News and Views
Official confirms President Mutharika is dead
By CAROLINE KALOMBE
BINGU wa Mutharika who died of a heart attack on April 5 was not always known as Bingu wa Mutharika the President of Malawi.
He was born Ryson Webster Thom on February 24, 1934 in Thyolo, Malawi east of Zambia of Church of Scotland influenced parents Ryson Thom Mutharika and wife Eleni Thom Mutharika, according to records.
But somewhere in the 1960s – nobody knows why – Ryson changed his name and a new guy that entered the world was one Bingu wa Mutharika, a viciously ambitious young man who excelled academically.
He was one of the few promising Malawians ‘awarded’ scholarships in India by Kamuzu Banda who was averse to political competition and eliminated some of his potential enemies by sending them for fast-track diploma programmes under an agreement with India, according to archived documentation.
But instead of complaining about the ‘education exile’ wa Mutharika went beyond his diploma, pursued a degree in economics, later a Masters at Delhi Economics Institute and only slowed down after he gained a P.H.D in the same field from Pacific Western University of Los Angeles, California in the US.
Even though academics appeared to be his strength, he appeared to have lacked in management and people skills, a trait that made him lose his job in Lusaka as the secretary general of the Preferential Trade Area that later came to be known as the 19-member COMESA.
Memos leaked to the media described Mutharika – may his soul rest in peace – as a man that never took advice, was arrogant and often disrespected line ministers of relevant COMESA ministries, choosing to act like a head of state when he was in fact not one.
But as fate would have it, he campaigned and became President of Malawi in 2004 to a good start that turned sour amidst reports of rampant corruption, extravagance and even picking wrong enemies such President Michael Sata whom he declared a prohibited immigrant five years ago, without knowing what the stars held for him.
Under Mutharika, fuel prices shot through the roof, 12 people (officially) died last year during riots and looting while 45 (officially) were injured severely while the currency the kwacha, hit its lowest ebb against convertible currencies such as the US dollar.
Mutharika ignored dissent and divergent views on various issues, including advice that he ought to have apologised to President Sata for the humiliation he made him go through – albeit President Sata forgave him long before he died in Malawi – because of his Catholic Christian faith.
At the time he was dying, media reports were circulating, that Malawi was in a state of jubilation instead of mourning as a result of the death of Mutharika, known for his cowboy hats inspired by wild wild west movies.
People are very, very anxious. Almost everyone in the country knows that the president is dead.
According to the Malawi constitution, the person who is in charge right now – the only person who can make lawful and binding conditions – is the vice-president.
Any person who assumes the powers of the president will be committing treason.
The Malawi Law Society will commit to make sure the vice-president takes up the position of the president. If it means going to court to get an order restraining an attempt by other people, they are ready to do that.
As a result of his departure, Joyce Banda, his bête noir is constitutionally supposed to take over as President – a move that may bring ties between Malawi and Zambia closer as she has a good work relationship with President Sata – instead of Mutharika’s Foreign Affairs Minister his brother Peter, whom the late President favoured as he tried to create a monarchy.
Mutharika may not be remembered for his people or team work skills or even looks but he certainly will be remembered for his desire to achieve highly academically, as preparations to bury him are made. His death was yesterday confirmed by the BBC, Reuters and local media such as the Malawian Democrat. He was 79 years. – BBC/Reuters/and additional writing by Anthony Mukwita.