Keynote Address: H.E. Dr. Joyce Banda, President of the Republic of Malawi

October 5, 2013
Joyce Banda

2013 Annual Fall Gala

Watch video of these remarks.

Dear Friends, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, I wish to thank you so much for inviting me to a give this keynote address at this event, The Hunger Project Fall Gala. It is my pleasure to be back home, and to once again reconnect with the global Hunger Project family.

The Hunger Project has meant so much to me; so much to the people of Malawi and, I believe, so much to the people of Africa. Tonight, I would like to share with you experiences that demonstrate the tremendous impact of The Hunger Project, the mission and values that drive it, and how much the long-standing partnership means to me, to the people of Malawi and to Africa.

I begin by sharing with you about what The Hunger Project partnership means to my continent, Africa. Africa is endowed with a lot of rich natural resources and has magnificent, creative and hard working people.

Indeed, I acknowledge that Africa still faces some social, political and economic challenges, and that these impede our ambitions to fully exploit our resources for the development of the continent. However, tonight, I bring you good news about Africa. The majority of countries in Africa are peaceful and have embraced real democracy, the continent has created opportunities for men and women to work together as leaders. Africa has set the stage for solid economic progress.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, it is therefore not surprising that, today, the fastest growing economies are in Africa, not in Asia or America or even Europe. Africa is surely a continent on the move and the new frontier for development.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I have always believed that the transformation of peoples’ lives will depend on the political will and who is sitting in the driving seat. I am pleased to note that now Africa has more leaders than rulers. The continent is witnessing an emerging crop of home grown leaders that go into office to serve the people rather than self. This is a crop of leaders that are fully aware of the challenges that the continent faces, and are dedicated to make a difference; become stewards of the people and champions for development. 

Africa has gone a long way in embracing and promoting women in decision making and leadership positions. I am a living example of Africa’s commitment to women’s leadership, having become Africa’s second female Head of State in April 2012 joining my sister Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia. I have always joked that while Africa has two serving female Presidents other continents are still struggling to get a woman in State House!

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, as members of The Hunger Project, I wish to applaud you for you have long known about the strength and resilience of Africa. You have always known that Africa does not need “saving.” Even during our worst droughts or political disruptions, you have responded with respect and partnership.

By establishing the Africa Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End of Hunger, you put a spotlight on Africa’s leadership. As laureates, you have supported us to create a new definition of what African leadership can mean and who can be included: Not just male government officials, but women; civil society activists; scientists; teachers and social entrepreneurs.

You invested in us and encouraged us to invest in ourselves, with acknowledgements like the Africa Prize and programs like the Epicenter Strategy and the Microfinance Program to empower women’s economic participation. For me, it was the Africa Prize award that enabled me to set up the Joyce Banda Foundation which has grown to reach out to 1.1 million beneficiaries with various interventions in education, food and income security, early childhood development, and youth development. For this I am grateful.

I for one agree with your principle of partnership. It embraces what Africa needs. Transformational partnerships that help drive positive and long lasting change and are based on shared vision among the stakeholders. This is the call I have been making, and wish to repeat the same tonight.

Let The Hunger Project deepen its transformational partnership with Africa. I have always said that we, Africans, know our problems and how to address them. What we need are partnerships that are empowering to enable us to address those problems. So in this regard, I am pleased that The Hunger Project and I are on the same point of departure when it comes to this issue of partnerships. The Hunger Project in Africa is an expression of Africa’s own vision, commitment and action.

Dear Friends, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, I will now turn to talk about Malawi. When The Hunger Project honored me as your Africa Prize laureate in 1997, you affirmed what my elders had taught me – that there was nothing I could not achieve. And so here I am today, founder of dozens of empowerment programs; champion of initiatives in gender-equality, education, poverty eradication; and President and voice of a nation.

As a Laureate and President, I am pleased that in Malawi, The Hunger Project has pioneered successful strategies in remote rural areas to address the empowerment of women, HIV and AIDS, food security, health and nutrition, and adult literacy – all in ways that are cost-effective and replicable.

