This past weekend, Malawai swore in the country’s first female president, Joyce Banda. Banda is the second woman to lead an African country. Serving as the country’s first vice president just a week ago, she was appointed president after the death of the country’s former president, Bingu wa Mutharika.
Banda’s ascent to this position came as a surprise to many, considering Banda had a falling out with President Mutharika last year. The tension began when Mutharika announced he planned to endorse his brother, Foreign Affairs minister, Peter Mutharika, to succeed him as president in 2014 when his tenure was complete.
Though Banda was subjected to daily public derision, at rallies and over the airwaves, Mutharika failed to remove her from her position. And now, after his death this past Thursday, she’s now president of the country.
Though Banda is making history, everyone is not excited about her new position.
First Lady Callista Mutharika told the BBC, Banda is nothing more than a market woman selling fritters.
But Banda handled the criticism with class, “Yes, she’s right, I’m indeed a mandasi seller and I’m proud of it because the majority of women in Malawi are like us, mandasi sellers.”
Born in 1950, the oldest of five children, Joyce Hilda Ntila and her family have always sought to improve their country. Her father was the leader of the police brass band and her sister worked with Madonna’s charity “Raising Malawi.” In 1981, Banda took her three children and left her abusive husband. Eight years later, she founded the National Association of Business Women. The group lent start up funds for Malawi’s small scale farmers. Her work with the organization endeared her to the country’s rural population. Using her degree in early childhood education, Banda started the Joyce Banda Foundation to assist Malawian children and orphans with educational resources.
Banda officially entered politics in 1999, when she was elected to serve in parliment. Banda has attributed her successes to her husband, Chief Justice Richard Banda. The couple have two children together.
“My dear husband, Richard, has been the driving force behind my success and rise to whatever level I am now. My story and legacy is incomplete without his mention,” she told the BBC.
While there is much victory in Banda’s story, she has her work cut out for her as the country’s new leader. In addition to tension from Mutharika’s supporters, with an estimated 75 percent of the country living on less than a dollar a day, improving the economy is a top priority. To begin addressing the problem, Banda has to rebuild the relationships former president Mutharika damaged during his term. Banda has already started correcting wrongs. Though she was just sworn in over the weekend, she’s already fired the country’s police chief Peter Mukhito, who was accused of mishandling a riot that resulted in the death of at least 19 people and the country’s information minister.
With a full plate, we wish Banda the best of luck and pray for her safety in this new position.
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