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 65.

    May Dr Mutharika's soul rest in eternal peace. The best way the ruling party in Malawi, to remember him with respect is to religiously comply with the constitution of the country. He was a human being, who at times; during moments of weakness, made some silly fatal mistakes.Even though, I do not think that he ever declared himself a Saint.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    My his soul rest in peace. Big test for our democracy. Almost 20 years on. How matured are our politicians despite most of them being in their 60s. Can those in power for once put national interest first?? Recent events should remind us all that that you can never really be total control but God. So let governance decisions be for the good of the country. By the way we still have a constitution!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    Talking to my Malawi brethen in UK leads me to believe that the country is in the grip of uncalled for suspicious silence brought on by a lack of formal annoucement by the government on the way forward. If this continues then it will breed underhand and cladestine activity which could lead to destabalisation of the country and anachy. God forbid.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    It goes like this.DICTATORS r what they r.The world needs a voice &politicians are not that voice.THINK freedom of our selves,it will get you/us somewhere.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    Yip ,Afrika is one hot place too live in?The wrong people are now dead incharge or or trying too succeed.Go figure.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    I think most Malawians have waited for this day for so long.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    Death news is always received with disbelief and sorrow, and our President's death is no exception. Fellow Malawians, his death will never make anyone hollier now than anybody, living or deceased. The truth is: WE MUST MOARN THE DEPARTED, NEIGHBOURS SHOULD CONSOLE US AND ULTIMATELY WE LOOK UP TO GOD FOR MALAWI'S BRIGHT FUTURE. GOD UNITE AND SEE MALAWI PROSPEROUS!

  • Comment number 58.

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

  • Comment number 57.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    Ihearily feel sad for the demise of president

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    What a pity, to me he was an excellent president.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    The constitution is clear, the Vice-President assumes the Presidency for the remainder of the term of office.

    No doubt someone will think it's an excuse for a brawl, though. The rule of law doesn't suit self-interest and disregard for the citizens these people are supposed to serve.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    Ho! My good people of Malawi, does that mean Mr. Mutharika was the only evil man ever born in Malawi? I believe he did some wrongs but please allow his soul to rest for at least week before you start pointing out his guilts; he was your president.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    I have followed the Malawi story for a few days and to be frank cannot tell who are the good guys or bad, what is true or false etc. I don't know about you but I have trouble keeping up with the ups and down in world these days. Makes one value what we have in the UK even if we do critisise it every day

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    He was a terrible president and his downright mismanagement of the country that has lead to the vast majority of people living in poverty. I remember being run off the road by his motorcade, one that would put the President of the USA to shame. If the president's travel mode was to reflect the GDP of Malawi he would be riding a donkey, not owning private jets, 4x4s etc.. A typical African despot.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    am a patriotic citizen of Malawi and hav no interest in politics bt 2 say da fact Malawi has lost a person always to remembered by many!in his 8yrs of power he has done alot though the ending was bad!my thumb is up for his works!

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    This is an opportunity for Malawi to grasp the future and recognise the importance of human rights.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    I think he has made a great thing, as nation decided to reelect him for acting in that important office for every citizen as presitent of the state. I think every president is a kind of a historic person in his own countries not only becaouse of his political influence in region and state but also thanks to his great personality and thanks to its influence on the nation. It seems he has done it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    death knows no bounds,a selfcentred man with an ego who patronised his countrymen,tried to create a mini dynasty by imposing his younger brother,as africans we dont rejoice at the passing of people,even our enemies,but i have no doubt malawi wil be a better place without him and his ego,rest in peace

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Dictators in Africa cannot hang on 2 power forever oppressing their own people. There is an end to even to leaders ruling with impunity.


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