Hunger Project withdraws Africa Prize from Bingu

By Collins Mtika, NyasaTimes

The Hunger Project have withdrawn the Africa Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End of Hunger from President Bingu wa Mutharika fter the Malawi Diaspora Forum (MDF), based in the United Kingdom, developed a petition in which it asked The Hunger Project office in New York not to award the Malawian dictator for his violation of human rights.

Making an announcement on Sunday, the Hunger Project Global Board and senior staff, in consultation with the independent jury, said it has withdrawn the award from Mutharika because of the current crisis situation in Malawi, including serious, unanswered questions with regard to the government’s role in the unprecedented violent events of July 20-21 in which 19 unarmed people were killed.

“The unprecedented events of July 20-21, as well as subsequent reports of mass arrests and official censorship of news organizations and social media, led us to conclude that an award would not be appropriate in the midst of governmental crisis and uncertainty,” the Hunger project said in a statement.

Mutharika: Award withdrawn

Diaspora Forum coordinator Thom Chiumia welcomed the news saying it would have been appalling for Mutharika to receive the award, saying his “ achievements in food security have been offset by misguided economic policies that have worsened the impoverished state of Malawi coupled with disregard for the rule of law and democratic principles.”

Government spokesman Symon Vuwa Kaunda said Diaspora Forum and signatories of the petition are “unpatriotic”.

Mutharika was due to receive the award with Dr. Florence Chenoweth, Liberia’s Minister of Agriculture at a black-tie event in New York City on October 22, 2011 where they were to be presented with a sculpture by the famed artist Takenobu Igarashi and a cash award of US $50,000.

According to the Hunger Project the prize will be awarded to Dr. Chenoweth alone and a cash award of US $50,000 to further her work for the sustainable end of hunger.

The Hunger project has relayed this final decision to the Malawi mission to the United Nations in New York City ‘as we did our initial decision. We have asked them to inform the President.’

Fortunately, the Hunger Project says the decision to withdraw the award from Mutharika will not compromise its work in Malawi.

“We have been working in Malawi since 1999 and we remain fully committed to working for the general well-being of the people and to empower women and men to end their own hunger. Through our integrated approach to rural development, the Epicenter Strategy, THP is working in co-equal partnership with over 100,000 local villagers,” it said.

The Hunger Project awarded Mutharika the prize because he spent his career working towards sustainable food security in Africa and the empowerment of those most vulnerable on the continent.

“One of his greatest achievements in food security has been the Farm Input Subsidy Program of 2005. This program has played an instrumental role in restoring national food security and enabled Malawi to become a food basket capable not only of supporting its own basic needs, but of exporting food to other African countries.

“During his year as chairperson of the African Union (January 2010-2011), President Mutharika continued his work to ensure the sustainability of local farming by launching the African Food Basket Initiative — putting food security firmly on the African political map,” said the statement.

The prize was first won by the current State Vice President and social activist Joyce Banda who jointly scooped the 1997 award with Mozambican president Joachim Chissano.

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