The Vice President of Malawi who was plucked from the corporate world


Malawi’s vice president Saulos Chilima has died aged 51 after a military plane he was flying in crashed in a forest in the north of the country.

He had served as vice president for ten years, initially under the former president Peter Mutharikawho chose him from the business world for the second highest post in government.

He was described as a ‘performer’ and ‘workaholic’, but he was perhaps defined as the center of allegations of corruption within the government.

First as a prosecutor and then as a suspect.

Before Dr. Chilima became Vice President in 2014, he was Managing Director of leading telecommunications company Airtel Malawi, the first Malawian to lead the organisation.

Mr Mutharika had reportedly said he was working with a “reliable and productive” person.

But four years later, Dr Chilima fell out with the president, accusing the government of not doing enough to fight corruption and protect some people.

Under Malawian law, the president cannot dismiss the vice president; Dr. Chilima defied calls to resign despite publicly challenging the government he served in.

He later formed his own political party, the United Transformation Movement (UTM), calling for radical change and reforms in the country.

He ran for president as the party’s candidate in 2019 and came third.

Mr Mutharika won the election but was subsequently annulled by Malawi’s High Court due to widespread irregularities.

It was the first time in Africa that an election result was overturned by a court, after which the incumbent president was defeated in a new election.

Dr. Chilima teamed up as Lazarus Chakwera’s running mate in the historic 2020 replay.

Mr Chakwera, who had come second in the discredited 2019 poll, was very successfully elected president, and Dr Chilima became his vice-president.

But the vice president would soon face corruption charges of his own, which he had resisted during the previous administration.

He was arrested in 2022 over claims that he received money in exchange for influencing the award of government contracts – which he denied.

The president fired other officials named alongside him.

Unable to fire the Vice President, Mr Chakwera vowed not to delegate any more official duties to Dr Chilima while he was in court.

But the charges were dropped last month without explanation, raising questions about the handling of corruption cases.

Before his role as a political heavyweight in Malawi, Dr Chilima had held other senior positions in the corporate world, including at Coca Cola and Unilever.

He was an economist and obtained his PhD in knowledge management.

While serving in government, he was also the minister responsible for economic planning and public sector reforms.

The government website said he was a ‘performer’, ‘workaholic’ and ‘an achiever’.

Dr. Chilima was born on February 12, 1973 in Ntcheu district in central Malawi.

He is survived by his wife Mary and two children, Sean and Elizabeth.

More BBC stories about Malawi:

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(Getty Images/BBC)

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