CrisisWatch is our global conflict tracker, an early warning tool designed to help decision-makers prevent deadly violence by keeping them up-to-date with developments in over 70 conflicts and crises, identifying trends and alerting them to risks of escalation and opportunities to advance peace. Entries dating back to 2003 provide easily searchable conflict histories.
Authorities took additional steps to remove former President Mutharika’s appointees from power. President Chakwera 1 Sept reinstated former army chief Gen Vincent Nundwe, whom Mutharika had dismissed. Police 13 Sept detained former Information Minister Henry Mussa and former Director of Information Gideon Munthali over allegations they stole govt computers while in office; court in capital Lilongwe 21 Sept granted bail to both. High Court 22 Sept denied bail to former presidential security aide Norman Chisale, suspected of involvement in 2015 killing of national anti-corruption body official Issa Njauju.
Authorities pursued efforts to remove from power remnants of former President Mutharika’s rule. Amid corruption investigations into Mutharika and several prominent figures linked to his presidency, police 6 Aug arrested former Local Govt and Rural Development Minister Ben Phiri over allegations of fraud and money laundering. Authorities mid-Aug froze bank accounts belonging to Mutharika, his wife, former presidential security aide Norman Chisale and another of Mutharika’s close collaborators. Supreme Court of Appeal 20 Aug dismissed Chisale’s 9 Aug application for injunction against further arrests, which he filed after police in July arrested him three times on different charges; Chisale, suspected of involvement in 2015 killing of national anti-corruption body’s former Director of Corporate Affairs Issa Njauju, remained on remand in capital Lilongwe prison after High Court 28 Aug denied him bail. In national address 8 Aug, President Chakwera vowed to introduce legislation to scale back presidential powers, notably that of appointing senior officials across executive, legislative and judicial branches. Amid surge in COVID-19 cases, authorities 9 Aug ordered bars and churches to close and banned most public gatherings; opposition leader in parliament Kondwani Nankhumwa 11 Aug condemned “harsh and unrealistic” measures; police in Chikwawa town in Southern region 13 Aug arrested 145 for allegedly failing to wear masks in public places; Chakwera 14 Aug pardoned 499 prisoners to reduce risk of COVID-19 spreading in congested prisons; authorities 27 Aug said Lilongwe airport would reopen 1 Sept and schools would start reopening 7 Sept.
Newly elected President Chakwera set new govt in motion and took steps to remove from power remnants of former President Mutharika’s rule. At inauguration ceremony in capital Lilongwe, Chakwera 6 July pledged to introduce legislation to curb presidential powers and strengthen parliament and national anti-corruption body. Govt 7 July rescinded Mutharika’s 12 June order putting Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda on leave pending retirement in retaliation for his role in enabling rerun of disputed 2019 election. After Chakwera 8 July appointed 31-member cabinet, accusations of nepotism emerged on social media; critics said Chakwera appointed relatives as ministers, noting that 70% of cabinet hails from his political stronghold. Authorities mid-July arrested several prominent figures linked to Mutharika on corruption charges. Notably, police detained former Malawi Revenue Authority Deputy Commissioner Roza Mbilizi 10 July and former presidential aide Norman Chisale 14 July for allegedly helping Mutharika avoid nearly $7mn in duties while importing cement. After court 17 July released Chisale on bail, police same day rearrested him on unrelated charges of attempted murder. Police 29 July questioned Mutharika about corruption allegations. Chakwera 25 July said $1bn of public money was stolen under his predecessor and vowed to crack down on corruption. Amid surge in COVID-19 cases, govt 6 July indefinitely postponed reopening of schools initially scheduled for 13 July; 10 July said it had suspended mass testing campaign due to test kit shortage.
