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political succession following African leaders’ deaths

20 December 2012

Very soon, an article I co-authored with Boniface Dulani following Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika’s death will be published in African Affairs. The article, titled “Constitutional Provisions and Executive Succession: Malawi’s 2012 Transition in Comparative Perspective”, is available in advance online (gated — if you need an ungated copy, please email me). In the paper, we go to some length describing the many factors that led to an eventual democratic transition in Malawi. We compare the succession to those in Nigeria in 2010 and Zambia in 2008, which also followed presidential deaths. The paper also includes data on transitions more generally on the continent. Here is an excerpt from the abstract:

We assert from these cases that constitutional provisions on executive succession are necessary in precipitating peaceful transitions, but also argue that periods of delay indicate that such provisions are insufficient on their own. We contend that presidential death is more likely to lead to transition than presidential incapacity. The Malawian case in particular illustrates how a constitutional transition requires support from key actors, particularly the Cabinet, military leaders, judiciary, civil society, and the independent media. Public rejection of military or authoritarian rule, and the growing precedent for constitutional succession in Africa, are additional drivers of peaceful transitions.

The timing of our paper’s publication is rather interesting in that it follows some recent commentary in The Guardian about the current situation in Malawi. SpeakIt films created for The Guardian a short documentary of the new president Joyce Banda. Talking about the challenging situation she inherited from the late President Mutharika, she said, “An African woman carries heavy loads… nothing is unbearable.”

In an interview in a related article in The Guardian, Banda gives more background to the 48 hours that transpired between Mutharika’s death and her ascension to the presidency, and makes particular reference to the important role played by Army General Odillo. I was surprised in Banda’s interview with The Guardian that she said she didn’t know the president had died. I live in Texas but learned within hours of his arrival at the main hospital in Lilongwe that Mutharika was dead. So I’m not quite sure what to make of Banda’s statement: did she really not know Mutharika was dead? Is she not being genuine in interviews about what happened? Either way, it does not instill confidence.

In a related post for The Guardian, analyst Diana Cammack provides more insights on the politics surrounding the transition and Banda’s progress since. Cammack’s post is notably more skeptical of Banda’s rule, demonstrated in the title: “Empty pumps and rising prices: politics as usual in Joyce Banda’s Malawi?”.

It was also brought to my attention that Africa Renewal has a recent post on African countries coping with the deaths of leaders in office. Some haba na haba readers might remember just a few months ago an article linked here entitled “Why do African Presidents Keep Dying?”

The genesis of our paper was my writing about the transition as it happened. (Blogging isn’t a total waste of time.) Though we set out originally to write about the Malawi transition following Mutharika’s death, as we wrote the paper, we began to consider other examples and look at trends across the continent. This more engaged review of deaths-in-office of African leaders has generated our interest in looking at the African experience compared to other regions. All of this is to say: watch this space!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. 20 December 2012 10:13 pm

    As someone who was trying to find news, any news, about Bingu’s medical condition I can tell you it was next to impossible unless it was via BBC. There was a news blackout and such confusion at the time that it wouldn’t be surprising at all to learn that she was just as in the dark as the rest of the country. Literally those outside the country were being better informed.

    Thanks for the link to this great interview/article and the excellent documentary.

    • 21 December 2012 9:40 am

      I agree, Tim, that the news media wasn’t terribly helpful. It was through Twitter and Facebook that I heard the rumors and I learned about his death from a friend whose family member works at the hospital (Kamuzu Central). What I can’t believe is that an American not in the country was able to find out from someone inside the hospital though the Vice President couldn’t.


  1. 2012 haba na haba blogging in review « haba na haba
  2. Report on Mutharika’s Death | haba na haba

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