New Malawi president sacks army chiefs


New Malawian President Peter Mutharika sacked his army chief on Wednesday without giving any reason for dismissing a commander instrumental in ensuring a smooth transfer of power after the death of Mutharika’s brother in office in 2012.

A presidential statement said army chief General Henry Odillo and his deputy, Major-General John Msonthi, had been replaced with immediate effect. It gave no further details.

Odillo and Msonthi, both former diplomats, became embroiled in a constitutional crisis that blew up in April 2012 in the landlocked southern African nation after the sudden death of President Bingu wa Mutharika.

Bingu was dead on arrival at a Lilongwe hospital after suffering a massive heart attack but his body was mysteriously flown to South Africa. The government did not announce his death for two days, stating that he was in a coma.

The delay led to fears of a power struggle between Bingu’s brother and presumed successor Peter – then foreign minister – and Vice President Joyce Banda, who was constitutionally in line to take over but who had split from the ruling party.

Amid concerns as far away as Washington about a possible seizure of power, Banda quickly met Odillo, who responded by securing her residence with a detachment of crack troops and publicly declaring his support for her and the constitution.

Banda lost to Peter Mutharika in a chaotic May 20 election this year marred by logistical mess-ups and accusations of vote-rigging.

Malawi’s top military command have also been implicated in a corruption scandal, known locally as “Cashgate”, in which tens of millions of dollars in public funds went missing last year.

British audit firm Baker Tilly found that the defence force had spent more than $10 million without any supporting documents.

Malawi relies on aid to cover around 40 percent of its budget and the Cashgate scandal resulted in some Western donors suspending assistance programmes.