11 April 2023 in Geopolitics


Lilongwe, 26 September 2013. At an intersection in the capital of Malawi, a traffic policeman asks a driver who has violated traffic rules for his papers. The driver, Victor Sithola, reacts in an exaggeratedly insulting manner, until another policeman intervenes and it is discovered that there are USD 300,000 in cash in the boot of his car. Accompanied to the barracks for investigation, the man claims he was instructed to transport the money to an important politician on behalf of a Treasury official, Paul Mphwyo. The police went to the latter’s home and found his body, shot dead[1] .

They confiscated his laptop, and discovered that Mphwyo was responsible for the deletion of several positions in the state budget – money that had come in through donations from the International Monetary Fund and various aid associations for poorer countries, and then disappeared from the accounts: according to an auditing firm, which was commissioned to decipher the contents of the computer, USD 250 million had been made to disappear[2] . A few years later, at the end of a criminal investigation, more than 356 million dollars were discovered to have disappeared[3] .

One does not have time to digest this news, when the scandal escalates: the police arrest the murderer of Mphwyo, and discover that the instigator is Ralph Kasambara – the Minister of Justice[4] . Kasambara made his political career as the personal lawyer of Vice-President Joyce Banda, on whose behalf he drove several of Banda’s opponents out of circulation (by implicating them in scandals, or having them kidnapped and tortured[5] ). In return he was appointed State Prosecutor and then, after a series of scandals and his resignation from the judiciary, Banda built him a political career[6] . But this is too much. The new scandal, called Cashgate, crosses national borders and becomes a topic of international debate. Malawi comes to a standstill, Joyce Banda disappears, Kasambara is sentenced to 13 years in prison, and the UN demands a total revolution in Malawian political and administrative power, backed by draconian new laws and investigative instruments against corruption – and they get it, because the small African country, without international aid, cannot survive[7] .

Among these novelties is the new position of the ombudsman, an ombudsman who collects citizens’ complaints, checks their consistency[8] and then tries to find a solution[9] . The post has existed since 1996, but has practically remained unused due to a lack of clear competences and because, over the years, it has still been assigned to people close to political power[10] . Since the International Fund guarantees almost 40 per cent of the Malawian state budget, the IPC, which is the agency that represents the Fund in Lilongwe, obtains a redefinition of the role of the ombudsman, who becomes the body that controls the international funding given to the Lilongwe government so that it can distribute it among the citizens[11] . The politicians are therefore looking for a person who is far from power, honest and of good repute, and who does not have access to the power network – they want a puppet, and they are very wrong.

The choice falls on Martha Chizuma, who accepts. No one in the halls of power in Lilongwe knows who this young woman is. But outside these halls Martha is already famous. Angela Agyeiwaa Darkwah, one of the Institute for African Women in Law’s most prestigious signatures, writes of her: ‘Martha Chizuma is not just a sensational lawyer; she is first and foremost a public servant. Before being appointed as the new Director General of the Anti-Corruption Bureau, she led the transformation of the Office of the Ombudsman. In 2015, she was only 36 years old when she assumed office, making her the youngest ombudsman in the whole of Africa. When her appointment was confirmed, she was celebrated for her commitment, industriousness and pragmatism, cementing her status as the darling of the people. Insiders claim that she beat out nine men to assume the role of Director General”[12] . In short, she is a special woman with an extraordinary destiny and a very hard fate to bear.

The Tractorgate

15 July 2019: Opposition parties, supported by some army units, seize the scandal tractors and demand the resignation of the entire Malawian government[13]

Martha Chizuma, born on 8 February 1977[14] , is an unmarried Christian woman[15] , originally from a village in the Lakeshore district[16] (she may, however, have been born in the port city of Nkhotakota, central Malawi[17] ). She was the tenth born of a large family in Nkula Falls, Malawi, with a childhood marred by illness and poverty, but in which she and her parents fought to see her through school[18] . She later graduated in Literature, then in Law, and with a scholarship she completed a Masters in International Economic Law at East London University[19] .

