Now the Lord God said, “It is not good (beneficial) for the man to be alone. I will make s helper (one who balances him – a counterpart who is) suitable and complementary for him.” – Genesis 2:18 (Amp.)
While it is true of every sovereign nation, all eyes are always set on the head of state and government, a strong second look is inherently always at the spouse of the ruler, officially known as First Lady. Of the six presidents that have ruled Malawi, the country has had six First Ladies, One First Gentleman, and one Official Hostess. Just three merit nuggets of these eminent Malawians would make great revelations, great fodder in the history books of the 57-year-old nation of Malawi.
Although Malawians, regrettably give scant attention, sometimes even belittle these precious members of the ruling elite (the Constitution has never even felt it necessary to include a stipend or budget for this de facto important office). The contributions and services of the seven eminent Malawian women and one man is enormous and worthy of pause for uplifting and honors bestowed.
All have led illustrious careers before, during, and after they served as the First Spouse of our presidents. This has been Malawi’s lineup, aptly entitled an Official Hostess, First Ladies, and a First Gentleman:
1. Cecilia Tamanda Kadzamira (Dedza) served as a private nurse for former president Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda; was then named simply his secretary; however, her role was rebranded, and she became Official Hostess in 1971. This was a civil service position from which she drew a well-deserved salary. She was employed in President Banda’s office from 1964-1994, and arguably the most powerful woman and one of three very powerful people in Malawi over Banda’s 31-year rule as Life president; the other two being President Banda and John Z. U. Tembo. She is one of three people in the lineup that was born in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe).
2. Ann Chidzira Muluzi (Lilongwe) was the first to be called First Lady in Malawi when Bakili Muluzi emerged victorious in the 1994 Presidential elections. She was divorced from him in 1999 and migrated to the US.
3. Patricia Shanil Muluzi (Balaka) was the second First Lady of Malawi. She had married Muluzi in 1987, and upon his ascent to the office of President, he placed her at Zomba State House. When he and First Lady Anne Muluzi divorced, President Muluzi and Shanil Muluzi held a lavish wedding that attracted five heads of state and government (Burundi, Eswatini, Mozambique, Zambia, and Zimbabwe). She was First Lady from 1999 to 2004. The couple later divorced in 2011.
4. Ethel Zyauya Mutharika (Zimbabwe) was First Lady from 2004 until succumbed to her battle with cancer in 2007. She was born in Zimbabwe. This often prompted former Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe to call Malawians “apongozi.” She was a quiet, gentle person that never published what she was doing. It will be learned however that she led a country-wide charity program through her Ethel Mutharika Foundation. She was the first high official to die in the State House. Ironically, her husband would five years later, be the second.
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. This was the second of three lavish palace weddings Malawians would witness. During her First Lady role (May 2010-April 2012), Madame Mutharika, who had served as a Member of Parliament and Minister of Tourism was briefly placed on Bingu’s cabinet list. This, however, was amended following a public outcry.
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 married to Joyce Banda, and when she rose to the ranks of political power, he was the quiet, gentle but quiet giant behind the rising icon known as Joyce Banda, the woman who rode into history as Malawi’s first woman president (Africa’s second). I call him the man with the Joseph (husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus) spirit. He 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.
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 Gentle Man Richard Banda: quiet, no-drama-result-oriented-behind-the-scenes operators.
The parade of Malawi’s official hostess, first ladies, and first gentleman continue next week. Watch this space.