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On Saturday April 7, 2012, Vice President Joyce Banda was sworn in as President of Malawi, making her the second woman in history to hold this post in an African country.

Although she assumed office after the untimely death of President Bingu wa Mutharika, her assent to prominent leadership positions was anything but sudden. President Banda began her career as an educator and adamant women’s rights advocate. She founded the National Association of Businesswomen (NABW) and championed women’s economic empowerment nationwide. After turning towards politics, she was elected as a Member of Parliament and served as the Minister for Gender, Children’s Affairs and Community Services. Prior to being elected as Vice-President in 2009, President Banda served as Malawi’s Minister of Foreign Affairs for three years. Confirming her position as one of the most prominent women leaders in Africa, Forbes Africa listed Banda as the third most powerful woman in Africa in 2011.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the only other woman to serve as head of state in Africa, spoke to BBC News Africa about President Banda’s accomplishments. “I look forward to meeting her and working with her… [T]ogether we can push for issues relating to women, women’s leadership and women’s participation in society,” Sirleaf said. She also offered the new President some key advice: “[President Banda] must build good relationships at home first… she must take charge right away.”

President Banda faces a long road ahead in Malawi, one of the world’s poorest countries.  But she has given hope to African women, showing that a rise to leadership is not unattainable. Vongai Chikwanda, a Vital Voices alumna and board member of Zimbabwe’s Women in Politics Support Unit (WiPSU), said, “She will tremendously change the face of politics in Malawi and Southern Africa. President Banda should address issues of political participation, governance and access to education. I have no doubt in my mind that she has the capacity to govern effectively.” 

We warmly congratulate President Banda on her landmark achievement, and wish her a prosperous term in office.

Photo credit: Flickr, via a Creative Commons license