Blair asks why is Malawi hounding Joyce Banda? Ex-president forced to stay in exile amid death threats and a ‘ghost warrant’

country of spectacular natural beauty, boasting one of Africa’s Great Lakes, sprawling forests and the mist-laced Shire Highlands, Malawi is a small land-locked country in east Africa. It is rarely in the spotlight and, even then, it’s most likely because of a celebrity sighting: Madonna has adopted four Malawian children and visited most recently to build a paediatric hospital; Prince Harry is a regular, lately volunteering in the relocation of elephants with the NGO African Parks.

Cherie Blair with Joyce Banda

While Malawi does not enjoy the same international attention as heavyweights South Africa, Nigeria or Kenya, it is a regional leader boasting the first elected female vice-president of any African country, and only the second country on the continent to have a female president, Joyce Banda, whom I have known for many years.

During Banda’s two-year administration from 2012 to 2014, an imminent economic collapse was averted through the implementation of vital economic reforms, the country’s economic growth rate rose from 1.8% in 2012 to 6.2% in 2014 and draconian laws were repealed, strengthening the rule of law. In healthcare, the Banda administration promoted safe motherhood initiatives and maternal mortality rates were slashed from 675 per 100,000 live births to 460.

Today, progress has stagnated and the government of Peter Mutharika is presiding over the country’s sad deterioration. Mutharika’s regime exhibits troubling governance tendencies such as flagrant abuses of the international legal system and political persecution. The principles of democracy, transparency and the rule of law that Banda and her administration re-established during her presidency have been systematically demolished. The case of Banda herself is telling.

The former president was completing a year-long residency earlier this year as a distinguished fellow at the Wilson Center in Washington – before she came to power she was a celebrated civil society advocate – when she publicly announced her intention to return to Malawi.

Within days, the national police spokesman James Kadadzera had organised a press conference in which he declared that an arrest warrant had been signed to investigate the former president for “alleged abuse of office and money laundering”. Two months on, neither Banda nor her lawyers have been served a copy of the warrant and all attempts to see it have been thwarted by the authorities.

What Banda had done to receive this treatment was to oversee the exposure of the largest governmental corruption scheme ever uncovered in Malawi. “Cashgate” is reported to have involved $250m being stolen from government coffers and British auditors investigating just one six-month period found that tens of millions of dollars had been fraudulently claimed. Neither the audit report nor any other evidence has been produced to implicate Banda, despite wild allegations thrown by her accusers.

However, in threatening what had been a profitable scheme for many, Banda made enemies in the new authoritarian administration that succeeded her. As others have learned to their detriment, in many countries today there is more danger from calling out corruption than there is in engaging in it. Malawi today is characterised by a culture of fear and impunity; the origins of which Banda had sought to expose during her term in office.

Much like the Russian authorities have repeatedly done against Bill Browder, the Malawian authorities announced they had sent a request to Interpol to prevent Banda from lawfully travelling without being arrested. Browder, who lives in the UK, has spent the past eight years investigating the murder of Sergei Magnitsky in a Russian prison and calling for sanctions against Russia. He was recently prevented from travelling to the US because of an Interpol-issued “diffusion notice” instituted at the request of Russian authorities; a process that has come under increasing scrutiny as a tool of political persecution by authoritarian states.

Banda is not only confronted by a politically motivated investigation and the threat of arrest, but has received numerous death threats aimed at her and her family. These threats explicitly warn that if she continues speaking out about political corruption and dares set foot in Malawi, she will be killed.

So while the“ghost warrant” was being contrived to deter Banda from returning home, her sister, Cecilia Kumpukwe, was being arrested in Malawi – accused of online rumour-mongering at the expense of the vice-president, Saulos Chilima. The allegations remain unsubstantiated but nonetheless she has to report to the police every Tuesday and her passport has been withdrawn by the government, stranding her in Malawi and preventing travel to South Africa for important medical treatment.

Even more chillingly, Banda’s son has been publicly labelled a “vampire” – a ridiculous, but fatal designation in Malawi which has seen eight people murdered by lynch mobs in the last month alone, spurred to violence by this pernicious libel.

