Flashback: ‘I’m not dead… I’m on holiday’: Missing president of Malawi

When their 78-year-old president  vanished from view, the people of Malawi feared he was gravely ill or even dead.

There was talk in the African nation’s capital, Lilongwe, that Binguwa Mutharika had flown to China for lifesaving treatment.

The rumours were so damaging that yesterday the president called a telephone press conference to prove he was, in fact, very much alive.

He came on the line from Hong Kong and spoke to a group of political reporters, including one from the Nyasa Times. ‘Mutharika, reportedly furious with the death rumours, told the journalist that he was in sound health and that his wife Callista was also well,’ said the newspaper.

‘The President laughed off the rumours that he was dead and that he was gravely ill.

The president insisted he was simply taking his 30 days of annual leave.

His absence has outraged his countrymen who face an economic crisis. Mutharika has also clashed with the UK over the possible loss of aid money.

Mutharika was introduced to the assembled journalists by his spokesman Hetherwick Ntaba and the country’s vice president Yunus Mussa, who called the leader on his mobile and handed the phone to the media.

 He said he had decided to take his 30 days of holiday in Hong Kong.

The Malawi press had reported that the president was suffering from a mystery ailment and being treated at a top private hospital in Hong Kong.

However, his brother Aurther-Peter Mutharika, the country’s foreign minister and heir apparent, said he was simply enjoying a shopping trip with his wife.

New wife: President Mutharika at his wedding to Callista Chapola-Chimombo in April last year New wife: President Mutharika at his wedding to Callista Chapola-Chimombo in April last year

Landlocked Malawi state has suffered chronic fuel shortages in recent weeks which has seen pump prices soar by more than 30 percent.

Experts fear the move could lead to widespread civil unrest amid an increase in general inflation.

This year has already been a traumatic one for Mutharika, who has ruled Malawi for seven years.

The controversial statesman was condemned by the international community in July when more than a dozen people died after he deployed the army to crush protests against his government.

In August he raised eyebrows again by sacking his entire cabinet and assuming every position himself.

The statesman has since appointed new people to most of the roles, including several members of his own family.

Meanwhile the president’s recent actions have led to strained relations with Britain.

In April Mutharika was criticised by London after threatening to expel the UK’s high commissioner to Malawi when the diplomat expressed concern over his autocratic rule.

The tyrant later retracted his decision and allowed the envoy to stay.

However he has lashed out against Britain again in recent weeks amid speculation the UK could cut aid to developing nations which fail to protect gay rights.

Mutharika has accused prime minister David Cameron of trying to meddle in the affairs of his country, where homosexuality is illegal and punishable by prison.

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