What I have started in Malawi shall never stop – Ex-President Banda

SHE Leads Africa magazine‘s Executive Editor Efam Dovi Speaks To Former Malawian President Joyce Banda In An Exclusive Interview |

Ex-President Banda

Photo credit: Sheroes International

DR. Joyce Banda navigated Malawi’s turbulent political waters and became president 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. In the concluding part of my interview with ex-President Banda, 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.

SLA magazine: Let’s talk about your achievements as President, what do you think you would be remembered for?

JB: First and foremost, I must say that when I came to office, the economy in Malawi had collapsed. But the economy might have collapsed to an extent of going off track with IMF because of unwillingness on the part of the former president. And the former President did this because they didn’t want to lose votes. Because reforming an economy, bringing about reforms also bring about very painful steps that a country must take in order to get to the other end. In our case, for example, it was a requirement by IMF as well that we should devalue our currency by 49 percent. And when that happens, it has a very negative impact on the ordinary people. So the former president was not willing to do that.

In my case what I decided was that it was good enough for the ordinary people at the grass root to understand, to say it is a necessary step we have to take, that we need to devalue the currency. I am fortunate that Malawians were able to understand and the World Bank was also gracious enough to give us resources in order to cushion those hardships. For me that courage to know that we could take that step to devalue the currency is one of the steps that I am proud of. No President in the past was willing to do that and that was the reason why our economy went down that fast.

“If we don’t stand up and say we will continue to fight for more and more women to go into politics, more and more women to go into parliament, then it is not going to change.”  

The second was to get outside help to pay for a national dialogue on the economy to draw up clear plans. Looking at the time that I had, 24 months, to finish the term of the former president who had died, I needed to draw out a clear plan, a plan that I could share with any villager to understand. So I picked five sectors of the 10 sectors that had been on the books in the Malawi Economic Development Plan. I picked energy, I picked mining, agriculture, tourism and infrastructure. So when you went to Malawi in any village and asked them what you think Joyce Banda was going to do in the simplest language, they will be able to tell you, it is going to be electricity, it is going to be roads, enough food, so that was some of the achievements that I am proud of that any body can look at. I promised Malawians that within these five sectors we will have some projects completed. Fortunately, in each of them, within those 24 months we achieved something. In electricity, 27 rural centres to be electrified and adding 62 megawatts to the grid all in 24 months.

Third, in health, I promised Malawians that I will reduce maternal health deaths. In 24 months we were able to build 20 holding shelters at hospitals where women could go and wait so that when labour comes they are close to trained personnel. We had a national network of chiefs and traditional leaders to fight maternal death in their villages, to ensure that no woman delivered in the village. So the success of that in 24 months was to reduce maternal death from 675 women per 100.000 dying giving birth to 460. The African Union gave us an award and the Global Leaders Council for Reproductive health gave us an award.

Forth, all the leaders in the past tried and failed to dispose off our national airline. It was just a drain on our economy. I said I will sell it, they didn’t believe me. Not only did I sell my presidential jet, I sold the national airline as well, and in 24 months brought in a new airline, started afresh in partnership with Ethiopian Airways to establish Malawian Airline. It had seemed so hard and so impossible for many years.

The last one is the fight against corruption. The fight against corruption is the one that not only in Malawi but on the whole continent, is a fight that must take place. But it is also a fight that doesn’t take place because it is not easy. So many leaders shy away from it not because they are corrupt too but because of the effect it can have on their popularity and therefore their power. For me, it is one of my successes. I did 68 arrests, froze accounts, conducted a forensic audit. The trials and the convictions that are taking place now are those that I arrested. Our forensic audit was funded by the British government and conducted by a British audit firm, and their report is a public document.

“A woman cannot be afraid. It is not in our culture as women to be afraid. Especially, African women don’t fear anything, we even touch fire.”

