Malawi President Peter Mutharika has slammed reports in the local media speculating that his recent four week absence from the country was a medical holiday meant to address his poor health condition. Mutharika spoke at a press conference at the Kamuzu Palace in Lilongwe last week, five days after his arrival from the United States, where he attended the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).
The Times of Malawi reports that the president admitted he had surgery on his right shoulder while in the United States, but he insists that he did not travel for the sole purpose of seeking out medical assistance.
Following the end of the General Assembly, Mutharika remained in the United States without an official explanation, leaving Malawians to guess about his whereabouts for weeks. The continued silence from the government sparked a social media storm.
President Mutharika is reported to have gone AWoOL … Anybody seen him in Gabs?
— Poetic (@LawrenceSeretse) October 14, 2016
???mutharika hasnt been found??? https://t.co/NRxxzKBck6
— Luhya Pundit (@HarlimSagwa) October 14, 2016
Malawi Pres #Mutharika is missing. If anyone sees him, please report to the nearest Malawian Embassy
— Theo Wachenuka (@MdharaTheo) October 14, 2016
“I am very fine,” he told reporters.
“I am told by the doctors that my heart, everything else, kidneys, whatever, is about the quality of 30-year-old.”
Mutharika also revealed that he has been undergoing treatment for rheumatism, a muscle and joint condition that is often chronic and debilitating for older patients.
“I am alive. I will be around for a while. I am in excellent health. I have rheumatism. I have had it for so many years. I had a surgery on my shoulder and I had an injection when I was coming. My arm became numb when I came,” he explained, referring to why he only used his left hand to wave to supporters who greeted him at the airport on his arrival from America.
During the past month, the president and his aides have vehemently shot down even the slightest suggestion that he may be sick or in poor health, with Presidential Spokesman Malison Ndau telling reporters, “The President is enjoying very robust health and is continuing to carry on his duties” before adding that law enforcement agencies would not hesitate to “bring to book” those speculating or spreading false information about his health.
Mutharika absolved his aides of any wrong doing, telling reporters that they, too, were mostly in the dark concerning his state of health.
“I cannot blame them. If you are looking for anyone to blame, then blame me. After the UNGA, many of my officials returned home. I had only a few left.”
The 76-year-old has not hidden his intention to seek re-election in 2019. Members of the opposition have, however, asked him to stand down due to his health challenges.
According to survey conducted by the Institute of Public Opinion and Research last year, Mutharika and his government have a high approval rating of 59 percent, but draw little trust from Malawians. The MWNation reports that the survey revealed that citizens are proud of the current administration’s initiatives, including the decision to appoint and maintain a lean cabinet, pushing to reform the public sector, allowing public demonstrations, and avoiding any cases of political detention.
Mutharika’s older brother, Bingu wa Mutharika, was also the president of Malawi from 2004 to 2012. He died in office from heart related complications in April 2012.