In Mourning, Malawi Swears In a New President

Joyce Banda arrives at her inauguration as Malawi’s new president, becoming the country’s first female leader

Published: April 7, 2012


JOHANNESBURG — Malawi’s vice president, Joyce Banda, was sworn in as president on Saturday, ending a tense 36 hours of speculation and confusion about the future of one of central Africa’s most enduring democracies after the death of President Bingu wa Mutharika on Thursday.

President Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi in September 2010.

Mrs. Banda’s supporters cheered as she took the oath in the capital, Lilongwe. She called for calm and unity.

“I just sincerely hope that there is no room for revenge,” she said. “I just sincerely hope that we shall stand united.”

The government of Malawi confirmed on Saturday that Mr. Mutharika had died, but the delay raised concerns that democratic succession would be interrupted.

Earlier, Mrs. Banda declared 10 days of mourning, and ambassadors, the army chief, government officials and other prominent figures have been streaming to her home in Lilongwe.

She was once an ally of Mr. Mutharika, but the two fell out over efforts to groom the president’s brother, Peter, as a successor. Mrs. Banda then formed her own political party. On Friday, the information minister, Patricia Kaliati, hinted that the president’s party, the Democratic Progressive Party, did not see Mrs. Banda as a legitimate successor because she had been expelled from the governing party.

But with the military, the judiciary and an increasing number of cabinet members backing Mrs. Banda, any effort to replace her would face long odds of success, analysts said.

Mr. Mutharika, 78, had a heart attack on Thursday, but the government refused to confirm his death until Saturday. A former World Bank economist, Mr. Mutharika had been popular for his stewardship of Malawi’s economy, presiding over a period of extraordinary growth and increased farm yields thanks to popular fertilizer subsidies. He was first elected in 2004 and then returned to power in 2009.

But his popularity has waned as tobacco prices have slumped and the country has faced a shortage of foreign currency. In the face of public criticism, he became increasingly autocratic. So there were few tears for him on the streets of the capital.

Peter Jegwa Kumwenda contributed reporting from Lilongwe, Malawi.


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