The relatively smooth transition of power, thus far, comes as a relief to Malawians and to the country’s southern African neighbors. Just nine months ago, thousands of Malawians took to the streets to protest high food and fuel prices in demonstrations that appeared to be inspired in part by the Arab uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. In response, Mutharika launched a crackdown, with at least 20 demonstrators killed. In a press conference, Mutharika blamed Banda for the protests and was unapologetic for his strong-arm methods.
“Even God knows that I have been the most patient president on the continent,” Mutharika said at a police commissioning ceremony, after the mid-July 2011 protests. “Enough is enough. You wanted to take government by force, which is against the laws of the land. This time I will follow you into your homes. I will smoke you out.”
Malawi is one of the poorest countries of the world, with more than 75 percent of the population earning less than $1 a day. Many Malawians initially welcomed Mutharika as an “economist in chief” because of his experience as a World Bank economist. But as president, Mutharika had frequent disagreements with both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund over his government’s decision to continue subsidies to farmers for fertilizer.
Mutharika also had problems with individual donor nations, including Malawi’s former colonial ruler, Britain. Last year, Mutharika expelled Britain’s high commissioner, Fergus Cochrane-Dyet, after a leaked diplomatic cable quoted the British envoy as describing Mutharika to be “ever more autocratic and intolerant of criticism." In response, Britain froze further development aid to Malawi.