Esther Mcheka-Chilenje, first deputy speaker of parliament

Who is Esther?

I am the first born of late Mr. and Mrs. Edna Mcheka-Chilenje. I am Member of Parliament for Nsanje North Constituency. I am a woman of strong faith. I am blessed with colleagues who entrusted me with the responsibility to serve as the First Deputy Speaker of Parliament. I was privileged to serve Malawi as Deputy Permanent Representative of Malawi to the United Nations’ New York Office, USA. I started on humble beginning as a primary school teacher in 1988. Thereafter, I rose to be a Primary Education Adviser (PEA) before upgrading to a diploma. Before joining politics in 2004, I served as a secondary school teacher for many years.

mcheka-chilenjeTell me about your upbringing?

I was born on June 11 1965 in group village head Namanya, Traditional Authority (T/A) Mlolo in Nsanje. My father and mother brought me up and my siblings in a Christian faith, with emphasis to love our neighbours and the nation. I come from a family of nine children.

What is your educational background?

I hold a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) in Agriculture Education from Bunda College, obtained in 2013. I also have a diploma from Domasi College of Education obtained in 2000. I did my education at Masenjere Primary School in Nsanje and Blantyre Secondary School.

Do you have a family?

Yes I have a family. I am married to Kennedy Nkhoma, Chief Commissioner of Prisons, but on separation. I am blessed with three beautiful daughters. I thank God for being faithful throughout my life. To my children and those friends who stood by me in times of crucial need, I am very grateful.

What drove you to taking such a huge step?

The love and passion for the people of my constituency and Malawi. They picked me to help them develop the constituency. Chiefs petitioned the then president Joyce Banda to bring me back from the diplomatic call. When I got the petition from my people, I felt humbled. I did not hesitate to respond to this unique and humble plea. I realised that serving people at the grassroot in my homeland is my main call. I simply had to say yes.

Did you envisage winning the deputy speakership?

I owe this victory to my God and I will continue glorifying Him for His unique ways of lifting His children. I do not take this for granted. It was not easy to win such a position unopposed. Remember these two facts: firstly, there are only 30 female MPs in Parliament. Secondly, I am from the independent bench without guaranteed support from colleagues. So, it was not my will but the will of God that the position came to me, an independent. I stand here to represent my fellow Malawian women and all Malawians. I promise to serve Malawi to the best of my capabilities.

Where did you derive the confidence?

Jesus Christ. This is where I derive my confidence. In addition, the fact that the House is gender imbalanced, I knew that the few of us chosen must stand firm and represent fellow women. There are so many issues affecting women. So the mantle is on us to effectuate changes we aspire.

What new things do you bring?

While away from the House, I have achieved a lot both personally and professionally. My analytical and research skills have improved immensely. These skills will be crucial in carrying out my responsibilities as First Deputy Speaker and serving my constituency.

What are the lessons learnt from your previous stint?

Two lessons stand out; Speakers are mandated to be impartial and remain sensitive to gender balance. Second; we are to defend the Constitution of Malawi. I strongly believe that we, as Speakers, should lead the House in protecting the integrity of our Constitution from unwarranted erosion. These lessons will indeed enhance my performance this time.

What value adding will your UN stint bring?

My stint at the UN has helped me understand some foreign policies and how they impact the world. As a diplomat, I was carrying the Malawi flag. Therefore, patriotism is something I valued most and would hope to continue impacting on this new role. I got to meet high profile individuals. The etiquette required to deal or relate with them is something I have learnt. This will help me relate with local and foreign dignitaries.

What are your views on the 50/50 campaign?

Participation of all genders in all political spheres is key to effective governance. As the just ended elections results portray, Malawi has gone backwards instead of forward with women representation in Parliament. 50/50 campaign programme was instituted with a goal to increase the representation and participation of women in politics in 2009. It is not enough to school electorates that women are custodians of development; hence, should be voted for. For me, such a programme can only be effective if womem havethe skills to strategically and effectively communicate with electorates. So, I think skills development is key to effectively achieve goals envisaged in the 50/50 campaign because a capable woman without skills can easily be pushed over and left aside from participating in development. In addition, I want to plead with all stakeholders involved in championing for the 50/50 campaign to start planning and advocating now and see to it that women elected deliver in their respective constituencies if numbers are to increase come 2019.

How will you use your position to advance this agenda?

I will always grab any opportunity to send systematic, clear and attitude change oriented messages. I fully understand that my position is strategic and can have greater influence in championing gender balance. Women need unwavering support in the quest for high level participation in politics and in national development. Therefore, any bill that will involve gender imbalances will receive my careful and critical attention, so that the rights of the voiceless are heard loudly. It is in the best interest of government arms to open up and support the empowerment of women because the nation as a whole stands to benefit from women’s effective participation in politics and other areas.

What personal lessons do you bring towards upgrading women?

I will reiterate that women are custodians of development. Personally, I am coming from a privileged background of a teacher. I am trained to send and receive information, impart knowledge to others, hence a good communicator. So women require special training on how to communicate with voters. Therefore, we need to rise above this hoodwink and begin to believe that, though not the ‘same’, we are ‘equal’ to our male counterparts. Women also can! If we develop this attitude, then we are on the right track to beat the tides against women. In short, being a better communicator and self-believer has helped me rise above the inferiority complex that is frequently perpetuated against women.

You recently expressed interest to work with the DPP. Have you aligned to government?

This is a very difficult question that requires a lot of time to unpack. In short, I am independent and will only obey the voice and wishes of my employers; my constituents. My people expect me to work with the government of the day while providing necessary checks and balances. My role requires me to work with government. So, the answer in short is that I will work with the government to implement development policies for my area and in serving the National Assembly. I have not joined the DPP party.

Other Remarks

I feel that God deliberately allowed me to go on leave for five years in my political career from 2009 to 2013 as a learning point. I can proudly say that I am not the same. I have improved in my pattern of thinking, capabilities, understanding of issues and even my proximity to God. I am very proud to state in this interview that I personally know that I am an achiever! I am so thankful to the Almighty God for His mercies, grace and favours.

 

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