She is Malawi’s first ever female Solicitor General (SG) . She comes to this position with the same determination she has had since she was a little girl; to prove that a woman can do it. She shares her story and vision with DUMASE ZGAMBO-MAPEMBA.
Tell us about your background.
I was born on January 11 1970 at Malosa Mission Hospital in Zomba. At that time my parents were staying at Blue gum Avenue, a nice suburb in the heart of the then Capital of Malawi. I did my primary education in Blantyre at Kanjedza Primary School from Standard One to Five and the rest at Chichiri Primary School where I was selected to go to St Michaels Girls Secondary School in Mangochi in 1984. I went to Chancellor College in 1988 initially to pursue a degree in Social Sciences. My aim was to major in Economics. I later changed my mind when I saw how big the classes were from first year to fourth year and I doubted I would get a job easily after graduating. I decided to study law. I did my LLM (Masters) at University of Georgia in the USA and my PhD in the UK at Birkbeck College, University of London.
Tell us about your family; especially how it helped you to go through challenges of school and training.
I am the sixth born in a family of eight children – six boys and two girls. Being the first daughter, life was tough growing up with so many boys and having to deal with a lot of chores by virtue of being a girl. This environment toughened me and put me in autopilot to always want to prove that a girl is as good as a boy and sometimes even better. The environment trained me also to always work twice as hard and prepared me for bigger challenges in life including my choice of courses in school.
I have been married for 19 years to a wonderful husband, Mac Donald Banda, currently working for the Commonwealth Secretariat in London. Between us we have four children both biological and foster: Lusayo (24), Suzen (19), Ziporah (18) and the only boy – Yankho (9).
What dreams did you have while growing up?
I had very specific dreams. All I wanted was to be educated and rich. I had this little diary where I penned a list of material things that I wanted to possess when I was older. It was like a mission to prove something to my siblings. Shockingly, this list always found its way into my daily prayers! When I found the diary 30 years later I was embarrassed by some of the things that I was asking God. I believe God has been faithful in every way. He has granted me the appropriate level of education and I know that you are as rich as you feel! Our children are the greatest riches.
Take us through your profession or career journey; staring with the lows.
When I graduated from Chancellor College in 1993, I joined a legal firm in Lilongwe. I had to quit because my boss failed to treat me as a qualified lawyer just because I was a woman. All he could see was prey. It was very demoralising. I decided to quit and join the Ministry of Justice. It turned out to be a very good career decision. It was while working for the Ministry that I was able to secure a scholarship to go for a Master’s programme in the US in 1996. On my return, I joined the Law Commission. I was the first professional officer to be recruited by the institution. I have worked in this institution for 15 years, gradually climbing to almost the top of the ladder over the years.
Another one was when I was passed over for promotion because of the region where I come from. The fact that I was actually told why I was suddenly not eligible was really a blow. However, I always believe in God’s time.
What have been the highs?
Two most exciting moments of my career happened in this institution. The first was when I was tasked to lead a team of lawyers in the Law Commission in my capacity as chief law reform officer (deputy to the law commissioner) in the challenging assignment of reviewing our Constitution. This involved designing the review process in terms of approach and methodology; including organising the two constitutional conferences–the first in 2006 and the second in 2007. It was a challenging assignment at the same time a very rewarding experience. The second high for me was when I received a call while holidaying somewhere asking me when I was planning to report for work as Solicitor General and Secretary for Justice. This was unexpected but very thrilling. It actually transpired that I was Solicitor General for three weeks without my knowledge!
What does it mean to you to be appointed not only Solicitor General (SG) but also the first female to hold that position in the history of this country?
It is a humbling experience. The fact that I am a woman means that I have to work twice as hard to prove myself. It is my hope that I will not let down the female folk, particularly those in my profession. I have no illusions about the position. It is very demanding. You see, there are only two law officers in Malawi; the Attorney General and the Solicitor General. The Attorney General is the principal legal advisor to government. The alternate of the Attorney General is the Solicitor General. Remember, government constitutes the three branches: the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary. This position is therefore relatively senior because of the expansive responsibilities conferred on the office that cut across all the three arms of government.
What new things are you planning to introduce in your profession or industry?
At the moment I am focusing on my ministry. As you are aware I am also the principal secretary for Justice. I am hoping to introduce a new work ethic, particularly for the junior lawyers in the ministry to instill passion for the work they do for government. Of course, this requires innovation on my part in terms of providing incentives to motivate them and granting them the recognition that they deserve as critical actors in contributing to the effectiveness and efficiency of the ministry, including their role in shaping the vision of the ministry in its effort to deliver on its mandate.
What big sacrifices have you made in life for you to get to where you are?
The biggest sacrifice that I have made in life is the fact that I do not stay full time with my husband and my children. In a way you could say it is a personal choice that I have made in a bid to pursue a career in law. It is not an easy arrangement. Luckily my husband has been very supportive.
What would you want women in Malawi to learn from your career journey?
The lesson from my career journey is that patience, hard-work and dedication (PhD) always pay off in the long run. If every woman pursues this honorary doctorate, they are bound to be rewarded in the end.
How do you balance your career and family life?
I try to approach issues very simplistically. The Bible says there is time for everything. I interpret this to mean that there is time for work and there is time for family. I never compromise on these demarcations and apply myself equally to the demands of work and to the demands of family life. I always bear in mind the need to strike a balance.
What do you like doing in your free time?
Outside the complexities and challenges of my profession life, I am a very homely woman who loves cooking. I like experimenting with dishes. I am also a Scrabble addict. Whenever I get free time, I play Internet scrabble (Sowpod Version), especially in the evenings at home. I also love to play monopoly with my children on Sundays.
Who do you look up to as a model?
My late mother (May her soul rest in peace) has been a major influence throughout my life. She was such a simple woman but knew what she wanted in life. She achieved a lot in her humble ways but never sought recognition. She instilled in me the values that I cherish most in life. She passed away last year in October and has left that vacuum for a role model for the time being.
Do you have any books, articles, biographies, movies, that have inspired you?
I have read lots of books and biographies and watched a lot of inspiring movies. I cannot pinpoint exactly which ones have inspired me particularly. I can, however, concede that I am partial to books and firms that encourage belief and inspire confidence in self.