Banda, listed in Forbes Magazine as the third most powerful woman in Africa after 2011 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Nigerian minister of finance Ngozi Okonjo-Iweal, has played a crucial role in women empowerment through different educational and business institutions she established.
Early life and education
Banda was born on April 12 1950 to Gray John Stewart Mtila and Edith Chimwele. The couple had five childrenâ€”one son McArthur and four daughters Joyce, Festa, Cecilia and Anjimile. Banda told The Nation of April 6 2006 that she owes her success to her father whom she described as a God-fearing man, disciplinarian and visionary police officer who believed in action and not empty words. Most Malawians remember Mtila for his famous Yao song Ku Mchilingano, a number he composed and sang when he was a drum major in Malawi Police Band. Mtila, who came from Malindi in Mangochi, settled at his wifeâ€™s home in Domasi, Zomba. Banda holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Early Childhood Education from Columbus University in the US and a Diploma in Management from Italy.
Women empowerment and gender activist
Banda is an astute and successful businesswoman. Between 1985 and 1997, she established various businesses which included Ndekani Garments (1985), Akajuwe Enterprises (1992) and Kalingidza Bakery (1995). Her success in business moved her to help other women achieve financial independence and break the cycles of abuse and poverty. It was this passion to see women empowered that made Banda to establish the National Association of Business Women (Nabw), Young Women Leaders Network and the Hunger Project. Banda learnt business acumen from her grandmother who she described in Nation on Sunday of May 24 2009 as an industrious woman who used to make a substantial amount of money from tomato and sugarcane businesses.
At 29, Banda realised it would not be possible to fulfil her mission of empowering women and youth economically and politically, outside politics. Her father Mtila used to encourage her to keep the fighting spirit burning because the road to greatness is rough and tough. It is this encouragement that inflamed her passion to always fight her way to the top. She launched her political career in the United Democratic Front (UDF) where in 2003 she tried in vain to vie for the position of director of women affairs.
In 2005 when Mutharika broke away from the UDF which sponsored his first five-year presidential term and formed the DPP, Banda was among the first people who joined the new party amid threats from former president and the then UDF leader Bakili Muluzi that he would bring the DPP government down, claiming it went into government through the back door.
Mutharika appointed Banda, then Member of Parliament for the Zomba-Malosa Constituency, Minister of Gender, Child Welfare and Community Services and later Minister of Foreign Affairs. As Minister of Gender, Banda fought to enact the Domestic Violence Bill which had failed for the past seven years. She also designed the National Platform for Action on Orphans and Vulnerable Children and the Zero Tolerance Campaign Against Child Abuse.
In the run up to the May 14 2009 presidential election, Mutharika earned praise from women empowerment groups locally and internationally when he chose Banda as his running mate. Shortly after, the two fell out and hell broke loose for the Vice-President. She was being castigated left, right and centre using the public broadcaster, Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), accusing her of forming parallel structures and resisting Mutharikaâ€™s attempts to endorse his brother, Peter, as DPP torch-bearer for 2014 presidential election. On December 10 2010, Banda was fired alongside Khumbo Kachali for â€˜anti-partyâ€™ activities.
In attempts to ostracise her, Mutharika continued giving roles she previously held to his wife, Callista, who was also included in the Cabinet in September 2011. The relationship with Mutharika deteriorated farther when Banda formed her Peopleâ€™s Party (PP), hence raising serious questions on what would become of the DPP in the event of incapacitation of the President. Attempts were made by the DPP to fire Banda as Vice-President, but courts always came to her rescue. During the last sitting of the august House, DPP Members of Parliament passed procedures for impeaching the Vice-President and Leader of Opposition which civil society organisations and opposition parties claim were targeting Banda and Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president John Tembo.
Awards and Joyce Banda Academy
Banda has received several local and international awards such as the Africa Award for Leadership for Sustainable End of Hunger which she jointly won with former president of Mozambique, Joaquim Chissano. She used the money from the award to establish the Joyce Banda Foundation International whose mission is to assist Malawian children and orphans through education. In November 2010, Banda received the Women of Substance Award from the African Women Development Fund in recognition of her efforts to promote women through Nabw and the foundation. American UNFPA also honoured Banda with the International Award for the Health and Dignity of Women for her unyielding dedication to the rights of women of Malawi. Nation Publications Limited (NPL) also honoured Banda with the 1997 and 1998 Woman of the Year awards now known as Nation Achiever.
Banda is married to former Chief Justice Richard Banda. She told Nation on Sunday of May 24 2009 that Richard believes in her and encourages her to strive to achieve what she has set her mind on. “When the State President told us that he wanted me to be his running mate, my husband replied before I did. He said: â€˜I know she can do this. It is a great service to her nation and it will be a privilege and honour to have her as presidential running mate,” Banda was quoted in the newspaper as saying. She has five children.