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In Malawi, alleged $3.9m bribe hunts Mutharika’s presidency

The pressure to see off Malawi’s President, Peter Mutharika, from office is gathering momentum. The springboard for the unrest is a food scandal in which Mutharika’s name has been mentioned

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The pressure to see off Malawi’s President, Peter Mutharika, from office is gathering momentum. The springboard for the unrest is a food scandal in which Mutharika’s name has been mentioned.

A leaked report by the country’s anti-graft agency had accused him of receiving a kickback from a 2.8bn kwacha ($3.9m; £2.8m) contract to supply food to the police.

The report claims a businessman deposited 145m kwacha into an account belonging to the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), of which the president is the sole signatory.

The president’s spokesperson said the claims were “unfounded” and that Mr Mutharika had done nothing wrong. Civil rights organisations have nonetheless given him 14 days to resign, or say they will take to the streets.

The political standoff began after a report by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) leaked onto the internet in the last week of June.

The body has been investigating a Malawi police food supply contract, worth around 2.8bn kwacha, that was awarded to a firm owned by businessman Zameer Karim, called Pioneer Investments.

The report alleges that the head of finance of Malawi’s police, Innocent Bottomani, and Mr Karim had “connived” to award Pioneer Investment a contract to provide 500,000 food ration packs.

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Days after the contract was signed, Pioneer Investment allegedly asked for a change to the agreed price from 2.3bn kwacha to nearly 2.8bn – the report says the change was fraudulently approved by Mr Bottomani.

When Mr Karim was paid for supplying the food ration packs in 2016, he allegedly deposited 145m kwacha into a DPP bank account that is reportedly managed by President Mutharika.

Both Mr Karim and Mr Bottomani have denied involvement in the alleged fraud.

The president initially called the report “fake news” and a ploy by his detractors to scupper his chances at next year’s elections.

“I did not personally benefit in any way from the contract and that’s why I am concerned about the lack of truth. I am worried about what our country has become in as far as peddling of fake news on social media is concerned,” President Mutharika told Reuters.

His office later acknowledged the existence of the DPP bank account on 1 July, telling the Malawi newspaper The Daily Times that the account was set up only to support the party’s fundraising activities.

President Mutharika has been defiant in the face of mounting criticism. He told a DPP party congress that he was not running for “personal gain”.
“I only get 40% from my [monthly] salary of 2.7 million kwacha and the rest goes to government.”

Various civil society groups, the opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP), and the quasi-religious body, the Public Affairs Committee (PAC), have called for his resignation.

Politics

African leaders seek change in fight against terrorism at Nigerian summit   

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At a security summit in Nigeria, African leaders have called for a revamp of institutions that fight violent extremism on the continent.

The leaders also began to push to set up a standing military force and give the government more power over efforts to keep the peace.

Attacks on citizens and the military have been happening all the time in Africa, including in the Sahel, Somalia, and Mozambique, by groups with ties to Islamic State and al-Qaeda.

President Faure Gnassingbe of Togo said that coastal states like Togo were facing more threats, even though people were being attacked the most in the Sahel.

“I say this with prudence and regret, but I think the institutions that have been in place for several decades are no longer able to respond to the security situation that we face,” said Gnassingbe.

Moussa Faki, chairman of the African Union Commission, reported that between 2017 and 2021, there were four attacks and 18 deaths a day in Africa. Last year, there were eight attacks and 44 deaths a day.

The AU chief added that last year 7,000 citizens and 4,000 military members were killed stressing that the situation was being used in some countries as a reason for military coups. The Deputy Secretary-General of the UN, Amina Mohammed, said that half of all terrorist deaths happened in the Sahel.

Until a military coup in July that called for France to leave, Niger was the West’s last major ally in the central Sahel area south of the Sahara Desert. In July, France pulled out 1,500 troops from Niger.

Faki said that Africa needed more money to help stop the spread of terrorism. Bola Tinubu, the president of Nigeria, said that more needed to be done to stop the spread of small guns and weapons. He also called for the creation of a regional standby force whose job it would be to fight terrorism.

“I am mindful of the funding, legal and logistical complexities that face the proper establishment of such a force. Such a force can stand as a strong deterrent to large scale and protracted terrorist operations and the capture, occupation or disruption of strategic land and resources,” Tinubu said.

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Togo’s civil society, opposition plan mass protests following constitutional review

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Some of Togo’s opposition parties and civil society groups have called for mass protests again on Saturday following lawmakers’ approved changes to the country’s constitution a week ago.

The legislation is widely believed to enhance the continued stay of President Faure Gnassingbe in power after 19-year rule. The opposition group Dynamique Pour la Majorité du Peuple (DMP) and other signatories said in a statement that the changes to presidential term limits and how presidents are chosen were just a political move to let Gnassingbe stay in office forever.

“What happened at the National Assembly yesterday is a coup d’etat,” they said in the statement that reiterated calls for the population to mobilise against the changes.

“Large-scale action will be organised over the next few days to say ‘no’ to this constitution,” they said. In Friday’s vote, lawmakers unanimously approved an amended charter under which the president will no longer be elected by universal suffrage, but by members of parliament.

The amendments also set up a parliamentary system of government and cut presidential terms from five years to four years, with a maximum of two terms. Since the changes don’t consider time already spent in office, Gnassingbe could stay in power until 2033 if he is re-elected in 2025. This is very likely because his party controls the parliament in Togo, where his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, took power in a coup in 1967.

The most valuable company in Abu Dhabi has made an offer of more than $1 billion to buy a 51% stake in Vedanta Resources’ copper assets in Zambia, according to two people who know about the situation.

In the past few years, the Central African Republic, Rwanda, the Congo Republic, the Ivory Coast, and Guinea are just a few of the African countries that have changed their constitutions and other laws to allow leaders to serve longer terms.

In the last three years, there have been eight military coups in West and Central Africa as well. As they were during his father’s long rule, violent police crackdowns on political protests have been common in Togo under Gnassingbe, who was returned in a landslide in 2020 that the opposition says was rigged.

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