I am not a dictator, says Mutharika

2011-07-19 13:08

Lilongwe - Malawi's President Bingu wa Mutharika brushed off accusations that his presidency is turning autocratic, in an interview with AFP days after Britain suspended aid over complaints of poor governance.

"I'm a very open person. Some people have dubbed me dictator. They don't know what a dictator is," Mutharika said.

"But there is also discipline, because no nation on this earth can run without discipline," he said. "But dictatorship is never in my bloodstream. I'm a democrat right through."

Civil society groups in Malawi have sounded the alarm over policies they say are rolling back hard-fought democratic gains made since the country's first democratic polls in 1994 removed dictator Kamuzu Banda from power.

In January, Mutharika signed a law allowing the information minister to ban publications deemed "contrary to the public interest", and in May local government elections - already delayed for six years - were again postponed.

His government has also imposed a requirement for activists seeking to hold protests to make a deposit of about $15 000 with police, intended as a safeguard against rioting and property damage.

The concerns of civil society were echoed in a leaked British diplomatic cable that accused Mutharika of "becoming ever more autocratic and intolerant of criticism".


That sparked off a diplomatic spat that saw both countries withdraw their ambassadors, while London last week suspended about £19m of budgetary aid meant for anti-poverty programmes in one of the world's poorest countries.

Britain said the aid suspension was "to address UK concerns over economic management and governance", but Mutharika insisted Malawi was not being singled out and would not apologise.

"It's certainly not a possibility. What do we apologise for? Here is an envoy who insulted our country," Mutharika said.

"As a matter of fact, we are already having dialogue to resume our normal relationship."

"Malawi never broke its relations with Britain. It's just that somehow the representation of Britain here in Malawi didn't act in accordance with diplomatic practices and we said remove him and bring another one, that's all we asked," said Mutharika.

Mutharika said the British aid cut would not affect the country's "zero-deficit budget".

"We have set our budget this year of 303 billion kwacha ($2bn) and we are going to raise 303 billion kwacha from our resources, so there is no funding gap whatsoever."

After winning his first term in 2004 elections, Mutharika won plaudits for curbing chronic hunger in Malawi with an expensive fertiliser subsidy programme that costs $180m a year and is funded through local resources.

Success story

Now the country's budget is strained, and the International Monetary Fund says its loan programme in Malawi has stalled. The resulting foreign exchange shortage has caused severe shortages of petrol and other imported goods, stoking public discontent.

Activists have called for marches across the country on Wednesday, in protest at Mutharika's policies.

In response, Mutharika has announced a speech for Wednesday, when he says he will discuss the activists' concerns.

"Under the constitution, they will be allowed" to protest, he said.

"I find this absurd because it's a waste of resources and time," he said. "Their concerns are invalid."

"I'm not worried about criticism. In fact, Malawi is a success story."

  • Jonathan - 2011-07-19 13:32

    Our next bailout call!! If not already

  • Sisie - 2011-07-19 13:32

    Of course you are. So what you are saying is that as a success story Malawi is self supporting and actually making a profit from all it's exports, does not ever beg for aid - i am impressed. Well done and Congratulations.

  • 50something - 2011-07-19 14:01

    Malawi should be a success story - it is a fertile country that should produce an abundance of food for its people, but politics seem to get the better deal and they revert back to depending on hand-outs? The African story, why can't they get it right? "His government has also imposed a requirement for activists seeking to hold protests to make a deposit of about $15 000 with police, intended as a safeguard against rioting and property damage" - love that, we should impliment it here.

  • chileaan - 2011-07-19 15:41

    Yeah we all have to bow down to the British F them!

  • jobho - 2011-07-19 15:59

    There is one particular thing I liked about this article, the one on a $15 000 deposit before a strike. Can we have that here so that any damaged property can then be replaced by the government thereafter. its like insurance. but it only works with a sincere government

  • rmkwende - 2011-07-19 21:03

    Success story my foot!this reporter doesnt have all the facts.The said subsidy programme was hugely supported and funded dy DFID,which is development initiative by the British Government.This Bingu character has dictatorial tendencies and his time is up,its not true to say that Malawi as a country was insulted in the leaked cable by the British diplomat,he rather expressed his opinions on how Dr Bingu is running his government which is also a view shared by many in the country including the civil society. Malawi has not reached a point where it could be fully self sufficient i.e. raising money through "local resources" as the writer put it.The MK 303 Billion is being raised through huge taxes the Govt has introduced, thus getting the same little money a poor Malawian who lives on less tha a dollar a day depends on. Tommorrow is the day when all fed up Malawians will march wearing RED,and guess what?i will be one of them. RMK

  • AJ - 2011-07-20 04:52

    "In fact, Malawi is a success story" With the bar on this continent set so unashamedly low it is no wonder poor governments are seen as successful by so many poor people. What passes for success in many parts of Africa would see officials in other parts of the world pulled from their offices and dragged through the streets backwards (if they had not resigned in shame beforehand that is).

  • Tchockhie - 2011-07-20 16:55

    No matter what Malawi still need British and other country's assistance, therefore urgent smooth discussion should be carried out to rectify/normalize the current situation in Malawi

  • Achakulungwa - 2011-07-20 21:41

    This blind man is leading Malawi to doom. What succes story when there is No fuel, no forex, no drugs and no basic services. The dude is so intorerant, tribalistic, nepotunistic and hard hearted. Why cant he first discipline his kids.

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