“After three years of isolation, humiliation and name calling,” former Malawi president Joyce Banda said at the funeral of former South African president and anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela, “I found myself in a situation where I had to work with those who had desired to prevent me from becoming President of my country.”
She added to the captivated audience in Qunu, South Africa and millions more watching across the globe on television, “I had to forgive them without effort,” and received a standing ovation.
Here was a woman on the rise, Africa’s only second-ever female head of state, a darling of the west and then, the chairperson of the regional bloc SADC.
“The way he conducted himself, he saw no boundaries between and among the countries of the region. He championed the freedom of not only South Africans but also all Africans,” she continued in her moving tribute.
“The life of Tata Mandela will continue to inspire those of us left behind, promote peace and security, deepen regional integration and work to support one another as it was during the fight against apartheid. We will strive to emulate Tata Mandela’s stature and spirit so that his legacy can live on.”
The world fell in love with Mrs. Banda. Twitter exploded in admiration and her press team immediately seized the moment; copying all the tweets and sending them to the local media in a press statement.
“During her speech social networks were a buzz with support and compliments for Dr Banda’s speech. The hash tag JoyceBanda trended on Twitter Trends Map in South Africa with positive comments like: @ ghPresh “What an amazing individual,” wrote Steven Nhlane, then Mrs. Banda’s press secretary.
“You are such an inspiration to us young women in South Africa” @LJPoro wrote in one of the tweet, “a very fitting address 4our #madiba, 4reminding heads of state 2love people of their country before seeking to be loved.”
In such euphoria, one would not imagine what would follow next; a humiliating electoral defeat, an ill-fated attempt to cancel the election before a quick change of heart and then, a jump into exile once out of state house.
Ever since the 2014 May 20 elections, where Mrs. Banda finished a distant third behind nemesis and winner Peter Mutharika and MCP’s Lazarus Chakwera, she has been globetrotting; jumping from South Africa to United Kingdom then United States; unable to find the motivation to come home.
Her aides and People’s Party (PP) say Banda wants to return home but it’s not safe to do so.
“Many Malawians, in general, and her excellency family in particular are even more concerned that government recently withdrew her security apparatus from her private residence in June 2015,” Masozi Chamthunya, her spokesperson told the media recently.
“This happened when there is a breakdown of security in Malawi and senior officers such as Isa Njauju of ACB are murdered and police officers are killed in broad daylight.”
Such sentiments suggest that Mrs. Banda faces mortal threats once in her fatherland and who would have thought, 20 years of painstaking work to strengthen its democratic institutions, Malawi’s own ex-president could give such a verdict of its status.
Banda is also turning her ordeal into a gender issue.
“I don’t know whether that is going to attract women to enter politics because in Malawi my being in politics had a negative effect,” she told the Guardian in a rare interview last year.
“Women decided ‘no, I would rather not join politics. If you end up being a leader and you’re treated like that, then I cannot do it.’”
None of this was unique to Malawi or Africa, she continued.
“I want to ask you to look across the world, start with Australia and look at what Julia Gillard went through: she was called a witch, a bitch, a chicken. Go to Thailand and see what the prime minister has gone through: now she’s in court. Go to the Philippines and see what has happened to former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. She was arrested and charged with corruption; everyone who was arrested with her has been released on bail except her, and she’s sick. The matter has gone to the UN.
“From there move on into Zimbabwe, see what’s happening to Joice Mujuru [the former vice-president expelled from the ruling Zanu-PF party]. Go to Liberia and see what Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is going through – even Ebola is her fault. And go to Argentina and Brazil, end up in the US. So I don’t want to talk about myself but it is something a journalist should take a close at look at and form your own opinion. Misogyny not only for Joyce Banda but for women.”
In all those cited cases, Banda makes no distinction for merited prosecution to cheap persecution and evokes shared victimhood in an aggressive manner.
Malawi has come a long way from a sordid past where for 31 years; a one-party tyranny under Hastings Kamuzu Banda drove out scores of the citizenry across the border, pouring into neighboring nations and far-away lands.