All this at supersonic speed, because she entered the judiciary when she was not even 25 years old, first in the suburban district of Mzuzu and then, after nine years, choosing civil advocacy in the law firm that defends the Limbe Leaf Tobacco Company[20] , the country’s largest company[21] . But he did not want to leave public engagement, so in 2015, he took up the post of ombudsman in parallel, meaning it in his own way: in order to settle a dispute of a farmer who felt looted by the state, she started investigating, until a sensational case of fraud, known as the Tractorgate, exploded, forcing the Supreme Court of Appeals (2019) to request a trial against all those who, in the previous decade, had been involved (as a politician or state official) in the management of $50 million credit granted by the IPC Fund for the purchase of tractors and agricultural implements from India[22] .

IPC is a fund set up by the FAO (the United Nations agriculture fund), the European Union and dozens of other agencies to act quickly in the event of famine[23] . In 2014, this fund decides to support with 38 million Kwacha each ($37,000) the purchase of 177 tractors and 144 maize ginners to help small farmers affected by drought[24] . Well, all these machines were sold illegally at USD 5,000 a piece, and the farmers got nothing – and Ms Chizuma discovers that this was possible because the IPC staff were in conflict with each other, because the government made a decision on the matter in a hastily made decree with no controls, because some politicians rushed to ‘reserve’ individual machines, and because the Ministry of Finance records are a mockery, which is why those who bought did not buy new machines and resold them as their own[25] .

The Supreme Court finds that the disaster is the result of ‘maladministration at the highest level’[26] , which made it possible for no one to notice the choice of ‘archaic or deteriorated equipment, which put Malawians unnecessarily in debt’ and was then resold illegally[27] . When Chizuma points out this intolerable situation, both Parliament and the relevant ministries simply say that she does not have the competence to carry out this investigation[28] . But the Ombudsman has already sent her report, in October 2016, ‘The Present Toiling, The Future Overburdened’ to all state offices, including the Attorney General who, albeit reluctantly, could not pretend not to have read it. He aligned himself with power, and on 27 January 2017 issued a ruling: Mrs Ombudsman please shut up[29] . A mistake. Since it is an official decision, Chizuma can then use it to appeal to the Supreme Court[30] .

The Supreme Court ruling of 11 February 2019 states that the Ombudsman has jurisdiction over the matter and that the report’s directives are binding[31] : “it is for the Ombudsman to decide which cases to follow or not”[32] . Which suddenly gives it tremendous power: among the beneficiaries of the scam are 68 senior Malawian government officials and politicians[33] , including former Foreign Minister Francis Kasaila, several family members of former President Bingu wa Mutharika,the Speaker of the National Assembly, Richard Msowoya, plus several managers of Mulli Brothers, a controversial Malawian company with links to politics[34] . Among the managers of Malawi’s IPC, the most famous name involved in the scam is that of former President Rashid Khama Mtelela[35] . These are the most prominent politicians among those who came to power after the end of Cashgate, those who were supposed to clean up the country.

Former President Arthur Peter Mutharika: his government protected many corrupt politicians[36]

In the light of this ruling, on 29 April 2021, the new President of Malawi, Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera, appointed Martha Chizuma as the new Director of the Anti-Corruption Bureau, in order to shield her investigation from further ambushes by lawyers[37] . The appointment is extraordinary, because there were nine other candidates for the post, and they were all men[38] . According to the Executive Secretary of the Malawi Human Rights Commission, Habiba Osman, ‘if there is one person who deserves this position, it is Martha Chizuma. (…) A very strong woman and a capable and hard-working professional, who has a proven track record and is widely known for her determination and dedication to service’[39] .

