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Peter Mutharika ’66LLM, ’69JSD: a new president in Malawi

Two years after his brother, President Bingu Mutharika, passed away, Peter Mutharika ’66LLM, ’69JSD, has assumed the same position. Mutharika, 74, was sworn in on Saturday, becoming the fifth elected president of Malawi since the nation’s independence from Great Britain in 1964.

Before he was a political figure, Mutharika taught law all over the world. He graduated from the University of London in 1965, then went to Yale Law School for advanced law degrees. He spent most of his career at Washington University in St. Louis, where he was a professor for 39 years. Regarded as an expert on international law, he quickly rose to the top of his party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), after the death of his brother. 

Mutharika became an active player in Malawian politics when he worked as an adviser on his brother’s presidential reelection campaign in 2009. He worked in Bingu Mutharika’s government as, in succession, minister of justice, education, and foreign affairs.

Mutharika’s party, the DPP, became the subject of controversy during his brother’s final years. Many accused the party of nepotism and intimidation. In 2011, Mutharika was notably moved from minister of education to minister of foreign affairs during a standoff with the University of Malawi. Protests over academic freedom continue.

As early as 2011, Bingu Mutharika expressed his intention that his brother would succeed him, causing a rift in the DPP when Bingu’s vice president, Joyce Banda, ultimately took office following Bingu’s death in 2012. In May, Mutharika defeated Banda and the Malawi Congress Party’s Lazarus Chakwera with 36.4 percent of the vote. The BBC called the election “Malawi’s closest-fought poll in twenty years.”

While some fear the return of a Mutharika to the presidency will constitute a return to the DPP’s old abuses of power, many are optimistic about Peter Mutharika’s leadership. As early as 1995, Mutharika called for a reduction of presidential power, and his populist political platform inspires many Malawians. 

“Change has come to Malawi,” said Mutharika at his inauguration. “You voted for change and victory belongs to us all.” 


The Yale Alumni Magazine is published by Yale Alumni Publications Inc., an alumni-based nonprofit that is not run by Yale University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the university administration.

Filed under Law School, Malawi, Peter Mutharika
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