Bingu wa Mutharika was the hand picked successor to Malawian President Bakili Muluzi (who had run his two term limit in the post). To Muluzi's dismay, Mutharika cast off his mentor's cloak and set out to fight corruption and reform Malawi's economy and agriculture. However, by the time he reached his second term, political infighting (against Muluzi's camp) and an increasingly autocratic style of rule had reduced the country's political and economic stability.
Date of birth:24 February 1934, Thyolo, Nyasaland (now Malawi)
Date of death: 5 April 2012
Bingu wa Mutharika was born Brightson Webster Ryson Thom on 24 February 1934 to Ryson Thom Mutharika and his wife Eleni. Both were members of the Church of Scotland Mission (later Church of Central Africa) and worked as teachers. He obtained a high pass in his Cambridge Overseas School Leaving Certificate in 1956. Eight years later he was one of those selected under President Hasting Kamuzu Banda's education initiative to travel to India to further his education on an Indira Ghandi scholarship. (It was later claimed that he went to India to escape Banda's authoritarian rule.) By the mid 1960s he had also changed his name to Bingu wa Mutharika.
Mutharika gained a bachelor's degree in economics, which he followed with a master's at the University of Delhi. He returned to Malawi and served in the civil service as an administrative officer. A stint as deputy governor of the Bank of Malawi followed, and then he worked for the World Bank as a Loans Officer and as Secretary General of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA). Around this time he obtained a 'distance learning' doctorate from a private university in the US (Pacific Western University, Los Angeles -- the university, dogged by controversy, changed its name in 2006 when it sought accreditation).
In 1992 Mutharika co-founded the United Democratic Front with Bakili Muluzi (who became the party's chairman). Muluzi became Malawi's president in 1994. Mutharika tested the presidential waters in 1999, standing against the incumbent Muluzi, but came last in the voting.
Bingu wa Mutharika was President Baliki Muluzi's hand picked choice as successor for the United Democratic Front (UDF). Muluzi was unable to change the constitution to allow him to run again, and the elections which followed his 'departure' were tainted by irregularities and claims of corruption. Bingu wa Mutharika was sworn in as president on 24 May 2004. Mutharika's administration immediately set out policies to combat corruption and improve the government's handling of the economy. Investigations were started against several prominent UDF officials, and several were arrested. International donors were impressed with his policies and re-initiated the flow of aid, which had been stopped over claims of President Muluzi's mismanagement.
Malawi was wracked by AIDS and the lack of resources, a poor education system and inadequate infrastructure. Mutharika's government looked to be dealing with each of these, and international confidence grew. But by the end of his first year in office, political infighting against ex-President Muluzi's camp caused Bingu wa Mutharika to leave the UDF (Muluzi was the party chairman) and form a new party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DDP). Several UDF MPs followed him.
In June 2005, Bingu wa Mutharika was placed under an impeachment motion by the UDF in the National Assembly. The parliamentary meeting was so tense the speaker collapsed and died. The motion was withdrawn in early 2006, partly due to international calls for Muluzi and the UDF to reconsider their stance.
In April 2006 the Vice-President Cassim Chilumpha was arrested for treason and conspiracy to murder the president.
On 27 July Muluzi was arrested on charges of corruption, theft, and breach of trust -- millions of donor funds had apparently found their way into his private accounts. The charges were dropped for lack of evidence (although the public prosecutor blamed Mutharika for interference). The conflict between Mutharika and Muluzi was growing more fraught.
Muluzi, as well as former security officials and a few opposition politicians, were arrested on charges of planning a coup in May 2008, and in February 2009 Muluzi was once again charged with corruption. Muluzi claimed it was all part of Mutharika's conspiracy against him.
Muluzi attempted to stand for the presidential elections in May 2009, claiming that the two-term limit was only for consecutive terms, and that a non-consecutive term would not violate the constitutional limit. This was disallowed by the courts only a few days before the election, and the United Democratic Front (UDF) supported the opposition candidate John Tembo of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) instead. The election proved to be close, but Bingu wa Mutharika was re-elected. The UDF and Tembo claimed voting irregularities, but international monitors passed the election as free and fair, although Mutharika had an unfair advantage through bias in the state-controlled media. However, Mutharika's record on the economy, improving agriculture, and his apparent fight against corruption was popular with the voters.
In his second term of office, Mutharika became more autocratic, and the strides taken in the first term were eroded. In December 2010, the Vice President, Joyce Hilda Banda, was expelled from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), but she retained the post. (She founded the People's Party.) It was suggested that Mutharika was considering grooming his brother to take over at the end of his second term.
National strikes and protests held on 20 July 2011 were dealt harshly by the army, 19 protestors were killed in Blantyre, and 300 people were arrested. Britain stopped aid to Malawi as a result. A second three day strike was called for September. The country was experiencing fuel shortages, rising food prices, and a power crisis.
In March 2012 riot police halted demonstrations against Bingu wa Mutharika and arrested several opposition leaders, including the human rights activist John Kapito. The son of ex-President Baliki Muluzi was also arrested.
Death and Succession
On the 5th of April 2012 Bingu wa Mutharika died of a heart attack, aged 78. Tension over the appointment of his successor, who by the constitution should be the Vice-President, led to the announcement of his death being delayed. Mutharika's supporters wanted to block Joyce Banda from the post, but there was strong international support for Banda, and she was sworn in as president on 7 April.