(HN, 4/6/12) - On Friday it was announced by hospital and government sources that longtime Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika had died after having a heart attack and collapsing at the nation's State House yesterday morning.
The Nyasa Times, the nation's state newspaper has said that Vice President Joyce Banda will be sworn in as Head of State and is expected to address the nation shortly, though the ruling DPP party has already endorsed the former President's brother Peter Mutharika as their choice for President.
The constitution says the Vice President is to take over as head of state and even though Banda was booted out of Mutharika's ruling DPP party in 2010 after an argument about succession; though analysts said there would be a smooth transition of power with the army and police respecting the law of the land.
If Banda takes the Chief Executive spot in the nation she will be only one of two African female leaders - on a continent of 54 nations - along with Liberia's Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Sirleaf was first elected to her nation's highest office in 2005 and has since won re-election in 2011; a year she also was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize "for non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work" along with Leymah Gbowee of Liberia and Tawakel Karman of Yemen.
Malawi, located in Southeast Africa is a landlocked country formerly known as Nyasaland. It is bordered by Zambia to the northwest, Tanzania to the northeast, and Mozambique on the east, south and west. The country is separated from Tanzania and Mozambique by Lake Malawi.
The 78-year-old Mutharika had been rushed to Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe on Thursday but is now said to have been dead on arrival. State media had previously said he had been flown to South Africa for treatment.
Mutharika was the President of Malawi from May 2004 until April 5, 2012. He was also the president of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, which has a majority in Malawi's parliament as a result of the 2009 general election.
Mutharika's administration presided over a seven-year economic boom that made Malawi one of the world's fastest-growing economies on the African continent - but also led to more authoritative and oppressive rule according to many in the country.
As last night's news broke, few were found to be upset about the President's death.
Many Malawians blamed Mutharika personally for their economic challenges, which stemmed ultimately from a diplomatic spat with former colonial power Britain a year ago. The cause of disagreement was a leaked diplomatic correspondence that claimed Mutharika was being "autocratic and intolerant of criticism" - after which Britain, Malawi's biggest donor froze millions of dollars of aid - exacerbating an already acute struggling economy leading to shortages of fuel, food and medicines.
Malawi's diplomatic isolation worsened in July 2011 when the United States cancelled a $350 million overhaul of the country's antiquated power grid after police killed 20 people in a crackdown on an unprecedented wave of anti-government protests. Mutharika hit back combatively, telling his supporters last month to "step in and defend their father rather than just sit back and watch him take crap from donors and rights groups".
Joyce Banda's career has not always been political. She is an educator, and a grassroots gender rights activist who turned to politics serving as the Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2006 to 2009, as a Member of Parliament and Minister for Gender, Children's Affairs and Community Services. Additionally she is the founder of the Joyce Banda Foundation and of the National Association of Business Women (NABW), Young Women Leaders Network and the Hunger Project. She came to the country's Vice Presidency in 2009 and is currently the head of the newly created People's Party.
Banda had been thought to be planning a run for the Presidency in the next general election to take place in 2014 - but she might just get her wish now.
Malawi is among the world's least-developed countries with an economy heavily based in agriculture, and a largely rural population. The government depends heavily on outside aid to meet development needs, although this need (and the aid offered) has decreased since 2000 forcing the nation to face challenges in building and expanding the economy, improving education, health care, environmental protection, and becoming financially independent. Malawi has several programs developed since 2005 that focus on these issues, and the country's outlook appears to be improving, with improvements in economic growth, education and healthcare seen in 2007 and 2008.
With progress the nation continues to be plagued by a low life expectancy and high infant mortality. There is a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS, which is a drain on the labor force and government expenditures. There is a diverse population of native peoples, Asians and Europeans, with several languages spoken and an array of religious beliefs. Although there was tribal conflict in the past, by 2008 it had diminished considerably and the concept of a Malawian nationality had begun to form. Malawi has a culture combining native and colonial aspects, including sports, art, dance and music.
There was no official announcement of President Mutharika's death though state media said a statement would be made at midday.