Gondwes From Malawi: Loveness Gondwe Chihana
Profile by Eric Gondwe
For all that she has endured it comes as no surprise that Ms. Loveness Gondwe is the first female presidential candidate to represent a major political party in Malawi’s history.
She is a seasoned politician and a pioneer in the mainstream political environment for women of Malawi. Because of this she has had to endure the challenges of confronting long established cultural norms that hinder and marginalize women’s advancement.
Loveness Gondwe will be remembered well past her time among generations ahead for leading the way on matters of gender equality, representation of women in politics and other key sectors for the women of Malawi. This is the primary influence that distinguishes her most.
Her political mark began from her service in an opposition political party called Alliance for Democracy (AFORD). The party was established by her late father in law, Mr Chakufwa Thom Chihana, in 1994. She is married to his son, Yeremiah Chihana.
AFORD had a good start in politics, though drew support primarily from it’s regional base, the northern region of Malawi. Regional politics is well entrenched in Malawi, a country that has seen political maneuvers that have long disadvantaged the northern region.
Chakufwa Chihana saw his well supported party suffer from political maneuvers that he personally fell for by rival parties that sought his alliance to either seek votes from his loyal supporters or to divide his flock. Mr Chihana, like any politician took his risks in playing the political chess game. It’s just that he found himself making the wrong move, almost one after another, with severe consequences to his party.
In the 1994 presidential and parliamentary elections AFORD won 36 of the 177 parliamentary seats at stake. The figure was down to 29 in the 1999 elections, then to six in the 2004 elections. By the time of his death in June 2006 Chakufwa Chihana had only Loveness Gondwe as the only elected representative for AFORD in the Malawi parliament (legislature (called Congress in USA)). She was the legislator for Mzimba West, a district in northern Malawi. Defections to other parties by key leaders and disillusioned voters eventually brought AFORD to its knees.
Ms Loveness Gondwe therefore remained the remaining hope of AFORD. She served as the Deputy Speaker of National Assembly from 2003 to 2004, the highest position reached by any woman in Malawi. This was before her presidential bid. She also served as the Interim President of the Alliance for Democracy (AFORD), between 2007 and 2008, another first for female.
In 2008 Ms Gondwe broke away from AFORD to form a new party called the Rainbow Coalition Party to run for the May 2009 presidential elections. She asserts her long experience in politics as her main credentials:
“I'm not new in politics. I have been a member of parliament for some time and this is going to be my third time in this election. The people know how much I have done and how much I do fight for my country and they know what type of leader I am. So I'm sure nobody can doubt my candidature or what I would be as the first woman president of Malawi. And I have seen women delivering more than men because women are not as corrupt as men are,” Gondwe said.
At the center of her priorities include youth and women empowerment: “There are so many things I would like to achieve. First and foremost, I would like to create jobs for the youth. There are so many dropouts or sometimes those who have finished their form fours or tertiary education, and they don't have employment, and I would like to create employment for them. I would also like to create employment to promote women, the maternal death rate is too high in Malawi, and I would like to increase birth benefits,” she told Voice of America (VOA) news reporter Peter Clottey.
Loveness Gondwe has an uphill battle and would need all the support she can get. One positive development is that there is a deliberate national program to promote participation of women in politics. Pilirani Semu-Banda writes from Global Information Network:
“All women vying for political positions in Malawi are benefitting from the support being rendered by the 50:50 Campaign, a national program on increasing women's participation in politics and decision-making positions. The campaign is being coordinated by the Ministry of Women and Child Development with support from international donors including the United Nations.
“The program provides campaign finances and materials to women aspiring to political positions, to expose them to the public through media and to provide them with training in personal development. Up to 150 women have presented their nomination papers to contest for the 193 parliamentary seats. Currently, there are only 27 women out of the 193 members in Malawi’s parliament.
“Program coordinator for the 50:50 Campaign, Bertha Sefu, admits that it is an uphill battle to achieve equal participation for women in decision-making positions.
“Sefu said Malawian society favors men more than women but that the 50:50 Campaign has managed to position women well and that the country is now realizing that women can be trusted with decision-making positions,” Pilirani Semu-Banda, Global Information Network, Mar. 5, 2009.
Click here to download an interview of Loveness Gondwe with Peter Clottey from VOA
Pilirani Semu-Banda, Global Information Network, Mar. 5, 2009, “Politics-Malawi: More Women Join Contests for Top Posts.”
Peter Clottey, Voice of America News, 05 February 2009, “First Female Presidential Candidate Files Nomination Papers for Malawi Election.”
Lameck Masina, IC Publications Ltd, “Chihana bids adieu; Lameck Masina reports on what the death of Chakufwa Chihana means to his party and Malawian politics in general.”