Joyce Banda returns to Malawi after four years and denies being on self exile

Despite facing the threat of being arrested over corruption allegations, former president of Malawi Joyce Banda returned to the country on Saturday after four years of self-imposed exile. This comes four days after her political party announced that she would be returning to the country.

According to AFP, Banda arrived at the Blantyre’s airport on a flight from Johannesburg around midday on Saturday and was received by her supporters and members of the People’s Party.

“Mother is here, the lights should come back,” the crowd chanted while welcoming her.

Banda became Malawi’s first female president following the death of Bingu wa Mutharika in April 2012. But she left the country in June 2014 after losing the polls to the incumbent president Peter Mutharika. She left on the pretext of a vacation, only to announce later that she would not be returning home. She said her personal security and that of her family were compromised. During this period, she lived in the United States, South Africa, and Britain. She has also been serving as a distinguished fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center and the Center for Global Development in Washington DC.

During her period of self-imposed exile, Banda was accused of being the mastermind behind the looting of billions of public funds during her two-year rule. This scandal was later termed Cashgate, coined after the Watergate scandal that brought down US president Richard Nixon in the 1970s. Cashgate is considered the biggest financial scandal in Malawi’s history. The scandal led to international donors halting aid to Malawi. The World Bank, however, resumed aid to the country in May last year by providing them with an $80 million package and saying the country had “taken some very important reform steps”.

Banda has, however, denied being on self-exile. She said that the reason she left for the US was to give “space” for her successor to govern, and to do research at a university there.

“So I was not in exile,” the Nyasa Times quoted her as saying, “I had work to do and I have written a book on women’s empowerment.”

She also said it is normal for a past African leader to leave the country for a period and then return. She cited Ruphia Banda of Zambia who had a stint as the eighth African president in residence at Boston University’s African Presidential Centre.  

Malawi is set to hold its presidential, parliamentary and council elections in May 2019 and Banda’s return could be an advantage for the People’s Party (PP), which she formed in 2011 after splitting from the President Bingu wa Mutharika–led Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). She is scheduled to address a political rally in Zomba where she will explain her next political move.

A look at Joyce Banda’s administration as president of Malawi

During her tenure as the president of Malawi, she instituted an economic reform to turn around the ailing economy she inherited from her predecessor. The economy grew from 1.2 percent in 2012  to about 6.2 percent in 2014. Its operational industrial capacity also grew from 35 percent to 80 percent during the same period.

She also repealed a number of laws that had weakened democratic institutions, infringed on civil liberties and restricted freedom of the press. She established the Presidential Initiative on Maternal Health and Safe Motherhood, which helped drop the maternal mortality rate in Malawi. This is because the health of women and children was a priority in Banda’s presidency.

Banda received several honors and recognition during her tenure as the president of Malawi. She was named the world’s most powerful woman by Forbes in 2013 and 2014. She was also named one of the most inspirational women in politics by CNN.

Prior to serving as president, Banda was the nation’s vice president, a foreign minister, minister of gender and child welfare, and a member of Parliament. She championed legislation in 2006 designed to prevent domestic violence against women and girls in Malawi.