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Joyce Banda on being a corruption buster and adding women to the fight

Dr Joyce Banda, former Malawi president at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington, 27 February 2018 Woodrow Wilson Center

Joyce Banda made headlines in 2012 when she became the first female president of Malawi, and the second in Africa’s history. After being cleared of damning corruption allegations, she has vowed to take the struggle against graft worldwide. On International Women’s Day, RFI is shining a spotlight on her story.

"Seventy billion dollars leaves the continent, our resources are being looted. The question I always have is this: 'Where is it going?'," former Malawian leader Joyce Banda told RFI at the end of last month.

It wasn’t long ago, however, that the outspoken anti-corruption activist was the centre of suspicion herself.

In July 2017 reports emerged that Malawi police had secured an arrest warrant for Banda over alleged abuse of office and money-laundering offences as part of the 250-million-dollar (200-million-euro) "Cashgate" scandal, which erupted during her  2012-2014 term of office.

"Smear campaign"

Banda has always maintained her innocence.

"I want you to know that fighting corruption is not easy at all," she says, claming that a smear campaign was launched against her for shaking up the status quo.

Seventy-two people were arrested over the Cashgate scandal, which resulted in several donor nations suspending aid.

"In fact, I was advised that you’re better off covering up corruption because of its negative consequences," comments Banda.

Beyond the suspension of aid, a major worry for a country where 40 per cent of thel budget relies on donor support, the other concern was that Malawi would lose its position on the human development index by "blowing the whistle".

"I have always insisted that leadership is a love affair," insists Banda. "The moment you raise that Bible that you’re going to be a leader and you take oath, you must be prepared that there are times when you are wrongly persecuted."

In addition to avoiding jail, Banda also survived two assassination attempts.

But she remains undeterred.

"I feel great respect for all those who stick their neck out to fight corruption in their countries," she says, adding that she wants them to continue doing so further.

Today her voice carries more weight. The cloud of suspicion surrounding her alleged involvement in Cashgate was dissipated in January this year when Malawi's Anti-Corruption Bureau cleared her of any wrongdoing.

Global problem

Now Banda wants to take the fight against corruption global.

"It’s a global problem, for both men and women leaders to fight, if we’re going to serve the people well," she says.

And she’s calling on Western countries to play their part.

"If I, as a former president of Malawi, come to Paris and buy six houses, you must ask me where I got the money from," she insists, urging the West to do more to limit the substantial cash flows out of Africa.

"What worries me is when we ask for that money back, there’s resistance."

She's called on women to rise up to break down these barriers.

"Women are the majority [of the world's population] and the last time I checked, they brought the other half into the world, so they can’t be ignored."

If Africa lags behind in the fight against corruption, the continent has made long strides in putting women forward, Banda reckons.

"We’ve had four female presidents unlike other parts of the world where women are still trying to get into statehouse," she points out.

Her model countries? Rwanda and Namibia.

Rwanda, because "40 percent of the cabinet are women" and Namibia because of its s"zebra concept" whereby "when the president is a man, the vice-president is a woman and all the way down".

"We can come up with innovations such as those," the 67-year-old insists.