By Steve Sharra
The late President Mutharika was hailed at home and abroad. But after the 2009 landslide re-election victory, his quest to engineer the election of his brother to succeed him in 2014 and increased autocracy astounded many.
Questions about dead presidents’ legacies are best left to historians writing a generation removed. But for the late Malawian President Prof. Bingu wa Mutharika, we can be sure of a few things that will be part of his national and international memory. On the bright side, he gained worldwide fame with the farm input subsidy that ended Malawi’s chronic food crises. The first decade of the 21st century started on a curious note for Malawi: two famines in three years, 2002 and 2005. The second famine came less than a year after Bingu’s election in 2004. It gave him enough resolve to adapt a concept from the opposition, garner donors’ support for it, and make a name for himself and for Malawi.
In 2007, Mutharika appeared in the New York Times, Financial Times, and the Los Angeles Times, in what pundits called the Malawi Revolution. From a paltry 1.2 million metric tons of harvested maize in 2005, Mutharika’s subsidy programme increased the yield to 2.7 million metric tons in 2006, and to 3.4 million in 2007. When he became Chairperson of the African Union in 2010, he introduced the Food Basket, an idea he hoped would be proliferated across the continent. Subsistence farmers who had never harvested enough to last them till the next season sang praises for Mutharika.
They are many who mourned his passing. AIDS patients in Malawi who were destined for an early death now live relatively longer and healthier lives, thanks to anti-retroviral drugs that became available during his tenure of office. Bingu put the food surplus as his number one achievement, and included the anti-retroviral drugs on the list of things he had achieved. He built new roads where previous presidents had failed. He courted the Chinese, whose infrastructure projects have changed the skyline of the capital city Lilongwe. Mutharika’s entry on Wikipedia lists eight international awards he received between 2008 and 2010.
In 2011 an award he had been poised to receive was withdrawn after protests from critics who argued that he had veered from his path and was now becoming an oppressor of his own people. Events of the last two years of his presidency and his life will loom large in his legacy. Commentators point to a 2009 landslide re-election victory, and the quest to engineer the election of his brother to succeed him in 2014, as the beginning of an astounding about-turn.