All Change in Malawi

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KimDionnThe dramatic events in Malawi which began with the unexpected death of President Bingu wa Mutharika on 5 April led to a rapid period of political change that most of us have struggled to keep up with, but not Kim Yi Dionne of Texas A&M University. Here, we collect together her blog posts during the secession process which collectively provide a fascinating and dramatic commentary on how Joyce Banda became President.

5 APRIL 2012

Presidential Incapacity/Death in Malawi Means VP Takes Power

With the rumors still unclear on Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika’s health/death and not a word coming from the Malawi government, one thing remains clear: in Mutharika’s incapacity or death, the Vice President, Joyce Banda, will become president.

So, whether you believe the European presses that are saying he’s in critical condition or the Tweets/Facebook Status updates from Malawians in Lilongwe saying he’s dead, in both cases, the matter of who is technically expected to be running Malawi is not an open question.

In the case of incapacity, Chapter 4 Section 87 of Malawi’s constitution (available on the SNDP web site) states the 1st Vice President will act as president. The exact wording from the constitution:

Whenever the President is incapacitated so as to be unable to discharge the powers and duties of that office, the 6 of 1995First Vice-President shall act as President, until such time, in the President’s term of office, as the President is able to resume his or her functions. The President shall not be deemed to be incapacitated for the purposes of this section until and unless there is a written declaration, certified by a board of independent medical practitioners, that the President is unable to discharge the duties of the office of President; the declaration is signed by the First Vice-President and a majority of the Cabinet, holding office at that time; and the declaration is submitted by the First Vice-President to the Speaker of the National Assembly. Upon submission to the Speaker of a declaration under subsection (2), the First Vice-President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office of President as Acting President. 

Where the President has been declared to be incapacitated in accordance with subsection (2) the President may, at any time thereafter, submit to the National Assembly a written declaration, certified by a board of independent medical practitioners, stating his or her fitness to carry on the duties of the office of President: Provided that upon receipt of such a declaration from the President, the National Assembly shall have thirty days within which to determine whether or not the President is in fact or not so incapacitated as to be unable to discharge the duties of the office of President; and if the National Assembly determines that the President remains so incapacitated so as to be unable to discharge the duties of the office of President, by an affirmative vote of two-thirds of all of its members, the First Vice-President shall continue to act as President until the National Assembly determines that the President is again fit to assume the duties and powers of the office of President; or if the National Assembly determines that the President is no longer so incapacitated as to be unable to discharge the duties of the office of President by an affirmative vote of two-thirds of the National Assembly, the President shall resume the duties of the office of President within thirty days of that vote.

In the case of the President’s death, the constitution also calls for the Vice President to take over power. Copied verbatim from Chapter 4 Section 83 of Malawi’s constitution:

The President shall hold office for five years from the date that his or her oath of office is administered, but shall continue in office 38 of until his or her successor has been sworn in The First Vice-President and the Second Vice-President shall hold office from the date of the administration of the oath of office to them until the end of the President’s term of office unless their office should come to an end sooner in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution. The President, the First Vice-President and the Second Vice-President may serve in their respective capacities a maximum of two consecutive terms, but when a person is elected or appointed to fill a vacancy in the office of President or Vice- President, the period between that election or appointment and the next election of a President shall not be regarded as a term. Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of President, the First Vice-President shall assume that office for the remainder of the term and shall appoint another person to serve as First Vice-President for the remainder of the term.

I could certainly imagine a scenario where the clear language of the constitution will not take precedence. The fragile and peculiar political situation in Malawi leaves me with some doubts. First, Vice President Banda — though courted by Mutharika to be his VP running mate prior to the 2009 election — is no longer a member of the ruling party, the DPP. Shortly after Mutharika and Banda won office (by large margins), President Mutharika had plans for his brother, Peter Mutharika to succeed him in office. Banda was marginalized and eventually expelled from the ruling party. She was also removed from ministerial posts and government attempted to have her removed from office (which is unconstitutional). Facing antagonism from the government, she later formed a new party, the People’s Party.
If/When Banda takes over as President, she will inherit an opposition majority in the legislature. The cabinet is chock-full of people who made public statements against her and called for her resignation.This is all to say that even those who dance on Mutharika’s not-yet-confirmed grave will have little to celebrate if they truly care for the future of Malawi. A lot is hanging in the balance.

