Prominent women’s rights campaigner Joyce Banda was sworn in as Malawi‘s president on Saturday, becoming southern Africa‘s first female head of state and raising hopes for a fresh start in the small, poor nation after the death of her predecessor.
Banda, a 61-year-old policeman’s daughter who has won international recognition for championing the education of underprivileged girls, had served as vice president under Bingu wa Mutharika, who died on Thursday following a heart attack.She succeeds him under the terms of the constitution.
Aid-dependent Malawi had slid into economic crisis over the last year, as Mutharika, a professorial but temperamental former World Bank economist, squabbled with major western donors who then froze millions of dollars of assistance. Banda took the oath of office on Saturday in the National Assembly in the capital, Lilongwe, as flags flew at half mast in mourning for Mutharika, whose death was only officially announced by Malawi’s government on Saturday.
“I want all of us to move into the future with hope and a spirit of unity,” Banda said amid loud applause and singing.
The two-day delay in the official announcement of Mutharika’s death had raised worries that there could be a power struggle. Banda had been expelled from his ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) party in 2010 after an argument about the succession, though she retained her state position.
But fears of a political crisis in the landlocked former British colony receded as top officials and the army backed the handover of the presidency to Banda.
In a sign that she has support across the political spectrum, opposition leaders had called for her to be sworn in as head of state swiftly, and 20 members of the national governing council of Mutharika’s DPP also expressed their backing for her.
Banda said she had already held a “good meeting” with Mutharika’s cabinet.
Malawians, many of whom had viewed Mutharika as a stubborn autocrat, appeared to welcome their first female president.
“We now have a female president, this to me is the greatest day because she is a mother and a mother always takes care of her children,” said Alice Pemba, a vendor in Lilongwe.
“She will be able to do a good job and surmount the challenges to work with the IMF and World Bank and win back the donor support which we need,” said a local businessman who gave his name only as Tiyazi.
Earlier, Banda appeared at a news conference to dispel fears of a succession struggle and declare 10 days of official mourning for Mutharika, who had ruled since 2004.
“I call upon all Malawians to remain calm and to keep the peace during this time of bereavement,” Banda said, flanked by members of the cabinet, the attorney general and the heads of the army and the police.
“As you can see, the constitution prevails,” she said.
Malawi’s constitution says the vice-president takes over if the president dies, but Mutharika appeared to have been grooming his brother Peter, the foreign minister, as his de facto successor. Peter Mutharika did not attend Banda’s swearing-in.
Banda is expected to run the country until scheduled elections take place in 2014.
Source: The Guardian UK