JOHANNESBURG - Malawi's former president, Joyce Banda, said she has not returned home since her 2014 election defeat because she has a packed schedule of international speaking engagements — and not because she fears she may be arrested in connection to the biggest financial scandal in Malawi's history, "Cashgate."
Lameck Masina interviewed Joyce Banda (JB) in Johannesburg for VOA News.
Q: When did you leave Malawi and what have you been doing since?
JB: After President Mutharika was declared a winner, there was life after State House. For those Malawians that know me, I am an international public speaker. So I went back to my speaking engagements. And you saw I had a schedule for almost a year. I also had to look at the Joyce Banda Foundation.
Q: But why have you stayed outside the country for such long period of time without returning to Malawi?
JB: I don’t have a job in Malawi. What surprises me is that you are asking me this question because, in the past, we have seen presidents who have left office in Malawi and have gone and spent many, many months outside the country. Do you remember the time [former] president Bakili Muluzi stayed for a long period in the UK with his family? So I truly believe that there no problem with that then, and there is no problem with me staying outside as well.
Q: The main suspects in the Cashgate scandal said on radio that you are connected to the scandal. What would you say?
JB: Mr. [Oswald] Lutepo was indeed a member of People’s party and he was only six months in our party when the Cashgate scandal was uncovered … When it was clear that he was the main suspect after the first group was arrested, my government instituted an international search and extradited him from China.
The statement that he gave when he came back has been changed four times. … In fact, I have evidence that he was forced to implicate me, or his wife will be arrested ... I want you to know that following that statement on the radio that you are talking about, there was an announcement by the official spokesperson for the government [Kondwani] Nankhumwa that they had CCTV [closed-circuit TV] footage showing me and Lutepo conniving to swindle government.
If you recall I established a commission of inquiry to investigate and find out how our former president [Bingu wa Mutharika] died in State House. That’s how we first discovered that there no way we could see it because the CCTV camera in the State House wasn’t working. So for two years that we were in State House, we didn’t have any CCTV that was working. So I don’t know where this footage came from.
Q: But what do you think is the reason to implicate you in this [Cashgate] scandal?
JB: My advisers warned me that I should expect abuse because, at the end of day, ‘you are fighting powerful people and they will fight you back and they will not stand there.' The warned me that they [would] bring me down … It’s part of the deal of being a leader who truly stands for the people.
Q: So you are not afraid that they will succeed on their plan?
JB: I’m not worried. Even if they do, Malawians now are very intelligent people; they can see through whatever is going on and they know the truth. They know that I served them well.
Q: What do you think is the reason you lost the elections?
JB: I think that is a very difficult question for me to respond to because I can only direct you to an official report issued and announced in Malawi by the government’s governance institution, the Malawi Human Rights Commission, that tells what happened around the elections. And Malawi has a president, I will never challenge that.
Q: When are you returning to Malawi?
JB: When I’ve finished my program, I’ll go home. But I want you to know that I must feel in my country, like all former heads of state of Malawi and elsewhere, [that] I’m free to come in and out of my country or live anywhere else I choose to live.