Joyce Banda: A fighter for life

SHE Leads Africa magazine’s  Executive Editor Efam Dovi interviews Former Malawian President Joyce Banda —

Joyce Banda address sheroes forumIt was my first time seeing her speak, Joyce Banda, former Malawian President (the second woman head of state in Africa) was addressing a gathering of women leaders in their own right. The event was the International Sheroes Forum in Accra, Ghana. She was the guest speaker but stayed through the entire event and actively participated in all the sessions. What struck me most was the passion with which she spoke and her relentless energy. So when I had the opportunity to interview her, I first wanted to know what keeps her energised.

I have been fortunate that most of the things I talk about throughout my life have emerged from personal experience. There is nothing that I promote that I have not suffered, there is nothing that I fight that I have not lived in my personal life. I have suffered gender-based violence, my best friend didn’t go to school because her parents couldn’t afford required fees, I almost died giving birth. I have been a leader. Those are the issues that I have decided I will fight,” she said, adding: “It is the injustice that keeps the fire burning in me.”

There is no reason why the world should accept that a woman could die giving life.

Long before she entered politics, the former secretary rose to prominence when she set up the National Business Women’s Association in Malawi campaigning for women’s empowerment. Soon, she became the country’s most visible advocate for gender equality. She later founded the Joyce Banda Foundation to advance education for girls. Today, the foundation empowers women through income generation activities, education, health, leadership and rights.

I’ve looked at the statistics and said this is my life time fight,” She said of maternal death, which still kills tens of thousands of women across Africa each year. “There is no reason why the world should accept that a woman could die giving life.’

The pacesetter

Banda entered politics in 1999, winning a parliamentary seat on the ticket of the then ruling party and was appointed the gender and community services minister. Five years later she retained the seat even though the ruling party lost the presidential elections. She went on to become the country’s top diplomat in her capacity as the foreign minister.

Even in politics, Banda continued her fight for equality and fairness without fear. As vice president, she became the strongest critic of President Bingu wa Mutharika for his management of the country’s economy. When President Mutharika kicked her out of the ruling party, she formed her own party but stayed on as Vice President. And when the President tried to groom his brother to succeed him, Banda stood her ground and fought. I asked her why?

Therefore I will never compromise, I will never give in, I will make sure that I fight and I will fight to the end

It was a matter of principle.” As the first woman to have head a number of state institutions and the first woman vice president she had a responsibility, she explained. “What is always in my mind is that I am setting the pace, and that all the mistakes that I make, it is not only me who is going to pay for them, it is all those that are going to come after me.

Therefore I will never compromise, I will never give in, I will make sure that I fight and I will fight to the end. That is why when he [President Mutharika] promised, not only me but he promised the nation of Malawi, that he was appointing a woman whose time has come, but that that woman is going to be groomed to be the next president, that that woman is the vessel that he was going to use to reach out to the most disadvantaged, because in any case that is the work I had done through my life, so when he changed, I felt that it was going to be wrong for me on behalf of women to give in or to comprise, so I stood up and said no.”

Dr. Joyce Banda became the first female President of Malawi (and the second in Africa after Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia) on April 7, 2012 following the death of President Bingu wa Mutharika in office. She however lost the 2014 general elections to the former President’s brother. Will she run for office again? Read the second part of this interview as she talks about how she revived the Malawian economy within her 24-month presidency, her fight against corruption, her life as an ex-president and whether she will run for office again. – Joyce Banda Leads Africa

Related article: Dr Banda On Running For Office And Fighting Corruption

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