PIONEER AFRICAN WOMEN IN LAW
Director General of Anti-Corruption Bureaus (ACB)
By Angela Agyeiwaa Darkwah
Martha Chizuma is not only a lawyer making waves and causing a sensation; first and foremost, she is a civil servant. Before being appointed as the new Anti-Corruption Bureaus (ACB) Director General, she fronted the transformation of the Office of the Ombudsman (Public Protector). She was only 36 years old when she took over the office – making her the youngest ombudsman in the whole of Africa at the time of her appointment in 2015. When her appointment as the first woman Director General of the ACB was confirmed, the news caused much traction as she was celebrated for being hardworking, industrious, and results-oriented – thus cementing her status as the people’s favourite. Insiders posited that she beat nine men to take up the ultimate role of Director General. She was also the director of the International Ombudsman Institute (IOI) responsible for the African region.
Chizuma was born in Nkula Falls, Malawi. She, however, describes herself as coming from the port town of Nkhotakota in central Malawi as both of her parents hail from there. She comes from a family of eleven where she is the tenth born. Chizuma attended the Nkula FB School and subsequently moved to Nambuma Girls’ Boarding School. Her stay at Nambuma Girls’ was cut short due to recurring illnesses and she moved to Zingwangwa Secondary School. Martha Chizuma proceeded to the Chancellor College in Zomba, Malawi, where she was a Bachelor of Arts student and later became a law student. She also holds a Master’s degree in International Economic Law from the University of East London. As a mathematics fanatic growing up, Martha wanted to be an accountant. However, after writing her final exam, she was permanently placed in the Arts which eventually led to her pursuit of the law.
After law school, Chizuma joined the Malawi Judiciary as the youngest and only woman Senior Resident Magistrate in Malawi's Northern region. Additionally, she was one of the very few working magistrates in the area. She has expressed that those foundational years were her best working years. In the early 2000s, when the Chief Resident Magistrate moved to the UK to pursue a master’s degree, Martha was left as the only presiding judge in the Mzuzu region. Later in her life, she worked as an Assistant Registrar of the High Court and a Deputy Chairperson of the Industrial Relations Court in Malawi. After working in the government sector for ten years, she took a giant leap of faith in her career by moving to the private sector to challenge herself and her abilities. She worked as the legal counsel for Limble Leaf Tobacco Company for four years and worked on a contract basis for other stakeholders while doubling as a litigant.
By virtue of being an ombudsman, she had the opportunity to assume other roles. She has served as a commissioner at the Human Rights Commission, a police service commissioner, and a member of the Prisoner Inspectorate. As an ombudsman, Chizuma grappled with the bull horns by taking up cases involving high corruption and public coffers looting cases that her predecessors deliberately swerved. The office, under her administration, managed to lead necessary investigations and public inquiries. Among her notable cases include ordering senior officers of the Office of the President to render a public apology as a result of a mass misuse of the public purse.
Martha Chizuma’s personal philosophy is that her reason for not becoming an accountant was to become a lawyer so that she could use the law for the greater good.