Talk to Al Jazeera

Joyce Banda: ‘We must own the fight’

The embattled president of the African nation says fight against corruption has to come from within, not from the West.

Not directly elected to her office, Joyce Banda assumed the presidency of Malawi last year when her predecessor suddenly died of a heart attack.

But she is leading a democracy and next year, the people of Malawi will decide if Banda will remain president – she is already fighting for her political life.

Despite promises to clean up corruption, new scandals have surfaced.

In September, an accountant in her office was found with $3274.40 in his home. Later an official with the environment ministry was found with $311,068 in his car.

Then, the country’s budget director – her point man in dealing with government funds – was shot three times in the head. No one knows who tried to kill him but he survived and is in a hospital in South Africa.

The fight against corruption is not coming from the West, it has to come from Malawians themselves, we must own it ….We should fight corruption with or without the help of donors because it is a responsibility that I have to the people of Malawi.

by Joyce Banda, president of Malawi

To stem the crisis, Banda dissolved her cabinet and fired her ministers of justice and finance.

But the scandals have already taken a big toll. Some international aid donors have effectively stopped giving money for now, further exasperating the country’s finances.

Joyce Banda’s statements that she is a fierce opponent of corruption and waste are not new, she has made them repeatedly.

In fact on an appearance on Talk to Al Jazeera last summer, she explained how she was going to run her office.

“My concern is that when you are passing through a period such as this, and most Malawians are having to do without, and are making sacrifices and they are making those sacrifices happily, not because it’s ok but because they feel it is necessary for us as a nation to do it, then I must be the first person to set an example,” she said.

Many people are publicly asking how it is possible for all this to have happened under Joyce Banda’s watch.

The most recent corruption allegations and scandals are not the only thing voters in Malawi care about – the country is dealing with widespread social and health issues that are also on the agenda.

HIV/AIDS is a big problem and gay rights are now publicly discussed.

Last year, in response to international pressure, Banda’s government issued a moratorium on laws banning homosexuality and released two gay men from jail, who had been arrested for getting married.

Now, opposition leaders feel she went too far and want a referendum on gay rights.

When asked if she has failed with regard to fighting corruption, she said, “No, we have not failed. I don’t know if you know that this cancer has been going on for 15 years and the biggest tragedy in the fight against corruption is covering up. I think the best one can do as a leader is that once you discover then you need to take advantage of the opportunity.”

“This is what we have done. We must stop it now. And I believe truly that this tragedy provides a unique opportunity for us to stand up united as I have done in the past two months and to say that one: we must face corruption, and two: we are the ones who must do something about it. We must have zero tolerance against corruption.”

So, can she rid her country of rampant corruption and scandals? Can she deliver on widespread social and health issues? And is it possible for Joyce Banda to continue to lead the country despite charges of nepotism and corruption against her ministers?

In this episode of Talk to Al Jazeera, Jamal Elshayyal talks to Malawi’s President Joyce Banda, about the country’s efforts to curb corruption, human rights and HIV/AIDS which is a big health issue in Malawi.