9 Here is a little boy with five barley loaves of bread and two small fish. But what difference will these make for so many? – John 6:9
Although it has been said that Malawi’s third president, Professor Bingu wa Mutharika was a fraud, he was really also a good and kind-hearted man. This discourse aims to give the former late president a reprieve of sorts because really, he brought respectability back to Malawi both internationally and locally.
There are others that might disagree and in haste point to the massacre of demonstrators in July 2011. Ironically, the year was also a great one for Bingu.
President Bingu wa Mutharika was a sought-after international conference speaker. This was after his agricultural fertilizer subsidy policy proved highly beneficial to Malawians increasing food security at the household level; it was something that even surprised the donor community.
Because of his agricultural policy that lifted Malawian’s food security, the Hunger Project awarded Bingu wa Mutharika the 2011 Award for the Sustainable End to Hunger in Africa. Sadly, Bingu’s winning the coveted award was withdrawn after the July 2011 mass demonstration where demonstrations were shot at and killed by the Police. The Hunger Project withdrew its nomination, despite numerous consultations with the organizers.
Bingu was also elected as the African Union Chairperson. It was during the time Bingu was installed Chair of the 54-member African Union in Addis Ababa that the former president met with then UN Women Executive Director Michele Bachelet. During their talks, the Malawi leader urged her to open a UN Women’s office in Malawi. This was due to the alarming gender inequality and other gender issues such as violence against women, that were besetting the country.
At the June 2012 UN Women board meeting, Ambassador Bowler and I made a passionate plea requesting the agency and successfully persuaded it to open offices in Malawi. We argued this would be a vital development aid asset for the new president’s agenda, who happened to be a woman. The request was accomplished in September 2012. Malawi still enjoys the services of UN Women that was started by Bingu was Mutharika.
Bingu contributed to Malawi’s education infrastructure as did Kamuzu Banda and Joyce Banda. For Malawians, Kamuzu established the Kamuzu Academy; for Malawians, Bingu established the University of Science and Technology; and for Malawians, Joyce Banda established the Joyce Banda Foundation School for Girls in Blantyre and others in Zomba.
Bingu was a man who came from very humble beginnings. He often talked about being a poor boy from Thyolo. Because he was a bright and rising scholar, he was sent to Blantyre and registered at the HHI school. July 10, 2010, at Sanjika Palace in Blantyre, my family and I heard him narrate the story of his humble beginnings at a special event. The event was to celebrate a special occasion for two special people. The special event was the celebration of the 60thwedding anniversary for my Mom and Dad; but to Bingu wa Mutharika, it was to celebrate two special people, my Mom and my Dad.
The Personal Assistant, Mrs. Flora Muhara and I coordinated on behalf of President Mutharika and First Lady Madame Callista Mutharika and former Ambassador Nyemba Mbekeani and Mrs. Lois Mbekeani. While Flora invited 100 people from the President’s side, I invited 100 people from my side. Both sides included children. The event turned out to be a Who’s Who of sorts at the Palace, and the Palace servers treated all the guests like we were royalty.
It was a beautiful feast, but more beautiful and special was the story of his humble beginnings he told the celebrants, that our two families were connected beyond political acquaintances.
“I have to celebrate Mr. Mbekeani and Mrs. Mbekeani in a special way because they are special people, who treat all people in a special way,” President Mutharika told us.
“On the day they got married, I was there. I was a friend of Mr. Mbekeani’s brothers Ronald and Jasper, and every weekend I used to play football with them, and we’d end up at Mr. and Mrs. Mbekeani’s house. When it came time for food, there no differentiating between the brothers and me. We all got the same food.”
“You can imagine, school diet of beans is bad now, they were worse when I was in school, so every weekend, I always looked forward to going to their house in Ndirande.”
President Mutharika called on Malawians to emulate the example lived by the two celebrants. Bingu remembered. The feast was a memorable and unforgettable delight.
There were many other great moments during Bingu was Mutharika’s administration, but the ones highlighted above were supreme, special, and personal.