A Travellerspoint blog

Death of a President

English translation of last post

On Thursday the rumours started that the president had a cardiac arrest. In the office everyone passes them on, mobiles ringing. People are smiling, saying it’s the best thing that can happen to Malawi. The rumours are getting stronger, and some websites are saying he is dead, but there’s no official confirmation. Someone says he is dead, and it’s official – her sister heard from her husband that his cousin is a friend of the hospital’s cleaner (word for word!). At night we go to our usual pub, the TV is on football as per usual. We’re drinking with some ex-pats and locals, and the rumours keep flowing. Someone gets a call from one of the European ambassadors, saying he has spoken to a senior surgeon from the hospital, and he is dead. There is still no official confirmation, but once in a while one of the locals gets a call and happy cries enthuse. Now the government is finally communicating with the media – he is flown to South Africa – but there’s still no confirmation of his death. Tomorrow is Good Friday, someone says, maybe he will be resurrected on Easter Monday?

Early Friday morning we go to the lake. There’s still no confirmation, but locals are already treating him as the ex-president. The Monster doesn’t have a radio, so once we get to Fat Monkey’s at lunch time we go to the bar to hear the updates. The TV is, of course, on football. Barman Chris is switching to the news, and the locals are getting nearer to hear. There’s still no confirmation. Speculation starts. It’s clear why the government doesn’t want to declare that the president is dead – constitutionally, the vice president Joyce Banda will take over as president until the next elections in 2014. Problem is, she was expelled from the ruling DPP party over a year ago, and started her own party. Since then she was excluded by the president from all her duties, and cabinet members have been trashing her in the media daily. So not only the new president will be from a different party, it’s likely they will not have a job the next day...

Saturday morning the TV is not on the football and we suddenly hear cries of joys. Finally all involved have understood a coup will not be possible in laid back Malawi, and the government is confirming that the third president of Malawi, Bingu wa Mutharika, had passed away from a cardiac arrest on Thursday and his body was flown to South Africa for embalmment. Joyce Banda is sworn in as the fourth president of Malawi, the first woman to become a head of state in Malawi, and East and Southern Africa.

Tuesday, back in the office, the atmosphere is great. People are happy talk about a feeling of relief when the rumours were verified – that he is no longer the president, that there is hope for the country, and also, simply, that that man is dead. During the week Mrs Banda had already fired the Information Minister, who banned BBC World Service and Nyasa Times, one of the only independent media outlet in the country; re-open the British High Commission and invite back the High Commissioner, who was expelled after British bi-lateral funding was cut off due to governmental corruption; Agree conditions with Hilary Clinton for a power infrastructure revamp grant that was suspended after last July’s demonstrations against the regime, when 20 people died after Bingu ordered to shot to kill; and fire the Chief of Police, which on top of the responsibility for the previous item, rumours are that he killed a few people without justification or judgement.

On Thursday I keep coming back to Rabin’s murder. I’m sitting in my station in the army base, on shift when everyone else are busy cleaning and cooking our traditional Saturday meal. The phone call from HQ, me screaming on the intercom to the others to turn the TV on, now! All of us sitting huddled in front of the TV in utter shock for half the night, until a decision is made to drive 6 hours to Jerusalem, to pass before the coffin, to show our respect. There is no connection, no similarities between what Israel and its people went through that day and what Malawi is going through today, but I cannot help remembering, and be shocked and pained again.

The atmosphere here this week is completely different to what we’ve experienced in the last two months. Except actually having fuel in the gas stations (donated by Zambia), there is no real change in people’s life here. But you can actually feel the hope, the relief. I hope Joyce and her government will continue the good work done by Bingu in his first term, and the warm, hospitable people of this country will no longer have a hungry season or sick children.

Posted by TattoodDuck 12:40 Archived in Malawi Tagged malawi

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