Malawian President Peter Mutharika returned home Sunday after an unexplained trip to the US that lasted several weeks, sparking rumours over his health.
President Mutharika flew to New York to give a speech at the United Nations General Assembly on September 25 but there had been no word from him since, prompting speculation online that he was critically ill or even dead.
The government moved to dispel the rumours at the beginning of this week, insisting that the 76-year-old was “enjoying very robust health” and continuing “his functions and duties whilst in the USA”.
But the rumours continued with the president’s return to Malawi’s administrative capital Lilongwe on Sunday.
He made no public remarks at the airport — and used his left hand to wave to a crowd of supporters and to shake hands with officials, raising more speculation among Malawians who are scrutinising every detail for clues about his health.
It was a “big surprise to see the president using his left hand when we all know he is a right-handed person,” political analyst Humphrey Mvula said.
“He has failed to calm down levels of speculation because everybody expected the president to speak to Malawians,” Mr Mvula added.
President Mutharika inspected a military parade before being whisked into a convoy, saying nothing to reporters or the hundreds of supporters who waited in scorching heat to welcome him.
“We know everybody gets sick, but Mutharika is a president and there is a need for Malawians to know about the health of their president,” prominent rights activist Billy Mayaya said, calling for authorities to release a statement on the leader’s health.
President Mutharika, a former lawyer, was elected in 2014 for a five-year term.