Five constitutional court judges who made a historic February 2020 ruling that annulled the May 2019 presidential election that led to a fresh one on June 23, 2020 were on Friday, November 19, 2021 presented with the 2020 Chatham House Prize in Malawi’s capital Lilongwe.
Launched in 2005, previous recipients have been Committee to Protect Journalists, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos, Ghana president John Kufuor, Mozambique president Joaquim Chissano, Médecins Sans Frontières, and Melinda Gates, co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The ConCourt judges received the prize on Friday, a year after the ceremony was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
For the first time, the prize was personally given to the winners in Malawi rather than in central London – the first time ever the prize has been presented outside the UK.
Chatham House Africa Programme director, Alex Vines, said he was delighted to be able to finally make the official award in recognition of the constitutional judges’ “courage and independence in the defence of democracy” demonstrated in their historic February 2020 ruling to annul the May 2019 presidential election.
The 2019 Malawi presidential election result was overturned after a panel of five High Court judges identified ‘widespread, systematic, and grave irregularities’ in the polls and called for fresh elections.
Despite high-level bribery attempts and threats, Justice Healey Potani, Justice Ivy Kamanga, Justice Dingiswayo Madise, Justice Michael Tembo, and Justice Professor Redson Kapindu – who arrived in court under armed escort and wearing bulletproof vests – delivered their 500-page ruling which upheld the constitution and defended citizens’ democratic rights in the most difficult circumstances.
The judges successfully asserted their independence in the face of significant pressures and the power of incumbency.
“I and my four colleagues who heard and determined the 2019 disputed Elections Case are delighted and humbled to be bestowed the prestigious 2020 Chatham House Prize which we dedicate to the Malawi Judiciary and the entire Malawi nation,” Justice Healey Potani, Judge President of the High Court, said.
Chatham chief executive officer, Robin Niblett, said the award recognizes what is a historic moment for democratic governance in both Malawi and Africa.
“The ruling by Malawi’s constitutional court judges is not only crucial for maintaining the confidence of Malawi’s citizens in their institutions as it continues its democratic journey, but also for upholding standards of democracy more widely across the African continent.
“There could be no more special way to mark Chatham House’s centenary than by recognising the commitment of these brave individuals to the cause of accountable governance and the justice that this affords to all. I am delighted to see this award finally made in person and on Malawi soil,” Niblett said.
The Chatham House Prize is an annual honour awarded to the person, persons or organization deemed by the institute’s members to have made the most significant contribution to the improvement of international relations in the previous year.
At a time when standards of democratic governance are under threat, not only in Africa but in many democracies, Malawi’s constitutional court judges set an example for their peers across the world by upholding the centrality of the rule of law and separation of powers.
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