Malawi’s constitutional court judges have won the 2020 Chatham House Prize in recognition of the “courage and independence in the defence of democracy” demonstrated in their historic February 2020 ruling that annulled the May 2019 presidential election.

Chatham House – officially the Royal Institute for International Affairs – is the senior internationally focussed think tank in Britain.

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.

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 Redson Kapindu, Justice Dingiswayo Madise and Justice Michael Tembo – who arrived in court under armed escort and wearing bullet proof vests – delivered  their 500-page ruling which upheld the constitution and defended citizens’ democratic rights in the most difficult circumstances.

This is a historic moment for democratic governance. The ruling by Malawi’s constitutional court judges is not only crucial for rebuilding the confidence of Malawi’s citizens in their institutions, 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 recognizing the commitment of these brave individuals to the cause of accountable governance and the justice that this affords to all.       

Malawi’s constitutional court judges will be presented with the Chatham House Prize, an award and a scroll signed by the institute’s patron Her Majesty The Queen later this year. A formal ceremony is due to take place in 2021, when circumstances permit.

Members’ participation in the voting process is crucial to the ongoing success of this award and I would like to take this opportunity to thank all who took part.                  

Dr Robin Niblett CMG

Director and Chief Executive Chatham House