Opposition candidate won rerun of 2019 presidential election. Following 23 June presidential election rerun, incumbent President Mutharika’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) next day accused opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) of intimidating its supporters in opposition strongholds during vote, said it had lodged complaint with electoral commission. Electoral commission 27 June announced victory of Lazarus Chakwera, leader of Tonse Alliance – electoral coalition of opposition parties United Transformation Movement (UTM) and MCP – with 58.57% of vote; Chakwera next day sworn in. Ahead of poll, Mutharika 7 June appointed High Court judge Chifundo Kachale as new electoral commission chairperson; 12 June put Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda on leave pending retirement in retaliatory move after he presided over Supreme Court of Appeal’s May decision confirming rerun of disputed 2019 election. NGO Human Rights Defenders Coalition, Malawi Law Society and Association of Magistrates 13 June filed appeal against Nyirenda’s forced retirement with High Court, which suspended Mutharika’s decision next day. Hundreds of lawyers 17 June took to streets in capital Lilongwe and Blantyre, Zomba and Mzuzu cities to protest against govt interference with judiciary. VP and UTM leader Saulos Chilima 10 June filed complaint with International Criminal Court against Mutharika and Inspector General of Police Duncan Mwapasa for alleged crimes committed in 2018-2020.
Political tensions rose and deadly clashes erupted between ruling party and opposition supporters as Supreme Court of Appeal struck down President Mutharika’s appeal against 2019 presidential election rerun; new elections now scheduled for 23 June. Amid persistent political tensions following controversial presidential election last year, supporters of ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and its partner, United Democratic Front (UDF), early May clashed with opposition United Transformation Movement (UTM) and Malawi Congress Party (MCP). Notably, fighting erupted between DPP and UTM members in Thyolo, Phalombe and Mulanje districts 1 May; MCP supporters assaulted DPP monitors and party district governor in Dowa district next day; unidentified assailants overnight 4-5 May threw petrol bomb on UTM office in capital Lilongwe, leaving three dead and prompting international calls for restraint next day. Unidentified assailants 29 May attacked convoy of VP and UTM leader Saulos Chilima who was campaigning in Phalombe and Mulanje districts, reportedly leaving several journalists injured. Supreme Court of Appeal 8 May rejected Mutharika’s appeal against Constitutional Court’s 3 Feb ruling which ordered rerun of 2019 presidential election; same day ruled electoral commission (MEC) should use voter registry and candidate list from nullified elections, prompting MEC to end voter registration process launched in April. MEC 13 May brought date of election rerun forward from 2 July to 23 June; parliament’s legal affairs committee 21 May endorsed new date. MEC Chair Jane Ansah resigned same day following months of nationwide protests and rebuke from courts and parliament over her mismanagement of 2019 election.
High Court blocked COVID-19 lockdown citing economic damage on poorest, and Supreme Court of Appeal struck down electoral commission’s request to postpone presidential election rerun planned for July. Govt 14 April said it would impose 21-day nationwide lockdown starting 18 April to prevent spread of COVID-19, prompting thousands of informal workers to protest against projected loss of income in city of Mzuzu in north and economic capital Blantyre 16-17 April. High Court 17 April blocked implementation of lockdown for seven days, after NGO Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) filed appeal citing concerns over lack of economic support for vulnerable communities; High Court 28 April extended order barring lockdown until govt implements socio-economic protections. President Mutharika same day announced emergency cash transfer program for small businesses and about 1mn people starting early May. Ahead of presidential election rerun planned for July, electoral commission (MEC) 4 April launched voter registration process. Govt 7 April urged MEC to suspend process due to COVID-19, prompting MEC chairperson Jane Ansah to request extension for holding election; Supreme Court of Appeal 16 April rejected request. MEC 14 April suspended registration in Blantyre after suspected members of youth wing of ruling party Democratic Progressive Party same day allegedly attacked registrants and MEC staff. Supreme Court of Appeal 15 April began hearing President Mutharika’s appeal against Constitutional Court’s 3 Feb ruling which ordered rerun of last year’s presidential election within 150 days.
