Malawi president under fire for mice-eating 'joke'

Peter Mutharika Image copyright AFP/Getty
Image caption President Mutharika declared a national disaster in April, after a drought caused maize production to plummet

Malawi's president has sparked anger by saying people should eat mice to cope with a nationwide food crisis - but one minister says he wasn't being serious.

President Peter Mutharika told a rally that the government was doing everything it could to solve the problem of food shortages, the Nyasa Times reports. He's then quoted as saying: "But why should Malawians die with hunger when we have different things to eat? You should be eating mice, grasshoppers as well as cassava."

Human rights activist Billy Mayaya, who leads the Right to Food Network, described the remarks as "disgraceful", and other social media users accused the president of being out of touch. One of the paper's readers branded it "cruel and insensitive", and several asked if the president would be indulging in some mice meals himself.

A spoof version of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party's logo has also gone viral, replacing the usual three maize cobs with a picture of a mouse and a grasshopper.

But the country's information minister says she doesn't understand the backlash, as President Mutharika was simply cracking a joke. "The president has a right to joke when he is interacting with his people," Patricia Kaliati told the state-owned Malawi Broadcasting Corporation. "He does not have to fear to explore his sense of humour simply because fault-finders lie in wait to denounce anything that he says."

The explanation didn't do much to quell online anger, though, with many people pointing out that hunger isn't a laughing matter. "If the president was only joking, then it was a joke in very bad taste indeed," said one Nyasa Times reader on Wednesday. Another wrote: "My advice to Peter is never joke when your friends are suffering. Hunger is real."

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