Profiling the Cream  Grace Malera – a nation’s treasure

Perched on the hinging cliffs of the central Lake District of Salima, Senga Bay is an undisputed treasure of a natural endowment and a paradise with a quixotic and utopian level of bliss in the Southeast African land-locked nation of Malawi.

Dalamkwanda, Lifuwu, Gumukire and Mchesi, Mikute villages and surrounding areas, home to Parachute Battalion of the Malawi Defence Force Airborne in Senga Bay, situated 10 Kilometres to the east-end of Salima Boma, have their own uniqueness.

It is here where she got her first doze of a fighting spirit – a spirit of protecting the weak, vulnerable and the less-privileged homo sapiens.

Surrounded by forested seven mountains, Senga Bay is best known for her sandy beaches and granite rocks of Lake Malawi, but there is more.

It is here, where with grace as a young kid, she started fighting injustice when the then Grand Beach Hotel, the now rebranded Livingstonia Beach Hotel wouldn’t allow black people, especially the local ones into the premises but she always fought her way in.

Grace Malera, Malawi’s Ombudsman

Her cropped frizzy natural hair, her baby-face and beautiful violet eyes might fool you into believing that she is a regular 9 – 5 girl next door and you would be pardoned for committing such a felonious crime, because she’s not only a high-voltage professional bulldozer – but she is also a legal ‘Ferminator’ and a public protector.

But that is not all about her. She’s more.

Of course, many of us might remember her for her wisecrack dig on the youngest presidential candidate in the 2019 general elections, Taipale Austin Muluzi when she jibed, repeating another presidential candidate, Saulos Chilima’s, question: “Eti akuti mudayamba mwawinapo boma inu?

This, too, does not explain her brilliance. Everything about her is in her name.

‘The Professional’

Grace Malera is a professional lawyer and an exceptional human rights and gender advocate.

She’s an architect of some NGOs working in governance as well as in the advancement of women’s rights and serves in a number of Boards of human rights NGOs in Malawi.

Previously, she served on the boards of Timveni Child Rights Media Organisation, SOS Children’s Villages Malawi, Malawi Law Society Executive Committee and Women Lawyers Association Executive Committee.

Furthermore, she also served in the following organisations: National Association of People Living with HIV and AIDS, National Initiative for Civic Education, the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace and the Malawi Human Rights Resource Centre.

Grace Malera is the lion-hearted lady who stood up in court against some overzealous self-serving human rights activists and fought for David Banda to be adopted by American pop superstar Madonna because she’d the child’s best interest at heart.

She handles anything that comes her way with grace and a professional Midas touch. She is a grace that graces others.

Grace has been high to the mountain-top and she has also been to deepest of the deep of the valleys. She’s been broken, she’s been knocked down, she’s felt unimaginable life’s pain.

But with grace she’s has also enjoyed the very pinnacle of the beauty of life. And with grace she’s managed to overcome every obstacle.

Whatever the circumstances, she never runs, and she never hides. She always finds a way to face her hurdles. She’s hardworking, fearless, unbreakable a warrior.

She’s a Public Protector whose job is solely to investigate complaints that individuals have been unfairly mistreated or have received poor service from government departments and other public organisations.

The Person’

Born Grace Tikambenji Lipato on 8th May, some 43 years ago at Likuni Mission Hospital, to Dr. Willie Lipato and Rosalia-Janet, she’s the Malawian Ombudsman – the third person to hold that position.

She’s an accomplished practising Attorney, a Feminist, a Catholic faithful and a mother of three Children; Maziko, Mzati and Mwatikondera and she gives her all to even to the very small tasks set for her.

Grace, who originally hails from Matakana Village in Traditional Authority Likoswe, is never a perfectionist and according to her, she’s a teetotaller who strives for excellence in all that she does.

She’s highly ambitious and driven person. Grace is affable and charming. She can be quite extemporaneous at times. She’s an easy-going and an empathetic human being.

But besides her outgoing traits and habits, Grace is passionate about working with the law as a tool for achieving equality, social justice, equity, and good governance.

She was born a protector and maybe that is why after qualifying as a Lawyer, she ended up working in people-centred and pro-poor and pro-development organisations as she’s greatly driven not by money but by a deep call to service and a huge desire to use the law as a means of protection of the weak from the strong, a means of giving a voice to the voiceless and as an accountability tool.

Her advice to those who want to succeed is; “remain true to oneself, always define and re-define your goals, stay focused, steadfast, and never give up, not even in failure.

‘The Education’

Growing up, for the young Grace Malera, her parents bequeathed her with one very special gift – a hardworking and determined spirit – a spirit of taking education seriously as a tool for personal and global development.

She yearns for more – so, there is more to come, more to do, and more to see for her as they say: “All that one has seen and done teaches them to trust God for all one has,” -and Grace owes it all to her mum and dad – through education.

A typical definition of a beauty with brains, she has always been an A-plus grade student in all her schooling.

