Malawi’s new President Joyce Banda has announced a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the circumstances leading to her predecessor’s sudden death.
The Commission is also to investigate the alleged attempts to circumvent the Constitution to upstage the then Vice President (herself) from assuming office.
“I have decided to appoint a Commission of Inquiry to enquire into the death of our former president, late Ngwazi Prof. Bingu wa Mutharika,” she told Parliament in the capital, Lilongwe, on Friday, during her maiden ‘State of the Nation’ address.
“Among other issues, the commission shall enquire into the date of death, the cause of death, medical attention available to our late president at the time of his death and the role and activities of various individuals during and in managing the transition.”
Mutharika, 78, died suddenly on April 5 after suffering a cardiac arrest.
He was rushed to Kamuzu Central Hospital in the capital after collapsing in his office during a meeting with Lilongwe legislator Agnes Penemulungu.
Cardiologists failed to resuscitate him after three attempts.
Reports say his transfer from office to hospital was chaotic, with nobody alerting the public hospital that a VIP patient was being brought in.
The hospital also reportedly lacked the required drugs to aid the resuscitation efforts.
“I shall inform this nation the outcome of the inquiry and, depending on the findings, appropriate action will be taken,” she said.
Despite news spreading that the economist-turned-politician had died that fateful Thursday, government procrastinated with senior government officials insisting Mutharika was simply sick and was flown in the night to a military hospital in South Africa “for further treatment”.
Meanwhile, nocturnal meetings by the politburo of the then ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) were taking place in an attempt to install the late President’s brother, Prof. Peter Mutharika, as acting president despite the Constitution clearly stating that in the event of the President’s incapacitation or death, the Vice President automatically steps in.
A midnight press conference by six ministers – dubbed the ‘Midnight Six’, led by then Information Minister Patricia Kaliati – declared: “Vice President Joyce Banda cannot take over because she is no longer in the ruling party.”
Banda was expelled from the DPP after she refused to endorse the younger Mutharika to succeed his brother after his scheduled retirement in 2014.
President Banda told parliament: “By public demand, Mr. Speaker, Sir, I have decided to immediately set up a Commission of Inquiry to investigate circumstances, intent and extent of the said alleged coup and put the matter to rest as a nation.”
Banda also said she would simply be “finishing the second half” of her predecessor’s last term.
Mutharika had run-ins with almost all major Western bi-lateral donor nations and multi-lateral donor agencies, with most of them either suspending vital aid to the poor southern African country or completely cancelling it.
His diplomatic spat with the West reached a crescendo when he expelled British envoy Fergus Cochraine-Dyet, whose diplomatic cable to Foreign Secretary William Hague described Mutharika as “increasingly becoming autocratic and intolerant of criticism” leaked to the media.
Banda said her administration was working on mending fences with the donors, with Britain already announcing restoration of normal diplomatic ties.
Africa’s second female leader – and southern Africa’s first – also announced that her government would repeal all oppressive legislation, including homophobic laws that put Lilongwe on collision course with various Western capitals.
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