President Mutharika took steps to strengthen his position ahead of presidential election rerun, while security forces continued to harass opposition. Supreme Court of Appeal 12 March dismissed electoral commission’s (MEC) request to suspend application of Constitutional Court’s 3 Feb ruling, which had ordered rerun of last year’s presidential election within 150 days, until appeal is heard. Mutharika 16 March rejected parliamentary committee recommendation that he fire MEC’s leadership; same day declined to sign Feb electoral law amendments passed by parliament which scheduled new poll for 19 May and required securing absolute majority of votes for winner to be elected. Parliament speaker 26 March referred Mutharika’s responses to Constitutional Court; leader of opposition United Transformation Movement (UTM) Saulos Chilima same day filed lawsuit against Mutharika over refusal to dismiss MEC’s leadership, sought injunction to suspend MEC commissioners. MEC 23 March set 2 July for vote rerun. Ahead of poll, opposition parties Malawi Congress Party (MCP), UTM and five others 19 March formed electoral coalition. Mutharika 17 March fired armed forces chief and his deputy and reshuffled army and air force leadership, allegedly in retaliation for protecting protesters during post-electoral demonstrations; 19 March appointed new cabinet after dissolving previous one 13 March. Authorities 8 March arrested two senior figures of NGO Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) and issued arrest warrant for NGO chairman Timothy Mtambo after HRDC called for protests against govt; Mtambo 10 March surrendered to police, who fired tear gas to disperse thousands of Mtambo supporters gathered outside police station in capital Lilongwe; court 12 March released all three activists on bail. Govt 23 March declared COVID-19 “national disaster” and banned public gatherings of more than 100 people, 27 March said it would suspend international flights from 1 April.
Constitutional court 3 Feb nullified results of disputed May election, which saw incumbent President Mutharika re-elected for second term, and ordered parliamentary inquiry into electoral commission (MEC), citing widespread irregularities; court also requested parliament to amend electoral law to provide for run-off elections in case no single candidate secures absolute majority of votes, and declared current first-past-the-post system unconstitutional. Mutharika and MEC 7 Feb appealed ruling; ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) 17 Feb lodged complaint with anti-corruption body, claiming court’s verdict had been bought. Constitutional court 12 Feb dismissed Mutharika’s request to suspend application of ruling until his appeal is heard. Parliament 24 Feb scheduled new election for 19 May, with possible second round to be held 30 days later. Ahead of poll, DPP 25 Feb formed electoral alliance with opposition party United Democratic Front, whose leader Atupele Muluzi came fourth in May election. Thousands of supporters of NGO Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) 13 Feb marched to MEC offices in Blantyre and capital Lilongwe to call for MEC chairperson Jane Ansah, whom they hold responsible for alleged electoral fraud, to step down. Parliament’s Public Appointments Committee 20 Feb concluded inquiry into MEC, found leadership incompetent to organise new elections and recommended Mutharika fire Ansah and commissioners. HRDC 25 Feb warned it would call for protests if Mutharika did not remove Ansah and sign new electoral bill within seven days.
Opposition continued to challenge President Mutharika’s victory in May 2019 election amid ongoing protests, including over alleged police abuses. Thousands of protesters 9 Jan marched to police headquarters in capital Lilongwe over alleged sexual violence by police during demonstrations in Oct, threatened further protests if police failed to make arrests. Police 11 Jan arrested opposition figure Jessie Kabwila on charges of inciting violence during protest. Anti-corruption body 13 Jan said it had opened probe into alleged attempts to bribe judges presiding over opposition’s petition to annul May election results. Tens of thousands of supporters of NGO Human Rights Defenders Coalition 16 Jan took to streets in Lilongwe, with smaller rallies in Blantyre and Mzuzu, demanding alleged bribers be named and arrested; police 22 Jan arrested and charged prominent banker Thomson Mpinganjira in connection with case; court same day declared arrest warrant void, forcing police to release him. EU election observation mission 8 Jan said it would postpone release of its report on May elections until after court ruling expected early Feb.
Constitutional court 6 Dec concluded hearings relating to disputed May election results; court to release ruling within 45 days, by end of Jan 2020.
Opposition continued to dispute May’s election results. President Mutharika 9 Nov appealed to opposition to end protests and accept election result to allow govt to focus on economic development. Chairperson of NGO Human Rights Defenders Coalition Timothy Mtambo 24 Nov said coalition would continue protests against electoral commission chairperson Jane Ansah until she resigns; Mtambo announced plans for further mass protests 10 Dec. Youth wing of ruling Democratic Progressive Party 25 Nov rallied supporters to disrupt constitutional court hearing over election results in capital Lilongwe; court to conclude hearing by 6 Dec.
