I know that Malawi rarely makes front page news – it barely even makes front of the New York Times Africa section – and despite being a pivotal moment in Malawi’s history, this past weekend was unfortunately no exception. On Thursday afternoon His Excellency Ngwazi Dr. Professor Bingu wa Mutharika, Malawi’s esteemed and modest President, (monikers honorarily bestowed upon himself by himself) suffered from a heart attack and died on the way to the hospital.
Of course it took a few days for the news to be confirmed. While most suspected that he had died on Thursday, the DPP, which is the ruling party in Malawi, tried to hush up the news. In the days after Bingu’s death the DPP denied reports of his death while scrambling to keep the Vice President out of power.
Due to disagreements between Bingu and Joyce Banda (the Vice President) over the past few years, Banda was expelled from the DPP and subsequently formed her own opposition party in 2011. Rumor was that the rift was so deep that Bingu had even attempted to have Banda assassinated on a number of occasions. Despite all of the DPP’s efforts, Joyce Banda was sworn in as President on Saturday.
Overall, this seems to be very good news for Malawi. Most of the people I have spoken with have expressed cautious optimism that things here will get better now that Bingu is gone. While I have heard some (primarily men) voice their concern that “a woman cannot rule a country like Malawi,” I have heard even more people express their confidence in President Banda, aka “the Mother of Malawi.”
It is not just the feeling on the street that has improved with Bingu’s death. Both the British government and the US Millennium Challenge Corporation have expressed their intention to resume financial aid to Malawi now that there has been a change of power. Considering that foreign aid, primarily British foreign aid, comprised around 80% of Malawi’s GDP, this potential influx of aid and forex should have a profound effect on the economy. Hopefully it will allow the country to purchase oil and help to relieve both the severe fuel and sugar shortages. This could also reduce inflation and potentially control the current disparity between the black market and the bank currency exchange rates.
It is definitely a very interesting time to be in Malawi. Given recent situation with fuel, sugar, inflation, etc., it is amazing how calm and peaceful the country has remained. Seeing the fuel lines wrapping around nearly every block and the sugar lines pouring out of every grocery store, it was hard not to wonder how long the country could remain peaceful. I think we are all hoping that the change in Presidency will provide a solution to many of the current pressing problems and allow the country to regain a better sense of stability. And at the very least, I am excited to see a female president in Africa.