Five days after leaving Blantyre, reports started to surface in UK News over speculation that President Bingu had died. On 5 April, BBC Africa reported that he had been flown to South Africa for medical treatment after suffering a heart attack, whilst MalawiDemocrat.com reported that President Bingu wa Mutharika had died. I immediately contacted friends based in Blantyre and Lilongwe who confirmed the Malawi Democrat’s report; a friend of a friend had been working in Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe and claimed Bingu had already died before he was flown to South Africa.
On 7 April the Malawi government confirmed that President Bingu wa Mutharika had died and declared 10 days of mourning. Under the constitution, Vice-President Joyce Banda was next in line, however after Mrs Banda fell out with President Bingu in 2010, resulting in expulsion from the Democratic People’s Party (DPP), speculation arose as to whether someone in opposition could take over as head of state. Fortunately, Joyce Banda was sworn in on 7 April 2012; becoming the second female president in Africa.
I had the pleasure of attending a lecture at Chatham House where President Banda was asked to discuss Malawi’s policy and priorities for a globalised world. She pulled in the audience with her subtle sense of humour, her frank acceptance of the huge task ahead and her obvious passion for empowering the women of Malawi. Answering all questions articulately, needing little support from her Ministers, President Banda left no doubt in anyone’s mind as to who wears the trousers!
What struck me the most however, was her genuine empathy for those in the audience whose family were suffering due to the government’s decision to devalue to kwacha by 33%. Defending her decision, she expressed her sadness at the previous President’s decision to ignore the advice of the IMF and devalue the kwacha two years ago and graciously asked for malawians to have faith in God and trust that her decisions will always be based on the best interests of the people.
Within her first 100 days, HE Joyce Banda has discarded the presidential jet, sacked the police chief blamed for the shooting of 20 innocent civilians last year and is well on the way to salvaging the relationship between Malawi and the UK. I look forward to the inevitable success of the rest of her term as President.
You can watch a video of HE Joyce Banda discussing ‘Malawi’s Policy and Priorities for a Globalized World’ at Chatham House by clicking this link.