Remembering ‘Economic Engineer’ Bingu Wa Mutharika

Callista Mutharika during a previous memorial service for Bingu

Malawians across the country are today celebrating the life of Bingu Wa Mutharika, the third president of the Republic of Malawi, who died on 5th of April 2012.

Late Professor Mutharika, also known as the economic engineer, died of cardiac arrest while serving as country’s president.

Born Ryson Webster Thom in the southern tea-growing district of Thyolo in 1934, the schoolmaster’s son adopted the more African name of Bingu Mutharika during the 1960s when pan-Africanism was sweeping across the continent.

He later added the prefix ‘wa’ between his names to disguise his identity from Kamuzu Banda’s state security, who were hunting down his opponents around the world.

Mutharika’s political career began when Hasting Kamuzu Banda, Malawi’s founding father, became president in 1964.

Mutharika became the first Malawian administrator in the civil service, which was then still dominated by the British.

The late Bingu and Bakili Muluzi

But during the so-called “cabinet crisis” in 1964, he fled Malawi for fear that Dr. Banda would associate him with the rebellious ministers.

Mutharika’s studies took him to Zambia, India and the United States, where he eventually obtained a doctorate in economics.

He then began a long career as an international civil servant, working for many international bodies, including the World Bank.

In 1992 he became a founding member of the then underground political pressure group, the United Democratic Front (UDF).

The party was later transformed into a political party and eventually governed Malawi for 10 years after the first multi-party elections were organized.

Mutharika’s first try for the presidency was in the 1999 elections but he came last among the five candidates.

He disappeared from public view for a while but later resurfaced as a surprise presidential candidate for the UDF in 2004 after President Muluzi failed in his bid to be allowed a third term.

Muluzi, who dubbed himself the “political engineer”, promoted Mutharika to Malawians as the “economic engineer” and did all the campaigning on behalf of his protege – so much that it was a complete surprise that the two fell out immediately after the elections.

To seal the strained relations between the two former political buddies, Mutharika quit the UDF in 2005 and founded his own Democratic Progressive Party.

Mr Mutharika blamed his decision to quit the UDF on his former political associates whom he accused of frowning upon his tough anti-corruption drive.

The UDF had been in the forefront of attempts to impeach Mutharika over accusations that he used state money to set up his party and other charges of going against the constitution. He denied the charges, saying they were politically motivated.

Mutharika, a church-going Catholic, had four grown-up children by his Zimbabwean wife, Ethel, who died in May 2007. In 2010, he married Callista Chapola-Chimombo, a former tourism minister.-BBC

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