She’s an ardent and passionate reader since her childhood and teenage years, and she has read all the local Malawian novels authored by the likes of Willie Zingani, Whyghtone Kamnthuzi, Aubrey Kalitera and Emily Mkamanga (may her soul rest in peace) among many others.

It is her reading that has always kept her mind more curious. She has had read all the pacesetters and later graduated to Wilbur Smith, then to Sydney Sheldon and Nelson Demille, and then to John Grisham novels, among others.

Grace has had the luxury of growing up along Lake Malawi in Senga-bay, where her mother worked for Salima ADD, just a stone-throw away from the lake, and sleeping to a cool breeze and the soothing sounds of the waves gently bashing the shore every day, must be the most wondrous experience for her.

This is where her grace became so apparent. It was here in Senga Bay, where she decided that in future, she would become a lawyer and a fighter for justice, and the white sands of Senga Bay shaped her destiny.

She spent the latter part of her teenage years in Lilongwe’s Area 2 and Area 3 following her mom’s deployment from Salima ADD to Lilongwe ADD.

She did her primary education at Senga Bay Full Primary School, and Pirimiti Girls Boarding School in Jali, Zomba.

She moved back to Lilongwe.

Her mother was amongst the first set of Lecturers at the Natural Resources College (NRC), and she stayed there in the 1980’s and this saw her enrolling for her junior primary at Likuni Girls Primary School.

Before, then, she stayed at Thuchila Farm Institute, in Mulanje and Hora Farm Institute in Mzimba, where her mother worked.

Grace attended her secondary school education in three schools, Liwaladzi Private Secondary School, in Nkhotakota, Chipoka Secondary School, in Salima and later Balaka Secondary School in Balaka.

It was from Balaka Secondary School from where I was selected to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Education Course at Chancellor College of the University of Malawi in 1997 and while in her second year, she was selected to pursue a Bachelor of Law and she graduated in 2002 with a Law degree.

Later, in 2006, she pursued a master’s degree in Law) at the University of the Free State in South Africa and graduated with a master’s in law in Human Rights, specialising in Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights.

She was inspired and influenced by my late mother because she always wanted to excel like her and her dad and to be a lawyer, she drew her inspiration from Malawi’s first female Chief Justice, Justice Anastasia Msosa who aroused her deeper curiosity to join into the field of law.

Apart from her academic qualification, Grace has acquired a rich professional qualifications and skillset and they include: The Danish Institute for Human Rights Research Fellow, University of Nottingham, Human Rights Fellowship Programme.

She has certifications in Conflict Prevention and Management; Justiciability of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; Certificate in Monitoring and Investigating Human Rights; Certificate in Health Systems Governance; and Certificate in Gender and Development.

‘The Career’

Grace started her professional career at the Malawi Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) from between 2002 and 2003. She later joined Malawi Human Rights Commission in 2003 and worked there until 2016 before joining Engender Health Inc the following year in 2017.

She later joined Action Aid International Malawi from 2017 to 2018) before moving on to the Tithetse Nkhanza Programme – a UKaid-funded Violence Against Women and Girls Prevention and Response Programme where she worked from 2019 to earlier this year.

She was appointed to her current role of Malawi’s Public Protector, the Ombudsman on September 1st, 2021.

While working in the Malawi Human Rights Commission, Grace was part of the team that successfully achieved great milestones and carried out a number of critical and strategic investigations on cases of human rights violations, and in particular, the 20th July 2011 demonstrations-related violence and killings, which ensured the push for respective accountability processes.

In her career, Grace Malera has also part been part of several key strategic public interest litigation in the courts, an outstanding case that she litigated being the David Banda adoption case, which contributed to developing the “Best Interest of the Child” principle in as far as Malawi’s jurisprudence is concerned.

Again, while at MHRC, she and the team worked very hard for the re-accreditation of MHRC as an “A” status institution by the Global Alliance for National Human Rights Institutions, entailing that MHRC was fully compliant with the United Nations Paris Principles on National Human Rights Institutions – MHRC holds the “A” status to date.

Grace Malera is also responsible for strengthening the state party reporting mechanism in MHRC and led in the development of alternative reports to various United Nations Mechanisms such as the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), and the United Nations Committee of Civil and Political Rights as well as alternative reports to the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights and variously appeared in Geneva and the Gambia to present these reports respectively as part of Malawi’s delegation.

At Action Aid, she alongside the consortium that was engaged to run the 50-50 campaign Programme for increased representation of women in politics, of course, along with the collective of all other players, ensured the success of this campaign, other contributing factors notwithstanding.

Grace was part of a team that set up and successfully implemented the UKAID-funded Tithetse Nkhanza Programme, contributing to Government of Malawi’s efforts in combating violence against women and girls.

Through her service as a member of two special law commission, a progressive law on anti-trafficking in persons was developed, further, some key pieces of Electoral Laws that have since been reviewed.

Malera was also appointed a moderator for the Presidential Debates ahead of the 2019 Presidential and Parliamentary Elections.

‘The Gist’

Grace Malera is by definition a natural born hard worker, free spirited, highly determined, and driven woman who is set on reaching the sky.

