How Malawi flew dead president’s body to South Africa

By REX CHIKOKO via AfricaReview

Pallbearers carry the casket with the remains of Malawi’s former president Bingu wa Mutharika at Kamuzu International Airport in Lilongwe on16/04/2012. A new report has revealed shocking details surrounding his illness and death. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Pallbearers carry the casket with the remains of Malawi’s former president Bingu wa Mutharika at Kamuzu International Airport in Lilongwe on16/04/2012. A new report has revealed shocking details surrounding his illness and death. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Malawi President Joyce Banda has received a report from a Commission of Inquiry constituted in June 2012 to investigate circumstances surrounding the death of her predecessor Bingu wa Mutharika.

Mr Mutharika died on April 5, 2012 after suffering a cardiac arrest. The events surrounding his death and the succession intrigues that ensued stunned Malawians and the world.

The 105-page report summarises what took place during Mr Mutharika’s illness and death and is the genesis of the activities that led to the arrests of 11 politicians on treason charges.

The eleven, all former cabinet ministers and government officials, including the late Mutharika’s younger brother, Peter, were implicated in a number of activities ranging from keeping secret the death of the president, to trying to circumvent the Constitution to stop the then Vice-President Joyce Banda from ascending to power.

The Commission of Inquiry, chaired by retired Supreme Court judge Elton Singini, was mandated to establish two issues; the sudden death of President Mutharika and the events of political transition up to the swearing in of the successor. The commission had 124 people testifying.

Judge Singini told President Banda when presenting the document that: “This Report has told the two-part story: the story of the death of President Bingu wa Mutharika and the story of the political transition in considerable detail that depicts, in some cases, very minute details and graphic presentation of some of the events that took place.”

The commission was also mandated to investigate reports of looting and missing government properties during the transition period and other unusual occurrences like the Malawi Civil Society threats as well as the involvement of the Nigerian Prophet TB Joshua.

The report revealed that on April 5, 2012, Mr Mutharika collapsed at State House in the audience room at around 11:10am (local time) and was taken into an ambulance to rush him to Kamuzu Central Hospital, but died on the way.

“The ambulance arrived at the hospital at about 11:25am and the president was brought in dead,” reads the report.

However, it took the government over 48 hours to announce the death.

Mr Mutharika’s body, upon reaching Kamuzu Central Hospital, was subjected to medical procedures in attempts to resuscitate him, but the report said, that was already too late.

“At around 2:30pm, doctors at the hospital pronounced him dead and informed the authorities of that fact. The cause of the death of Mutharika was irregular beating of his heart at that moment of his collapse, called cardiac arrhythmia, which resulted in him suffering a cardiac arrest.

Handling dead body

“The medical personnel who received the president in the ICU observed that he was unresponsive as they were bringing him in. His pupils were fixed and dilated. On the records, the Glasgow Comma Scale (GCS) was recorded as 3 out of 15, meaning that there was no eye response, no verbal response and no movement; this is the lowest a patient can get to on that scale. The chances were that the president had already died.

“… an anaesthetist took an intubation kit and started intubating the president. In his own evidence, an anaesthetist explained that the process of intubation is a difficult one. It is very painful to the patient and he stated that, even in the case of a person who is unconscious, it is usually a difficult process because such people do react,” the report reads in part, indicating that the president was already dead.

The efforts to resuscitate, according to the report, left the dead president with broken ribs and connected to the life support machines for about 8 hours.

The report revealed that this is the time when the drama of succession started.

The commission found that in an attempt to stop Mrs Banda, the successor-apparent according to the Constitution, government and party officials embarked on the move to conceal the death by calling for an air ambulance from South Africa to evacuate the president to that country, to give the impression that Mutharika was still alive.

“The president’s personal physician, Dr (Dan) Namarika, was instructed by the Chief Secretary, Mr Bright Msaka, SC, to advise the air ambulance crew that the president was being stabilised and that the air ambulance should still come to Malawi to evacuate him as a patient.

Dr Namarika passed this message to the air ambulance crew with full knowledge that the president had died,” reads the report.

