When Pres Joyce Banda addressed Malawians in the United States on Saturday, she attempted to bring them up to speed on a number of developments in their home country, writes Patrick Mwanza
Tanzania can’t fool Malawi because Malawi has Tanzania’s number.
The sabre rattling coming out of Tanzania over the Lake Malawi border dispute shouldn’t worry Malawians, according to Pres Banda’s counterpart, Jakaya Kitwete.
When the two leaders met in Mozambique recently at a Southern African Development Community summit, Kikwete, who blamed some irresponsible people for the careless war talk, said:
“Let me assure citizens from both countries that we are not going to war.”
That was music to Pres Banda's ears.
“I hope that this issue will be solved diplomatically through dialogue for war is not a solution,” Banda said.
The Malawi leader, who is in the Unites States to attend the 67th United Nations Summit, drove home the same point Saturday, saying Malawi wants the issue resolved peacefully.
But the problem, she said, was that Tanzania doesn’t want international arbitration.
Whichever route Tanzania decides to take, Malawi will not be intimidated, Banda said.
After five days of talks last month between the two neighbours, they agreed to disagree.
“Each side has a serious case,” said Tanzanian foreign minister Bernard Membe. “If you think that the other side has no serious case, that is self deception.”
He added: “There's no quick fix to a negotiated settlement.”
Malawi has maintained the position that it owns the entire lake as stipulated in the 1890 Heligoland Treaty signed between two colonial rulers Great Britain and Germany which defined the border as the edge of the waters of the eastern shore of Lake Malawi.
Tanzania, referencing common international law, says the border is along the middle of the lake.
The dispute bubbled to the surface after Malawi granted an oil-exploration licence to British firm Surestream Petroleum which has been conducting an environmental impact assessment.
Pres Banda was also asked about devaluation of the currency at the behest of global lender International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Soon after assuming power following the death of Pres Bingu wa Mutharika in April, Banda reversed some of his disputed policies and her government allowed the local currency, the Kwacha, to lose its value by 49 percent.
The effects have been devastating as prices of commodities have shot through the roof and there’s been no shortage of labour unrest as workers have demanded pay raises to cope with the high cost of living.
Mutharika had vowed not to devalue the currency, arguing the move would hurt the poor.
Banda agrees that life, especially of ordinary Malawians, is tough. But she pushed back against the notion that there was something her government could have done to absorb the punishing shocks of the kwacha losing about half its value.
She said if her predecessor had done it – in phases - when experts had first recommended, Malawians would have been spared much of the suffering.
It’s a necessary evil, she pointed out.
Pres Banda also dismissed reports that donors were bailing on the country, citing the German government as one country that was willing to work with Malawi.
Don’t believe everything that’s reported and passed off as news, she said and named one online publication as responsible for propagating the falsehood.
Before Mutharika died, Malawi’s diplomatic relations with Britain, the southern African country’s largest bilateral aid giver, soured. This was after British envoy had described Mutharika as autocratic in a leaked cable meant only for the eyes of his superiors in London.
His feelings hurt, Mutharika ordered the expulsion of Fergus Cochrane-Dyet and Britain retaliated by throwing out Lilongwe's representative to London. The former colonial ruler had, in vain, warned Malawi against any action and it made good on its threat by cutting off budget support to the country. Donors used to provide up to 40 percent of Malawi’s development budget.
But presidents don’t work alone. They have advisors and Mutharika wasn't an exception. These advisers were there when he refused to listen to the IMF and during the time he burned Malawi's bridges. Some of the advisers are still serving the Banda administration in key roles.
Responding, Pres Banda said most of them had no choice but to tell Mutharika what he wanted to hear and not what he needed to hear.
Blame it on the political climate that existed then, she said.
Any guarantees that they will not do the same to her and damage the fragile government?
Your guess is as good as this correspondent’s.
(c) The Maravi Post 2012. Reproduction without acknowledgement prohibited.