Protesters challenging President Mutharika’s May election win took to streets again and continued to clash with security forces and govt supporters. Following two-week ban on protests in Sept, demonstrations organised by NGO Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) continued in capital Lilongwe 1-4 Oct against electoral commission chairperson Jane Ansah, whom protesters hold responsible for alleged electoral fraud. Police 2 Oct handed over security during demonstrations to army. Mutharika 8 Oct held first rally in capital since disputed victory; rally sparked further violence between govt supporters and anti-govt protesters during which protesters stoned to death a police officer. Human rights campaigners 25 Oct staged demonstrations in Lilongwe demanding govt investigate allegations that police committed sexual violence against female protesters earlier in month. Following televised plea for peace by preacher Prophet Shephard Bushiri, opposition parties Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and United Transformation Movement (UTM) 3 Oct promised to respect constitutional court ruling on whether or not to uphold presidential results; govt refused to comment. High court registrar 19 Oct said constitutional court would hear case by 6 Dec and issue ruling by 20 Jan 2020. On his return from Russia-Africa summit in Sochi, Russia, Mutharika 26 Oct for first time called for opposition leaders and rights activists to engage in talks with govt to resolve crisis, warning that instability was keeping investors at bay.
Authorities and ruling party supporters continued efforts, sometimes using force, to thwart protests against electoral commission’s alleged rigging of May presidential poll; violence could escalate in Oct if constitutional court rules against opposition’s application to overturn President Mutharika’s election win. Constitutional court hearing resumed 3 Sept until 20 Sept, restarted 30 Sept; judge said case would conclude three weeks after resumption. Supporters of NGO Human Rights Defender Coalition (HRDC) 19 Sept protested in capital Lilongwe accusing electoral commission chairperson Jane Ansah of bias in favour of Mutharika; protesters also demanded parliament reject appointment of Duncan Mwapasa as new police chief. Supreme Court of Appeal 20 Sept rejected Attorney General’s application to stop HRDC protests. In Blantyre, youth wing of ruling party Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) 25 Sept blocked route of HRDC protest march to electoral commission conference before attacking protesters with stones and sharp objects, injuring senior HRDC official. Clashes between demonstrators and military in Karonga 25 Sept reportedly left 30 injured. HRDC vowed to return to streets 1-4 Oct.
Govt continued to deploy security forces and use judicial process in efforts to contain protests against President Mutharika’s May re-election and alleged electoral fraud; tensions and violence could rise in Sept if Constitutional Court rules against opposition’s application for results to be overturned. High Court 6 Aug dismissed Attorney General’s petition to ban opposition demonstration that NGO Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) had called for that day; several thousand protested countrywide, demanding resignation of electoral commission chairperson Jane Ansah, whom protesters accuse of mismanaging election. In places protesters clashed with police. Constitutional Court 8 Aug began hearing opposition’s case to have election results overturned; 23 Aug adjourned until 3 Sept. Unidentified attackers 15 Aug threw petrol bombs at home of HRDC chairman Timothy Mtambo, who was unharmed. Same day HRDC accused three officials of ruling Democratic Progressive Party of orchestrating attack, officials denied responsibility. Mutharika 21 Aug ordered army and police to prevent protests that HRDC planned to organise at airports and borders 26-30 Aug. In response to petition from Malawi Revenue Authority, High Court 23 Aug banned protesters from blocking airports and border crossings. HRDC said it would abide by ruling, but late Aug warned it would organise protests 5 Sept. Soldiers 28 Aug deployed on streets of capital Lilongwe as Supreme Court of Appeal approved 14-day nationwide ban on protests, preventing protesters from gathering for planned three-day protest 28-30 Aug.
