African leaders are not known for their youthful vigour. So it is not surprising that their absence from the public eye, especially in a Western country with an abundant supply of good hospitals, tends to spark lurid rumours of illness and even death. Malawi’s president has certainly been doing his best impression of a missing person: having landed in New York on September 16th, Peter Mutharika has not been heard from since the UN General Assembly, which ended on 26th September.
Malawians have taken to Twitter with the hashtag #BringBackMutharika (a play on #BringBackOurGirls, which was used to rally support for Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram). One tweeted the presidents of America and Rwanda to ask if they had any news of the missing head of state. Speculation swirled that Mr Mutharika, who is in his mid-70s and whose brother died of a heart attack while president in 2012, was undergoing some kind of medical treatment.
Eventually, the Malawian government put out an ill-tempered press release on October 9th, harrumphing that Mr Mutharika was in “very good and robust health” and still carrying out his duties while in America. It also reminded Malawians that spreading such “baseless, malicious and sickening” rumours was criminal. Then, at last, on October 11th it put a date on the dear leader’s return: October 16th, a full month after he left Malawi. Read more