Medical and diplomatic sources say Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika has died after suffering a heart attack, but there has been no official announcement of his death.
Diplomatic sources said the 78-year-old president collapsed after falling ill at his home in the capital, Lilongwe on Thursday.
He was rushed to a local hospital, where he died, sources said. But the Malawian government was keeping the nation on tenterhooks as it was still yet to issue a statement on the president's condition late Friday.
Malawi's former president, Bakili Muluzi urged officials to release information about Mr. Mutharika.
The former World Bank official, who was twice elected in 2004 and 2008, had initially been tipped to change the economic fortunes of his country, one of the poorest in the world, but in more recent years faced a bitter power struggle within his Democratic Progressive Party.
Critics accused him of authoritarianism, nepotism and economic mismanagement, which led to frosty relations with western donors, especially the United Kingdom.
Malawian rights activist Tiseke Kasambala said a cloud of uncertainty was hanging over the nation.
“No-one is quite sure what is happening. We haven’t yet received any official statement from the government,” Kasambala told VOA reporter Violet Gonda. “So these are uncertain times in Malawi where we don’t know what is going on in the country.”
Constitutionally, Vice President Joyce Banda should take over the reins, but she had been expelled from the party, though Mutharika had failed to remove her from the vice presidency. This, sources, said, posed a challenge.
Kasambala said it was widely reported that the late president was grooming his brother to succeed him.
Gender activist Betty Makoni said if Malawi follows its constitution then vice president Banda would be the first female president in Southern Africa.
“People can’t believe that Southern Africa, as it is patriarchal, will allow any woman to be at that level,” said Makoni. “Previously she was rebellious against the system and so she is coming in as somebody who has been almost like a patriarchal rebel.
“So the crisis is on gender, it’s not on leadership because the leadership issue is well spelt in the constitution.”
The news of the Malawian president’s death follows a February prophecy by a controversial Nigerian preacher, TB Joshua of the Synagogue Church that an old African president would die soon due to sickness, although he did not name the person or the country.
Commentator Pedzisai Ruhanya said not much weight should be given to the TB Joshua prophecy.
“I don’t think I would give any credence to the TB Joshua kind of prophecy because they take us to Stone Age kind of politics. Politics that is not scientific, ” said Ruhanya.
“The President is a human being and human beings by nature live and die. So if he dies so what, why should we take the words of a prophet?”