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Malawi’s Ex-President Under Investigation in Albino Man’s Murder

FILE: Malawi former President Peter Mutharika addresses the media at a news conference in Blantyre, June 27, 2020.
FILE: Malawi former President Peter Mutharika addresses the media at a news conference in Blantyre, June 27, 2020.

BLANTYRE, MALAWI — Malawi's government has ordered police to investigate former president Peter Mutharika and an aide in connection with the 2018 murder of a 24-year-old albino man.

Days earlier, Malawi's high court sentenced 12 people, including a Catholic priest and a police officer, for taking part in the murder. Some of those convicted named the former president as an accomplice, which Mutharika dismissed as a ploy to tarnish his image.

The director of public prosecutions, Steve Kayuni, said the order was in response to a court judgment questioning why no investigations were undertaken to substantiate the alleged involvement of former president Peter Mutharika and his former aide, Hetherwick Ntaba, in the murder of MacDonald Masambuka, an albino.

Kayuni said Mutharika and Ntaba could be charged with causing one to harm a person with a disability, extraction of human tissue and transacting in human tissue.

During trial, a former police officer, Chikondi Chileka, and another man, Alfred Yohane, had, on several occasions, alleged that Mutharika and his aide were behind the plot to kill Masambuka.

Their testimony forced Presiding High Court Judge Zione Ntaba to recuse herself from the case in May 2019. Former presidential aide Hetherwick Ntaba is her paternal uncle.

Ntaba, a former chairperson of the National Task Force on Persons with Albinism, told VOA Thursday the findings of the inquiry, which the government began in 2019, failed to prove the allegations.

“There is a president’s commission of inquiry instituted at the same time, to look at these allegations and other issues about killings of people with albinism. They came out with their findings, they did not confirm these allegations,” Ntaba said. “In any case, the current DPP [director of public prosecutions] is aware that there is such a commission of inquiry report. He should look at it too. He should know what the report is saying.”

Ntaba said he has long been willing to challenge the allegations in court.

“As soon as I heard my name and the former president’s name in court, I went to him [director of public prosecutions] in response to the accusations by these people that he is talking about now,” Ntaba said. “I said, ‘I want to come to court and respond to these,’ and his answer was, ‘Don’t worry, there is no evidence.’”

In a statement Wednesday, former president Mutharika also rejected the allegations as false, malicious and evil propaganda aimed at tarnishing his image.

Mutharika asked the government to make public the findings of the Commission of Inquiry he instituted in 2019 to investigate causes of attacks on people with albinism dating to 2014.

Human rights advocate Michael Kayiyatsa said it’s wrong for Mutharika to dismiss the allegations as political propaganda.
“These allegations were raised by convicts in court,” Kayiyatsa said.

“The best Mutharika can do is to let the judicial process run its course in this matter rather than dismissing allegations against them as mere propaganda. Because of the serious nature of these allegations, Mutharika should let the judicial process do its work.”

Young Muhamba, president of the Association of People with Albinism in Malawi, said investigations into all those mentioned in Masambuka’s death would help uncover the market of albino bones, which remains unknown.

“It is important that all aspects of that particular case should be looked into,” Muhamba said. “All those people who were suspected to be involved should be thoroughly investigated so that the process of uncovering the market should be in a positive way.”

Masambuka disappeared from his village on March 9, 2018.
Less than a month later, his limbless body was found buried in the garden at a home where one of the assailants lived, in the Machinga district in the south of Malawi.

The former police officer, Chikondi Chileka, along with Alfred Yohane, were among 12 people imprisoned in connection with the Masambuka’s death. Chileka was given a 30-year prison sentence, while Yohane received a life term.

Others include a medical practitioner and an herbalist.