8 Be sure that the book of the Law is always read in your worship. Study it day and night, and make sure that you obey everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. – Joshua 1:8
Arthur Peter Mutharika could plausibly be termed the reluctant president in the lineup of Malawi presidents in the 57 years of independent Malawi. While his elder brother was brought into leadership after he failed on his own, but later whisked to the front of the United Democratic Party (UDF), following Muluzi’s failure to secure a Third Term bid from Parliament, younger Mutharika was a thriving law professor at the prestigious US’s Washington University, and a prominent member of various international tribunals such as the three-panel International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).
Like his brother President Dr. Bingu wa Mutharika (an internationally-acclaimed economist) and President Dr. President Hastings Kamuzu Banda (a medical surgeon who was a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons), Peter Mutharika first came to the hearts and minds of Malawians when he aptly argued for term limitations at the 1995 Constitution Conference, where he was the Conference Chair. Sadly, it was legalities that were his Achille’s heel that made his 11-year political wall come tumbling down in 2020.
From his 1995 sterling performance as Constitutional Conference Chair, Mutharika II returned to his lectureship in the US, where it is believed he was either a US citizen or permanent resident. He emerged back in the country when his sister-in-law First lady Ethel Mutharika passed away after a brave battle with cancer in 2007. He later emerged as campaign adviser during Mutharika I’s second term bid. Bingu, with Joyce Banda as his running mate won with a landslide.
With brother firmly planted in all things Malawian, Peter Mutharika secured his first of three cabinet positions in his brother, President Bingu wa Mutharika’s cabinet. These were the Minister of Justice (June 2009 – August 2010), Minister of Education (August 2010 – September 2011), and Minister of Foreign Affairs (September 2011 – April 2012). Peter Mutharika served as a Member of Parliament from May 2009 – March 2014. It was while he was Foreign Affairs Minister, that a group of Democratic People’s Party (DPP) stewards attempted to thwart and contravene the Constitutional framework for succession; a move that would have prevented former Vice President Dr. Joyce Banda from becoming the fourth President of Malawi.
The Constitution won the battle, and Banda was installed as President. She lost Mutharika in the 2014 bid to the presidency. Regrettably Peter Mutharika (who during the campaign became Arthur Peter Mutharika), spent the majority of his term and half in office hounding his predecessor. This caused Banda to spend four years outside the country in a self-imposed exile, as Mutharika and his supporters branded Banda as being part of the Cash-gate saga where civil servants milked the Malawi government of millions of Kwachas. Banda was cleared by international auditors and safely returned to Malawi in 2019.
Despite hounding Banda and threatening her with extradition from the US and imprisonment, the Mutharika II administration was rife with corruption, syphoning of money by high-level civil servants and State House operatives, and cabinet ministers. The administration also got corrosively nepotistic very fast; suddenly, immediately, and instantly anything and everything a Lomwe was as the thing to be as was being a Chewa was in Kamuzu Banda’s administration, a Yao/Muslim was in Muluzi’s administration.
Also, the arrogance of certain protected individuals sprang up throughout Malawi, with ordinary Malawians fearing to lose their professional positions.
However, Mutharika’s undoing, was that he and his party had total and absolute disregard of the Constitution he had helped to formulate. In 2014 Mutharika, was announced the winner of the president; this announcement was made amidst heavy tears by former Malawi Election Commission (MEC) Chair late Maxon Mbendera. The MEC chair mysteriously passed away in August 2016. During the 2019 presidential elections, MEC Chair Jane Ansah made the announcement that Mutharika had won the presidency, amid 147 complaints (locally known as Madando). The complaints, that were later brought to the courts were filled with discrepancies including Tippex (correction fluid) tally sheets, missing signatures, or crossed-out figures. This was not only present in one district but country-wide, with similarities in the discrepancies: obviously, an indication of some orchestrated tampering with the 2019 presidential election result. Apart from the Tippex tally sheets, it was prevalent that tampering was also made through MEC computers.
The two main opposition leaders of the opposition parties (Malawi Congress Party and the United Transformation Movement) led by Chakwera and Chilima took the issue to the High Court, which was referred to a five-panel Constitutional court. The instituted ConCourt ruled and called for Fresh Presidential elections, to be held within a stipulated timeframe, and to be approved by Parliament; they added for good measure, the requirement of the candidate to secure a 50+1 mandate from Malawians. Although the decision was appealed by Mutharika, the Supreme Court of Appeals, held the ConCourt’s decision. The Parliament passed a Bill for the Fresh elections, Ansah retired, and she was replaced by Cuthbert Kachale.
Kachale declared Dr. Lazarus Chakwera as the winner of the Fresh Elections, with Dr. Chilima as Vice President in the Tonse Alliance, which amassed nine parties against Mutharika’s DPP/UDF alliance. The Tonse Alliance secured the 50+1 mandate and some!
To his credit, the Mutharika administration gets the appreciable mention for the passaged and Mutharika ascension to the Bill that bans child marriage in 2015, the first country to localize the UN resolution that calls on countries to ban this wide-spread scourge. Since passing the law passing, numerous organizations and public entities such as Senior Chief Theresa Kachindamoto. Have arisen and taken up arms against child marriage in their areas.
Another plus for Mutharika II is his administrations move to forge closer working ties with Malawi’s millions of Malawians living in the Diaspora.
Lastly, it is thanks to Mutharika’s disrespect of the Constitution, that Malawians got their groove and reclaimed their power of the vote. In the run-up to the ConCourt decision and the Supreme Court upholding of the Lower Court, Malawian men, women, children, and the elderly, poured out nationwide onto the streets singing and chanting protest songs. They did this to protest the stealing of their votes as highlighted in tally sheet after tally sheet, which highlighted the manipulation of the 2019 elections.
Malawians won back their awesome ballot box power. Power to the people!