Profile: Joyce Banda
Banda was ousted from ruling party but retained her position as VP of Malawi, making her leader after president's death.
Last Modified: 08 Apr 2012 04:12
Banda, left, was expelled from the ruling party by Bingu wa Mutharika, right, after a succession battle [AFP]

Joyce Banda, who rose to prominence as a relentless women's rights advocate, has become Malawi's first female head of state after the death of Bingu wa Mutharika, the country's president.

Banda, who has had to navigate the country's turbulent political waters in recent years, took office on Saturday after Mutharika died following a cardiac arrest.

The late president had tapped Banda as his deputy in the 2009 elections, but then ousted her from his party the following year.

Banda steadfastly resisted Mutharika's efforts to force her from office during a succession battle sparked when the late president decided to groom his brother Peter to become his Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) candidate in 2014 polls.

Then, as head of her own People's Party, she emerged as one of Mutharika's fiercest critics, lambasting his management of an economy hobbled by fuel shortages.

Banda was born on April 12, 1950, in Malawi's colonial capital of Zomba. She began her career as a secretary and soon became a well-known public figure.

Banda started a women's empowerment programme, travelling throughout the country to promote the National Business Women Association, a campaign that made her one of Malawi's most visible champions of gender equality.

She later established the Joyce Banda Foundation to advance education for girls.

Party in-fighting

Banda entered politics in 1999, during Malawi's second democratic elections. She won a parliamentary seat in the party of then-president Bakili Muluzi, who named her minister for gender and community services.

"The chronic disease of third term, or chieftaincy, remains one of the greatest enemies of our efforts to achieve sustainable development"

- Joyce Banda

Five years later, she retained her seat as a candidate for Muluzi's party, even as Mutharika won the presidency.

When the new president split from Muluzi to form his own party, the DPP, Banda followed and became foreign minister in 2006.

During her time as Malawi's top diplomat, the country severed its long ties with Taiwan and established relations with Beijing.

Banda argued the switch would bring economic benefits to Malawi. China has since built Malawi a new parliament in the capital Lilongwe, where Banda was sworn into office as president on April 7.

Mutharika tapped her as his running mate in the 2009 elections, but their political honeymoon was short as party in-fighting intensified over his decision to anoint his brother as his successor, drawing accusations that he was trying to create a dynasty.

"The chronic disease of third term, or chieftaincy, remains one of the greatest enemies of our efforts to achieve sustainable development," she said.

"The country is constantly caught in a vicious circle of privatisation of the state where one or two people hold the fate of the country."

Popular figure

Banda's ousting from the ruling party angered many urban voters, and she remained a popular figure for many Malawians.

But, her critics have questioned her ability to steer the country through its economic crisis, with the currency trading on the black market at twice the official exchange rate.

After anti-government protests broke out in July last year, when police shot dead 19 people, Banda warned that Malawi could face more unrest ahead of the next polls.

"The road to 2014 will be rough, bumpy and tough. Some will even sacrifice their own lives," she said.

Banda remains a role model to many women in Malawi for her fight for her gender in a male-dominated society.

She is now the first ever female leader in southern Africa, and the continent's second female leader of modern times, after Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

She is married to retired chief justice Richard Banda. Her family is among the most influential in Malawi.

Topics in this article
Featured on Al Jazeera
More than one-quarter of Gaza's population has been displaced, causing a humanitarian crisis.
Ministers and MPs caught on camera sleeping through important speeches have sparked criticism that they are not working.
Muslim charities claim discrimination after major UK banks began closing their accounts.
Italy struggles to deal with growing flood of migrants willing to risk their lives to reach the nearest European shores.
Frustration grows in Kiev as pledges to end corruption and abuse of power stagnate after Maidan Square protest.
Thousands of Houthi supporters have called for the fall of Yemen's government. But what do the Houthis really want?
New ration reductions and movement restrictions have refugees from Myanmar anxious about their future in Thailand.
US lawyers say poor translations of election materials disenfranchise Native voters.
US drones in Pakistan have killed thousands since 2004. How have leaders defended or decried these deadly planes?
join our mailing list