some rural Malawians who remember Bingu as Jeff Sachs does
Today’s Malawi Voice featured an article written by a young man visiting his family in rural Rumphi, in northern Malawi. He writes about the perceptions of his kin on the death of former President Bingu wa Mutharika. Though much of what we hear here in the West is about how bad Mutharika was (at least since re-election in 2009) and how many in Malawi are not sad to see him gone, this story paints a different picture of people in a rural village sad that their president has died:
“Those who did not understand Bingu will celebrate. Those of us who understood him, will mourn for him until the last tear drop,” explained my uncle.
The reverence of Mutharika was tied to the program he was most widely known for (before the crackdown on protesters in July, of course), the Agricultural Input Subsidy Programme:
“Just after selling that chicken during Bingu’s time we were able to buy a bag of fertilizer. We do not know if that will happen again,” said my uncle… My 29-year-old nephew joined the conversation, “Before the introduction of thefertilizer subsidy, we were dying of hunger here. Wanthu wakazgokanga greener kuno chikufwa cha njala (People were just turning green because of hunger).”
The fertilizer subsidy program has generated much debate, and I’m not sure we have sufficient evidence on whether it was good or bad (or some combination of the two). But, in his Op-Ed in the New York Times earlier this week, Development Advocate and Earth Institute Director Jeff Sachs encouraged us to remember the positive legacy that Bingu wa Mutharika leaves behind: the fertilizer subsidy program:
Mutharika goes to his grave widely despised by his own countrymen, and unknown to most of the world. Yet however many missteps he may have made in the last years, his positive legacy remains historic. He was the first African president in recent years to face down the donors by insisting that Africa can and must feed itself, especially by helping smallholder farmers to gain access to the vital inputs they need to raise their productivity, diversify their production, and escape from poverty.
I don’t know. It’s hard for me to give more relative weight to whatever good you do before you take your country’s democratic and economic governance for a nosedive (which included 20 of your countrymen dying in protest).
I’m curious to hear additional reports from rural Malawians on the death of their president. I think we’ll find more stories like the one in Rumphi, but I’m not certain.