Bingu wa Mutharika (born Brightson Webster Ryson Thom; 24 February 1934 – 5 April 2012) was a Malawian politician and economist who was President of Malawi from May 2004 until his death. He was also the president of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, which has a majority in Malawi's parliament as a result of the 2009 general election. During his two terms in office he was noted for presiding over the African Union, as well as several domestic controversies. He died of a heart attack in Lilongwe on 5 April.
Bingu wa Mutharika was born Brightson Webster Ryson Thom on 24 February 1934 in Thyolo. Mutharika's parents, Ryson Thom Mutharika and Eleni Thom Mutharika, were both members of the Church of Scotland Mission which later became Church of Central Africa, Presbyterian. His father was a teacher for 37 years and his mother taught the women of the Mvano group.
Upon completing his primary education at Ulongwe Mission and Chingoli, Mulanje, Ntambanyama, Malamulo, in Thyolo and Henri Henderson Institute in Blantyre, Mutharika obtained a Grade A Cambridge Overseas School Leaving Certificate at Dedza Secondary School in 1956. In 1964, he was one of the 32 Malawians selected by Hastings Kamuzu Banda (President of Malawi 1961–1994) to travel to India on an Indira Gandhi scholarship for 'fast track' diplomas. The BBC reports that he went to India to "escape then President Hastings Banda's crackdown on political opponents". At some point during the 1960s, he also changed his name, to Bingu wa Mutharika. In India, Mutharika earned his Bachelor's degree in Economics. Subsequently, he attended the Delhi School of Economics graduating with a M.A. degree in Economics. He later obtained a PhD degree in Development Economics from Pacific Western University. Mutharika also completed short courses on Business Management, Financial Analysis, Trade Promotion, Political Leadership, regional Economic Co-operation and Human Relations.
Mutharika served in the Malawi civil service. He has served as Administrative Officer in the Government of Malawi and Zambia. He was offered the Deputy Governorship of the reserve Bank of Malawi and appointed Minister of Economic Planning and Development in 2002.
He also worked at the World Bank as a Loans Officer and at the United Nations Economic Commission of Africa, as Director of Trade and Development Finance and as Secretary General of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa COMESA, covering 22 Member States
Mutharika was a Roman Catholic and married to Zimbawean Ethel Zvauya Mutharika, with whom he had four children. Ethel Mutharika died of cancer on 28 May 2007. In 2010, Mutharika announced he planned to marry Callista Chimombo, a former Minister of Tourism. The two were married on 1 May 2010.
Mutharika's son, Peter Mutharika, was a lecturer at Washington University in St. Louis. In May 2009, he was elected to the Malawian Parliament, and was subsequently appointed to the Malawi Cabinet as Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs. He has held other cabinet positions.
Mutharika died of a heart attack on 5 April 2012 at the age of 78, after being admitted to a hospital. He was reportedly flown to South Africa due to power outages in Lilongwe. The media reported "chaotic scenes" after his wife, Callista, and other cabinet members were leaving the hospital. His condition was initially announced as "critical." Vice President Joyce Banda wished him a quick recovery. In reaction, police were deployed across the national capital with 15 Army officers posted at the Vice President's residence. His death was officially confirmed on 7 April, the day Joyce Banda was sworn in as Malawi's first female president despite controversy following Information and Civic Education Minister Patricia Kaliati's statement that "the conduct of the honourable Joyce Banda in forming her own opposition party precludes her from being eligible to succeed the presidency," while the country's security forces also wanted the constitutional order to prevail.
The former U.S. ambassador to Tanzania Charles Stith said of Mutharika that he was "unwavering in his commitment to improve the plight of Malawi’s poor" and that he was " one of Africa’s most courageous and conscientious leaders."
The United Nations Special Millennium development Goal Award (2010) for success towards eliminating hunger by enhancing food security ahead of the 2015 MDG deadline (Goal 1 – ending poverty and hunger)
COMESA Distinguished Award (2010) for exceptional leadership and distinguished service to COMESA and the integration of Africa as Secretary General of COMESA form 1991 to 1997. The Authority specifically commended Mutharika for his contribution to the realisation of the Abuja Treaty objectives towards African integration.
Southern Africa Trust Drivers of Change Award (2009) for changing Malawi from a country in perpetual food deficit to one that is entirely food-sufficient. “The boom in this sector has had a direct impact on millions of poor people. Under his leadership, poverty has declined from 58 to 42 percent in five years. Through his direct involvement in turning Malawi's future around, he is building new confidence and hope amongst the citizens of Africa in their governments.”
2009 Medal of Glory Awards – “President Mutharika was chosen for the award because of his bold reforms that have resulted in the Malawi green revolution, and Malawi's increase in its economic growth rate from less that 1 percent in 2003, before he took office to more than 9.7 percent in 2008, at the end of his first term office”
The Most Excellent Grand Commander (MEGC) – Top most award of Malawi order of National Achievement conferred by the Malawi Civilian Honours and Decorations, 6 July 2009
Inaugural Food Agriculture and Natural resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) Food Security Policy Leadership Award (2008), “for his agricultural policy interventions which have transformed Malawi form a food deficit nation to a net maize exporter”
FAO's Agricola Medal (2008) in honour of “his substantial contribution towards transforming the country's economy form a state of food deficit nation to a net exporter of maize”
Louise Blouin Foundation Award for Exceptional Creative Achievement (2008) for making a positive impact on a global scale
Danish Government Award of recognition for outstanding performances in promoting gender equality and women empowerment (2008).
Mutharika received several honorary degrees including Professor of Economics by East China Normal University, in April 2010; Doctor of Letters (D.Litt) Degree Honoris Causa by the University of Delhi in October, 2010; Doctor of Law (PhD Degree (Honoris Causa), Mzuzu University, in 2008 and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) Degree (Honoris Causa), University of Strathclyde, Scotland in 2005.
He was the founder and chairman of the Bineth Trust – a nonprofit organisation promoting education; Founder of the Silvergrey International; and founder and Chairman of the Bingu Silvergrey Foundation of the elderly and retired persons. He is also the founder of the Malawi University of Science and Technology, the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources; University of Cotton Research at Bangula; the University of Marine biology; the University of Mombera and the University of Nkhotakota.