Monday, April 09, 2012

Bingu was a ‘dear brother' - Sata

Bingu was a ‘dear brother' - Sata
By Bright Mukwasa
Mon 09 Apr. 2012, 13:30 CAT

PRESIDENT Michael Sata says late Bingu wa Mutharika was a ‘dear brother', a true friend and colleague. And Malawi's new President Joyce Banda says Africans have decided that time has come for women to participate in leadership.

President Sata yesterday said he was deeply saddened at the untimely death of Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika, following a cardiac arrest. In his letter of condolences to the newly-inaugurated head of state, President Sata expressed his deep sense of shock and sadness at the death of Mutharika.

"The Zambian people feel profoundly sorry for the loss of a true friend like President wa Mutharika and shares Malawi's sadness during this period of enormous pain," he stated.

President Sata had agreed to reconcile with Mutharika in December last year, following the former's 2007 deportation from Malawi.

He had told journalists at State House then that there was need for him and Mutharika to put their differences aside in the interest of Zambia and Malawi.

The differences arose after President Sata, then opposition PF leader, was deported from Malawi on March 15, 2007 upon arrival at Chileka International Airport in Blantyre.

President Sata was driven back to Zambia through Mwami Border in Chipata.

After President Sata's election last September, relations between Zambia and Malawi were less than cordial but following their reconciliation, the two leaders met in South Africa during the African National Congress (ANC) centenary celebrations, where they even hugged.

And President Sata stated that Zambia particularly remembers the late Malawian leader for the many years he spent in the country during his tenure as secretary-general of Comesa.

"On behalf of the government and the people of the Republic of Zambia and indeed on my own behalf, I express our innermost condolences to you, the first family, the government and the people of the Republic of Malawi," President Sata stated.

"Having known President wa Mutharika during his tour of duty in Zambia, I can bear out that indeed, he was an exceptional leader and a close friend of our country. His sudden death is therefore a great loss not only for the people of Malawi, but for the Southern African region and the continent as a whole."

President Sata stated that Mutharika would also be remembered as a great reformer who championed the cause of humanity and dedicated his life to selfless service up to the time of his death.

"No doubt, my dear brother and colleague will be sorely missed by all who knew him for the ideals that he firmly stood for," President Sata stated.

The President stated that during the period of national mourning in Malawi, Zambia commiserates with the people of the sister republic and joins them in spirit and prayerful reflection as the nation seeks God's guidance to move forward.

And NGOCC has congratulated the people of Malawi for having the first female president in southern Africa.

Commenting on Banda's taking over of the leadership of Malawi after the death of Mutharika, Non-Governmental Organisations Coordinating Council NGOCC executive director Engwase Mwale said the work that President Banda had put in to be able to bring forth the leadership of women on the agenda in Malawi was an example that all of southern Africa should emulate.

"We would wish the president well in her new responsibility but that as a woman President, she will be able to show the transformative leadership offered by women and we have no doubt that Her Excellency madam Joyce Banda would prove that very fact," she said.

Mwale said her organisation greatly upheld Banda's ascendance to the presidency of Malawi, adding that the women's movement took pride, especially in recognising the President's contribution given her background.

She also called for peace and stability as Malawians mourn Mutharika.

"We call for peace and stability in the country but most importantly that the people of Malawi will utilise this opportunity to come together once more to shape the agenda for the country," Mwale said.

She added that NGOCC would stand with the women in Malawi.

Mwale also extended heartfelt condolences to the Malawians.

And Banda said while gender was a factor of her leadership, Malawians would support her as their first female president because of their confidence in the country's democratic system.

"The election of me as a vice-president, and the election of Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, shows that Africans have grown in democracy because it means that they have confidence in both men and women leading them," she said in an interview with Al Jazeera.

"Africans have decided that the time is now for women to participate in leadership. I am confident that I am going to enjoy the support of Malawians, but it's not going to be easy because of the state of the economy of Malawi."

The Malawian constitution states the vice-president takes over if the president dies, but Mutharika appeared to have been grooming his brother Peter, the foreign minister, as his de facto successor.

Banda was one of Mutharika's fiercest critics and some politicians reportedly tried to block her from assuming power.

