History-making Joyce Banda , who rose to prominence in Malawi as a champion for women's rights and empowerment, yesterday became the second female African head of state of modern times after Liberia's Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Born in Zomba on April 12 1950, she first rose to political prominence when she became the country's first female vice president in 2009, as the running mate of Bingu wa Mutharika, who died on Thursday in Lilongwe of cardiac arrest. A year later the two fell out with the President in a spectacular succession battle.
Mutharika decided to groom his brother Peter, currently the foreign minister, to become his Democratic Progressive Party's candidate for the next polls in 2014.
Expelled from the DPP and under intense pressure to "resign" as Vice President, Banda refused to give up her job. Instead, she mooted her own People's Party and became one of Mutharika's fiercest critics, often blasting Mutharika's management of the economy beset by crippling fuel and foreign exchange shortages.
Banda, her maiden name being Mtila, was born on April 12, 1950, in Malawi's colonial capital of Zomba where her father, was an accomplished and popular Police brass band musician and instructor.
Prior to an active career in politics she was the founder of the Joyce Banda Foundation, founder of the National Association of Business Women (NABW), Young Women Leaders Network and the Hunger Project. She was listed in Forbes Magazine 2011 as the third most powerful woman in Africa.
Malawi's newest president holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Early Child hood Education from Columbus University and a Diploma in Management, that she received in Italy. She is the founder and CEO of the Joyce Banda Foundation for Better Education, which over the years has sought to empower women through girls' education.
Banda and former President Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, were awarded the 1997 Africa Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End of Hunger by the Hunger Project, a New York-based non-governmental organization.
Chissano was recognized for his role in ending one of Africa's longest and most devastating wars and for his government's efforts to promote economic recovery, particularly in agriculture and trade., while she was cited for helping many thousands of mostly rural women to become economically self-reliant through the NABW.
NABW, which is much alive today, enables women to enter business by providing them with access to credit, information, markets and appropriate technology.
Banda remains a role model to many women in Malawi for her gender fight in a male-dominated society.
CUTTING POLITICAL TEETH
Banda started cutting her political teeth in 1999, during Malawi's second democratic elections. She won a parliamentary seat in the former ruling party of retired president Bakili Muluzi.
She was named minister for gender and community services. Five years later, she retained her seat as a candidate for Muluzi's party.
Mutharika, who first won the 2004 elections on the UDF ticket, appointed her as foreign minister in 2006. During her time as the country's top diplomat, the country severed its long ties with Taiwan and Banda was the main broker in establishing relations with Beijing.
She argued the switch would bring economic benefits to Malawi. China has since built Malawi a new parliament, a science university in Thyolo, is building the Karonga-Chitipa Road among many projects worth millions of dollars.
Although she will be forced to use the policies of the DPP, some of her biggest challenges will be to reverse the economic meltdown, restore diplomatic relations with Britain, restore an important programme with global lender IMF which will see donors unlock their aid taps and influence the reversal of "bad laws" enacted recently by the DPP majority-led parliament.
But with her ascendancy to State House-the fourth president of Malawi after Founder President Dr. Kamuzu Banda, Muluzi and Mutharika-- prominent political analysts Blessings Chinsinga of the University of Malawi, aptly summed up her position:
"This puts Malawi in the Guinness Book of Records. We are moving in the right direction. I can feel freedom in the air."