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Public protector on mission to clean up government in Malawi

Her journey has taken her to the front lines of the war against misgovernment and impunity

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Public protector on mission to clean up government in Malawi

The battle against corruption in the southern African state of Malawi has turned a shy, diminutive ombudswoman, Martha Chizuma, into a popular icon.

The quietly confident former magistrate and registrar of the High Court, appointed public protector in December 2015 when she was only 36, is the youngest person and only the second woman to hold the office.

“There have been moments when you have had those you are dealing with or investigating looking down on me because of my age and gender,” the bespectacled mother of three told reporters. 

“Whenever I am confronted with such people, I find myself feeling sorry for them, because in this day and age where you have females and young people literally transforming the world for the better, their attitude means that they have nothing else to offer besides their bigotry,” she said.

Read Also: How Malawi’s busker is fighting myths about albinism

Malawi's Ombudsman (Public Protector) Martha Chizuma poses during an interview
People walk in front of the main entrance of Malawi’s Ombudsman (Public Protector) Martha Chizuma’s office in Lilongwe on September 9, 2019. (Photo by AMOS GUMULIRA / AFP)

Chizuma’s journey has taken her to the front lines of the war against misgovernment and impunity that is rampant in Malawi. “I have always argued that maladministration, coupled with the attendant impunity, is the soil, fertiliser and the rain on which foundations or systems of corruption are built,” she said.

‘Tractorgate’

Chizuma has uncovered a range of abuses. In August, one of her probes revealed that 160 women had their uteruses removed between January and July 2018 because of negligence. Another inquiry found that around 250 pieces of archaic farm equipment were bought and abandoned following a $50 million (45 million euro) loan from India in 2011.

The scam, dubbed “Tractorgate”, led the government to sell all the equipment, including 177 Sonalika tractors, to private individuals and farmers at below their purchase price. Although no one has been prosecuted, the ombudswoman has already obtained a rare public apology from the agriculture ministry.

“Every time I have used the law to bring about justice to anyone who has been ill-treated by the government system it is a point of pride for me,” Chizuma said.

Read Also: Ramaphosa challenges graft report as ‘irretrievably flawed’

Smear campaign

But her successes have sparked threats and a smear campaign starring her as corrupt, allegations that she has defiantly rejected. Chizuma’s office, fully reliant on government funds, has also seen its budget slashed this year.

Government spokesman Mark Botoman warned Chizuma against “abusing” her position, warning that any ombudsman should be “accountable to the people and to the law.” Chizuma has been widely praised for her courage.

Lazarus Chakwera, leader of the largest opposition Malawi Congress Party, told AFP that she would go down in history as “one of the shining lights of integrity on top of a hill in whose valleys remain the dark shadows of institutional corruption and impunity across the public sector”.

Malawi's Ombudsman (Public Protector) Martha Chizuma poses during an interview
Malawi’s Ombudsman (Public Protector) Martha Chizuma works at her desk before giving an interview with Agence France-Presse in her office in Lilongwe, Malawi, on September 9, 2019. (Photo by AMOS GUMULIRA / AFP)

Chizuma’s strength is her “knowledge and understanding of the law… and making decisions that are in the best interest of the public,” said Martha Kaukonde, honorary secretary of the Malawi Law Society.

“She has mimicked the same ruthless efficiency and determination of Thuli Madonsela, her former South African counterpart who is lauded for her successful tenure famous for prosecuting abuse of power under then-president Jacob Zuma,” Golden Matonga, a blogger and investigative journalist, said.

In recognition of her tenacity, Chizuma was elected a director of the International Ombudsman Institute. She also serves as the treasurer-general of the African Ombudsman and Mediators Association.

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Sudanese protesters call for dissolution of Bashir’s National Congress Party

The demonstrators carried banners saying “Dissolve the National Congress Party”

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Sudanese call for dissolution of Bashir's National Congress Party
(File photo)

Thousands of Sudanese rallied in several cities including the capital Khartoum on Monday, urging the country’s new authorities to dissolve the former ruling party of ousted Islamist leader Omar al-Bashir.