The work of The Hunger Project resonates with my government’s vision to eradicate poverty through wealth creation and economic growth. I have argued that the problems facing most poor households in Malawi are rooted in poverty and in particular the lack of access to income. Therefore, in line with my vision to end poverty, I launched the Economic Recovery Program whose aim was to reverse the economic challenges that Malawi faced at the time when I took office as President. In order to accelerate the economic recovery at household level, and to cushion the poor from the impacts of the reforms, I established the Presidential Initiative on Poverty and Hunger Reduction and the Village Transformation Initiative. These initiatives in addition to other existing government program reach out to rural and urban poor with comprehensive interventions in agriculture, infrastructure, housing, nutrition, water and sanitation just to mention a few.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, my Government is also paying special attention to the social sector. In this regard, among other things, Malawi has intensified its efforts to combat maternal morbidity and mortality. I have added my voice to the call to end the unnecessary deaths of women at childbirth. Therefore, I established the Presidential Initiative on Maternal Health and Safe Motherhood, and formed a partnership with local chiefs, private sector and communities to work on this noble cause. I am pleased that this partnership is already yielding results, as we have reduced the maternal mortality ratios from 675 women dying per 100,000 to 460. Furthermore, Malawi has already met the target of Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 4 on reducing child mortality ahead of the MDG end date of 2015.

I am pleased that Malawi continues to make steady gains in fighting HIV and AIDS. Our national adult HIV prevalence has gone down from around 14% in early 1990s to 10.6% in 2010. We have put nearly half a million HIV positive people on free life-prolonging medication, and have enhanced the prevention of mother-to-child transmission in future pregnancies by offering ART to all HIV positive pregnant women regardless of their CD 4 count or clinical staging. This is referred to as the Option B+, and this approach has taken Malawi closer to an HIV-free generation. Furthermore, Malawi is among thirteen countries in the world where the number of annual new adult HIV infections is below the annual increase in adults on ART.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, I am therefore pleased that The Hunger Project also seeks to deliver integrated interventions to economically empower poor people. In addition to this, the most important aspect of The Hunger Project in Africa and everywhere is its recognition that women are the key to ending hunger and poverty. You have made gender equality and the empowerment of women your highest priority. And we, the women of Africa, have proven time and again, how right you are.

Dear Friends, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, I see that between my Government and The Hunger Project there are many opportunities to strengthen our partnership. Our shared, passionate commitment to women’s empowerment can be a beacon of hope and encouragement to women everywhere. Our shared, profound confidence in the power of mobilizing communities can inspire more national leaders to move resources and decision-making authority to local communities – closer to the people – where they can ensure accountability and transparency. I see that your Epicentre Strategy fits in very well with the Village Transformation Initiative. In this regard, I see your current eight epicentres in Malawi being natural entry points for the Village Transformation Initiative. My government welcomes the opportunities to collaborate with The Hunger Project to twin the two initiatives.

Last month I had the honour to preside over the inauguration of the Majete Epicentre in Chikwawa District together with Madam Mary Ellen. The Hunger Project has built a magnificent health clinic, a village bank, a community hall and is providing the communities with water. In line with the partnership, my Government provides the required extension service to Majete. In addition, the government will look into providing the additional facilities such as a good road network to improve access to the area, work with communities to build them decent houses, and provide other essential services. This will in no doubt transform the Majete community. This is the kind of partnership that my Government seeks to pursue with The Hunger Project in Majete, and all other Epicentres, including the new ones you are planning to establish.

Our unshakeable dedication to listening to people, to trusting their own wisdom, and building a future based on respect and human dignity are our strengths and the common foundation for our partnership.

We must promise each other that we will invite everyone we know to join us in this great human endeavor of building a sustainable future – a future based on equality, solidarity and human dignity.

On behalf of the people and government of Malawi, I wish to thank The Hunger Project and all the sponsors that support work in Malawi and I look forward to what we can accomplish together in the years ahead.

I want you to know that in me you have a partner, and with me are local champions that work tirelessly in supporting the cause to end hunger and poverty in Malawi. It is my pleasure to introduce Mrs. Chrissie Zamaere, Mrs. Fainess Nkungudza and Mrs. Rosemary Nhlema who help me to champion the cause for the poor. I want them to stand so you can see them.

I thank you for your attention.