by Pilirani Semu-Banda
Last Christmas Eve, just days before Hilary Clinton announced her intentions to run for the US presidency, a woman parliamentarian in Malawi, Loveness Gondwe, also indicated her intentions to run in the 2009 presidential elections in her small southern African country.
But Gondwe’s battle might end up being even more difficult than Clinton’s because she is already having an uphill battle right within her party, the Alliance for Democracy (Aford), where some members are rejecting her nomination and thus forcing her to fight for her candidacy in court.
The party’s trustees accepted Gondwe’s nomination to fill the position that fell vacant after the death of Aford president, Chakufwa Chihana, last June. Those rejecting Gondwe say they do not want her to be their leader because the former president was her father-in-law. The protestors say they do not want their party to be turned into some kind of a dynasty.
But apart from being the only politician in her party who has managed to maintain a seat in Parliament, after most of her colleagues lost theirs in an election in 2004, Gondwe has achieved rare political milestones, as she was the first woman ever to be elected to the post of First Deputy Speaker in the Malawi Parliament in 2003.
“I am the only one who is keeping my party alive and I deserve to be leader of Aford,” she said.
Gondwe claims that those not happy with her nomination are people who think that women cannot successfully hold decision-making positions.
“I am not going to step down; this party exists because of me. Most of those that are against my nomination have dumped the party before and have just returned because they want high positions. I am the only Member of Parliament in this party. They can never access party funding from the Institute for Multiparty Democracy if I decided to quit as a parliamentarian, since the party will have no representation in parliament,” said Gondwe.
She insists that she will not bow down to pressure, but her detractors want the issue to be resolved in the courts. The matter might therefore be far from resolved since the court processes in Malawi are usually lengthy.
The rejection of a woman presidential candidate is not a new phenomenon in Malawi; the country’s fearless human rights activist, Dr. Vera Chirwa, pulled out of the 2004 presidential race after she failed to solicit enough support from a cross-section of people.
Dr. Chirwa failed to contain the challenges of being a female presidential candidate despite her eminence as a woman who participated actively in the fight against the dictatorship rule that dominated Malawi for 30 years. She was sentenced to death in 1981, together with her husband who died in prison, and only came out in 1993 with the dawn of democracy.
Human rights and gender activists in the country continue to rally support for women that are vying for decision-making positions, saying that with women constituting over 52 percent of the country’s population, the country could easily have a female president if all the female electorate voted for her.
Despite the fact that Malawian women outnumber men, the low percentage of female representation in decision-making positions continue to be an issue of concern; the country's 193-member Parliament only has 27 women, the cabinet only has 6 women out of 22 ministers, and one deputy minister out of 14. These statistics have not improved much since the country’s first round of democratic elections in 1994.
Statistics in civil service show an even worse scenario, with only five female permanent secretaries out of 51 total, only four women as judges out of 25 in the judiciary, and only three of the 16 Malawian diplomatic missions are headed by women.
This state of affairs could explain why political analysts say Malawi, just like many other African nations, is not ready for a female president. But Loveness Gondwe does not agree and she has vowed to fight on and prove both those fighting against her and the analysts wrong.