Some exiled and those martyred are immortalized in our history; among them, Orton Chirwa, Kanyama Chiume, Masauko Chipembere, Yatuta and Dunduza Chisiza, Vera Chirwa, Rose Chibambo, Prof Jack Mapanje.
Thousands more, were banished from their land by dangers rendered by a one party state that had no respect for sanctity of human life or any rights as it were.
The victims were blindly and arbitrary selected by the system whose only loyalty was to an enigmatic leader.
Majority, such as Chirwa, the country’s first black lawyer and the founder of the Nyasaland African Congress (NAC) which had earlier invited Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda to lead it as a liberation movement, were not just innocent but were patriots who had dedicated their lives in ending colonialism and aided Kamuzu in bringing self-rule.
Some like Professor Mkandawire, who left Malawi in 1962, after winning a scholarship to study in the USA but never returned for another 30 years after his passport was revoked by the paranoid regime, were as apolitical as they got.
“The dream was that I’d go to the US and come back as soon as I could.”
Mkandawire told BBC in 2010. But within three months of independence, the new government was convulsed by a cabinet crisis and Makandawire’s passport was withdrawn. Unable to return to Malawi, he spent 30 years in exile.”
In a land where Kamuzu Banda was law and law was Kamuzu Banda, and those who formed his circle, there was also space for members of the local Jehovah’s witness, which refused to pay tax, to suffer the same ignominy.
Jumping into exile for most, however must be noted, was not a cheap luxury. It was, in most cases, a life or death choice.
“shadow of cashgate”
22 years later, Mrs. Banda is now Malawi’s sole political exile, or at least that is what she is called. But how comfortable is such a description in light of this country’s history?
More in particular, those allegations to assassinate Mrs. Banda and her family are thrust into more scrutiny over allegations that she could perhaps be running away from the more realistic fears of arrest.
The threat of an arrest is an uncomfortable truth those people who watched and aided Mrs Banda’s rise as a champion of the women cause—that woman who bewitched audiences at Mandela’s funeral.
The arrest could come from any connections which could be made between Mrs. Banda and billions of cash belonging to the poor taxpayer was embezzled in what is increasingly apparent a scam sanctioned at the top echelons of the Banda administration.
Some suspects have claimed that Banda herself was part of the heist, and one convict, has told investigators, the former president personally ordered the theft.
“(Rachel) Zulu who was the Minister of Tourism, called me and told me that Her Excellency the President, Joyce Banda had told her she is not going to assist cabinet ministers with campaign for the May 2014 Elections and that the Ministers should talk to their ministries to assist them financially,” Triza Senzani, a convict now serving three-year jail sentence told investigators.
The cashgate scandal, plus a belief that Banda was out of her depths as president, led her to finish a distant third during the elections despite crisscrossing the country distributing houses, maize, chickens, goats and cattle.
In some ranks, Mrs Banda’s absence increasingly hence been seen as more than that a flight from immediate untamed dangers at hands of vindictive political operatives but instead the long arm of the law.
First of all, no single Malawian politician has ever been assassinated in 20 years of democracy. Secondly, even we had such a history, the current administration doesn’t have the impetus to do so or maybe I am naïve.
The worst that can happen to Banda, I reckon, is a date in jail. This could also be postponed as long as possible, by an army of lawyers her obvious riches and benevolence of international friends, would ensure come to her rescue once arrested.
The worse that Joyce Banda would face is, to be precise, arrest on trumped up charges and its attendant humiliation on state media.
The caveat is, any arrest based on whacky evidence against Banda will work to her advantage, politically; it will discredit the current administration and soon return Joyce Banda to the vintage position of a serious revitalized political player via the sympathy vote.
But if, (a big if because neither has Mrs. Banda indicated any desire to return home and there are no charges against her) she is arrested on serious criminal charges, then its fair game. And JB, as Banda is fondly called, ought to know this. After all, she arrested the current president on what also appeared to be serious criminal charges, too. But is Joyce Banda really a political exile or a fugitive from justice?
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