This post has been updated.
A full day after Malawi’s President Bingu wa Mutharika died of a heart attack, the Western media confirmed his death. He was 78.
There was some confusion in the media over whether the president had been flown to South Africa to be hospitalized or whether his body had been flown there. The latter was true. Mutharika, who has led Malawi since 2004, has been both praised as an economic savior and chastised for autocratic leadership.
Reports of his death first came in early Thursday in the African media, and from roving National Geographic travel writer Andrew Evans, who happened to be in Malawi for another story.
Evans had first heard rumors about the president’s failing health while outside a sugar ration line in the capital of Lilongwe.
The news spread quietly at first, mostly by text message.
Evans reported the president was in the hospital just after 8 a.m. ET:
Evans visited the city’s main hospital, Kamuzu Hospital, to learn more about the president’s condition. When he attempted to photograph the hospital, several “police detectives” stopped him:
Evans reported that after news of Mutharika’s death spread further, questions arose about whether it would create political turmoil, as it was unclear who would succeed the president. Some analysts say a constitutional crisis is looming.
But Evans says he thinks those fears were overblown:
“The confusion of the official news versus the unofficial reality . . . had people whispering in corners and consulting with one another quietly,” Evans reports on National Geographic. “And yet people were happy. Many were already openly jubilant.”
On his way out of the country Thursday, Evans asked several airport custodians in Malawi what they thought of the president’s death.
After a pause, one smiled and said: “It is well.”