Outgoing president: Joyce Banda
Joyce Banda became southern Africa's first woman leader in April 2012 when she stepped into the shoes of her predecessor when he died after a heart attack.
- 1950: Born
- 2009: Elected vice-president
- 2011: Fell out with President Bingu wa Mutharika but he failed to have her removed from her post
- 2012: Sworn in as president after Mr Mutharika's death
- Southern Africa's first female head of state
- Has large charity to help educate and empower women
- Her father was a well-known musician; her sister was hired to work in pop star Madonna's school
The two-day delay in the official announcement of Bingu wa Mutharika's death prompted fears of a power struggle, and 12 senior figures - including the late president's brother - were arrested in 2013 on charges of trying to prevent her taking over.
Ms Banda became Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2006 and the country's first female vice president in 2009.
However, she fell out with President Mutharika and was expelled from the the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in a succession battle.
She went on to form the People's Party, and resisted attempts to deprive her of the vice-presidency.
Ms Banda is recognised for her work as a supporter of women's rights. In 2011 she was named by Forbes Magazine as Africa's third most powerful female politician after Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Nigerian Minister of Finance Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
Mr Mutharika died amid demands for his resignation and threats of unrest, following anti-government protests in 2011 when police shot 19 people dead.
The former World Bank economist was re-elected with a sweeping majority in 2009 but was increasingly accused of wrecking the economy and autocratic crack downs. His feuds with donors and lenders let the aid-dependent economy to be hamstrung.
Ms Banda has taken immediate steps to restore relations with the International Monetary Fund, including a bold devaluation of the currency by a third. In 2013 she addressed concerns about corruption by dismissing her entire cabinet.
- Presidential, parliamentary and local elections are due on 20 May 2014. Ms Banda faces three prominent contenders including Peter Mutharika, a young brother of the late president Bingu wa Mutharika.