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Malawi's War Hero Receives Highest UN Award

Private Chancy Chitete from Malawi died while saving the life of another peacekeeper from Tanzania during a mission in the DRC. Pic: UN

The United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has awarded the “Captain Mbaye Diagne Medal for Exceptional Courage” to fallen Malawi Defense Force war hero, Private Chancy Chitete. Chitete was one of nearly 100 peacekeepers who lost their lives in the line of duty in 2018.

The medal, described as the highest UN peacekeeping award, was conferred to Chitete’s family during the International Day of UN Peacekeepers commemorations at the UN Headquarters in New York last week.

This day, observed annually on May 29, is a tribute to the peacekeeping personnel’s contribution to the organisation’s work. It is also a day for the organisation to honour those members who were killed while serving under the UN flag - more than 3 800 peacekeepers since 1948. Last year 98 of the so-called ‘blue helmets’ lost their lives in conflict.

Last November, Tanzanian and Malawian peacekeepers serving with the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) were conducting “Operation Usalama” in the eastern part of the country, where an armed group had been terrorizing civilians and disrupting critical Ebola interventions.

It was during this operation that the peacekeepers came under enemy fire and Tanzanian peacekeeper Corporal Ali Khamis Omary was badly wounded. Malawian Chitete risked his life to save Omary, who was unable to move to take cover from enemy fire.

Speaking to UN News, Omary says Chitete is the reason he is alive today. “There was heavy fighting...I was shot in the leg. Thankfully for me, I was near Private Chitete and he tied my leg with a bandage,” he was quoted saying.

According to reports from the battlefront, Chitete was fatally wounded as he administered life-saving first aid treatment to the injured soldier.

Omary survived and, according to the UN, Chitete’s heroism and sacrifice helped dislodge the rebel group and disrupt their reign of terror, allowing the organisation to continue work on the Ebola interventions. “He personally made a difference, a profound one,” said UN chief António Guterres at the special award ceremony last week.

The Diagne Medal, which was established in 2014 “to recognize uniformed and civilian personnel who demonstrate exceptional courage", is named after the late Captain Mbaye Diagne who saved hundreds of lives in 1994 before he was killed while serving as a UN peacekeeper in Rwanda.

The inaugural medal was presented to Captain Diagne’s family in his honour in 2016, and has not been awarded since then. This, according to the UN, despite ‘a number of remarkable nominations over the past four years’. This year’s award to Chitite marks the first time that the actions of a UN peacekeeper have been found to meet the standard set by Diagne in 1994.

“The remarkable actions of Private Chitete helped protect many lives, both civilian and military,” said UN Under-Secretary-General Jean-Pierre Lacroix. “His sacrifice underscores the dangers our peacekeepers face every day while executing their vital protection tasks in some of the world’s most challenging environments.”

Lacroix described the private as an inspiration and said the UN was proud to be able to honour his memory and commemorate his ‘brave and selfless’ action.

Malawian Peacekeepers in action in the DRC. Photo: Mallick Mnela

Omary told UN News that he is now more convinced than ever about the importance of the work that is being done, and that he would not be deterred from playing his role to help keep others safe.

Spokesperson for the Malawian Defense Force, Paul Chiphwanya, confirmed that Chitete’s medal would be conferred to his widow and child, who attended the ceremony in New York last week.

The MDF will also honour six other Malawian soldiers killed in battle in the DRC last year with the Medal of Bravery.

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