The President of Malawi, Bingu wa Mutharika, died on Friday after suffering a heart attack, prompting some cheers over his death and some concerns over succession. According to the Constitution, vice-president Joyce Banda is next in line for the office, but she was actually kicked out of Mutharika's ruling Democratic Progressive Party in 2010 over precisely that issue. Mutharika, who came to power in 2004, had been angling for his brother — Peter Mutharika, who is also the country's foreign minister — to become the next president. Peter Mutharika has even taken control of the country when his brother is away.
However, given that people in street are actually cheering Mutharika's death, there seems to be little chance for his allies to seize the moment. ("We all wished him dead" is never a line you want to see in your obituary.) Former Attorney General Ralph Kasambara tells Reuters that the army and police will not go against the constitution and that people on the street "were praying for his death." Malawi's economy had been on the rise under Mutharika, a former World Bank economist, but his diplomacy left much to be desired. Public spats with both Britain (Malawi's former colonial ruler) and the United States led to hundreds of millions of dollars in aid being cut off in the last two years, creating massive fiscal problems and contributing to energy and food shortages. The U.S. also cut off a plan to rebuild the country's energy grid after 20 people were killed by police during anti-government protests last summer.
Energy shortages had become so bad that Mutharika reportedly had to be flown to South Africa after his heart attack, because the state hospital where he died could not even keep his body refrigerated, let alone provide proper care.
"We know he is dead and unfortunately he died at a local, poor hospital which he never cared about - no drugs, no power," said Chimwemwe Phiri, a Lilongwe businessman waiting in a snaking line of cars for fuel at a petrol station.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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