Accepted paper:

Grand corruption and law enforcement in Malawi: Questions of accountability and morality


Gerhard Anders (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines the political, legal and moral debates surrounding a number of recent grand corruption scandals in Malawi that have provoked an unprecedented law enforcement response with a hundred arrests and more than a dozen convictions in a series of criminal trials.

Paper long abstract:

Since 2013, Malawi has been rocked by a series of corruption scandals involving senior officials and politicians that entailed the theft of tens of millions of pounds. These scandals have triggered an unprecedented law enforcement effort that resulted in a hundred arrests and more than a dozen convictions. Several criminal trials and investigations are still ongoing. My paper examines the dynamics of the law enforcement efforts and situates them in the wider context of Malawi's socio-political topography focusing on debates about moral decadence and the state's legitimacy crisis. The corruption scandals including Cashgate and Maizegate throw into sharp relief the challenges faced by prosecutors to hold accountable corrupt officials and politicians. These scandals have triggered intense moral debates in a society characterized by extreme inequality and deeply entrenched poverty. Particularly revealing are the attitudes of Malawi's educated elite that is in control of the state apparatus. My ethnographic evidence suggests that the prosecutions and convictions fuel moral debates among government officials and society at large. At a more practical socio-political level they reflect a broader struggle between forces that strive to strengthen the state's legitimacy and factions undermining it. One of the important questions is how the upcoming elections in May 2019 will influence these debates and struggles. The far-reaching influence of foreign donor agencies adds to the complexity.

panel Anth16
Contesting legitimacy in Africa: accountability, transparency and responsibility