‘History will judge me’

After four years in self-imposed exile, former president Joyce Banda (JB) returned home last Saturday. In this interview with our staff writer GOLDEN MATONGA, Joyce Banda discusses her prolonged absence and her political future. Excerpts:

Banda: I cannot talk about the future

Thanks for granting us this interview, how are you?

I am in good spirits. I am happy to be back home.

Some reports said you had fled the country. Is this true?

No. I made the decision to leave. I left in July [2014] just after the elections when the Africa-America Summit took place. President Obama had hosted it in Washington. I was guest speaker at an event honoring Ambassador Andrew Young for the role he had played to promote trade between Africa and US, and [after the summit] I came back. I hear some reports that say that I fled after the elections. No, I came back. When I came back I stayed in Blantyre in Kabula until September during the UN General Assembly and that’s when I left again.

What made you stay out longer?

Former Heads of State spend some time after leaving office maybe at a university. I know president Rupiah Banda went to a university in Boston. Some people will begin to work on their presidential library, some people would go to a think-tank but I didn’t know how I should go about it so when I went to the UN General Assembly in September 2014, I went around looking for an opportunity and I ended up finding a position at the Woodrow Wilson Centre based in Washington DC.

Now that you are back home, are you heading back to frontline politics and are you running again for the presidency next year?

Let me answer that question in two parts. First, going into public office is a detour. People who know me, know me as somebody who has spent my life as an activist, as a development worker, as a social entrepreneur, ensuring that my fellow women and girls are empowered are building their capacity to a level where they will work side by side with our men in this country. What that did in this country and anywhere, is that people trust and love you because they see your sincerity. Then I branched out and went into public office for 10 years from 2004 to 2014. If it’s God’s wish that that is enough for me, that’s fine. I am very much at peace.

The second part, you asked if I will continue with politics. I want you to remember that when I left the country I was president of People’s Party.  I have remained president of People’s Party. I believe in consensus so that people move forward together. Equally on that question, I believe in consensus, do I allow younger people to take over? Do I stay? That has to be discussed in my party; in the National Executive Committee [NEC] of People’s Party.

But does the idea of standing again for the presidency appeal to you personally?

That doesn’t matter to me. That decision cannot be mine because we Malawians know this is one country that is very democratic. Every party before going into any election holds a convention and it is the people that decide.

Last year you complained about persecution of your family, concerns of your own security and even government failure to honour your benefits as a former president. Has those issues been addressed?

It was just before that announcement by the ACB [Anti Corruption Bureau] that they didn’t find any link with me to Cashgate that I was told the house has been renovated and now I have a house.

Some MPs of the People’s Party met President Peter Mutharika and, among others, bargained for your freedom. Are you back as part of any deal?

There are two things. There is prosecution and persecution. Prosecution cannot be guaranteed in State House. The president of this country is not a judge. But there is persecution. So persecution is just what you talked about. My sister being arrested, my house being vandalised, my pension not being paid. Those are the little, little things that we can list all day that happen, that can be dealt with in State House because I have been in State House myself.  So there is no deal.

But would you consider it if it came?

JB: No. No. No. I cannot talk about the future, I cannot say, and if, no! I have already told you, I cannot make a decision on my own. Do you remember what happened when those MPs went to meet the President? And if you ask some of them, I actually told them, don’t go.

So you had prior knowledge of the meeting?

JB: Yes, somebody phoned me that we are going to State House for a meeting and they didn’t say we are going to a meeting for a coalition.

So how is your relationship with President Peter Mutharika?

I spoke to the Office of the President on the 31st July 2017 at 11 o’clock in the morning informing them about my intention to come home. In fact, my wish in that conversation was to find out about my benefits here back home. By 5pm on the same day, a press release was issued. Since that press release [that police have a court warrant of arrest] was issued I never got back to the Chief Secretary to say what is this? You and I must look at the coincidence and wonder but I have never spoken to him again.

Looking back at Cashgate in retrospect, do you see anything you regret or if given a chance you would do them differently?

Maybe looking back I should have just let it go. It’s very easy for a president to see corruption and cover it up but I am not fixed that way. And whether you like it or not, history will judge me.

Do you have a feeling that Cashgate led to your electoral defeat?

No, I have never felt that way. It was my view that Malawians would say, at least for a change, we have somebody who is interested to fight corruption. I was not worried.

But some Cashgate suspects and convicts have issued statements to ACB, saying you were part of the scandal. What do you say to that?

It’s even painful to even discuss this. If we had the mother of Cashgate happening by the very same people and they say only this one was sanctioned by me? The Cashgate convicts that gave these statements were arrested in November 2013. They gave statements throughout that time for 12 months. If you recall, they only started implicating me after the Baker Tilly report was announced and my name was not there.

Do you consider the allegations political?

I have evidence to that effect.

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