The newly appointed President of Malawi, Joyce Banda, is raising eyebrows for the drastic changes she is implementing in the southern African country. As the marginalized Vice President of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, Banda was sworn into office in April 2012 following the unexpected death of President Bingu wa Mutharika.
A month after being sworn in, she announced that she was selling the president’s private jet and downsizing the fleet of limousines that made up the presidential motorcade. When she took office, Malawi was a poor country with millionaire government officials. She cleaned house by ridding the government of loyalists of the late Mutharika who indulged in opulence at the expense of the poor majority. Just last week, this no-nonsense President announced that she would cut her pay by 30% to show Malawians that she is willing to make personal sacrifices inorder to build the nation.
Mrs. Banda has downsized cabinet and security services and promised to lift the country’s ban on homosexuality. She has demonstrated her commitment to economic reform by endorsing the IMF’s advice to devalue Malawi’s currency, the Kwacha. That notwithstanding, there are genuine concerns that adhering to the IMF’s plans could hamper growth and make Malawi aid dependent. Nonetheless, the steps that Joyce Banda has taken in these short months has earned international approval.
So who exactly is this woman who has been described as a fresh of breath air in African politics? She is a 62 year old mother of five who is a long time activist of women’s rights. A certified business woman who has run successful enterprises, Joyce Banda is a staunch advocate that women should be financially independent. As president, she has opened free press and brought Malawi from the brink of an economic crisis.
In a mark of fearlessness, when the African Union (AU) scheduled a conference in Malawi this past July, Banda threatened to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for war crimes if he enters her country. Recognizing that Banda is not a woman of empty words, the AU moved the meeting to Ethiopia. Do not mess with Joyce Banda!
Under her steady stewardship, predictions of a crisis after the death of the president Mutharika have not materialized. Banda has taken swift action to entrench power whilst simultaneously demonstrating to Malawians that hers is a government they can truly believe in.