Malawi: President Chakwera has lost control of the fight against corruption, critics say

By Archibald Kasakura

Posted on Monday, 20 February 2023 17:45
Malawi's President Lazarus Chakwera on November 8, 2022. (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

President Lazarus Chakwera’s resolve to fight corruption in Malawi continues to be mired in controversy. All charges were dropped against Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) chief Martha Chizuma by Malawi’s prosecutor, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) earlier this month, but not before the government received a barrage of criticism within the country and by donor states on how it is handling its anti-corruption crusade.

The criminal indictment following Chizuma’s arrest in December 2022 was related to a leaked audio where she discussed some high-profile corruption cases in Malawi.

Faltering battle?

Sadly, with the number of events swirling around the office of the ACB, the resolve to combat graft in Malawi has faltered in recent weeks.

Chakwera’s critics say he has flip-flopped on his decisions on whether to retain the head of the ACB or allow other forces to hang the renowned anti-corruption champion.

“In some cases, President Chakwera actually appeared to have been aiding and abetting corruption through cursory attention to allegations levelled against people who have surrounded him,” Kondwani Nankhumwa, the leader of opposition in parliament, tells The Africa Report.

Donors fury

The charges against Chizuma angered the donor community while the Malawi Law Society (MLS) moved swiftly to obtain a court order restraining the government from carrying through the indictment.

We have actively engaged senior government officials to seek renewed commitment to the fight against corruption, but those efforts have not yielded results

Malawi’s Attorney General Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda – to the surprise of many Malawians – hired private lawyers to dismiss the restraining order obtained by the MLS.

Meanwhile, President Chakwera had made several pronouncements that his administration was fully behind the ACB chief and that there would be no reprisals for the said leaked audio.

Malawi’s bilateral donors, led by the US and Norway, have condemned the Chakwera administration for losing focus on the larger picture and instead wasting time and state resources to fight Chizuma.

“We have actively engaged senior government officials to seek renewed commitment to the fight against corruption, but those efforts have not yielded results,” said a statement from the US embassy in Lilongwe.

“These recent actions undermine the credibility of the government of Malawi’s stated commitment to fight against corruption.”

The ministry of information released a statement in response, stating that Malawi is a sovereign country hence the government had a right to act as it deems fit.

Rhetoric vs practice

Chakwera, well known for his breathtaking speeches and American accent, has been preaching zero tolerance to corruption since he assumed power in 2020.

Despite his public pronouncements, however, several officials in Chakwera’s administration are being investigated on suspected corruption charges.

Speaking in July 2022 during a national anti-corruption conference, Chakwera said he was satisfied with the route his administration had taken in the fight against corruption.

Even so, Nankhumwa, the opposition leader, tells The Africa Report: “None of those suspects in the president’s inner circle have faced the law; they are all working as per [usual]…for the administration.” He says he believes Chakwera has lost control of the fight against corruption.

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