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

7 April 2012

UPDATE: Since this 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. The original post is below.
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Joyce Banda, photo taken in 2011 by Travis Lupick, shared from Flickr.com with cc license

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.

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haba na haba’s coverage of the situation in Malawi would not have been possible without the frequent Twitter updates of Malawian journalists, activists, and concerned citizens. I am particularly grateful for the hard work done by Mabvuto Banda and the online simulcast of Zodiak Broadcasting Service.

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