Charm and grace are deceptive, and [superficial] beauty is vain, But a woman who fears the Lord [reverently worshiping, obeying, serving, and trusting Him with awe-filled respect], she shall be praised. — Proverbs 31:30
Malawi has been fortunate to have a parade of six first ladies, one first gentleman and one official hostess in its 57-year span as an independent country. These women and the sole gentleman have been persons of great character and substance, many having led already rich illustrious lives, and all adding great depth and spice to the pages of history of the nation. This week’s highlight is of the remaining four first spouses that partner with the President. From 1964, the seven women and one man have been highlighted. The following are the remaining four First Spouses.
5. Calista Mutharika (Zomba) married President Bingu wa Mutharika in 2010 and served as First Lady until 2012 upon Mutharika’s sudden death due to cardiac arrest. Her marriage to President Mutharika, was the second of three lavish palace weddings Malawians would witness.
During the time she was First Lady (May 2010-April 2012), she was a jovial and friendly person; she quickly established herself as a great ally to have at the State House. Having come from serving in Parliament and as a Minister of Tourism, she was at ease with party and civil servants. When she transitioned into her new role, she kept a great many of her connections with the rank and file.
Coming from the previous career (she was the first executive director of Hunger Project Malawi) Madame Callista had great ties with the rural populations. She established the Callista Mutharika Foundation for Safe Motherhood.
In a room filled with First Ladies from around the world, it was always uplifting to see Malawi’s First Lady stand out in character, fashion sense, and deportment.
6. His Honor, Justice Richard Banda, Rtd. Chief Justice (Nkhata Bay) is Malawi’s first and sole First Gentleman. A man who before becoming First Gentleman, had led an illustrious career that included becoming Malawi’s first black Chief Justice served as Minister and Attorney General. He was admitted to the Bar at Gray’s Inn in 1966. He briefly served as chief justice of Swaziland (current day Eswatini) 2007 to 2010.
He was married to Joyce Banda, and as she rose in the ranks of political power, he exhibited himself as the gentle but quiet giant behind the rising icon known as Joyce Banda, the woman who rode into Malawi’s male-centered history as the country’s first woman president (Africa’s second). The First Gentleman can be said to have the Joseph (husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus) spirit. Should Malawi ever get another first gentleman, the former chief justice has set the bar very high.
First Gentleman Chief Justice Richard Banda, Rtd., was first gentleman from April 2012 to June 2014.
7. Gertrude Maseko Mutharika (Balaka) was an MP from 2009-2014. When Arthur Peter Mutharika became President in 2014, he married Maseko. This was the third and most recent palace wedding. She was First Lady from June 2014 to June 2020. In selecting her focus he moved away from typically gender-oriented topics to that of climate change, which ironically affects the genders. In establishing the Beautify Malawi Trust, the First Lady called on Malawians to join her to clean up their surroundings and take care of the environment. She created very picturesque scenes with her wearing a white dust coat, boots, and holding a broom to model sweeping streets, or carrying a bag in hand going about clearing garbage from the streets.
Despite a number of fashion flaws, that had laughing and poking fun and comparing her to previous first ladies, First Lady Gertrude Mutharika was poised and fashionably in top form when US First Lady Malania Trump visited Malawi in her five-African nation tour, it was an uplifting moment in the study of Malawi First Spouses. First Lady Gertrude, like former Official Hostess Kadzamira, was also a nurse before entering politics.
8. Monica Chakwera (Rumphi) is a chartered accountant (ACCA) and is Malawi’s current First Lady. She ascended to this position when Malawians turned out in their hordes to vote into office the Tonse Alliance leader Dr. Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera as Malawi’s sixth president in the Fresh Presidential Elections that were ordered by a panel of Constitutional Court justices. This followed the challenge that Chakwera and Vice President Dr. Saulos Chilima presented to the court their madando of election irregularities and fraud in the 2019 elections. She comes to the office with the same poise as former Official Hostess CT Kadzamira, First Lady Ethel Mutharika, and First Gentleman Richard Banda: quiet, no-drama-result-oriented-behind-the-scenes operators.
She comes to the office of Malawi’s First Lady as a professional woman like others before her, but also like her husband the President, a person of great faith. She is a qualified ACCA accountant. Within a short time of entering State House, First Lady Monica Chakwera connected Malawian women and has been the guest of honor at numerous get togethers. Her chosen focus activity will be through her charity, which is Shaping Our Future. It aims to train and empower future generations by among others training them and providing them with tools for their chosen trade.
Although not of her own doing, Monica Chakwera is the first First Lady to come from the northern region, Rumphi district. This is important, because as her husband goes about or continues making appointments, doling out plush positions, and promotions, it is fanciful for some people in the country to accuse his appointments of being laced with regional or tribal intent. Such persons usually reel off previous presidents citing that Mutharika II favored people from Thyolo, Joyce Banda favored people from Zomba and of Yao origin, Mutharika I also favored people from Thyolo, they accuse Muluzi of favoring people from the Yao districts of Chiradzulu, Mangochi, and Machinga. And Kamuzu Banda was a Chewa.
If the analysis captured above is stretched to President Chakwera, then he will favor only people from Lilongwe and surrounding districts like Mchinji, Dedza, and Salima. But it is difficult to accuse President Chakwera of being a tribalist. He cannot do this. His children will be affected.
Thus, in 57 years of independence, Malawi has been privileged to have from Mama C. Tamanda Kadzamira, to Anne Muluzi, to Patricia Shania, to Ethel Mutharika, to Calista Mutharika, to Richard Banda, to Gertrude Mutharika, and now Monica Chakwera. Malawi’s First Spouses have come with their own personality of being that special someone at the State House sitting or standing next to the most important person in the country: the First Citizen.