The commission established that the body of Mr Mutharika was connected to the medical equipment throughout to give an impression that he was still alive. It was only removed after doctors from South Africa arrived and questioned why the dead body was still connected to the medical equipment.

This time, government at 8pm issued a press release announcing that the president had been taken ill and was being flown to South Africa for further medical attention.

The report indicated that the body of Mr Mutharika was left about 10 hours unattended while the minister of Energy Goodall Gondwe, Mr Peter Mutharika and the Chief Secretary, Mr Msaka, were scheming on how they would prevent Mrs Banda from taking over the presidency.

“The handling of the body of the late president from the time he was clinically pronounced dead at Kamuzu Central Hospital to the time that the body was flown to South Africa contributed to a condition of decomposition by the time it arrived at the mortuary in South Africa at around 5am on 6th April 2012. This amounted to a period of about eighteen hours without the body of the president being preserved as a dead body. The Commission finds that the handling of the body of President Bingu wa Mutharika, due to attempts to conceal his death, to have been most unbefitting for the honour and respect of a Head of State in death.”

Army coup

The report further said the efforts to stop Mrs Banda from ascending to power started right at the hospital when the three, Mr Mutharika, Mr Msaka and Mr Gondwe met in director’s office, just soon after it was communicated to them that the president has died.

“They were briefed by the president’s personal physician who painted a grim picture of the president’s condition and assured them of the efforts by the medical personnel to do what was possible, but added that, even if resuscitation efforts succeeded, the president was likely to remain incapacitated. Following that brief, the meeting discussed a number of things on how to handle the political situation. They resolved, among other things, that the referral case against the Vice-President, Rt Hon Mrs Joyce Banda, that was already in court, be revived and that a challenge be mounted against her being sworn in as president.

“The commission also established that the meeting resolved that the three officials should meet the heads of the Malawi Defence Force and the Police to discuss the situation. The commission was informed that there was a request made to the Commander of the Malawi Defence Force, General Henry Odillo, for the Malawi Defence Force to take over government. The commission heard that in the first instance, while still at the hospital, Hon Peter Mutharika asked the Chief Secretary, Mr Bright Msaka, SC, if it would not be a good idea that the Army took over Government. This idea was opposed right away by the Chief Secretary, who immediately sought assurance from General Odillo on whether the Army knew its role in times of the event at hand,” reads the report.

Mutharika and his group, according to the commission, met at OPC on April 6, 2012, where it was agreed that an injunction be obtained from the High Court to stop the swearing in of the Mrs Banda.

“The plan therefore was that Cabinet Ministers were going to have Hon Peter Mutharika sworn in as Acting President as soon as court process was taken and received by the court. The Commission established that the meeting failed to agree on the matter. In the end, the meeting resolved that the election of Hon Mutharika as Acting President should only be done after court documents were filed in court and the order was granted. The meeting noted that proceeding to elect Hon Mutharika at the meeting as proposed would prejudice the court case,” it reads.

Swearing in

The report said the Cabinet mandated six ministers on April 6, 2012, to announce that Vice-President could not ascend to power because she had left the governing party, the Democratic Progressive Party and formed her own political outfit.

The ministers were Information and Civic Education’s Patricia Kaliati, Sports, Youth Development and Welfare’s Symon Vuwa Kaunda, Local Government and Rural Development’s Henry Mussa, Health’s Jean Kalirani, Deputy minister in the Office of President and Cabinet Nicholas Dausi, and his Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation counterpart Kondwani Nankhumwa. They were all arrested.

With pressure coming from different members of the society, Malawi’s fourth President Joyce Banda was sworn in.

The commission issued a number of recommendations that included the establishment of a state-of-the-art hospital, constitution review and the need for public officers to abide by the requirements of their offices.

University of Malawi law lecturer Edge Kanyongolo said the country’s Constitution was supposed to be followed to the letter and people questioning it should be answerable to the citizenry.

“The Constitution has to be respected all the time. This does not mean that the accused are guiltyl; let them go through the process of the court, they are innocent until they are proved otherwise,” he said.

Malawi is divided over the matter as some quarters believe the current administration is taking advantage of the report to stop Mutharika’s younger brother from contesting in the 2014 presidential elections in which he is one of the frontrunners.

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