Joyce Banda, who rose to prominence as a relentless women's rights advocate, navigated Malawi's turbulent political waters to become its first female head of state on Saturday.
Banda, just the second female leader in modern Africa, took office after the death of president Bingu wa Mutharika who had tapped her as his deputy in 2009 elections but ousted her from his party the following year.
She steadfastly resisted his efforts to force her from office during a succession battle sparked when Mutharika decided to groom his brother Peter to become his Democratic Progressive Party's candidate in 2014 polls.
Now, as head of her own People's Party, she has emerged as one of Mutharika's fiercest critics, lambasting his management of an economy hobbled by fuel shortages.
Banda was born on April 12, 1950, in Malawi's colonial capital of Zomba where her father was an accomplished and popular police brass band musician.
Having started her career as a secretary, she became a well-known figure during the dictatorial era of Kamuzu Banda, no relation to her own family.
She started a women's empowerment programme, travelling throughout the country to promote the National Business Women Association, a campaign that made her one of Malawi's most visible champions of gender equality.
She later established the Joyce Banda Foundation to advance girls' education.
Banda entered politics in 1999, during Malawi's second democratic elections. She won a parliamentary seat in the party of then-president Bakili Muluzi.
He named her minister for gender and community services. Five years later, she retained her seat as a candidate for Muluzi's party, even as Mutharika won the presidency.
When the new president split from Muluzi to form his own party, Banda followed and became foreign minister in 2006.
She argued the switch would bring economic benefits to Malawi. China has since built Malawi a new parliament.
Mutharika tapped her as his running mate in the 2009 elections, but their political honeymoon was short as party in-fighting intensified over his decision to anoint his brother as his successor, drawing accusations that he was trying to create a dynasty.
"The chronic disease of third term, or chieftaincy, remains one of the greatest enemies of our efforts to achieve sustainable development," she said.
"The country is constantly caught in a vicious circle of privatisation of the state where one or two people hold the fate of the country."
Banda's ouster from the ruling party angered many urban voters, and she remained a popular figure for many Malawians, known for her vigorous campaigning.
But her critics question her ability to steer the country through its economic crisis, with the currency trading on the black market at twice the official exchange rate.
After anti-government protests broke out in July last year, when police shot dead 19 people, Banda warned that Malawi could face more unrest ahead of the next polls.
"The road to 2014 will be rough, bumpy and tough. Some will even sacrifice their own lives," she said.
Banda remains a role model to many women in Malawi for her gender fight in a male-dominated society.
Banda is now Africa's second female leader of modern times, after Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Her family is among the most influential in Malawi. She is married to retired chief justice Richard Banda.
Her sister Anjimile Oponyo was hired by Madonna to run her school for girls, although that project collapsed and she was sacked by the mega-star.
Source: AFP Global Edition