PIONEER AFRICAN WOMEN IN LAW
First Woman Chief Justice (Malawi)
By Taylor Duncan
Anastasia Msosa is known for being the first female Chief Justice of Malawi. This enormous endeavor, however, is not the only example of her ambition and strength. Justice Anastasia Msosa has spent both her academic and political career challenging societal norms and a heavily male- dominated field. Not only this, but Msosa helped to introduce a multiparty democratic political system to her nation. Anastasia Msosa is a pioneer in her field and serves as an inspiration to all women in male-driven work environments and striving to make an impact in their community.
Born in a rural village in Dedza in 1950, Anastasia Msosa was one of seven children born to a veterinarian father and an illiterate mother. She spent most of her childhood on the farm and learning about animals from her father. Msosa attended a boarding school in the 1950s, at a time where being educated was fairly uncommon. She recalled the importance of education being stressed in her household, commenting that “My father valued education; my mother was uneducated, but she also valued education. With limited resources, they made sure we had all we needed”. She reflects on her lifetime of career achievements, and adds, “I don’t know whether they knew that was the key, but here I am.”
As her educational career progressed, Msosa attended Likuni Girls school and went to the Bunda College of Agriculture. Msosa was one of the only three women in her class of 50 at Bunda College. She applied to study law at Chancellor College but soon realized that the college required at least two years of work experience or a degree, and to be a very good student in terms of “behavior”1. When Msosa finally achieved these requirements, she attended law school and received her Bachelor’s of Law from Chancellor at age 25 in 1975. Of only seven students in her class, Msosa was the only woman. This subsequently began her long-standing career in the legal field and was a foreshadowing of her propensity for challenging the male-dominated legal field.
Anastasia Msosa began her career in the legal field in 1975 as a State Legal Advocate. The function of a state legal advocate in Malawi is the same as a lawyer in public service. As a legal advocate, she worked on behalf of the state in civil and criminal cases. During this role, she worked briefly as a government lawyer, but mainly handled cases on the state level. She then worked in the Department of Legal Aid in the year 1990 as a lawyer for individuals that could not afford legal representation. She progressed later to become a senior legal advocate, principle legal advocate, and finally chief legal advocate.
Right before she became a judge, she made another advancement in her career when she became the Registrar General and Administrator in the year 2000. To prepare for this role, Msosa attended several courses to help better her knowledge in this field. She eventually became the very first female judge at the High Court of Malawi as well as the first female Justice at the Supreme Court of Appeals. These positions preceded her appointment as the then Chief Justice of Malawi from 2013 to 2015, succeeding Chief Justice Lovemore Munlo after he resigned from the office. Msosa was personally appointed by former president of Malawi Joyce Banda, who expressed her admiration for Msosa in this quote: “Chief Justice Anastasia Msosa is one woman I have watched and followed for a long time and I have always been amazed at how much a woman can achieve in a lifetime.” She also referred to Msosa as the “most senior in the system and well qualified.” In 1993, Msosa became the first chairperson of the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC). The MEC is comprised of officers and staff members to fulfill its mission to deliver credible elections that instill democratic values in Malawi. After she was re-appointed in 2005, she held this position for two more terms until the year 2012.
Justice Anastasia Msosa has contributed in several ways to the legal and political landscape of Malawi throughout her extensive and fulfilling career. Msosa’s unbelievable career feat in achieving every title that one can hold in the Malawian Judiciary is an important symbolic representation of female inclusion in the Malawian government. Not only did Msosa make history by attaining remarkable feats that no woman in Malawian history has reached, but these feats alone are effective in inspiring young Malawian women who long to see adequate female representation in their government and increasing female political participation in the national government. With her work in the Malawi Electoral Commission, she helped to guide Malawi into multiparty democracy in which political power is vested within the people through a voting system. Malawi has been a multiparty democracy since 1994.
A woman of many firsts and influential to Malawian women that long for their voice to be heard in their government, Anastasia Msosa serves as a pioneer to women in law and politics and women maneuvering through a male-dominated field all over the world. Anastasia Msosa is a force to be reckoned with; from a young age, she challenged social norms and traditions enforced on women to excel in areas from her education to her career. Besides the obvious achievements made in her field, Msosa is a pioneer in bringing new political ideologies to her country, as she helped to usher in an unprecedented era of democracy in Malawi.
Her contributions to the Malawian government and fearlessness when faced with societal norms that exclude women make her an undeniable trailblazer for Malawian women and the rest of the world.