Malawi’s Chakwera pledges graft clampdown in subdued inauguration amid virus

Lazarus Chakwera has been sworn in as Malawi’s new president

LILONGWE (Reuters) – Malawi’s new President Lazarus Chakwera pledged to clamp down on corruption on Monday, as he delivered his inauguration speech in a scaled-down ceremony dampened by a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Chakwera unseated former leader Peter Mutharika in a June 23 re-run election after the 2019 polls were overturned by a court, citing irregularities.

The ruling echoed one by a Kenyan court in 2017, which cancelled President Uhuru Kenyatta’s election win. Both were surprising on a continent in which courts rarely flex their muscles against powerful presidents.

The repeat vote was regarded as a test of the ability of African courts to tackle ballot fraud and restrain presidential authority, and the power transition was cheered by pro-democracy activists and many of Malawi’s 18 million citizens.

The increase in COVID-19 infections, however, dampened the inauguration, which would have coincided with Independence Day celebrations that were also called off.

The inauguration was initially planned for a 40,000-capacity national stadium in the capital Lilongwe, but Chakwera called for a much smaller event.

Many watched it on television and others in rural Malawi listened to his speech on radio, without much fanfare across the country.

“It is no secret that we have had one administration after another shifting its post to the next election, promising prosperity but delivering poverty …promising good governance but delivering corruption,” Chakwera told a small crowd of about 100 dignitaries at the headquarters of the Malawi Defences Forces on the outskirts of Lilongwe.

“Before we can begin to rebuild, we must clear the rubble of corruption, for it has left our taxes in ruins; we must clear the rubble of donor dependency, for it has left our dignity in ruins,” he added.

Critics had accused former president Mutharika of doing little to tackle corruption.

COVID-19 cases in Malawi have more than doubled in the past two weeks to reach 1,406, with 19 deaths, and Chakwera is promising to take action in one of the few countries yet to impose a national lockdown.