Coming from a society where there is a strong belief that women are inferior to men and cannot take up leadership roles, Joyce Banda is on a mission to prove that women can be good leaders.
Banda’s theatrical rise to power came when Bingu wa Mutharika’s authoritarian rule was tragically cut short by a fatal cardiac arrest on April 5. Though she faced resistance from the then ruling party, Banda was saved by her constitutional right to ascend to power and became the first female president of Malawi and the first in southern Africa.
Joyce Hilda Banda née Ntila was born on April 12, 1950 in Malemia, a village in Domasi, Zomba, in Malawi. She began her career as a secretary and became a well-known figure during the rule of dictator Kamuzu Banda – not related to her.
She has a Cambridge school certificate, a bachelor of arts degree in early childhood education from Columbus University and a diploma in management that she received in Italy.
She first married Roy Kachale with whom she had three children. She described the marriage as abusive.
Her marriage to Kachele ended in 1981. She later married Richard Banda, a retired chief justice of the Republic of Malawi with whom she has two children.
“I got married at 22 and remained in an abusive marriage for 10 years,” she said. “I made up my mind that was never going to happen to me again. I made a brave step to walk out in a society when you didn’t walk out of an abusive marriage. It was mental and physical abuse.” By the age of 25, she was living in Nairobi, Kenya.
Between 1985 and 1997 Banda established various businesses and organisations including Ndekani Garments in 1985, Akajuwe Enterprises in 1992, and Kalingidza Bakery in 1995. Her success moved her to help other women achieve financial independence and break the cycles of abuse and poverty.
Before entering the realm of politics Banda was the founder of the Joyce Banda Foundation, founder of the National Association of Business Women (NABW), Young Women Leaders Network and the Hunger Project. She was listed in Forbes Magazine 2011 as the third most powerful woman in Africa.
“Every day of my life I look out and see what I can do to empower another woman to an extent that I have an organisation that has 110 000 women now under the Joyce Banda Foundation, 2 300 girls going to school, 10 000 orphans to whom we provide nursery school from the ages of two to five years old, and 620 000 youths,” said Banda.
Joyce Banda entered politics in 1999. She made it into Parliament in Malawi’s second democratic election as a member of United Democratic Front (UDF) led by Bakili Muluzi. She represented the Zomba-Malosa constituency.
Muluzi named her minister for gender and community services. As minister, she fought to enact the Domestic Violence Bill, which had failed for seven years previously. She designed the national platform for action on orphans and vulnerable children, and the zero tolerance campaign against child abuse.
In 2004, she was reelected as a member of Muluzi’s party. Bingu wa Mutharika became the president. Even though Banda was not a member of his party, Mutharika appointed her as foreign minister in 2006. She led her country to cut ties with Taiwan and establish relations with Beijing.
She said the switch would bring economic benefits to Malawi. In 2010, China finished the construction of a new Parliament building in Malawi.
Banda ran as the vice-presidential candidate of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in the May 2009 presidential election, running alongside Mutharika, the DPP presidential candidate. She served as Malawi’s first female vice-president, before becoming the country’s first woman president on Mutharika’s death.
After she was axed from the DPP, the then ruling party, Joyce Banda formed the People’s Party last year.
Banda, whose vision is to lead Malawi from aid to trade, called for support from fellow women and Malawians.
“If Malawians can replicate what I have been able to do in assisting others, we can achieve the millennium development goal 3 (promote gender equality and empower women),” said Banda.
She further disclosed that she is restoring diplomatic ties with Malawi’s number one donor, the UK.
“We have assured the UK that the high commissioner will be given space to work efficiently without disturbances,” disclosed Banda.
“We do realise that we need to be moving very fast from aid to trade and that is what I am starting to do now but this far we will still continue to hope that our donors will stand by us.”
Banda, who cited Kenya as an example where the majority of their budget is generated by themselves, said Malawi must move towards becoming independent.
“We must be looking at a country like Kenya, we should be aiming at getting where Kenya is where the majority of their budget is generated by themselves,” she said.
Banda further added that the only way Malawi can move towards becoming independent is through trade.
“In our case 50% of our budget is donor funded. We must be moving towards becoming independent and I see the only way we can do that is through trade,” said Banda.
Facts and Figures
She is Malawi’s fourth president and its first woman president. Prior to becoming president she served as the country’s first woman vice-president.
She was also an MP and minister for gender, children’s affairs and community services. Before Banda entered politics, she founded the Joyce Banda Foundation in 1997 and was the founder of the National Association of Business Women, Young Women Leaders Network and the Hunger Project.
Forbes magazine last year listed her as the third most powerful woman in Africa.
In 2011, she founded and led the People’s Party. An upcoming convention expects to see her leadership confirmed. Her long list of achievements include:
1. Born April 12, 1950 in Zomba district
2. Formed non-governmental organisation National Business for Women in 1990
3. Set up the Hunger Project in 1998
4. National director for the United Democratic Front, 2003
5. Secretary-general for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), 2005
6. MP, May 2004-2009
7. Minister of gender, child and women affairs, 2004-2006
8. Minister of foreign affairs, 2006-2009
9. Presidential running mate for the DPP – 2009
10. Took vice-presidency oath in 2009
11. President of the People’s Party (PP), 2011
12. Board chairperson for the Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation of Malawi
13. Board chairperson for Malawi Communications Regulation Authority
14. Board chairperson for Malawi Housing Corporation
1. Bachelor of Science degree in gender studies, 2010, obtained at the Atlantic International, US
2. Studying for a Master’s degree in leadership through Royal Lords University
3. Certificate in board chairing obtained in Canada
4. Diploma in international relations
5. Secretarial certificate, Polytechnic College of the University of Malawi
6. Cambridge Overseas 2nd Grade obtained from Providence Secondary School