Fine words, but all that glitters is not gold, as explained by civil rights defender John-Gift Mwakhwawa: ‘Appointing and confirming her as director is not enough, she must have the freedom and independence to carry out her duties without political interference (…) she will only be able to bite if she is given space and independence’[40] . Prophetic words: on 11 May 2021, the Public Appointments Committee rejected Chizuma’s nomination on the grounds of ‘unprofessionalism’, and demanded that she be deposed and indicted for treason[41] . Apparently, an Ombudsman phone call was intercepted between Chizuma, Anderson Mwakyelu[42] (an associate of the State Accountant General[43] ) and a third person. In this conversation, Chizuma allegedly violated official secrecy[44] , telling that those accused of corruption included judges and magistrates, listing their names .[45]

It is a treacherous trap set by the secret service: among the accused, whose names Chizuma allegedly illicitly named, are the former director of the State Prosecutor’s Office, Steven Kayuni, and Judge Simeon Mdeza, who were dealing with a corruption case at the time[46] . Chizuma allegedly admitted that he had recruited a private UK agency to conduct a parallel investigation against them on behalf of the Anti-Corruption Bureau[47] . For this reason, on 6 December 2022, Martha Chizuma was arrested for treason[48] . She was released on bail the same day of her arrest[49] , but was suspended from duty until the legal conclusion of the case[50] . Malawi’s President Chakwera, who appointed her and then paid her bail, is also the one who signed the decree for her suspension[51] and, shortly afterwards, on 24 January 2023, signed a decree for her dismissal[52] .

All this suggests that it was a trap, and that everyone knew about it, from the president down to every decision-making level involved in the bribery network – it cannot be a coincidence that this phone call was made public a few hours before arrest warrants were issued, which were later revoked after the scandal was published and Chizuma was arrested[53] . According to local press investigations, rivers of money were paid[54] to organise this conspiracy to force Marha Chizuma to resign. According to the press, the secret service used the British real estate developer Zuneth Abdul Rashid Sattar[55] , who allegedly put together the group that orchestrated the phone call together with the Minister of Security and the Director General of the National Intelligence Service, and who subsequently paid all those involved[56] .

Sattar is said to have been commissioned by Shadreck Namalomba[57] , a powerful politician who was forced in 2021 (due to violation of the rules of his mandate and incapacity) to resign from his role as head of the parliamentary commission on public administration[58] and who, after her arrest, was provisionally elected in Chizuma’s place as Ombudsman[59] . But then it turns out that it is his voice that appears in the tapes of the recorded phone call. In the meantime, Sattar, who was already under investigation in England in three cases of possible fraud in an illegal purchase and sale of military assets[60] , was ordered by the court not to leave London – which suggests that he, a Malawian-born businessman with a history of bankruptcies, was chosen precisely because of his extreme weakness[61] . The British investigation, it later turns out, stemmed from a report by Martha Chizuma, which explains why he had a grudge against the magistrate, but still does not explain how he ended up inside such a gigantic conspiracy[62] .

Martha Kaukonde[63]

However it went (in fact, no one knows if that phone call really exists and what it contains), the Malawi government stopped the investigation, and in early February rehabilitated her and dropped all charges against her – a decision taken because of enormous pressure from the UN and the international community, which in any case does not affect the libel cases brought against her by some of the politicians involved in the investigation[64] . It is now expected that she will be able to resume her work, but her lawyer (Ms Martha Kaukonde, who took Chizuma’s place at the head of the women involved in the judiciary[65] ) is sceptical and fears that as soon as Martha Chizuma takes any step, the problems will start again: On her desk, in fact, are dozens of complaints from citizens who, in the election campaign won by the new president Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera, had been promised jobs – Chakwera had promised a million in a year, and unfortunately nothing happened[66] .

As for Martha Chizuma, she is currently silent, in deference to constitutional rules, which stipulate that a head of the anti-corruption agency should produce documents, not press conferences[67] . There is only one extraordinary interview, given to a Malawian TV station before the trouble started, in which she smilingly talks about her family, her views on justice and her work as an ombudsman[68] . He does not even respond to personal attacks and insults circulating on social networks[69] , and refuses to accept job offers from abroad.