The treatment of Banda and her family serves as a stark reminder that Malawi must recommit to higher standards of governance and the rule of law or risk failing its citizens and finding itself attracting the wrong sort of headlines. Yet Malawi is not alone in needing to show proper respect for due process. Recent events across the region and in the west, only serve to emphasise the need for deeply rooted institutions with the resilience to withstand those who, in power, might seek to undermine and subvert them for personal and political gain.

  •  Cherie Blair is the founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and a barrister at Matrix Chambers in London. The article first appeared in The Guardian newspaper of UK.
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Gerald
Guest
I should humbly thank Madam Blair for this very interesting article that reflects the truth of the current Malawi and Dr Joyce Banda’s failure to come back. There is indeed a sour relationship between her and dpp on grounds that JB fought against thieves involved into cashgate. Dr Joyce Banda has gone through a lot under dpp dating back into the days of Bingu she survived an assassination. After the 2014 elections dpp knew that their victory was fake they rigged the elections from JB and they don’t want JB to come back to Malawi. People are comparing her leadership… Read more »
Keep away
Guest

Mrs Blair please check your facts before you get embarrssed……….and also can I kindly ask you to stay away from other country’s political business especially that you are a wife to a former prime minster of Great Britain????

Ineyo
Guest

You DPP idiots talk about the current state of affairs. All the government ministers are in crisis because of you corrupt and nepotistic mindsets. 2019 munya nonse

Unbelievable
Guest
Mrs Blair, I wish you had done your homework before issuing this statement. Lets make one thing very clear, Joyce Banda is in self imposed exile by choice. She left the beautiful country of Malawi willingly. You are dealing with a very manipulative, self absorbed woman. It’s sad that she had to drag you into this saga. Can you answer thiese questions if you may: 1. How can she be in exile and yet enjoy retirement and health benefits paid for by poor Malawian tax payers? 2. How is Malawi hounding her if the Malawi Government has built her a… Read more »
foolish
Guest

I hope Mrs Blair knows that Joyce Banda is a home wrecker, husband snatcher, she even snatched John Nkosi who was her best friend’s husband and yet she claims to empower women…. my foot!!

Chilungamo Chimawawa
Guest

Let JB wait outside Malawi until DPP Govt is gone in 2019, other these guys are dangerous vampires who are daring for JB’s blood. Please please please JB dont come home soon!!!!!!!

Nyasaland
Guest
Mrs Blair and all need to take a step back because Joyce Banda is a very manipulative, conniving woman she has all of you wrapped around her little finger………… she is very malicious . If Mrs Blair did her research she would have found out that there is absolutely nothing keeping Joyce Banda from returning home, all she is doing is seeking is self pity and have all the western world liking her rear end. She needs to come home and help develop Malawi, she claims to be a champion of women and girls when all she doing is building… Read more »
Morgan
Guest

Remember these thugs wanted to assassinate you at kanengo when you were Veep.come January they will panic,Lazarus has cornered them,atupele nayenso awathawa by December yuno or January. Come and bring down these crooks

Vet doctor
Guest

The way i see things now i cant trust this govt. JB can be innocent and looked for freedom abroad. If she insisted she could have been in cell or grave

Nambewe
Guest
The only thing I can say to Cherie Blair is that Joyce Banda is very plausible!!!! don’t let her blind fold you! She left a legacy of plundering government funds, regionalism and irresponsible behavior behind her! She Keen on imprisoning people who have not done any wrong! and protecting people who plundered government money ! She was collecting money to run her campaign, she tried hard to rig the elections its just that the opposition was cleverer than she thought! NO Mrs Blair that woman destroyed Malawi! she divided Malawi! She used to say to the electorate “Ino ndi nthawi… Read more »
Hlabezulu Ngonoonda
Guest
Nambewe, you have raised points which you could have backed them up with documentary evidence from the third sentence up to the seventh sentence. Get an example from Obwona who did a research in 2001 on Uganda during the reign of Idi Amin). Obwona referred to Amin’s rule as a period of “economic war” that wrecked the Ugandan economy following the expropriation of assets of Asians and businesses of investors mostly Asians and the eventual collapse of the industrial and commercial sector. Obwona adds that Amin never got involved in corrupt practices or into stealing but mismanaged the economy by… Read more »
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