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Long search for compensation



A former Malawi Army soldier who was charged with treason but got acquitted by the courts wonders how wheels of justice sometimes roll. As THOMAS KACHERE explores, no one seems concerned about the welfare of the ex-soldier, who is now suffering from stroke.

By 1996, Andex Chibwana of Fundi Village, Traditional Authority Nkagula, in Zomba had served in the then-Malawi Army for 17 years.

However, his dream of becoming a successful soldier got smashed to smithereens following his arrest on a treason charge.

Today, he is struggling with the stroke that has chained him to his house for years. He is still pushing for his compensation and fears he might never get it in his lifetime.

Details of his case are that an influential army officer Lieutenant Colonel James Njoloma was arrested for allegedly planning a violent rebellion in 1996 after he absconded from the barracks without authorisation.

A national manhunt by the police and army failed to flush out the officer and a small group of soldiers. He was only arrested after he finally handed himself in back at his barracks, where he was promptly court-marshalled on rebellion charges and imprisoned. He died in incarceration in 1999.

Chibwana was among soldiers who were arrested for allegedly being part of Njoloma’s plot. He was court-marshalled after spending some months at Nathenje Police Station but the judge found him with no case to answer.

He got released but dismissed from the army.

Sitting on a wooden chair in front of his house, Chibwana says his dismissal was the beginning of problems which have haunted his life to this day.

“I was not given any money as gratuity despite serving the Malawi Army for 17 years. In his judgement, High Court Judge Isaac Mtambo ruled that there was no evidence that I was involved in the plot.

“I was acquitted but dismissed on allegations that I was found with anonymous letters. I have been struggling with life together with my family of five,” he says.

The 61-year-old further states that his children failed to access quality education because of the poverty that engulfed his family after his dismissal.

He claims that he took the matter to the Ombudsman and the Legal Aid Bureau but never got any assistance.

His wife Margaret also states that taking care of the family is a difficult task as her husband no longer engages in money-making activities due to the stroke.

When we presented Chibwana’s case to him, spokesperson of the Malawi Defence Force (MDF)— formerly Malawi Army— Paul Chiphwanya said he could not comment on the issue because it happened a long time ago.

A former MDF soldier who did not want to be named said if the victim was not found guilty of the charges levelled against him, he could claim compensation for unfair dismissal.

“The compensation will depend on the number of years one has served and the years remaining to his retirement age,” the ex-soldier says.

A former lawyer at the Legal Aid Bureau—who was there when Chibwana allegedly presented his case—said he could not personally comment on the matter as he handed files over to other officers.

We did not manage to get a comment from those who took over the case to appreciate the progress they made and how they could respond to allegations that they frustrated Chibwana’s claims.

However, Human Rights Consultative Committee Chairperson Robert Mkwezalamba is of the view that Chibwana’s issue should be looked into again.

“If what is being said is true, then it is very unfortunate. We need to reform dealings within MDF because it is an organ of the government. It must be subject to public scrutiny. I am saying this in the context that the matter might not have been decisively dealt with due to the nature of the institution,” Mkwezalamba said.

He further said Chibwana’s case borders on human rights and that the fact that he was acquitted should have proved that there was supposed to be nothing to be held against him.

“It is the responsibility of the human resources department within the military to follow up on all cases of this nature and determinations that have been made against former employees.

“The former soldier is now suffering from stroke. It is therefore important that the compensating office swiftly prepares his dues,” Mkwezalamba says.

In the meantime, Chibwana, who looks elderly and frail, hopes that, after numerous fruitless knocks on doors of various offices, someone will do something to ease his suffering.

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