She is expected to run the country until scheduled elections take place in 2014.

To convince the international community of the smooth transition, both the presidency and cabinet issued a statement assuring "that the constitution of the Republic of Malawi will be strictly adhered to in managing the transition".

Both Britain and the US which had been major donors to Malawi until they froze millions of dollars in aid over rows with Mutharika over his policies and actions, urged a smooth transition respecting the constitution.

A statement issued by the White House on Saturday welcomed the appointment of Banda, saying: "By following constitutional procedures for this transition, the government and people of Malawi have reaffirmed their commitment to democratic principles and demonstrated the critical importance of sound democratic institutions."

A joint statement by Herman van Rompuy, president of the European Council, and Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the executive European Commission, said: "Malawi has in the past 20 years become an example of democracy with its peaceful transitions of power and respect for the constitution and the outcome of elections."

Meanwhile, the African Union Commission chief Jean Ping sent condolences sent to Banda, saying that Africa had "lost one of its great sons" with Mutharika's passing.

But in Malawi, there appeared to be little public sorrow at Mutharika's death.

Many of the country's 13 million people had viewed him as an autocrat personally responsible for an economic crisis that stemmed ultimately from a diplomatic row with former colonial power Britain a year ago.

Britain and others froze aid worth some 40 per cent of government spending, fuel supplies dried up and food prices soared, leading to popular unrest.

Medical sources said Mutharika's body was flown to South Africa because Malawi's energy crisis was so severe the Lilongwe state hospital would have been unable to conduct a proper autopsy or even keep his body refrigerated.

Banda, who has had to navigate the country's turbulent political waters in recent years, took office on Saturday after Mutharika's death.

The late president had tapped Banda as his deputy in the 2009 elections, but then ousted her from his party the following year.

Banda steadfastly resisted Mutharika's efforts to force her from office during a succession battle sparked when the late president decided to groom his brother Peter to become his Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) candidate in 2014 polls.

Then, as head of her own People's Party, she emerged as one of Mutharika's fiercest critics, lambasting his management of an economy hobbled by fuel shortages.

Banda was born on April 12, 1950, in Malawi's colonial capital of Zomba. She began her career as a secretary and soon became a well-known public figure.

Banda started a women's empowerment programme, travelling throughout the country to promote the National Business Women Association, a campaign that made her one of Malawi's most visible champions of gender equality.

She later established the Joyce Banda Foundation to advance education for girls.

Banda entered politics in 1999, during Malawi's second democratic elections. She won a parliamentary seat in the party of then president Bakili Muluzi, who named her minister for gender and community services.

Five years later, she retained her seat as a candidate for Muluzi's party, even as Mutharika won the presidency.

When the new president split from Muluzi to form his own party, the DPP, Banda followed and became foreign minister in 2006.

During her time as Malawi's top diplomat, the country severed its long ties with Taiwan and established relations with Beijing.

Banda argued the switch would bring economic benefits to Malawi. China has since built Malawi a new parliament in the capital Lilongwe, where Banda was on Saturday sworn into office as president.

Mutharika tapped her as his running mate in the 2009 elections, but their political honeymoon was short as party in-fighting intensified over his decision to anoint his brother as his successor, drawing accusations that he was trying to create a dynasty.

"The chronic disease of third term, or chieftaincy, remains one of the greatest enemies of our efforts to achieve sustainable development," she said.

"The country is constantly caught in a vicious circle of privatisation of the state where one or two people hold the fate of the country."

Banda's ousting from the ruling party angered many urban voters, and she remained a popular figure for many Malawians.

But, her critics have questioned her ability to steer the country through its economic crisis, with the currency trading on the black market at twice the official exchange rate.

After anti-government protests broke out in July last year, when police shot dead 19 people, Banda warned that Malawi could face more unrest ahead of the next polls.

"The road to 2014 will be rough, bumpy and tough. Some will even sacrifice their own lives," she said.

Banda remains a role model to many women in Malawi for her fight for her gender in a male-dominated society.

She is now the first ever female leader in southern Africa, and the continent's second female leader of modern times, after Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

She is married to retired chief justice Richard Banda, her family being among the most influential in Malawi. (Additional reporting courtesy of Aljazeera)

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