In a break with tradition, the prize was given personally to the winners in Malawi rather than in central London, the first time ever it has been presented outside the UK.
Dr Alex Vines OBE, director of the Chatham House Africa Programme, said he was delighted to be able to finally make the official award in recognition of the constitutional judges’ ‘courage and independence in the defence of democracy’ demonstrated in their historic February 2020 ruling to annul the May 2019 presidential election.
The prize was presented in Lilongwe and the master of ceremonies for the event was Her Honour Gladys Gondwe, Registrar of the Supreme Court and High Court of Malawi.
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 Dingiswayo Madise, Justice Michael Tembo, and Justice Professor Redson Kapindu – who arrived in court under armed escort and wearing bulletproof vests – delivered their 500-page ruling which upheld the constitution and defended citizens’ democratic rights in the most difficult circumstances.
The judges successfully asserted their independence in the face of significant pressures and the power of incumbency.
‘In dealing with the case we were guided and inspired by our oath of office and the supremacy of our constitution. We believe that our decision will consolidate the country’s democracy.’
Dr Robin Niblett, director and chief executive of Chatham House, says: ‘This award recognises what is a historic moment for democratic governance in both Malawi and Africa. The ruling by Malawi’s constitutional court judges is not only crucial for maintaining the confidence of Malawi’s citizens in their institutions as it continues its democratic journey, but also for upholding standards of democracy more widely across the African continent.
The Chatham House Prize is voted for by Chatham House members, following nominations from the institute’s staff. It launched in 2005 and previous recipients include the Committee to Protect Journalists, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos, Ghana president John Kufuor, Mozambique president Joaquim Chissano, Médecins Sans Frontières, and Melinda Gates, co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.