April 7, 2012

Mutharika dies in office / Vice-president Joyce Banda to take over

Malawi's state radio has announced that President Bingu wa Mutharika had died. The radio announcement confirmed reports by medical and government sources on Friday that the 78-year-old Mutharika had died shortly after a heart attack the previous day.

Malawi's constitution is clear that Banda should take over, although a smooth transition has not been completely assured since she was booted out of Mutharika's ruling DPP party in 2010 after an argument about succession. Mutharika appeared to have been grooming his brother Peter, the foreign minister, as his de facto successor. "Malawi's constitution lays out a clear path for succession and we expect it to be observed. We are concerned about the delay in the transfer of power," the U.S. State Department said in a statement. "We trust that the vice president who is next in line will be sworn in shortly."

Banda is due to hold a news conference on Saturday, officials said, as well as meet the Attorney General and head of the armed forces, suggesting any divisions over the transfer of power have been ironed out. Joyce Banda, who rose to prominence in Malawi as a relentless advocate for women's rights, now appears set to become only the second female African head of state in modern times.

Mutharika had expelled Banda from the party, but she refused to give up her job. Instead, she formed her own People's Party and became one of Mutharika's fiercest critics, lambasting his management of an economy beset by crippling fuel shortages.

Banda was born on April 12 1950, in Malawi's colonial capital of Zomba where her father was an accomplished and popular police brass band musician. She began her career as a secretary, started a women's empowerment programme, travelling throughout the country to sell the National Business Women Association, a campaign that made her one of Malawi's most visible champions of gender equality. She later established the Joyce Banda Foundation to empower women through girls education. She entered politics in 1999, during Malawi's second democratic elections. She won a parliamentary seat in the former ruling party of retired president Bakili Muluzi. He named her minister for gender and community services. Five years later, she retained her seat as a candidate for Muluzi's party, even as Mutharika won the presidency. The new president crossed party lines to appoint her as foreign minister in 2006. During her time as Malawi's top diplomat, the country severed its long ties with Taiwan and established relations with Beijing. She argued the switch would bring economic benefits to Malawi. China has since built Malawi a new parliament. Mutharika tapped her as his running mate in the 2009 elections, but their honeymoon was short as party in-fighting intensified over his decision to anoint his brother as his successor, drawing accusations that he was trying to create a dynasty. (Mail & Guardian / sadocc)

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