Her strengths are that she’s a determined person and works hard and have tones of optimism. She’s the courage of conviction in very high doses, and she tends to always see the best in people. She is empathetic.

“Yes, we all have weaknesses, don’t we, some of mine are my spontaneity, this one has landed me in a lot of trouble when I was a child, and yet it’s also a strength on the other hand, as most of my friends find me easy going. My biggest weakness is that I trust people so much.

For Grace Malera, every child needs five things to succeed, and they are: Education, Education, Education, Education and Education.

she says these five needs which are ‘the education’ must be coupled with skills that build their assertiveness, confidence, goal setting and determination.

Grace’s wants a society free of negative stereotyping of women and girls, a society that strives to create equal opportunities for women, men, boys and girls.

She believes that gender equality is an important and indispensable factor in the quest for the attainment of an inclusive and sustainable development”.

At the end of her tenure of my office as an Ombudsman, Grace Malera hope to be able to consolidate all the gains the office has made over the years into more transformational impact, more increased access to justice especially for the vulnerable and marginalised and strengthened systems in the public sector to curb incidences of maladministration, abuse of power and impunity.

To many girls aspiring to be in her position one day, she says it is very possible, but one must think big and dream big, and never set limits for oneself.

“Work hard and excel in school, set goals and be intentional about working towards achieving the goals, always striving to surmount the challenges that come in one’s way.

“In the event of failure, giving up is never an option and should never be an option! Be open to learning, unlearning, and relearning. All in all, put God at the centre of all that you do,” she says.

‘Cheeky Grace’

Like any child, Grace was mischievous and playful. She was just a normal child behaving like a child and so she did everything children do.

As a human, she has flaws.

She is lucky she has had a very pleasant childhood and was privileged to be born in a sort of middle-class family with a working single mother such that she and her two sisters never lacked for basic necessities of life.

She says her mother gave her and her siblings room to make their own explorations and, in the process, make some mistakes, for which they would be scolded but at the same time she inculcated in her and her two sisters the sense of what is right and what is wrong as well as being allowed to be independent.

She thinks children must be given the opportunity to discover themselves and be the individuals they are.

Grace, according to her childhood friends, was a very cheeky and naughty girl when away from home but always funny.

So, what she did to Atupele Muluzi during the 2019 presidential debate isn’t strange in that her cheeky voice: “Akuti mudayamba mwawinapo boma inu, to which the seemingly humiliated candidate simply replied: “Ayi sindinawinepo boma,” was Grace Tikambenji Malera at her truest best.

At one time, Grace, cheeky as was, had a bad fall from a tree where she and her friends had gone to pluck unripe green mangoes.

On two occasions, Grace nearly died from drowning in Lake Malawi while playing with two of her elder friends, the Mwimba sisters, who rescued her from the jaws of death.

On yet another occasion, she pulled up her dress and volunteered for one of her friends to put a hot iron wire on her naked stomach, she wanted to check if it was indeed hot enough, for what purpose, to this day nobody knows.

Her childhood was full of adventures and it some of those adventures that has helped her overcome her fears and trepidations and Grace, like all children in that time, was fond of Fulaye, Raundasi, Kick the Tin, Mila, Chipako, Masanje and Zawana while in Senga Bay.

Grace has seen it all and did it all.

She participated in the gumba gumba dances, maliyeliye dances and she even learnt how to brew some of the local beers, including kachaso when she went to live in the village.

Grace has been to the peak of the Golan Heights but at the same time she’s been to the deepest of the deep below – Her happiest moment is when she was selected to be a representative of her class for the classic MBC’s Secondary School Quiz Competition – a role she held for the two years while she was at Chipoka Secondary School.

Her hard work paid off as she got selected to Chancellor College in 1997, and eventually being selected to read Law.

‘The Talent’

Other than all what she is as a professional, Grace has some other talents and skillsets that she’s passionate about outside the parameters of her legal routines.

In her free time, she loves writing both fiction and academic, and delivering presentations.

Grace is athletic and sporty, and she’s a netball player, and she still love bike-riding and as someone who grew up around Lake Malawi and she’s is also a good swimmer.

And She loves cooking sumptuous meals.

Grace, when free, she also like to socialise with her friends at home doing spontaneous parties, and sometimes goes out clubbing and she unapologetically loves the legendary Giddes Chalamanda’s music to the bone.

93-year-old music icon, Agide the Linny Ho hitmaker, is one of her greatest guilty pleasures.

Travel is an experience not a commodity; travel is an education and not a pleasure; it lifts the pillow that suffocates people from having the freedom to explore, indulge and charge batteries of life.

Grace Malera is a national treasure, a cream of the nation.

As the lakebed of Lake Malawi swaps the freshwater brine at the rise from lacy waves in Senga Bay, let Grace Tikambenji Malera, in the hot-air emanating from December winds of the capital Lilongwe, too, keep rising.


Quotable Quote

Here is Grace Malera’s favourite quotable quote:

“Success is not final; Failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.” – Sir Winston Churchill.

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