Protests against President Mutharika’s 21 May re-election escalated and in places turned violent, and authorities continued to arrest movement’s leaders. Thousands took part in demonstrations organised by NGO Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) in capital Lilongwe 4 July to protest Mutharika’s re-election and alleged electoral fraud. After Mutharika 6 July warned that authorities would take action against protest leaders, police following day arrested at least 68 protesters for alleged “criminal acts”. Authorities 9 July arrested Gift Trapence and McDonald Sembereka, HRDC’s vice chairman and member respectively. In Blantyre, ruling Democratic Progressive Party youth cadets armed with knives 19 July attacked protesters in Chichiri Upper Stadium, police nearby failed to intervene; in city’s outskirts youths suspected to belong to opposition Malawi Congress Party blocked roads. In Lilongwe, opposition protesters 25 July damaged and torched part of govt office complex and attacked head office of Japan International Cooperation Agency. In Mzuzu, protesters 25 July burned down offices of govt and ruling Democratic Progressive Party and police unit. HRDC 29 July announced postponement of demonstrations on following day in order to prepare upcoming “One million march” 6 August against Malawi Electoral Commission chairperson Jane Ansah.
Following President Mutharika’s narrow re-election victory in May, thousands demonstrated countrywide to denounce alleged vote-rigging, in places clashing with police; with neither side backing down, confrontation could escalate in July. In capital Lilongwe, protesters 4 June stormed govt offices and clashed with police; during another demonstration 6 June police arrested one MP from opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and seventeen supporters. Protesters again clashed with police 20 June, two police officers injured; protests spread to economic capital Blantyre in south and Mzuzu in north. Govt 8 June pushed back against African Union’s 6 June condemnation of police’s use of force against protesters. High court 21 June rejected Mutharika’s request that it dismiss petitions by two opposition parties MCP and United Transformation Movement (UTM) to nullify election results; MCP and UTM applied to amend petitions, no longer calling for recount but for new election; govt and electoral commission appealed decision.
President Mutharika was re-elected 27 May to second five-year term amid allegations of electoral fraud. Following allegations of vote-rigging in 21 May presidential elections, main opposition party Malawi Congress Party (MCP) 25 May obtained High Court injunction to delay announcement of final results; High Court 27 May lifted injunction and electoral commission same day announced results. Runner-up opposition candidate Lazarus Chakwera 31 May petitioned High Court to nullify results and called for protests; United Transformation Movement (UTM) leader and former VP Saulos Chilima same day also filed petition to have results annulled.
Ahead of May presidential and parliamentary elections, suspected youth members of ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) 20 Jan assaulted members of newly formed opposition party United Transformation Movement (UTM) and forced some members, including one woman, to undress in Mangochi; 23 Jan beat up member of opposition Malawi Congress Party (MPC) in Blantyre. President Mutharika 23 Jan condemned political violence, including acts aimed at humiliating women in political arena and urged police to stamp down on any DPP “rogue elements”. UN 25 Jan welcomed statement, but expressed concerns that no perpetrator had been held accountable in past year and called on govt to step up efforts to protect victims. Six main political parties, including DPP, 26 Jan issued joint communiqué calling police to bring culprits to justice.
President Banda 3 April said country will refer border dispute with Tanzania over Lake Malawi/Nyasa to ICJ; stated SADC mediation by chairman of Former African Heads of State and Government Forum Joaquim Chissano compromised, accused Executive Secretary John Tesha of leaking Malawian documents to Tanzania. Govt subsequently committed to mediation process with Forum.
Police 3-5 Sept violently dispersed students demanding greater democratic freedoms, protesting increasing socio- economic hardship due to austerity reforms prescribed by IFIs.
Month saw increased tensions with Tanzania over long- running Lake Malawi border dispute after British Surestream company, granted mining license by former President Mutharika, started exploratory operations in lake region claimed by Tanzania; parties held talks on sidelines of 17-18 Aug SADC heads of state Maputo summit, ruled out possibility of military action to resolve dispute; 26 Aug failed to reach compromise; new round of talks scheduled for Sept. People’s Party 27 Aug endorsed President Banda as 2014 election candidate.
Commission of Inquiry report into 2011 killings publicly released 10 July, criticised excessive police force, blamed media for spreading violence; President Banda 20 July declined to commit to adoption of report’s recommendations, promised prosecutions of perpetrators. Banda 6 July pardoned 377 prisoners as part of Independence Day celebrations; decision followed by prison protests, 7 prisoners escaped, 8 further reportedly shot dead.