Crowds of men and women rallied in Khartoum, its twin city of Omdurman, Madani, Al-Obeid, Port Sudan and in the town of Zalinge in war-torn Darfur, expressing their support for the new authorities who are tasked with the country’s transition to a civilian rule.

Monday’s gatherings also marked the October 21, 1964 uprising that had ousted the then military leader Ibrahim Abboud.

The demonstrators carried banners saying “Dissolve the National Congress Party”, a correspondent reported.

The rallies, organised by the umbrella protest movement Forces of Freedom and Change, was also meant to demand “justice for the martyrs” killed during the months-long uprising that led to Bashir being ousted in April.

Some Islamist groups had also called for similar gatherings on Monday in Khartoum but no major rally was reported, witnesses said.

Bashir and his Islamist National Congress Party ruled Sudan for three decades since 1989 when he came to power in an Islamist-backed coup.

Protests had erupted against his government in December 2018, and quickly turned into a nationwide movement against him that finally led to his removal.

The protest movement says more than 250 people were killed in the uprising. Officials have given a lower death toll.

Bashir is being held in a prison in Khartoum and on trial on charges of corruption. 

Several other officials of his government and senior party members are also in jail.

Sudan is now ruled by a joint civilian-military sovereign council that is tasked with overseeing the country’s transition to a civilian rule, the key demand of the protest movement.

A civilian-led cabinet led by reputed economist Abdalla Hamdok as prime minister is charged with the day to day running of the country.

Hamdok is due to deliver an address to the nation later on Monday.

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Sudan agrees to ceasefire after peace talks with rebels

“Peace is a very strategic goal for us. The transformation of Sudan is anchored on peace,” said Hedi Idriss Yahia

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Sudan agrees to ceasefire after peace talks with rebels
(File photo)

Sudan’s government agreed Monday to allow humanitarian relief to war-torn parts of the country and renewed a ceasefire pact with major rebel groups at peace talks in South Sudan.

Officials from all sides said the new administration in Khartoum and the two umbrella groups of rebels had signed a declaration to keep the doors open to dialogue.

“The political declaration will pave the way for political negotiations and is a step towards a just, comprehensive and final peace in Sudan,” said General Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, a key figure in Sudan’s transitional government.

READ: Sudan announces “permanent ceasefire” as peace talks hit deadlock

Talks have been underway in Juba since last week between the new government in Khartoum and rebels who fought now-ousted President Omar al-Bashir’s forces in Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan states.

The new transitional authorities, tasked with leading the way to civilian rule after the ouster of Bashir, have vowed to bring peace to these conflict zones.

The peace talks have been held in the capital of South Sudan after its President, Salva Kiir, volunteered to mediate. Sudan’s neighbour and former foe is struggling to end its own war.

One of the rebel movements involved in the talks, the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), said the agreement reached in Juba was a good step.

“Peace is a very strategic goal for us. The transformation of Sudan is anchored on peace,” said Hedi Idriss Yahia, who signed the agreement in Juba on Monday on behalf of the SRF.

READ: South Sudan to hold peace talks between Sudan and rebels

Khartoum agreed to let aid into marginalised, conflict-wracked areas of Sudan long cut off from humanitarian groups during Bashir’s rule. They include Darfur, the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile regions.

The talks were almost derailed last week after one rebel group threatened to pull out unless the government withdrew from an area in the Nuba Mountains where it said government attacks were ongoing.

Hours later, Khartoum announced a “permanent ceasefire” in the three conflict zones. 

An unofficial ceasefire had been in place since Bashir was ousted by the army in April, a palace coup that followed nationwide protests against his decades-old rule.

Bashir is currently on trial in Khartoum on charges of corruption after being overthrown following months of nationwide protests against his ironfisted rule.

READ: Sudanese Prime Minister Hamdok arrives in South Sudan on first official trip

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Bobi Wine Exclusive Interview

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