Retired Wash U law professor is elected president of Malawi

Corrected: Unknown to many of the law students he taught over the course of a 40-year career at Washington University, Peter Mutharika was the descendant of Malawian tribal leader.

Sent out of the southeastern African country as a young man, he settled in St. Louis, taught at Washington University School of Law, wrote books and raised a family. All his children are now lawyers living in the U.S. Yet Mutharika also quietly worked behind the scenes on his home country’s constitution and was collaborated for decades with his brother to shape Malawi’s political future, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.

Mutharika’s brother, Bingu wa, was elected president in 2004, and in 2009 Mutharika himself was elected to its parliament. On Saturday, the retired 74-year-old law prof was named Malawi’s president after a hard-fought election.

“I guess what’s surprising is he was a quiet man in class,” attorney John Kozyak told the newspaper. In 1971 he was one of Mutharika’s first law students at Wash University and became a friend of his former professor. Nonetheless, like Mutharika’s fellow academics, he heard little or nothing about Mutharika’s political role in his home country.

“So it was surprising to me a couple of years ago when I was looking on the news and saw that he had thousands of people come out to rallies for him and he was dressed in some sort of (ceremonial) garb,” Kozyak said. “I never saw him in anything other than a black or gray or blue suit. I never thought of him as a real African politician.”

Updated at 6:18 p.m. to correct an erroneous statement that Bingu wa Mutharika was the first elected president of Malawi.

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