This is because he clearly has in him the strength and patience of the great heroes of contemporary Africa, from Patrice Lumumba to Nelson Mandela. People who, out of a spirit of service and love for their people, have accepted anything in order to preserve their personal dignity and that of their public office: at the end of March 2023, the Independent Human Rights Commission of Malawi announced a counter-inquiry, to establish any irregularities that may have occurred in the persecution of the Ombudsman[70] . As soon as she returned to office, she opened an investigation into suspected illegal activities related to the sale of 80 real estate properties that ended up in the hands of politicians, judges and military personnel[71] .

In mid-March, taking advantage of some hitherto unused clauses in the act defining the role of the Ombudsman, the US federal government directly entrusted Martha Chizuma’s office with the distribution of USD 2 million in aid to the victims of Cyclone Freddy[72] , which devastated large areas of southern Africa at the end of February and killed over 400 people in Malawi, Mozambique and Madagascar[73] . The political powers, for now, are waiting, too worried about international aid disappearing. But the heroines, as we know, cannot sleep peacefully. Never.


[1] https://www.economist.com/baobab/2014/02/27/the-32m-heist

[2] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-25912652

[3] https://www.unodc.org/documents/corruption/LimaEGM2018/Presentations/Case_Gate_Scandal_in_Malawi_-_Victor_Samuel_Chiwala.pdf

[4] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-37225929

[5] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/feb/16/ralph-kasambara-lawyer-jailed-malawi

[6] http://country.eiu.com/article.aspx?articleid=788881863&Country=Malawi&topic=Politics&subtopic=Re_8

[7] https://www.unodc.org/documents/corruption/LimaEGM2018/Presentations/Case_Gate_Scandal_in_Malawi_-_Victor_Samuel_Chiwala.pdf

[8] https://www.ombudsmanmalawi.org/complaints-and-investigations/investigation-process

[9] https://www.ombudsmanmalawi.org/

[10] https://www.ombudsmanmalawi.org/about-us/background

[11] https://www.ipcinfo.org/ipcinfo-website/where-what/southern-africa/malawi/en/

[12] https://www.africanwomeninlaw.com/african-women-in-law/Martha-Chizuma

[13] https://malawi24.com/2019/07/15/chilima-calls-for-arrest-of-people-involved-in-tractorgate/

[14] https://www.factynews.com/wiki/martha-chizuma-biography/

[15] https://www.factynews.com/wiki/martha-chizuma-biography/

[16] https://www.nyasatimes.com/chakwera-appoints-legal-bulldozer-martha-chizuma-as-new-acb-czar/

[17] https://www.africanwomeninlaw.com/african-women-in-law/Martha-Chizuma

[18] https://www.africanwomeninlaw.com/african-women-in-law/Martha-Chizuma

[19] https://www.africanwomeninlaw.com/african-women-in-law/Martha-Chizuma

[20] https://www.nyasatimes.com/chakwera-appoints-legal-bulldozer-martha-chizuma-as-new-acb-czar/

[21] https://www.presscorp.com/limbe-leaf-tobacco-company-limited.html

[22] https://www.nyasatimes.com/chakwera-appoints-legal-bulldozer-martha-chizuma-as-new-acb-czar/ ; https://www.investigative-malawi.org/660/tractorgate-scandal-pss-mps-behaved-incompetently-court/

[23] https://www.ipcinfo.org/ipcinfo-website/ipc-overview-and-classification-system/en/

[24] https://www.investigative-malawi.org/635/supreme-court-gives-govt-60-days-to-act-on-tractorgate-case/#:~:text=The%20Malawi’s%20Supreme%20court%20has,infamous%20%E2%80%9Ctractor%20gate%E2%80%9D%20saga

