Sunday, April 21, 2024

Joyce Banda: Empowerment Through Entrepreneurship

A trailblazing figure in African politics, Joyce Banda is widely recognized for her significant contributions to Malawi and the global stage. This is her captivating backstory.

Lord Acton famously declared, “Power tends to corrupt” and it is a sad reality that many people let the trappings of high office go to their heads, resulting in them looking out more for themselves and cronies rather than the people they have been entrusted to lead. And then there is someone like Joyce Banda – Malawi’s first woman President – who since taking office in April 2012 has pursued a reformist agenda which aims to enhance the living standards of Malawians, reinforce democracy and human rights, and reduce corruption and inefficiency.

It will not be an easy task. Out of a population of 16 million, 12 million live below the poverty line, less than 10% have access to electricity, only 16% of girls finish primary education, and life expectancy is just 49 years – legacies of years of misrule and mismanagement. But then again, overcoming the odds is something that Joyce Banda has been doing for most of her life.

1976, at the age of 26, Banda did something quite unheard of in Malawian society and left her abusive first husband. She would later set up her own business and her experiences made her realise that the only way for women in Malawi to escape the twin traps of poverty and abuse is if they are financially independent, and the best way to become so is through entrepreneurship.

As such, prior to joining politics, Banda set up the National Association of Businesswomen, which provides women with entrepreneurial training and micro-financing. In addition, she has also been active in many grassroots movements to promote rural education and development.

Now as President of her country, Joyce Banda has the opportunity to implement much-needed economic and social reforms. And she has done that in the 20 over months she has been in office, overturning a ban against homosexuality, unmuzzling the press, and cracking down on corruption. In a demonstration of personal austerity, she also sold off the much maligned Presidential jet (bought by her predecessor) and the Presidential fleet of 60 luxury vehicles, as well as cut her own salary by 30%.

Nor has Banda been reticent about making tough decisions – a mark of any good leader – and devalued the country’s currency, the kwacha, by 33%. While it has caused much unhappiness in Malawi owing to a hike in prices, devaluation also appeased donor nations, resulting in an injection of much-needed capital into the country.

Malawians will head to the poll this May 2014 to vote on whether Banda will win another term in office or not. Come what may, it is safe to say that Joyce Banda deserves to be looked at as a role model for women and leaders, not just in Africa but around the world.

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