by women in Malawi in particular and Africa in general.


Patriachalism is the culprit of women oppression in our political landscape. Yet, the condition of patriarchy is not universal in Malawi. Apart from the Ngoni, Tumbuka and Sena peoples, the rest of Malawian anthropological groupings are matriarchal. Matriarchy is the dominant anthropological condition of Malawi. Patriarchy appears strongly to have been imported into Malawi through colonization and theintroduction of western and eastern religions. Colonialism and evangelization are the germ of patriachalism in Malawi’s political sphere. The colonizers and the missionaries of alien religions planted the Cainiteseed of patriachalism, a stinking male chauvinistic attitude to life, in Malawi. For example, the Chewa, Yao, Lomwe, Mang’anja and Tongas, among other Malawian tribes, are not straightforwardly patriarchal in the western anthropological sense. The colonizers insisted on installing male chiefs in traditional communities thereby discouraging the chiefdoms from having women chiefs as per their pre-colonial forms of political organization.

In the necessarily unwritten constitutions of these tribes’ chiefdoms, women are not barred from ascending the throne. As matriarchal chiefdoms, the natural heirs to thrones are women. Colonial anthropology invented the concept of ‘tribe’ to render it handy for colonial administrators to divide and rule the natives.  Like its western counterpart, the western tribe, the constructed African tribe became male-led and male-dominated.

Colonial administrative convenience during the colonial era –and this change was reinforced religiously in the colonial church, mosque and temple- led to the undermining of women leadership in traditional political structures such as chiefdoms. For example, as members of the biologically stronger sex, male chiefs could afford the long-distance walks back and forth the central district office – the office of the district commissioner.  Even in male-led matriarchal chiefdoms, real power and authority do not reside in men. The power and authority of matriarchal chiefdoms reside in certain individual women and women councils.

In Chewa genesis, Nyangu who is Makewana is the queen mother, sister to King Kalonga, in the Maravi kingdom. The historical narrative of the Chewa revolves around Nyangu as the sole custodian, perpetuator and vital force of the Chewa kingdom. She is the Spirit of the Chewa. Although she is human, she is divine. Among the Chewa, the necessity and immensity of womanpower is obvious. Thus, the Chewa male chief bears only symbolic and hence ceremonial power whereas real and executive power resides in his mother, sister, or aunt or in a women council. One can generate similar narratives for the rest of the matriarchal tribes of Malawi to prove that patriachalism is a product of modernity imported into the country with the advent of colonization and evangelization.

Therefore, Joyce Banda’s support and winning vote in 2014 and 2019, respectively, will not be drawn from women exclusively or from any real or imagined anthropological category. Malawians will vote for their first female state president- Joyce Banda – and she will serve her two terms and then retire in honor, dignity, glory and splendor after May 2024.

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