[25] https://www.investigative-malawi.org/635/supreme-court-gives-govt-60-days-to-act-on-tractorgate-case/#:~:text=The%20Malawi’s%20Supreme%20court%20has,infamous%20%E2%80%9Ctractor%20gate%E2%80%9D%20saga

[26] Tractorgate scandal: ‘PSs, MPs behaved incompetently’ – Court – Center for Investigative Journalism Malawi (investigative-malawi.org)

[27] https://media.malawilii.org/files/judgments/mwhc/2019/105/2019-mwhc-105.pdf

[28] https://www.investigative-malawi.org/660/tractorgate-scandal-pss-mps-behaved-incompetently-court/ ;

[29] https://media.malawilii.org/files/judgments/mwhc/2019/105/2019-mwhc-105.pdf

[30] https://www.maravipost.com/malawi-supreme-court-rules-in-favour-of-ombudsman-on-tractorgate-case/?amp=1 ; https://media.malawilii.org/files/judgments/mwhc/2019/105/2019-mwhc-105.pdf

[31] https://www.maravipost.com/malawi-supreme-court-rules-in-favour-of-ombudsman-on-tractorgate-case/?amp=1 ; https://media.malawilii.org/files/judgments/mwhc/2019/105/2019-mwhc-105.pdf

[32] Tractorgate scandal: ‘PSs, MPs behaved incompetently’ – Court – Center for Investigative Journalism Malawi (investigative-malawi.org)

[33] https://www.investigative-malawi.org/635/supreme-court-gives-govt-60-days-to-act-on-tractorgate-case/#:~:text=The%20Malawi’s%20Supreme%20court%20has,infamous%20%E2%80%9Ctractor%20gate%E2%80%9D%20saga.

[34] https://www.investigative-malawi.org/635/supreme-court-gives-govt-60-days-to-act-on-tractorgate-case/#:~:text=The%20Malawi’s%20Supreme%20court%20has,infamous%20%E2%80%9Ctractor%20gate%E2%80%9D%20saga

[35] https://www.investigative-malawi.org/635/supreme-court-gives-govt-60-days-to-act-on-tractorgate-case/#:~:text=The%20Malawi’s%20Supreme%20court%20has,infamous%20%E2%80%9Ctractor%20gate%E2%80%9D%20saga

[36] https://www.investigative-malawi.org/635/supreme-court-gives-govt-60-days-to-act-on-tractorgate-case/#:~:text=The%20Malawi’s%20Supreme%20court%20has,infamous%20%E2%80%9Ctractor%20gate%E2%80%9D%20saga.

[37] https://www.nyasatimes.com/chakwera-appoints-legal-bulldozer-martha-chizuma-as-new-acb-czar/

[38] https://www.nyasatimes.com/chakwera-appoints-legal-bulldozer-martha-chizuma-as-new-acb-czar/

[39] https://www.nyasatimes.com/chakwera-appoints-legal-bulldozer-martha-chizuma-as-new-acb-czar/

[40] https://www.nyasatimes.com/chakwera-appoints-legal-bulldozer-martha-chizuma-as-new-acb-czar/

[41] https://www.nyasatimes.com/controversy-as-pac-rejects-the-appointment-of-iron-lady-martha-chizuma-as-new-acb-czar/

[42] https://www.malawivoice.com/2022/01/23/is-onjezani-kenani-an-authorized-person-to-receive-secrete-information-from-acb/ ; Malawi Breaking News & Gossip 24/7 https://www.facebook.com/mwbreakingnewsgossip/posts/orama-namalomba-exposedthe-controversial-chigoba-identity-on-facebook-by-the-nam/3287983611488837/?dl_redirect=1

[43] https://www.nyasatimes.com/mls-says-chizuma-broke-oath-of-office-when-she-talked-to-orama-namalomba-in-leaked-audio/

