The United States must work together and develop existing relationships with African countries to promote gender equality among other issues, former Malawian president Joyce Banda said Monday morning in the first Landon Lecture of 2018.
Banda said the U.S. and African nations have a strong history of working together, citing the efforts of past American presidents to help develop African countries.
She noted that Africans respect recent American policy that puts America first, but that African countries must view this as an opportunity to “to get [their priorities] right.”
“As you know, Africa is not poor,” Banda said. “It is endowed with huge natural resources and human resources, and in most countries, these resources — mineral wealth — are unexploited. African leaders now realize this potential and make policies to ensure that these resources benefit the people they lead.
“While in the past, some resources like this have been mismanaged, countries like Botswana, Tanzania and Rwanda are setting the pace and demonstrating that these natural resources can benefit their people,” Banda continued.
At the same time, Banda said it is unfortunate that the U.S. has missed out on an opportunity to be an international power by turning away from its previous dominant role in the global economy, and that other countries such as Canada are “rushing in to fill the leadership vacuum.”
Banda said Africans “still respect democracy and look to the U.S. for leadership, but if America abdicates … [America’s] geopolitical dominance will be weakened.”
In her speech, Banda outlined three goals for American trade with African countries: sustainable employment for Africans, targeted and impactful aid money and smart partnerships that African countries can take the lead on. Oftentimes, African perspectives and input are not prioritized in the process of investment, which Banda said hinders actual development.
Banda ascended to the Malawian presidency following the death of Bingu wa Mutharika, the former president, in 2012. As the vice president at the time, Banda said many were hesitant for her to lead. It would take military support to back her claim to the presidency, but three days after Mutharika’s death, Banda became the country’s first female president and the second female African head of state.
“There are two terms I was use to describe Joyce Banda, and the two terms are both the same — they’re courage,” Kansas State University president Richard Myers said. “The courage to be in politics when your life is threatened, and she’s had attempts on her life. … As a grandmother, she said, ‘The country is more important than my personal safety.’
“And then in office, she had the courage to do the right thing, even though she knew it would be unpopular among some, and to make a real difference,” Myers continued.
Banda, the series’s 177th speaker, spoke on the work she accomplished during her presidency, as well as the obstacles she overcame to reach her position as the first female head of state of Malawi.
During her tenure, Banda worked on gender equality issues and sought to advance women’s health. Banda said her personal experiences in an abusive relationship helped shape her efforts to advocate for women’s rights.
“I made up my mind at that point that I would never stand by and watch a fellow women be abused if I could help it,” Banda said.
While in office, Banda also aggressively fought corruption, and she said she commissioned an audit that uncovered the theft of more than $32 million from government coffers. Ultimately, she said, over 70 people were implicated, and Banda fired her entire cabinet.
Following her defeat in the country’s 2014 presidential election, Banda continued to face lingering resentment as political opponents levied allegations of corruption against her, although investigators announced earlier in January that they located no compelling evidence that suggests Banda participated in the corruption uncovered during her presidency.