Bingu wa Mutharika (born Brightson Webster Ryson Thom) was a Malawian politician and economist who was President of Malawi from May 2004 until his death 6 April 2012.
Dr. Bingu Wa Mutharika was born February 24th, 1934. Mutharika was born in a Kamoto village in Thyolo Southern Malawi. Mutharika was the son of a primary school Headmaster.
Mutharika was born with the name Brightson Webster Thom; however, he changed his name to Mutharika and adopted the first name Bingu during the 1960s when pan-Africanism was sweeping across the continent.
Mutharika officially became the President of the Republic of Malawi on May 24, 2004.
Mutharika holds a PhD in Development Economics from the Pacific Western University, Los Angeles, USA. Mutharika has also earned a Master’s degree in Economics and a Bachelor’s Degree in Commerce from the University of Delhi, India.
Mutharika worked from 1990 until 1997 as Secretary General of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) which is formerly known as Preferential Trade Area (PTA). As an authority on building regional infrastructure, Dr. Mutharika pioneered the establishment of several regional economic organizations such as the Association of African Central Banks (AACB), Conference of African Ministers of Finance, African Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (AFCCI), and Eastern and Southern Africa Business Organization (ESABO).
After serving in the Malawi civil service and also for a period of time in the government of Zambia, Dr. Mutharika joined the United Nations in 1978. One reason that inspired Mutharika to join the UN was his opposition to the regime of Malawi's self-declared "President for Life" Hastings Kamuzu Banda. After Banda was forced to liberalize his regime, Mutharika alleges he was one of the founders of the United Democratic Front, the party that won Malawi's first multiparty elections in 1994.
After working for the United Nations - where he rose to the position of Director for Trade and Development Finance and was responsible for 53 African countries - Mutharika became the Secretary General of COMESA.
Dr. Mutharika’s political involvement dates back to the early days of Malawi’s Independence. Dr. Mutharika was amongst those who opposed the authoritarian rule of Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda. Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda was Malawi’s first Head of State. Dr. Mutharika also opposed the introduction of the Banda administration of racial discrimination and salary differentiation based on the race in the civil service.
Mutharika’s opposition to such political movements eventually forced him to flee the country for Zambia. Mutharika was a supporter of the UDF leader, President Bakili Muluzi, but he soon became a critic of Muluzi's economic policies and left the UDF. He formed the United Party (UP) in 1997 and unsuccessfully ran against Muluzi in the 1999 presidential elections, taking less than 1% of the vote.
Mutharika dissolved the UP and rejoined the UDF after being offered the deputy governorship at Reserve Bank of Malawi. He was appointed Minister of Economic Planning and Development in 2002, and was then nominated by Muluzi as his successor.
Mutharika won about 36% of the vote in the presidential election on May 24, 2004. Mutharika earned more votes than John Tembo and Gwanda Chakuamba and took office a few days later. Very soon after taking office, Mutharika came into conflict with Muluzi, head of the UDF, over Mutharika's campaign against corruption. Mutharika is criticized for this ongoing dispute with Muluzi and it is believed that this dispute is causing an interference with governance.
On February 5, 2005, Mutharika announced his resignation from the UDF, saying that he had no support in the party because of his stand against corruption. There had previously been talk of expelling Mutharika from the party, and there had also been an alleged assassination plot against him by party members in early January 2005. Those accused were later pardoned by Mutharika, but he maintained the existence of the plot. Mutharika subsequently formed his own party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
In April 2005, Muluzi apologized to the country for choosing Mutharika as his successor "and imposing him on the country". Gwanda Chakuamba, who had been made minister of agriculture, was dismissed from the cabinet and subsequently arrested in September 2005 for making a speech predicting that Mutharika would be out of office by Christmas.
In 2006, the vice-president, Cassim Chilumpha, was arrested; he was accused of plotting Mutharika's assassination. It was reported in March 2005 that Mutharika was not sleeping in the state mansion because of suspicions that there were evil spirits in the mansion. A presidential aide was quoted as saying that Christian clergy had been asked to exorcise the spirits. This was subsequently denied, and journalists responsible for the story, including a BBC reporter, were arrested. Mutharika said that "I have not met any ghosts yet, I have never in my life been afraid of them".
Mutharika has upheld the memory of Hastings Banda as a national hero; in May 2006, he was present at the unveiling of a mausoleum for Banda that cost US$620,000. In October 2006, Mutharika stated his intention to seek re-election in 2009 as the DPP candidate.
Mutharika's wife, Ethel, with whom he had four children, died in May of 2007 after a long battle with cancer which led her to seek treatment in France and South Africa. Mutharika’s brother Peter Mutharika, holds a doctorate from Yale and is a prominent law professor at Washington University in St. Louis.
Dr. Mutharika has four children. He is a devout Catholic. Dr. Mutharika’s hobbies include playing golf, swimming, photography, writing books, fishing and listening to soft music.
Mutharika received the following awards: