BLANTYRE - Malawi President Peter Mutharika has refuted speculation that his extended stay in the United States following the United Nations General Assembly last month was because he was ill. Mutharika, who arrived in Malawi on Sunday, said during a press conference on Friday in the capital Lilongwe that he delayed his return because he was attending to other official duties.
Mutharika entered a press conference Friday in a jovial mood.
He waved, using both hands, to supporters of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party in attendance. They outnumbered the more than 30 journalists at the news conference.
Upon his return to the country from the United States on Sunday, however, he was seen greeting people with just his left hand.
Speculation was growing that Mutharika's unexplained extended stay in the U.S. was because he was ill.
Amid cheers from his supporters, Mutharika told reporters that he is well.
“I am very fine," he said. "I am told by the doctors that my heart, everything else, kidneys, whatever, is about the quality of 30-year-old [person].”
However, the 76-year-old Mutharika said he has a minor health problem that limited his use of one hand on his return from the U.S.
“I only have one problem, a slight one. That’s slight rheumatism which I have in a shoulder for many years. Last week, we decided to put some injection, so my arm became numb and that’s why at the airport I was advised not to shake hands with people," said Mutharika.
Rheumatism is a condition, often chronic, that can affect a person's joints and muscles.
While stretching his troubled left hand, Mutharika said his hand was about 80 percent functional, and he expected to be fully recovered in about two weeks.
Mutharika said it would have been illogical for him to leave the U.S. while ill.
“I was in America, probably the best country in terms of medical facility. I have my doctors there, I have my households there, I have my medical insurance there," said Mutharika. "I would have been crazy to leave the United States ... to come back here.”
Commentators have blamed those close to Mutharika for failing to inform Malawians on the president’s state of health.
“Those responsible for giving out the information to the country could have told the true about the health status of the president," said Vincent Kondowe, a political analyst and social commentator. "If they personalized the health status of the head of state to an individual level rather than a national issue, one can easily conclude that the people that are surrounding the president are incompetent in the performance of their duties.”
Mutharika said he, not those close to him, is to blame for the lack of information on his health.
“Don’t blame my people. If you want to blame anybody, blame me," said Mutharika. "All my staff was sent back, therefore, I did not have enough staff to communicate to and I did not give them all the details of where I was. So, if you want to blame me, blame me.”
Mutharika, who was in the U.S. for nearly a month, said he had extended his stay for important meetings.