Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika 'dead'

Bingu wa Mutharika (file photo) There have been growing protests against President Mutharika over the past year

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President Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi has died, doctors and cabinet ministers have told the BBC, but the lack of a formal announcement is leading to widespread anxiety.

Mr Mutharika, 78, suffered a cardiac arrest on Thursday and state media say he was flown to South Africa for treatment.

There are fears that his death could lead to a power struggle.

Both the UK and US have called for the constitution to be respected

According to the constitution, the vice-president takes over if the head of state is incapacitated or dies in office.

But Vice-President Joyce Banda and Mr Mutharika fell out after a row over the succession in 2010, and she was expelled from the ruling Democratic People's Party (DPP).

Mr Mutharika's brother, Foreign Minister Peter Mutharika, was chosen instead of Ms Banda to be the DPP's presidential candidate in the 2014 elections.


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, we are ready to do that.

He has been standing in for the president when needed during official occasions. Ms Banda recently told the BBC she had not spoken to Bingu wa Mutharika for more than a year.

On Friday evening, Ms Banda told a news conference that she was waiting for word from South Africa about the president's condition.

The BBC's Raphael Tenthani in the main city, Blantyre, says ministers have been locked in non-stop talks about the situation.

The doctors and ministers say that Mr Mutharika's body was taken to South Africa while a decision is reached about what to do next.

Government sources have told the BBC that efforts to resuscitate President Mutharika after his cardiac arrest had failed and that he was "clinically dead" on Thursday.

'The laws are clear'

UK International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell is among international leaders calling for a transition in line with the constitution.

Johnnie Carson, Assistant Secretary for African Affairs at the State Department, said the US is "concerned about the delay in the transfer of power".

"We trust that the vice-president who is next in line will be sworn in shortly," he said in a statement.

The life of Bingu wa Mutharika

  • 1934: Born Ryson Webster Thom in southern district of Thyolo. Adopts current name in 1960s
  • 1964: Goes abroad to escape then President Hastings Banda's crackdown on political opponents
  • Trains as economist, works for international bodies, including World Bank
  • 2004: Elected president as candidate of UDF
  • 2005: Leaves UDF to form DPP
  • Praised for helping poor farmers by subsiding agricultural inputs
  • 2009: Re-elected for a second term
  • 2011: Faces growing calls for him to resign; UK cuts direct aid after Mr Mutharika expels its envoy

Malawi Law Society president John Makhwawa told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme that people were very anxious because of the lack of official information.

He said that the vice-president should already have assumed powers and that anyone who attempted to govern in her place would be committing treason.

Former President Bakili Muluzi - a bitter rival to Mr Mutharika - has also called on the authorities to make an announcement.

"It's important that the government announces the condition of the president as soon as possible so that the nation is informed," he told journalists.

Mr Mutharika, a former World Bank economist, came to power in a 2004 election, after being backed by outgoing President Muluzi. Soon afterwards, Mr Mutharika left his United Democratic Front (UDF) to form the DPP, after accusing Mr Muluzi and other UDF leaders of opposing his campaign against corruption.

Since being re-elected with a large majority in 2009, critics allege he has demonstrated an increasingly authoritarian streak.

The president has been under mounting pressure to resign, amid accusations of nepotism and economic mismanagement.

The criticism has led to a souring in relations with major foreign aid donors, especially the United Kingdom.

Last year, Mr Mutharika expelled the UK High Commissioner, Fergus Cochrane-Dyet, after a leaked embassy cable quoted the diplomat as saying that the president could not tolerate criticism.

The Malawian leader said he could not accept "insults" just because the UK was his country's largest aid donor.

In response, the UK expelled the Malawian envoy to London and cut direct aid.

Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world, with an estimated 75% of the population living on less than $1 (60p) a day.

The country has suffered shortages of fuel and foreign currency since the UK and other donors cancelled aid.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Sadly, his second term revealed him to morphing into a tyrant like HKB - but destroying the country in ways that HKB avoided. I don't rejoice at his death and I feel for his family, but would rather he went than the entire country, and his pride *was* killing it. One hopes that we will see the return of the proper national flag, which had a meaning that the new monstrosity lacks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    My partner is from Malawi & is disgusted with Bingu & his selfish policies and childish behaviour, thank god he can no longer destroy a beautiful country, let's hope his replacement knows how to exist in the 21st century, he will not be missed, may there be dancing in the streets!

  • Comment number 43.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    A power struggle is likely and a quick resolution unlikely. But regardless of this the donors should restart Aids funding now. No funding for 2 years has left hundreds of thousands of people with AIDS only receiving life saving ARV drugs once every 2 days - not every day as required. These people will die if this continues. Malawi politics are messy, but not providing funds for ARVs is heartless.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Arnold55555 comment was inoffensive. Obviously the bbv are preparing for the new totalitarian state

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    RIP Bingo, he will not be missed, worst president Malawi ever had, took a thriving economy and destroyed it. May the great country of Malawi go forward now and prove itself once again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Malawi constitution Sec 83.4: Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of President, the First Vice-President shall assume that office for the remainder of the term and shall appoint another person to serve as First Vice-President for the remainder of the term.

    Section on incapacity:

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    "The best course of action would be to let the VP take over and the call an election immediately." --commenter Scott.

    I disagree. The best course of action would be to follow the constitution, which requires the VP to assume the presidency for the remainder of the term (elections are in 2014). Straying from this course sets a dangerous and reckless precedent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    This is sad but it is real clinically or not someday we will all pass on from here to the yonder land. His excellency crossed the rubicon unprepared and without normalizing relations with his VP. I hope Malawi would not be thrown into constitutional crisis and I hope Mr Foreign Minister would not think he is assuming the presidency.

    My condolence to the people of Malawi and his family

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    I am just curious why he not appointed a new VP when the old one was expelled. Much of the trouble would not exist if he had. A real pity though. I hope this can be resolved quickly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    It's sad but we can't help it. May His Soul Rest In Peace. The only prayer is that succession through his vice should not be ignored for peace to prevail. He performed nicely during his first term of office, but was confused during this last term which proved to us that he was selfish. It's my prayer again that since he is gone let us bury our differences and work hard to return our lost glory.

  • Comment number 34.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

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    Comment number 33.

    This situations can very quickly devolve into civil unrest. The best course of action would be to let the VP take over and the call an election immediately. I doubt this will happen, but we can expect there to be discontent from both sides regardless of the outcome.

  • Comment number 32.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

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    Comment number 31.

    R.I.P. For the goodies he has done to this country, Glad to lose him for clamities he has brought to this country too. Missing him is nothing but the shortage of sugar that is locally made just because he was sending it to China, Bravo God for the death of this man as we welcome the new era of Joyce Banda.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.


  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    I think the 'dictator' accusations come as a result of the family succession he appeared to be implementing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    RIP bingu wa mutharika, malawians, keep the hope alive!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    President Mutharika's detractors assert that he was a dictator. A dictator elected with a thumping majority?

    Most of the protesters are frustrated politicians who can't get elected to parliament. They've taken their frustrations onto the street. Nobody elected these people. Yet, they claim to speak on behalf of the masses.

    If they want to represent the masses, they should stand for parliament.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    With very few exceptions, African leaders, once they have got their feet under the table, seem to get very comfy there, and are in no hurry to give it all up. With the exception of President Mandela, very few are in the job for the people and the country, most are their for their own benefit! However it seems as if President wa Mutharika was one of the lesser of the local evils.


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