Govt 8 June cancelled planned AU Summit after AU pressure to include Sudanese President Bashir, despite ICC arrest warrant. Parliament Speaker 21 June rejected Democratic People’s Party petitions for by-elections following mass defection to President Banda’s People’s Party. Banda 18 June received Commission of Inquiry report into July 2011 demonstration killings.
In first state of nation address, President Banda 18 May called for restoration of rule of law, announced inquiries into former president Mutharika’s death, April coup plot, Malawi Revenue Authority tax scandal; revealed plans to revoke anti- gay legislation. Multiple MPs defected to Banda’s People’s Party. President Banda 17 May fired head of Anti-Corruption Board Alex Nampota, accused of shielding former president Mutharika’s collaborators from investigations.
President Mutharika 5 April died from heart attack; VP Joyce Banda sworn in 7 April following constitutional process, despite alleged coup plot to install Peter Mutharika, brother of President Mutharika, as successor; Malawi Law Society 17 April called for prosecution of alleged coup conspirators. Banda 27 April announced new “reconciliation” cabinet, fired 10 senior ministers, including Peter Mutharika, 6 others reportedly involved in con- spiracy. Banda 10 April announced desire to normalise relations with donor countries; UK 24 April announced resumption of diplomatic relations.
Opposition United Democratic Front presidential candidate Atupele Muluzi detained 17 March; anti-govt protesters demanding Muluzi’s release 19 March set fire to police station. Police 15 March warned they would use force to break up opposition rallies calling for reform, 16 March arrested chairman of Human Rights Commission John Kapito; HRW 23 March said recent surge of arrests reflects govt’s broader crackdown on rights, free speech.
Outspoken presidential critic, former Attorney General Ralph Kasambara 11 Feb called for President Mutharika’s resignation; jailed 13 Feb with 5 supporters, accused of kidnapping, torturing 3 men, released 15 Feb on bail, re-arrested 16 Feb. Kasambara said case politically motivated. State-run Anti-Corruption Bureau 17, 20-21 Feb interrogated 3 lawyers who worked on Kasambara bail application.
30 arrested after Lilongwe’s illegal vendors 5 Jan clashed with police dismantling their stalls. Junior judicial workers 9 Jan went on strike over 6-year overdue pay rises, paralysing court system.
ICC 13 Dec referred Malawi to UNSC for refusing to arrest Sudanese President Bashir; govt threatened to withdraw from ICC Statute.
Sudanese president Bashir 14 Oct visited amid widespread pressure on govt from international community and opposition United Democratic Front to arrest him in fulfilment of ICC warrant. Police forcibly dispersed riots against growing insecurity in Mitundu 16 Oct, triggered by killing of shop owner; 2 civilians “feared dead”, 60 arrested.
Increasing concern over intimidation, violence against extra-parliamentary opposition by ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) elements. Minor opposition party Alliance for Democracy (AFORD) early Sept won by-election against DPP; DPP accused AFORD of colluding with Electoral Commission. President Mutharika reshuffled cabinet in perceived effort to consolidate position. Civil society groups waged strike 21 Sept following breakdown of UN-backed talks with govt aimed at ending long-running dispute.
In wake of deadly crackdown on July anti-govt protests, over 250 appeared in courts charged with violence. Some journalists accused of fomenting dissent; 6 reportedly beaten by police. Demonstrators called off planned 17 Aug protests after President Mutharika vowed to “meet them in the streets”; Mutharika 25 Aug said “ready for a fight”, ahead of planned vigil 21 Sept. UN reportedly facilitated talks between govt and protest organisers mid-month.
Security forces used live ammunition to disperse thousands of anti-govt protestors 20-21 July, leaving at least 18 dead. Fears mount over possibility of further repression as President Mutharika, having initially responded with calls for calm and peaceful dialogue, 22 July accused opposition leaders of treason, blamed them for violence. U.S. froze $350mn grant to nation, UNHCHR called for investigation into crackdown. Critics point to increasing manifestations of Mutharika’s intolerance, introduction of repressive legislation including policing powers, media restrictions, restrictions on legal remedies.
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