Worried Malawians are trying to find their leader. President Peter Mutharika left Malawi on Sept. 15 to attend the United Nations General Assembly and has not been seen since. The meeting in New York City ended on Sept. 26, but Mutharika hasn’t returned home. Malawians took to social media to locate their president, using the humorous hashtag #BringBackMutharika.
Malawians last saw Mutharika when he delivered a speech to the UN General Assembly, calling for international assistance to address hunger in his country. Then, according to Malawians on social media and commentators in the local press, he went AWOL. The UN referred Quartz to the Malawian mission at the UN, which hasn’t yet responded to an email inquiring about the president’s whereabouts. Opposition politicians and activists say the president’s prolonged stay has cost taxpayers 1.3 billion kwacha, $1.7 million, an amount the impoverished country cannot afford.
The Malawian government would not release the president’s schedule, saying he was attending high-level meetings while in the US. Mutharika’s office released a statement on Oct. 11, promising that the president would return on Sunday, Oct. 16 at 1pm.
Mutharika’s absence also began to fuel rumors that the 76-year-old president was receiving medical treatment in the US. One rumor said he was admitted to New York Presbyterian hospital. The hospital didn’t immediately respond to phone calls and emails.
In response, Mutharika’s spokesman released a statement reminding citizens that the president “is enjoying very robust health” and anyone spreading dangerous rumors to the contrary would be “brought to book.”
Malawians’ nervousness about their president’s health is not unfounded. In 2012, President Bingu wa Mutharika, the current president’s brother, died while receiving treatment in South Africa. Poor state communication surrounding the then president’s illness and death led to widespread speculation and political uncertainty.
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