Peter Mutharika, president of his native country, the Republic of Malawi, and the Charles Nagel Professor of International and Comparative Law Emeritus at Washington University in St. Louis School of Law, received an honorary doctor of humane letters from the university.
Mutharika received the honorary degree during a special ceremony Sept. 30 in Ridgley Hall’s Holmes Lounge.
Mutharika was to receive the honor during the May 2018 Commencement ceremony, but he was unable to be at the university at that time.
“President Mutharika has had a long and distinguished career as an academic researcher and teacher, and his service to his field of study and to his country is highly commendable,” said Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton.
“We have long been proud to call him a member of the Washington University family, and we are pleased to honor his life and work by awarding him an honorary doctorate by unanimous vote of the university’s Board of Trustees,” Wrighton said. “I am proud to have the opportunity to recognize this outstanding leader.”
Mutharika has been associated with Washington University for more than 46 years, having joined the School of Law faculty in 1972.
During the ceremony, which included greetings from Sithembile Chithenga, a native of Malawi and a graduate student in public health in the Brown School, Mutharika delivered a talk titled “My Political Journey.”
In referring to previous honors he has received, Mutharika noted that the honorary degree from Washington University has “touched me most personally, and humbled me the most. When I arrived at this university in 1972, I never thought this moment would come. Washington University and the community of St. Louis have inspired the passion that drives me to lead my country today.”
An expert in international economic law, international law and comparative constitutional law, he has worked in the area of international justice worldwide.
In 2008, he received the International Jurists Award from the International Council of Jurists for his “unique contribution in the field of legal education.”
Putting lifetime of legal teaching, scholarship into practice
Mutharika was formally installed as the Nagel Professor of International and Comparative Law on Sept. 14, 2009, while he was on university leave serving as a member of Malawi’s parliament and as a cabinet member.
In his installation address as the Nagel Professor, titled “The Role of the Minister of Justice in a Transitional Society: The Malawi Experience,” he discussed putting a lifetime of legal teaching and scholarship into practice as he helped lead constitutional reform and international law developments in Malawi.
Mutharika served as adviser to his brother, Bingu wa Mutharika, who was elected to a five-year term as Malawi’s president in 2004. Mutharika also was the strategic adviser to his brother’s presidential campaign. After his brother was elected, Mutharika helped the president form a 19-member cabinet.
In 2008, Mutharika was named Malawi’s chief adviser to the president on constitutional, legal and international affairs.
He was elected president of Malawi in May 2014, following in the footsteps of his brother, who had been re-elected Malawi’s president in 2009 but died in office in 2012.
Mutharika is the author of numerous books and articles, including a 2008 book on international trade, “Foreign Investment Security in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Emerging Policy and Legal Frameworks.”
Among other professional activities, Mutharika serves as adviser to the American Bar Association’s Rule of Law Initiative for Africa. A participant in the U.N. World Summit, he was a Malawi delegate to the 60th session of the United Nations General Assembly.
Mutharika was born in 1940 in the tea-growing district of Thyolo in the southern region of Malawi. He studied law at the University of London and earned a bachelor’s degree in 1965. In 1966, he graduated with a master of laws degree from Yale University. In 1969, at the age of 29, he earned a doctor of science of law degree from Yale University.
He has taught or conducted research in Africa, Canada, Europe and throughout the United States on such issues as political abuses in pre-democratic Malawi, the role of the United Nations in African peace management, and the role of international law in the 21st century from an African perspective.
Among the institutions he taught at are the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, Haile Selassie University in Ethiopia, the United Nations Institute for Training and Research Program for Foreign Service Officers from Africa and Asia at Makerere University in Uganda, Rutgers University and, for more than 39 years, Washington University.
Mutharika, who was named the Nagel Professor emeritus in 2011, also served as an academic visitor at the London School of Economics.
Mutharika is the father of three children — Mahopela, Moyenda and Monique — with his late wife, Christophine. Christophine, who worked in Washington University’s student health center, died in 1990. In June 2014, he married Gertrude Maseko.