From Webster Thom to Bingu wa Mutharika and then Daniel Phiri: The ‘pseudo’ Malawi President

He was born Webster Ryson Thom on February 24, 1934 in Thyolo, and later changed his name to Bingu wa Mutharika. The man who ruled Malawi from 2004 to 2012 became “Daniel Phiri” in death–at least for a couple of days–as a ploy to disguise his demise to give Malawi Government leaders time to plot succession.

According to the report of the Commission of Inquiry into circumstances leading to Mutharika’s death and political transition thereafter, that the name “Daniel Phiri” was used  – as a deceit  -for travel arrangement.

The government officials wanted to hoodwink Malawians that Mutharika was still alive as the report established that they were planning to prevent President Joyce Banda afrom ascending to power per constitutional requirement as she was the Vice President then.

The report presented to President Banda by Justice Elton Singini, Chairman of the commission of inquiry, says in its findings that Mutharika’s identity was disguised on the particulars of his flight to South Africa although his passport number was correctly indicated.

Bingu wa Mutharika: Turned into Daniel Phiri
Bingu wa Mutharika: Turned into Daniel Phiri

The name “Daniel Phiri” is first mentioned in the report, which was released on Wednesday,  in reference to the letter from Malawi’s High Commission in South Africa sent to Net Care Rescue International in that country, guaranteeing that government would meet the costs of hiring an air ambulance to pick a patient from Malawi.

“The High Commissioner [Agrina Mussa] and her deputy [Alexious Godiya] made enquiries about air ambulance services in South Africa. It is in evidence that the Chief Secretary [Bright Msaka] told the High Commissioner to contact Net Care Rescue International in South Africa.

“When they made the contact, Net Care confirmed that an air ambulance was available. They further indicated that they were ready to proceed once they get a letter of guarantee from the High Commission.

“Arrangements were made by the High Commission and a letter of guarantee to meet the expenses was written and sent to Net Care Rescue International, and the air ambulance was secured. That letter dated 5th April 2012 bore the President’s name as “Daniel Phiri”.

“The name Daniel Phiri was also the name for the President on the airport exit documents for his evacuation to South Africa. The first letter was later replaced,” reads the commission’s report in part.

But when Mutharika’s remains were  repatriated back to Malawi with the official name.

Meanwhile, President Banda will make a statement on the report and will inform the nation on the next move, Presidential press secretary Steve Nhlane said on Friday.

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