If I had her contact details, I would have been in touch with Her Excellency Mrs Joyce Banda to congratulate her for one decisive and courageous decision she has taken in the interest of her country and people. As I am not in direct touch with her, let me use this medium to do just that.
H E Joyce Banda is the President of the southern African country, Malawi. She took office in April 2012 following the unexpected death of her predecessor, Bingu wa Mutharika. Her story is an interesting piece. She made history at the time of her appointment as the first female president of Malawi and the second female president in Africa.
Her rise to fame in Malawian politics was in 2009 when the late President Mutharika appointed her as his running mate and won the presidential elections of that year. Two years down the line, in 2011, she publicly stood up to her boss when she refused to endorse his plans for his brother, then the Foreign Affairs Minister, to succeed him as President in 2014 when he was to retire. She was promptly thrown out of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party but the President failed to remove her as the Vice President because she was elected in 2009 (not appointed) as a running mate and under their constitution, she was to take over the running of the country if the President died in office.
Last week, President Joyce Banda hit the international headlines. According to BBC news, the government of Malawi headed by Mrs Banda has invited bids for its 14 seater presidential jet which is being sold off as part of cost cutting measures. The plane will be sold to the highest bidder.
The President is said to have refused to travel in the jet since she took office. The jet, a Dassault Falcon 900 EX, was purchased five years ago at a cost of about $13m. Its purchase sparked some row in Malawi, one of Africa’s poorest countries.
President Banda is reported to have said that the money raised from the sale of the plane would be used to provide basic services for Malawi’s poor. All Africa news also reported that President Banda has put other austerity measures in place as well, including cutting her own salary by 30 per cent.
I am enthused by the boldness of President Joyce Banda, who, with all the powers that she has, is bent on pushing an agenda for the good of the majority of her people rather than succumb to the comfort and pleasures of the very few at the top. Somewhat a rare priority of some African leaders, past and present, to review downward their “privileges,” the courageous step of Malawi’s president, for now, gives one the impression that Africa indeed has, and can produce that bold and committed crop of leaders who do not come to power to amass wealth and forget about the little comforts of the masses that brought them to power. She is serving notice that as an African leader, you can still sit at the top and have one eye fully cast down.
Joyce Banda’s example of love for country and commitment to fix some basic services in the interest of the majority in her country should be a model for emulation. Indeed for me, it comes as a model that should permeate all categories of leadership, particularly, those who set policies and direct their implementation, whether it is the CEO or the Board Chairman of a public institution. Why, for example, should Ghana, at this time in its history, be having serious challenges with essential services like water and electricity if the leadership of those public institutions over the years were up to the task as managers with oversight responsibilities for the optimal performance of such essential services which seem to be breaking down before our eyes?
How can water, such a necessity of life, be rationed in this twenty first century? If we cannot forgive ourselves in times of fuel rationing, how can we forgive anyone for water rationing? As I write this piece, water is not running in our taps in my area and power which had been off earlier in the day, was restored just some few minutes ago. As somebody said the other time, Ghana is not a poor country because we have everything including the human skills. What Ghana lacks are the selfless and committed managers who think Ghana first before themselves. When can we get it right?
We are in the process of putting together a new Ghana. We have a new Executive, a new Parliament; very soon, we should have a complete set of Ministers and deputies. We are looking to see a new Council of State, a new set of Ambassadors and High Commissioners, Boards and Chief Executives of some public institutions, and perhaps for me, one of the most critical crop of leaders – the Chief Executives of our Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies. If we can get our local governance systems to work to the optimum, more than half of our woes as a country would be covered.
Our new Ghana is going to tick around the performance of all the leaders coming on board but particularly, the level of commitment they are bringing on board for the betterment of the people. It is time for our public officials to play down a bit on unnecessary display of opulent lifestyles while some critical needs of the people they are supposed to be serving get watered down.
President Joyce Banda is well known in her country as the voice of the marginalised. She has solidly stood by her convictions. For many years she is said to have been in the forefront of the fight for women and children’s rights. Any wonder that having ascended the highest seat of government, she is ready to set the example and walk her talk?
If only a few more of our African leaders who come to power on the ticket of the majority poor would have a bit of Joyce Banda in them and tackle misplaced priorities while focusing on critical national needs, Africa would be a better place. We can all help in this by putting on our nationalistic caps and begin to police and expose some of the misplaced priorities as well as the rot in our public institutions for cure. We have another opportunity to keep Ghana healthy and on the right track.
If H E Joyce Banda, the President of Malawi, continues on the path that she has set for herself and with the commitment to help the fortunes of the majority of her people, Malawi should bounce back. Once again, the country should be able to attract foreign donors who withdrew their support for her country and even withheld as much as $4m donor support at the time of the purchase of the $14m jet.
My fear however, is that, as a woman talking and acting this tough, President Banda and all her lofty ideas may get shot down sooner. We live in an environment where the postures of women who talk this bold are not allowed to flourish for long. That is the unfortunate shame. But yes, until then, Joyce Banda has set a good example for the women of her time, and she would be a litmus test for leadership on our continent.