Malawi has recently welcomed various senior officials from the donor world. In Malawi, a lot has been said about these visits. How do people outside Malawi look at this and other serious issues in the country?ALBERT SHARRA talks to Pan African Newswire editor Abayomi Azikiwe, who has been following with keen interest issues in Malawi on his view on these frequent visits to Malawi by top officials from the Africa’s main donor offices.
Q: Over the past year, Malawi has received many senior officials from the donor world. What do others make of these visits?
A: In all likelihood, it is an effort to bring the Malawian Government back into the fold of western economic and political influence. Under the former president, the late Bingu wa Mutharika, the government was under attack because the administration refused to go along with many of the mandates required by Britain, the former colonial power, and other western States.
We saw an excellent example of these efforts on the part of President Joyce Banda when she refused to host the African Union meeting last year, stating that the President of Sudan, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, was under indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC), based in The Netherlands, and therefore, was not welcome in Malawi for the gathering of the continental organisation which rejects these indictments and whose protocols call for all representatives of member-States to attend its conferences. This was a blow to the African Union and the unity, sovereignty and right to self-determination for the member-States.
Q: What should Malawi expect out of these international visits in future?
A: I believe these visits will result in further dictates from the western nations and financial institutions. If they can determine who can visit Malawi in the first instance, these institutions and governments will continue to press for further influence within the government and its domestic as well as foreign policy.
Q: President Joyce Banda’s government has bowed down to a number of demands from donors to win back the lost aid. Commentators have described this as a mistake and say donors are running Malawi. What is your take on this?
A: I cannot say whether they are running Malawi. However, the Government in Malawi at some point has to make it clear to the United States, the UK and people of Malawi that must remain paramount in all dealings with these foreign States and interests. Otherwise, there will be no limits on what these governments will require and demand of the Malawian State.
Q: Is it possible for a poor country like Malawi to have good relations with donors and not bow to their demands?
A: It is the system of neo-colonialism where the former colonial powers and imperialist States, through their economic and military prowess, place conditionalities on all matters related to political relations and even the domestic policies within the developing countries.
There are over 50 years of historical experience in Africa and other regions of the world which confirm this phenomenon. The western States have required the imposition of austerity measures on the developing countries resulting in drastic cuts in social services, educational spending and national development projects.
This is done through the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and other financial institutions. If these measures do not work to the satisfaction of the West, then they can use diplomatic isolation, sanctions and even indirect or direct military force as what took place in Cote d’ Ivoire and Libya during 2011.
The sanctions imposed on Malawi during the previous administration created a grave economic and political crisis inside the country.
The devaluation of the national currency and shortages inside the country sparked mass demonstrations and even violence in the streets. I am sure that President Banda wants to avoid these difficulties that were largely precipitated by the West.
Q: One of the critical issues regarding the Malawi/donor relationship is same sex marriages. The donor world has been asking Malawi to repeal laws that criminalise same sex marriages. From your point of view, what is the continent’s stand on this issue and what do you think should happen in Malawi?
A: This depends on what countries are involved. In South Africa, the government has gone further than any other State on the continent in guaranteeing full rights of people within the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgender (LGBT) communities. They have legalised same-sex marriages as well, although this does not mean that violence is not used against people within these communities.
There are still acts of discrimination and violence carried out against the LGBT community based upon fear, hatred, bias and bigotry.
These are issues that should be decided by the African people and governments themselves independent of western influence. Some of the anti-LGBT legislation in countries such as Uganda may be influenced by international religious institutions which have ties with local churches within various African States.
The western States should not make this a condition of them granting loans and aid to the various African States. This would be not only imperialistic, but also hypocritical because there is still a tremendous amount of discrimination against the LGBT communities in the US. For example, federal civil rights laws do not necessarily apply to these communities.
There have been changes in some State laws legalising same-sex marriages, and the military ostensibly now is not allowed to discriminate against these communities. However, in the recent period, there are states such as Michigan, where legislators have rolled by the rights of same-sex couples involving healthcare coverage and other benefits covered in employment contracts.
Q: Malawi has its first female president in power, are there any advantages to the success of the country?
A: Many people in Africa and around the world want the presidency of Joyce Banda to succeed. Nevertheless, there has to be a process of inclusiveness which brings in all sections of the body politic. There must be a strong emphasis on the inherent right of self-determination and national sovereignty. Malawi’s relationship with the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) must be maintained and enhanced.
Q: Finally, what is the picture that non-Malawians such as you have of Malawi now?
A: In the US, there is not a lot of information in the mainstream media about the situation in Malawi. However, the US administration is very concerned about events in Malawi. They want to maintain the country as a political ally in the southern Africa region. The Pan-African News Wire has covered events in Malawi consistently over the last few years. The unrest during 2011 was followed intently. We also welcomed the ascendancy of President Joyce Banda because we believe that women should have greater political influence in Africa. In fact, this is a major source of concern for the African Union. There are goals set where eventually women will represent at least 50 percent of members within legislative structures and administrative positions. Nonetheless, it is important that all African politicians and States fight to maintain their genuine independence from undue western influence. This is the only way Africa can develop to the benefit of its people and societal institutions.