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some rural Malawians who remember Bingu as Jeff Sachs does

22 April 2012

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.

"President of Malawi receives drought tolerant maize seed consignment" by CIMMYT shared with CC license via Flickr

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.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. 23 April 2012 12:13 am

    In Kande (pretty rural) most people I’ve talked to are fairly happy with his death although they are not universally optimistic about JB

  2. kauzganga ni fwiti yayi permalink
    23 April 2012 1:32 am

    Malawians better use the 2 years joyce banda has to carefully choose who we want to have as president in 2014. JBs handling of the BwM funeral alone shows she may not be the one to lead us to economic safety-too much extravagance.Everywhere you go in Blantyre for the past week you meet scores of state funeral cars. Talks of Governments of National Unity smack of political appeasements as a strategy for 2014 victory instead of appointing a lean cabinet that can take us forward/out of the misery. My prediction is after 2 years JB will be out and Malawians will still be looking for someone to bail them out. We might end up falling into the hands of the Muluzis who will further milk the economy. Damn!

  3. Yusuf Mulamba permalink
    2 May 2012 2:22 am

    People in rural Thyolo mourned Mutharika and face a precarious future. JB’s failure to match words with actions and attempts to muffle her pilgrimage to TB Joshus’s shirne in Ikotun-Egbe, Lagos leave lots of unanswered future and a bleak future with this new leader.

  4. byuttagi permalink
    18 May 2012 5:46 am

    This is a spectacular blog! I came across your paper (Seeing like a village) while searching data on village headmen in Malawi, and I also found a link to your blog from another one of my favorite blogs that has great posts on Malawi ( I am an undergraduate (economics/sociology) currently working in Lilongwe, Malawi as a research assistant on HIV/AIDS RCT project. I am so excited, will be reading through your posts very carefully. 🙂 Zikomo.

    • 18 May 2012 6:57 am

      Thanks, @byuttagi. If you haven’t read my reading list on Malawi, you’ll find some other great blogs there. Are you working with IPA?

      • byuttagi permalink
        18 May 2012 9:02 am

        Incidentally, our local staff were overjoyed at DPP’s downfall, but the middled-aged people I met in Senga Bay for holiday seemed to be hoping for Muluzi’s son to be elected next. I’m no expert at politics, but I’m keeping eyes and ears wide open. Inflation is palpable and I suppose that will have a profound impact on politics …

      • 19 May 2012 10:02 am

        thanks for sharing insights from Senga Bay.

    • byuttagi permalink
      18 May 2012 8:56 am

      No, I’m working in a 3-year research project called “Project Malawi”, funded by KOICA(Korea International Cooperation Agency) and cooperating with Daeyang Luke Hospital near Kanengo. We are conducting survey on 7500+ secondary school students in Lilongwe on socioeconomic status, sexual behavior, HIV/AIDS perceptions, and social network data. But IPA’s not far from Daeyang and their publications on savings behavior was really interesting!

      • 19 May 2012 10:02 am

        I can’t wait to learn more about it! Feel free to email me if I can be of any help.

      • Seo-young Silvia Kim permalink
        19 May 2012 12:17 pm

        Thank you very much professor! We’ll be moving on to maternal and child health sector in July, and your paper on village headmen will be really helpful. I’ll keep reading new posts here in haba na haba for insight. Thank you again!


  1. Boni Dulani writes balanced obit of Mutharika « haba na haba

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