Inside Patemba’s rise to becoming Chakwera’s favourite


…decided on billions paid to Chakwera and Chilima

…promoted to High Court judge then diplomatic post in a year

Just three months after deciding on the amount of money that had to be paid to the lawyers of Malawi President Lazarus Chakwera and his vice Saulos Chilima in the election nullification case, former High Court registrar Agnes Patemba was appointed to be a High Court Judge of the Malawi Bench by Malawi President Lazarus Chakwera.

However, hardly 6 months after being appointed to the Bench, Patemba has yet found favour in Chakwera’s eyes after being appointed to Malawi’s diplomatic mission in the United Kingdom where she is expected to be the deputy High Commissioner.

Her recent appointment has sent tongues wagging. It is not however to the speed in her strides in rising through the ranks of power, it is due to the fact that the executive is encroaching into the judiciary which is yet another branch of government. Eyebrows nevertheless needed to be raised in the manner that Patemba has risen.

The genesis: billions to Chakwera and Chilima

In the aftermath of the Malawi Presidential election court case, Chakwera and Chilima asked that they be paid 9 billion Kwacha  (about $12 million) in taxpayers money as costs for hiring their lawyers to represent them in the case. It was an astronomical amount that generated so much debate with commentators wondering if the lawyers would have demanded the same amount had the two lost the case.

The amount was eventually challenged and in an arbitration that was presided over by the registrar of the High Court at the time, Agnes Patemba, it was brought down to just under 7 billion Kwacha (about $9 million) in August of 2020 in which Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC), technically government, was ordered to settle within a maximum of 45 days.

The amount of money that was paid to the legal team of the two was just slightly above money issued from the Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM) to fight the Covid pandemic in the whole country of over 18 million people.

A well-deserved promotion

In October 2020, Lazarus Chakwera in exercising his Constitutional powers appointed 12 High Court judges of which one was Agnes Patemba who had eventually settled for the K7 billion sum. Other judges were also promoted from the High Court bench to the Supreme Court bench including Healy Potani and Ivy Kamanga who had also presided over the Presidential elections case and had given him a favourable ruling that paved way for his rise to power.

All about Patemba was forgotten until this year when it emerged that Chakwera had given another blessing to Patemba: appointing her to a diplomatic post. Media reports earlier this month indicated that Justice Patemba was set to leave the judiciary and take up a post as deputy High Commissioner of Malawi in the United Kingdom.

Lazarus Chakwera Malawi President
Chakwera employing appeasement policy

Questions over rise

While a source privy to dealings within the judiciary said that it was not that Patemba showed favouritism in deciding on the amount, there has been questions with her rise through the ranks. A commentator who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that her rise is enough cause for worry.

“It is not just that she got promoted to High Court judge, it is that there is so much interest in appeasing her. This is a cause for concern. In less than a year, the President has had her in his sight for two important positions. In a country like ours, that is enough cause for worry,” said the commentator.

Chakwera’s leadership has been faulted recently for rewarding civil society leaders, journalists and other people who fought the DPP regime and helped him ascend to power.