Post-Qaddafi Malawi gets new president

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Yesterday, prominent women rights activist Joyce Banda became the first female head of state in Southern Africa. Bulawayo24 wrote:

Malawian Vice-President Joyce Banda took over the running of the country on Saturday after the death of President Bingu wa Mutharika, and fears of a succession struggle receded as state institutions backed the constitutional handover.

The government only officially confirmed 78-year-old Mutharika's death earlier on Saturday, two days after he had died following a heart attack.

His body had been flown to a military hospital in South Africa.

The delay in the announcement had raised worries about a political crisis because Banda had been expelled from Mutharika's ruling DPP party in 2010 after an argument about the succession, though she retained her state position.

Many Malawians believed that Mutharika, who's rule had become increasingly dictatorial in recent years, was grooming is son to take over, which would have been a complete violation of the constitutional process.

Last July, protests over high prices, devolving foreign relations and poor governance left 18 people dead and 44 others injured by gun shot wounds as Mutharika started emulating his old African Union rival, Mummar Qaddafi, in methods of protest suppression.

Because of this history, before she was sworn in there was great concern that the constitutional process would be upstaged by something like a coup. The Guardian reported earlier:

The Malawian government's prolonged silence on the president's condition raised fears of an attempt to subvert the constitution in the southern African country, said to be sliding towards tyranny and economic disaster on Mutharika's watch.

"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 US state department said in a statement. "We trust that the vice president who is next in line will be sworn in shortly."

Joyce Banda, vice-president since 2009, is first in line to take over and become Malawi's first female president. The award-winning gender activist, who turns 62 next week, founded the National Association of Business Women of Malawi. Married to retired chief justice Richard Banda, she went into politics in 1999. As foreign minister she oversaw the severing of relations with Taiwan after 41 years to switch to China for "economic benefits".

But Banda was expelled from the ruling Democratic Progressive party in 2010 in a row over succession. She set up her own People's party and recently told the BBC she had not spoken to Mutharika for more than a year.

This tiny land-locked southern African country of 16 million is one of the poorest in the world. The economy is heavily based in agriculture, with a largely rural population. Far from the social media that helped spark the Arab Spring, less than 2% of the population has computers and only 6% even have electricity. From Wikipedia:

In 2007, Malawi established diplomatic ties with China, and Chinese investment in the country has continued to increase since then, despite concerns regarding treatment of workers by Chinese companies and competition of Chinese business with local companies. In 2011, relations between Malawi and the United Kingdom was damaged when a document was released in which the British ambassador to Malawi criticized President Mutharika. Mutharika expelled the ambassador from Malawi, and in July 2011, the UK announced that it was suspending all budgetary aid because of Mutharika's lack of response to criticisms of his government and economic mismanagement. On July 26, 2011, the United States followed suit, freezing a US$350 million grant, citing concerns regarding the government's suppression and intimidation of demonstrators and civic groups, as well as restriction of the press and police violence

Mummar Qaddafi's Influence

Yet even here, they have not been free of the detrimental influence of Libya's Colonel Qaddafi. After an earlier president who favored Qaddafi, Bakili Muluzi, established diplomatic relations with Libya in 2001, Qaddafi began building a string of roadside mosques. He had even promised to build a hospital but this project was stalled when Muluzi left office in 2004 and Mutharika, a former World Bank economist, took over and proved to be less enthusiastic about Qaddafi. That may be why, according to Nyasa Times:

There has been jubilation amongst Malawians after reports trickled in that Libya’s deposed dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi died after being captured with many people seeing it as a good omen for a hopeful Malawi which is undeniably reverting to dictatorship.
Malawians over the cyber sphere are eager to see what this means for Malawi. Already Zimbabweans are tweeting that Robert Mugabe should be next and some Malawians are saying that its president Bingu wa Mutharika should also be deposed since he has become a ‘mad dog’ of some reputation.

“It shows that the world is running out safe heavens for dictators. We have one in Malawi,” said Jimmy Kainja, a passionate academician and blogger.

“Gaddafi reportedly captured, Malawi’s Bingu wa Mutharika change your agenda for dictatorship or change will change you,” tweeted Nyasa Times editor Thom Chiumia from UK where he is coordinator of Malawi Diaspora Forum.

Former Malawi Defence Force brigadier Marcel Chirwa commented: “One by one dictators on the continent are being removed.”

There is good reason to believe that Malawi's succession would not have gone as smoothly as it did if Mummar Qaddafi was still in power because his record of interference with the internal politics of countries in Africa is well known.

It has been reported that the first president of Malawi, Hasting Banda, who established one party rule and is no relation to the current President Banda, once received $100,000 in a brown paper bag from Qaddafi.

Col. Gadhafi plotted coups and countercoups all over sub-Saharan Africa. Armed with petrodollars, he established himself as Africa's supremo. One great news photo shows him looking bored and reading a newspaper on a large couch in Tripoli with four African heads of state — two on each side — sitting with him,

writes Arnaud de Borchgrave, who interview Qaddafi six times in the past four decades.

They didn't always feel that way about the Colonel. In 2002, he flew to Malawi with a large entourage and several bullet proof vehicles on two 747s. As the Guardian reported:

As part of a bizarre, cross-continental crusade to promote his dream of a United States of Africa, the Libyan leader, in a 100-vehicle convoy, traversed the pot-holed roads of Malawi greeted by an estimated half a million peasants. His reception was described by officials as ecstatic.

The delight of the impoverished Malawian population, some cynics suggested, may have had more to do with the fact that Gaddafi's armed entourage was hurling bundles of US dollar bills from the windows of the bullet-proofed limousines than a desire to share his vision of leadership of a one-nation Africa.

Because of Qaddafi's dream of being crowned "King of all African Kings." A struggle broke out between Mutharika and Qaddafi when the time came for the later to relinquish the presidency of the AU.

The BBC wrote in 2010:

Libya's leader Muammar Gaddafi has failed in his bid to stay on as president of the African Union for another year.

At the annual AU summit in Ethiopia, leaders from 53 African countries chose the president of Malawi, Bingu wa Mutharika, to take his place.

A BBC correspondent at the summit says Col Gaddafi was very reluctant to stand down, causing considerable resentment.
Libya has chaired the AU for the past year, and under the system of rotating regional blocs, the job was due to go to a southern African leader.

However, Mr Gaddafi wanted to extend the term. He had the support of Tunisia, and is said to have won over some smaller countries by paying their AU membership dues.

Mutharika was so strongly supported to replace Qaddafi because the other leaders were tired of Qaddafi pushing for them to adopt his United States of Africa plan immediately. After he replaced Qaddaf,i he said:

“Why should we create one Africa when in our countries and our regional groupings we are not united? Libya is pushing these matters too much,” said Mutharika when briefing the press upon arrival from the AU meeting in Ethiopia yesterday.

This follows Gaddafi’s call at the meeting for Africa to unite soon.

He added, “We all know why Gaddafi wants the formation of OAU now, it is because he wants to be the first leader. Some of us don’t like other things but we choose to be silent deliberately. We just look at other things when we know they are nonsense,”

This April, Malawi cut diplomatic ties with Qaddafi, expressing concerns about “the prevailing hostilities and armed violence in Libya which have caused grave loss of civilian life”.

The people of Malawi and it's new president, still have a great many hurdles to rise above to improve the situation in their country but with Mummar Qaddafi gone, they have a big boulder removed from their path.

My other recent writings on Africa:
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What the PSL got right & wrong about KONY 2012
African Spring continues in Senegal
Occupy Nigeria - 1st African fruits of Qaddafi gone?
Racism in Libya
Helter Skelter: Qaddafi's African Adventure