Malawi one year after Bingu’s death: Mixed feelings

Bingu gone for good

Bingu gone for good

It’s April 5, one year since the death of Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika. His anniversary is being commemorated with mixed feelings.

Mutharika died after suffering a cardiac arrest.

The late president’s private home at Ndata Farm in Thyolo has been opened to relatives, friends and Malawians in the Southern Region willing to be with the family during the anniversary.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) , the party he founded and led, says it honours Bingu as “ a great and visionary leader”, according to its parliamentary leader Dr George Chaponda.

Chaponda said “you cannot know the depth of a water well unless it is dry, now Malawians are missing Professor Ngwazi Bingu wa Mutharika because the economy is so bad. People are facing hardships under the current regime.”

But ordinary Malawians who spoke to Nyasa Times claim the death of Mutharika was a turnaround for Malawi to revive from economic collapse after donors withdrew their support owing to his totatarian rule.

“During the time of Bingu we were lining up for essentials like petrol and sugar but now its all history,” said Wanangwa Ngwira in Lilongwe.

According to Wiseman Chijere Chirwa, a politics professor at Malawi’s Chancellor College, the lack of mourning among some Malawians  when Bingu died was “strange” but not unexpected considering the failures of Mutharika’s regime to uphold democratic ideals and improve the living conditions for the 74 per cent of the population who survive on less than a $1.25 per day.

Since winning a second term in 2009, Mutharika, once hailed by the World Bank for his successful fertilizer subsidy program, steered Malawi’s economy into steep decline by telling foreign donors who contribute 40 per cent of the annual budget to “go to hell”.

His dismissal of aid catapulted the government into the adoption of a zero deficit budget which subsequently affirmed that the small landlocked country couldn’t self-sustain with limited resources.

More than 80 per cent of Malawians rely on agriculture for their livelihoods, and tobacco is the country’s main crop, as well as its primary generator of foreign currency. But since 2011, sales of the golden leaf plummeted by a dismal 57 per cent resulting in reduced finances to purchase fuel from suppliers like Saudi Arabia. This scarcity coupled with a fixed exchange rate increased consumer inflation.

Voice Mhone, chairperson for the Malawian Civil Society Organizations, said the months leading up to Mutharika’s death were overshadowed by rampant dissatisfaction.

“I think the political landscape, as well as the economic situation in Malawi kept on deteriorating,” says Mhone.

 

On July 20, 2011, the anger and frustration surrounding the country’s economic crisis culminated in mass demonstrations calling for the president’s resignation. These peaceful protests soon turned into bloody riots when police opened fire on innocent crowds leaving 19 people dead and scores of others injured.

But Mutharika didn’t accept blame for the deaths, nor did he take the public criticism to heart; instead he began a vigorous campaign to clampdown on critics, media and opposition leaders.

Reverend Macdonald Sembereka, a civil and human rights activist who played an instrumental role in organizing the protests, had his home petrol bombed by suspected government youth cadets last September. But he says that while the nation has gone through a turbulent time, he has no hard feelings towards Mutharika.

“He did contribute what he could contribute. If he failed that would be part of human nature,” says Sembereka. “I’ll remember him as a person who stuck to his guns. When he wanted to do something, he would stick to it, even though the whole world would stand on the opposite side.”

Peter Mutharika, who took over the presidency of DPP,  said he knows his late brother made some mistakes which were a result of misjudgement and not evil intention.

During Mutharika’s funeral, his successor President Joyce Banda, who survived an attempt on her life during DPP rule, summed up his life with the sentiment of the nation, saying, “He was not an angel, he made mistakes”.

For Banda, Malawi’s first female president, the road ahead is littered with the legacy of those mistakes, and now her government has renewed ties with the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank including major bilateral donor Britain.

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