[44] https://www.malawivoice.com/2022/01/23/is-onjezani-kenani-an-authorized-person-to-receive-secrete-information-from-acb/

[45] https://malawi24.com/2022/01/23/martha-chizuma-exposes-herself/

[46] https://www.voanews.com/a/malawi-anti-graft-chief-suspended-over-leaked-audio-clip/6945328.html

[47] https://malawi24.com/2022/01/10/chizuma-faulted-over-uk-agency-capture/

[48] https://malawi24.com/2022/12/06/malawi-anti-corruption-director-chizuma-arrested/

[49] https://www.ft.com/content/6c87a9f9-b8d6-42cb-9673-9fe387786fb5 ; https://www.factynews.com/wiki/martha-chizuma-biography/

[50] https://www.voanews.com/a/malawi-anti-graft-chief-suspended-over-leaked-audio-clip/6945328.html

[51] https://www.nyasatimes.com/malawi-court-unsuspends-anti-corruption-director-chizumas-sacking/    

[52] https://www.voanews.com/a/malawi-anti-graft-chief-suspended-over-leaked-audio-clip/6945328.html

[53] https://www.voanews.com/a/malawi-anti-graft-chief-suspended-over-leaked-audio-clip/6945328.html

[54] https://pt-br.facebook.com/people/Nyekhweeh-Updates/100064126295461/

[55] https://www.zunethsattar.com/about/

[56] https://mwnation.com/court-reinstates-namalomba-in-pac-role/?fbclid=IwAR1RY_B4bqUnDFfAZL4m61Lkzz8Gs1wZXZ8fsIdStPOFTbDfQi7WhkhwcWg

[57] https://malawigazette.com/namalomba-revolt-refuse-to-die/

[58] https://mwnation.com/court-reinstates-namalomba-in-pac-role/?fbclid=IwAR1RY_B4bqUnDFfAZL4m61Lkzz8Gs1wZXZ8fsIdStPOFTbDfQi7WhkhwcWg

[59] https://times.mw/covid-audit-report-stuck-at-parliament/ ; https://pt-br.facebook.com/people/Nyekhweeh-Updates/100064126295461/

[60] https://www.ft.com/content/31034a9b-c9f6-4387-a636-bd60d856bcad

[61] https://www.ft.com/content/31034a9b-c9f6-4387-a636-bd60d856bcad

[62] https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/malawi-suspends-anti-corruption-chief-probing-bribery-case-involving-top-officials/2804565 ; https://www.ft.com/content/31034a9b-c9f6-4387-a636-bd60d856bcad

[63] http://www.yonecofm.com/index.php/2020/10/28/lawyers-call-for-delay-in-oath-taking-of-judges/

[64] https://www.voanews.com/a/malawi-drops-charges-against-anti-corruption-chief-/6959574.html

[65] https://times.mw/court-rejects-mls-wla-applications/

[66] https://www.economist.com/leaders/2020/12/19/which-is-the-economists-country-of-the-year ; https://www.chathamhouse.org/2020/10/chatham-house-prize-malawi-judges-win-election-work

[67] https://times.mw/ive-been-under-siege-martha-chizuma/ ; https://times.mw/martha-chizuma-a-stormy-era/

[68] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zEuXmI8NNmI

[69] https://www.facebook.com/theMalawiSTANDARDnewspaperliveMULTILINGUAL/photos/a.1484152675156550/2945918622313274/?paipv=0&eav=AfakkLNZxem8XTBOANYXPBMM-Ms6e6nsEpcDQqRj2NAr9aFV0llXiAYJ6Dkp5Dk16SI&_rdr

[70] https://times.mw/mhrc-adamant-on-martha-chizuma-arrest-probe/?amp=1

[71] https://times.mw/anti-corruption-bureau-targets-80-properties/

[72] https://www.nyasatimes.com/us-bypasses-malawi-govt-on-cyclone-freddy-victims/

[73] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HqRlGpBX7_M

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