7 APRIL 2012

 Update on situation in Malawi

Joyce Banda addressed the nation (and the world) this morning to express her condolences for the loss of President Mutharika. She would not be explicit that she was now acting as the head of state. Her statement was brief and never addressed succession. She said that she would be calling a cabinet meeting. When asked by a journalist if the cabinet meeting would also cover succession, she replied, “I don’t think we can discuss who is caretaker [President] or who is not. We should focus on the funeral…right now which is paramount.” If we read between the lines and add up her statements, then, yes, she’s the president. Still, her brief press conferences and indirect statements are not instilling much confidence.

Prior to Joyce Banda’s press conference this morning, the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), the government-sponsored broadcaster, finally made the official announcement that President Bingu wa Mutharika had died. There will be 10 days of state mourning. The Office of the President and Cabinet declared at that time that the constitution would be followed in terms of succession.Deputy Minister of Transport and Public Works, Catherine Gotani Hara, gave an interview to Zodiak Broadcasting Service (recorded prior to the MBC announcement and Banda’s press conference), in which she stated many of the cabinet ministers were supportive of the constitutional rules for succession but that three private cabinet meetings had been held since the President’s death in an effort to circumvent the constitution and appoint Peter Mutharika (the president’s brother, ruling party MP serving Thyolo East, and the Foreign Minister) as the President. Consistent with the statement made by Minister of Information Patricia Kaliati last night (see video below), those supportive of Peter Mutharika’s ascendancy to the presidency were plotting to use the courts and argue that because Vice President Joyce Banda had “left” the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), she was not eligible to succeed Bingu wa Mutharika.

Like others, I was concerned after the cabinet’s press conference about the situation in Malawi and saw the cabinet’s efforts as essentially a coup attempt. I’m guardedly optimistic in reporting that instead, we will have another female head of state in the world who will come to office according to the rules of her country’s constitution. Though there is plenty to be said about the difficult decisions Joyce Banda will have to make to bring Malawi out of its severe economic situation, right now, let’s mourn the president (whatever you or I thought of his most recent tenure in office) and continue to hope democracy will overcome the powerful aspirations of a few to circumvent it.

7 APRIL 2012

UPDATED: Update on situation in Malawi: Joyce Banda is President

UPDATE: Since my last post was written at 3:30am CST (Texas time), there has been a major development. Just now (10:30am CST-Texas time), Joyce Banda finished a brief speech given after her official swearing in as President of Malawi. It is now official: Joyce Banda is the President.

15 APRIL 2012

Malawi post-inaugural round-up

It’s been just over a week since Joyce Banda was sworn in as Malawi’s third president since multiparty reform in 1994. The BBC aired an interview with Joyce Banda on Friday, April 13th. Banda began the interview saying, “Malawians have decided that they’re going to rise above politics and just concentrate and focus more on the suffering of Malawians. The political parties are working together… Here on the ground, there’s no problem at all.” The BBC reporter asked Banda if she would include the opposition in her cabinet. Banda responded, “That is very, very necessary. I would like to see me return as many of those members of cabinet that are already in government. But I would also like to reach out and see if other people from other parties can come along, because at the center of all of this our economy is in shambles right now.”

The most important appointment Banda has made is of Khumbo Kachali as the country’s vice president. Kachali represents the Mzimba South West Constituency and is the VP of President Banda’s political party: the People’s Party. Interesting tidbit: Kachali wrote about multiparty politics for his Masters thesis in the UK.

It’s a challenge to keep up with all of the firings/hirings, but here are a notable few:

• The Police Inspector General is now Loti Dzonzi, a highly respected CCAP deacon and member of the Malawi Police Force since 1987. I am happy to see Peter Mukhito go, especially after the big mess he caused in the academic freedom struggle of 2011.

• Information Minister Patricia Kaliati and state broadcaster MBC Director General Bright Malopa were fired.

• The Secretary of the Treasury, Joseph Mwanamvekha, was also fired and replaced by Radson Mwadiwa, who previously served the same office.

Nearly 30 members of parliament from the previous ruling party (the DPP, Mutharika’s party) are reported to have pledged allegiance to Joyce Banda. Some left as early as the day Banda was sworn in as president. Though the constitution has a section devoted to party-switching in Parliament, these switches to Banda’s People’s Party are legal.

Nonetheless, the party-switching isn’t boding well for the development of Malawi’s party system.

In the midst of all of this, it seems donors and other international actors are “returning” to Malawi. The UK will be renewing relations with Malawi and the US is also showing support. TheWorld Bank has pledged its full support of Banda. South Africa is going to aid the nation with much-needed fuel. Mozambique has said it will normalize ties with Malawi (relations were strained, to say the least, under Mutharika). Let’s hope Banda gets all she needs to turn the ship around, and that she is a good steward of those resources.


These blog posts originally appeared at, where Kim provides an excellent commentary on all things Malawi.

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