Malawi: How Vice-President Joyce Banda Fell Out With President Mutharika

Civil society demonstrations on July 20, 2011, in Blantyre.
6 April 2012

Malawi's Vice-President Joyce Banda gave her view of the deterioration of her relationship with President Bingu wa Mutharika in an interview with AllAfrica last September. She told Trevor Ballantyne and Bunmi Oloruntoba that part of the problem was Banda's desire to promote the candidacy of his brother, and the foreign minister, Peter Mutharika, as his successor:

The genesis of what is going on in Malawi as far as I am concerned starts out with the succession process. We got in this time, the president asked me to stand with him...

[President Mutharika's] promise to the people was, 'I am going to make Joyce Banda my vice-president.' Because I am a women's rights activist, he courted the Malawi women to his side. He said, 'I'll send her back to you with responsibilities that she is passionate about,' things like maternal health... and 70 percent of the people who voted were women.

So we go into the government and two weeks later he announces the first cabinet.....and I am not there. There were two vice-presidents before me [who] had portfolios Straight away announcements came out on the radio from people that were frustrated and felt like they had been betrayed: 'Mr. President you have let us down, we voted for you because of her, you have not fulfilled your part of the deal.'

But then when he... started saying... my brother can stand, he is Malawian, they said, 'This is about your brother,' and straight away the people said to him, 'Then your candidate is your brother, our candidate will be Joyce Banda.' So people started taking sides. All the chiefs, everybody started coming into the conversation. I was ridiculed, castigated.

What started to happen was my ratings went up and his ratings went down. Then the president got even more alert about that, so to cut a long story short, he diverted from his agenda. The whole government now, instead of focusing on promises like, 'we should do this, we shall bring water, we shall empower the youth,' that didn't happen. The president is focused on this succession process, 'who is talking about this and that? Who is not on my side? Who is on Joyce Banda's side?'

At the end of the day, the economy got so bad, the basic needs of the people started to go: no water, no electricity, no medicines in the hospital. And as all that is happening, then he started passing laws... For example... where a minister has the power to ban a newspaper that says anything against him that he doesn't like...

He insisted that I endorse his brother because everyone had to endorse his brother. And I said, 'No, Mr. president I don't think this is a good idea, we haven't even started working, this is only our second year [in power].' So he gave me two weeks: 'You either endorse or you will be expelled from the party.'

At that point there was an attempt on my life, and fortunately for me I had switched cars, and they hit the car that I was supposed to be in. Up until now the president has refused to set up a commission of inquiry to find out who was going to kill me; I haven't seen a police report.

When two weeks elapsed, I was called and I was expelled from the party. He said you cannot belong to the party and I was vice-president of the party. Unfortunately, for him, he couldn't sack me [as vice-president of the country]. The people in the country said, 'No you cannot sack her, and for your information we are going to support her.' So after I left, Malawians formed what they call 'Friends of Joyce Banda' [which] grew and grew and grew.

I did a survey and I asked what should I do? And 85 percent said you form a party, don't join another party. What you must know is that ever since 1984 there is no vice-president that started with a president when he was elected into office and finished with that president. Somewhere things go wrong...

[When Malawians planned protests in July 2011 and Mutharika announced counter-demonstrations]... I wrote him and said, Mr. president I am begging you, don't bring bloodshed in Malawi, don't start that, don't do it. We are the last persons to do that, because you and I have taken an oath to protect the same Malawians you are fighting with on the streets!

And side by side that I issued a press statement, I said, Mr. President allow them to march, Malawians march with responsibility, police protect everybody, and I am asking the president to sit down with organizers... So on the 21st of July... they shot 20 people and that's when he got upset because now he thought people would stop protesting. At the end of the day [Mutharika] cited seven names of those he would 'smoke out'. It included Joyce Banda and two others who had their houses torched, one of them was Rafiq Hajat. The government was still in talks when I left [Malawi to come to the U.S.] but I do not know what the outcome is. So, please pray for us.

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