Longtime women's rights activist and Malawian Vice President Joyce Banda took charge of her homeland Saturday, ending two days of political intrigue after the death of President Bingu wa Mutharika.
Supporters cheered and danced as she was sworn in at a ceremony in the capital, Lilongwe, as Malawi's first female president.
"You have come to witness this occasion from all walks of life regardless of tribe, religion or political affiliation," she said. "I want all of us to move into the future with hope and with that spirit of oneness and unity."
Banda's ascension was contentious even though under the terms of Malawi's constitution, the vice president was in line for the highest office in the land. However, Banda's falling out with the ruling party had raised fears over a potential succession struggle.
She was expelled from the party in 2010 in a dispute with the president over his efforts to groom his brother as his eventual successor. She formed her own opposition People's Party, but remained vice president.
A government spokeswoman on Friday declared Banda not qualified to assume the presidency.
"The conduct of the honorable Joyce Banda in forming her own opposition party precludes her from being eligible to succeed the presidency," said Patricia Kaliati, who serves as information and civic education minister.
But Banda appealed for calm Saturday, and said the immediate focus of the country should be on the president's funeral and 10 days of national mourning.
She has been a grassroots fighter for women's empowerment and marched in January with Malawian women who demanded an end to attacks on those who were stripped naked on the streets for wearing pants, leggings and miniskirts, instead of dresses.
University of Malawi student Sphiwe Tanangachi Banda (no relation) said she was excited about having a woman at the helm. The country, she said, would take positive strides under Banda.