By Peter Wanyonyi
In African politics, it used to be the unspoken truth that if you weren’t the Big Man, you were nothing.
The Big Man took various guises from President For Life to Prime Minister for Life to Brother Number One.
Former Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi styled himself “Leader of the Revolution”. When the Arab Spring caught up with him cowering inside a desert drainpipe, he is unlikely to have seen the irony of his title.
But things are changing — slowly, but inexorably. Big Men are falling by the wayside and women are stepping into their big shoes. Sometimes, this is done with little drama and zero fanfare. But not in Malawi. Not when the lady in question is Her Excellency President Mrs Joyce Banda.
Back in the late 1970s, it is said, Mrs Banda used to live in Nairobi. She was impressed by the ever-exposed talons of the Kenyan woman, the in-your-face attitude that led to, among other things, the formation of Maendeleo ya Wanawake and Fida, a lawyerly organisation that is, rightly, the terror of every cowardly wife-beating Kenyan husband. When she returned home to Malawi, Mrs Banda formed a few NGOs to fight for the rights of women and — naturally — launched her political career.
Not even the late Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika could contain her. She disagreed with him publicly as she looked askance at his chaotic management of Malawian affairs. This was little surprise for Mutharika. His suspiciously Kenyan-sounding name almost certainly guaranteed that he would be a disaster as president.
A troublesome Nigerian prophet-priest, TB Joshua, laid on a sermon in February this year in which he predicted that an African president would die in the month of April. Shortly afterwards, it is said he narrowed down the location of the country to south eastern Africa. There was panic at State House Harare as ministers queued to rubbish the prophet.
In Malawi, a Government minister even made burnt offerings of goats and assorted livestock to spare the life of President Mutharika. It turned out to be a waste of good nyama choma. April came and President Mutharika was, as they say, promoted to higher glory.
Mrs Banda, the new president, is not one to leave no stone unturned. When the Sudanese butcher-president Omar El Bashir indicated a desire to travel to Malawi for an African Union (AU) summit, Banda told him she would arrest him and hand him over to the International Criminal Court ( ICC) where he faces charges of crimes against humanity. El Bashir threw a tantrum and forced the AU to move the summit to safer grounds in Addis Ababa where Meles Zenawi, a traditional African strongman, doesn’t entertain ICC nonsense.
President Comrade Dr Robert Mugabe probably heaved a huge sigh of relief at news that Mutharika had expired. But perhaps he shouldn’t celebrate just yet. TB Joshua says another African President is about to head back to our maker. Makes you wonder why hundreds of Kenyans want to be president!