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Mlambe Foundation
Diependaalsedrift 32
NL-1213 CR, Hilversum

Tel. +31-35-7721758 



P.O. Box 622



Account no.
ABN AMRO, Hilversum 
CoC no. 32110120



On April 5th, President Bingu wa Mutharika (78) passed away unexpectedly following a cardiac arrest. Having risen to power in 2004, since the beginning of his second term in 2009 he was accused of becoming more dictatorial. While a recipient of international praise for his economic achievements in the first term, his second term witnessed increasing poverty and regular shortages in fuel, medicine, forex and at one point even sugar. The aim of this short article is however not to assess Mutharika’s political and economic (wrong) doing. It is to briefly outline his cultural legacy.

During Mutharika’s rule the arts and heritage sector made some steps in the right direction, often because of the direct involvement of the president. The Department of Culture was for instance relocated to the Ministry of Tourism and has seen its budget increase allowing for improved operation, new staff and the erection of new monuments. He even envisioned a large cultural centre in Lilongwe encompassing a national museum, art gallery, theater, archive and library. This was to come to fruition before the end of his last term in 2014. Although this may not be realized now, in 2011 government did buy the French Cultural Centre in Blantyre, which, as one of the country’s few arts venues was closing down. Despite the good intent and the astronomical figure of k300 million paid for it, the centre is still not resume operations.  

Mutharika further instigated the national annual Our People Our Pride Award, giving a moral boost to some cultural achievers.  This moral support was also felt by his frequent attendance of cultural events such as chieftain installations, celebrations and commemorations. Such attendance would, of course, not go without some financial support. Although, he attended events throughout the country, he made no secret of his Lhomwe identity.

Malawi’s Lhomwe population has been described as a ‘silent majority’. As labour migrants from Mozambique, they have since early colonial times been stereotyped as primitive and backward. As a result, members of the Lhomwe community have often been hiding their identities to the point of the current generation hardly speaking Chilhomwe, or knowing Lhomwe traditions. Mutharika turned this around and caused a resurgence in Lhomwe ethnic identity as founder and patron of Mulhako wa Alhomwe. President Mutharika’s role in Mulhako and his ‘affirmative action’ in appointing Lhomwe people to influential positions has been heavily critiqued as tribalism. Be that as it may, now Lhomwe traditions such as tchopa have gained the recognition they deserve in Malawi’s cultural landscape and there is renewed interest in the Lhomwe language.


The spinoff is however much wider. In light of the success of Mulhako, other ethnic associations have been formed in its wake, such as Ndamo sya Ayawo and the Mungano wa Asena na Amang’anja. Nearly every ethnic group in Malawi now has its own organization to boost its identity. And Mutharika’s streamlining of the school calendar with the initiation season makes it possible to transmit ethnic traditions to the young.



© Mlambe Foundation