A new dawn has risen over Malawi

2012-04-07 15:43

Malawians danced in the streets and in marketplaces across the country yesterday when the office of the president and Cabinet finally confirmed that President Bingu wa Mutharika had died.

James Kaliwo, a street vendor in Lilongwe, said “a new dawn has risen over Malawi” following Mutharika’s death.

“Things have been getting worse economically and socially. God has answered our prayers. Mutharika caused problems for all of us by failing to improve the economy,” said Kaliwo.

Civil society leaders and a few government officials also expressed their support for Vice-President Joyce Banda – who is also leader of the opposition People’s Party – as she addressed supporters and the media outside her home in Lilongwe following the announcement.

Banda said she would chair a Cabinet meeting yesterday afternoon and asked for those in government to respect the Constitution.

Top army officers and a few senior Cabinet ministers, including the ministers of justice and finance, flanked her during the media briefing.

Hours later, she was sworn in as the head of state.

Mutharika, who assumed leadership in 2004 and was serving his second term of office, suffered a heart attack on Thursday at his palace in Lilongwe.

According to reports, he was rushed to the country’s main referral medical facility, Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe, and was later airlifted to South Africa.

State radio only confirmed yesterday that the 78-year-old president had died. The two-day delay in the announcement led to concerns that there would be a power struggle between Banda and the ruling party.
 
According to Malawi’s deputy minister of transport, Catherine Gotani-Hara, Mutharika’s allies wanted his younger brother, Peter, to assume office.

“I am not going to endorse him. Which law are we using to allow him to take over?” asked
Gotani-Hara.

It is an issue that Banda and Mutharika clashed over in the past. Mutharika expelled Banda, a former ally, from his Democratic People’s Party for insubordination when she refused to endorse his brother as the party’s candidate for the 2014 presidential elections.

Mutharika then excluded Banda from working as a part of his government. She launched the opposition People’s Party in September last year, but remained vice-president as it was an elected and constitutional office.

However, the country’s failing economy, and the fuel and foreign exchange shortages, saw unprecedented nationwide protests against Mutharika last year. At least 21 people were killed by the police and 275 were arrested.

Banda was a vocal supporter of the protests.

Mutharika was criticised for calling in the army to quell the protests as he vowed to crush the rebellion against him.

Many were hopeful that the country’s economic woes would ease. Political analyst Boniface Dulani said that with the appointment of a new administration, donor support to Malawi would resume.

“Most of Malawi’s recent challenges, including those rooted in a myopic foreign exchange policy and the loss of donor support because of poor governance, can be easily and quickly reversed,” said Dulani.

Malawi is one of the poorest nations in the world. At least 74% of the population lives on less than $1.25 (R10) a day, and nearly one in 10 children die before their fifth birthday.

– IPS

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