People have asked me if you were to lead your life again, will you do it? And I always say yes. I will do it again because if it is true that women leaders are mostly servant leaders, and they come in to serve, and that as far as Joyce Banda is concerned, leadership, servant leadership is a love affair, you fall in love with the people and the people must fall in love with you, if indeed you have fallen in love with the people you serve for many years, you would not want any body to steal from them. So if the choice is between votes and the people, you will choose the people and in my case that is what I did, I chose Malawians.  As far as I am concerned State House (seat of government) is not the end of the world. You can get out of State House and still lead a useful, productive life. So for me the choice was simple, I chose Malawians, I will fight. What I have started in Malawi shall never stop. 

Right now there is another investigation that is taking place into a period before me, 2009 – 2012 for 1.2 billion dollars. Because I started that, the German government has offered to fund these audits.

People do not know how difficult it is for you as a Head of State to expose yourself to an audit to start screening, now they know how it is. They are failing to take off this audit. It gives a clear picture of how important it was that I allowed myself to be exposed like that.

I say this because I want the world to know that there is a crop of African leaders now that are prepared to fight corruption, that have said enough is enough, that do not want to allow the resources of their country to be stolen. But what must happen is that the international community and nations must stand by such leaders. They should not be treated like victims, they should be treated like victors.  It is not easy to fight corruption the perpetrators will make sure they bring you down. They will smear all that back onto you.

What I have started in Malawi shall never stop – Ex-President Banda

SLA magazine: Your critics have made all kinds of allegations against you. You understand why women don’t want to go into politics?

JB: For me if we don’t stand up and say we will continue to fight for more and more women to go into politics, more and more women to go into parliament, then it is not going to change. That is why we must have more women in parliament, more women in politics that will fight the stereotypes. A woman cannot be afraid. It is not in our culture as women to be afraid. Especially, African women don’t fear anything we even touch fire. We cannot allow ourselves to be intimidated, we cannot allow ourselves to be brought down because there are people who are intimidating us.  And I have always said that may be the mistake we have made all along is that we didn’t include men in this debate, on this journey. I am one of those that have been known to work with men.

“…we must have more women in parliament, more women in politics that will fight the stereotypes.”  

SLA magazine: What is a typical day for you?

JB: I must say that going into politics was like a detour. My main journey has been on the development path. So when I left the State House it was like I left today and the following day I was back on my journey.

My typical day begins with me thinking about what is going on in the world, particularly, my focus is on women. For me, running the foundation is my life. This is the work that I have done all my adult life. Most often you find that when people leave state house they are lost because for them power is gone. For me it wasn’t about power or State House. Being in the State House was a continuation of my work for the people I serve.

SLA magazine: Will you run for office again?

JB: I don’t know. The reasons why I say I don’t know is because I always believe that in politics you can only do what the people want. And right now when I haven’t been home I don’t know if that is the direction I want to take. Because it all depends on what the people want. I haven’t been home since the last elections. The Electoral commission said the election was fraudulent and that they were going to investigate. But what happened later was that the court in Malawi ruled in favour of the current president based on the fact that our constitution does not allow for a status beyond the 7 days in order to recount the vote. As a result of that I was the first to concede and to accept. But I also made the decision that it was important for me to allow the president to settle into the job. I also decided to step up, go out and get on the international stage to start the Joyce Banda Foundation, establish an Africa Initiative so all that has taken me 12 months. I am retuning home now in the next three weeks.

SLA magazine: What do you hope to do when you get back home?

JB: To continue the Joyce Banda Foundation, the Foundation has the largest component in Malawi, we have the women’s initiative, youth, schools, the HIV/AIDs programme. That is a lot of work for me when I get home. What I see me doing when I get home is continuing with my work. – Joyce Banda Leads Africa

NOTE: The former President has still not returned home. At the beginning of the year, the Malawi Law Society faulted the government of President Peter Mutharika for prosecuting the former President through the media despite no formal charges.

Related article: Joyce Banda: A Fighter For Life


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