Malawi deportations that boomerang, case for dual citizenship

It is Kafkaesque! Recently the Malawi Government explained it was ‘reversing’ its deportations of former British High Commissioner Fergus Cochrane-Dyet, and that of new Zambian President Michael Sata. Sata was deported in 2007, before he became President of Zambia, when he entered Malawi to visit ex-President Bakili Muluzi. Government does not explain why it removed him, but it is instructive to note that Bakili Muluzi, whom Sata was aiming to visit, is not in the new Malawi leadership’s good political books.

In the case of former British High Commissioner Cochrane-Dyet, government explains it didn’t deport him; that it only wanted him replaced. Government’s explanations amount to an admission that Dyet was only doing precisely his job of explaining to the British Government the prevailing political situation in Malawi as he saw it. Unfortunately, the contents of his confidential cable to Her Majesty’s Foreign Office in London were exposed by Wikileaks. The Malawi Government was not amused by his assesment of President Bingu wa Mutharika whom Dyet had described as intolerant of criticism and autocratic.

Mutharika has stated in a recent BBC Network Africa program that by reversing Dyet’s and Sata’s deportations his government was not apologising to Britain nor to Zambia since nobody did anything wrong. I am either too thick to follow this reasoning or it’s amateur hour on Capital Hill. The schtickwould be entertaining if the negative effects on the people of Malawi weren’t so serious and lingering.

Jumani: Kamuzu's 'son' deported from his birth country Malawi

Deporting Michael ‘King Cobra’ Sata of Zambia and the consequences

Malawi shares a long physical border with Zambia. Friendly trade, cultural and linguistic ties between the two nations are deeply historical. Zambians and Malawians are practically the same people living in neighbouring countries. Both countries belonged in the Central African Federation (1953 to 1963) and, in modern times, to both the regional Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) whose objectives include further economic and cultural integration among member states. Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika himself spent a significant portion of his formative professional years in Lusaka, Zambia.

On arrival in Malawi in 2007, ‘Cobra’ Sata was detained for long hours in a dank police station, later bundled into a spartan Black Maria of the Malawi police Force, driven hundreds of kilometers to the Zambian border and dumped there like a sack of potatoes to find his own way home to Lusaka, hundreds more kilometers away. He had been declared a prohibited immigrant to Malawi without explanation.That is the man who has this year risen to the highest political office in Zambia. To suddenly expect his forbearance towards the Malawi Government while it has not changed decision makers is, perhaps, asking a little too much especially when the Malawi leadership insists it did absolutely nothing wrong and will not, repeat N-O-T, apologise.

Responding to all this, President Sata has boycotted the recent COMESA summit hosted in Lilongwe, Malawi, and has invited Malawi’s opposition leaders to Zambia’s independence anniversary celebrations of this year, but not Malawi Government leaders, especially not those from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of President Mutharika.

Immediately before that, he had approved a broadcast licence to Joy-TV of Malawi, owned by the Muluzi family. Joy-TV, denied a broadcast licence by the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) for Kafkaesque reasons, will thus now beam programming into Malawi via satellite from the Zambian border town of Chipata where Sata was dumped by a Malawi Police Black Maria in 2007.

And according to an online publication, Zambia Watchdog, Malawi has been forced to move its High Commission out of Zambian owned premises in Tanzania after Zambia hiked rent. The diplomatic missions of the two countries shared an office block and Malawi was paying rent to Zambia. A few weeks ago, Zambia raised the rent by more than 200 per cent, forcing Malawi to move out, the publication said. Malawi’s Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Patrick Kabambe, was reported to have confirmed the development saying the rent increase left Malawi with no other choice but to move out of the building.

Clearly, unless the Malawi Government makes serious efforts to mend fences with President Michael ‘Cobra’ Sata, Malawi might be heading for a long period of turbulence in its relationship with Zambia as long as the cobra is in charge of affairs in that country and the Mutharika Brothers are in Malawi.

Malawians should be well advised to fasten their seatbelts. More so if President Mutharika is succeeded, as is planned by the  DPP, by his younger brother Arthur-Peter. Assuming Arthur-Peter wins the Malawi presidency in 2014, Sata’s attitude towards those in authority at the very top in Malawi will not change just because the first name of the new President is Arthur-Peter instead of Bingu. It can’t have escaped Sata’s notice that Arthur-Peter has himself been at the highest decision making levels of the Malawi Government since his older brother, Bingu, became head of the Malawi state. Arthur-Peter has been, virtually, co-President of Malawi alongside Bingu and Sata would be more than justified to believe the involvement of Arthur-Peter’s hand in his deportation of 2007.

Jettisoning the British High Commissione and its consequences

Malawi’s senior citizens, those who measure their ages in generations rather than years, often say a baby tests the sharpmess of its teeth first by biting the breast of his mother who feeds him. But they add that a normal child quickly grows out of that phase, learning the folly of, to change metaphors, biting the hand that feeds one. Great Britain gave birth to the nation of Malawi, first establishing a Shire Highlands Protectorate in modern-day Southern Malawi in 1889, then extending the protectorate to the Nyasaland Districts west of Lake Nyasa  (now Lake Malawi) in 1891. They rechristened the combined territory a full British Central Africa Protectorate (BCA) 1893, later calling it Nyasaland Protectorate in 1907. Nyasaland gained independence from Britain as Malawi in 1964, perhaps its appropriate breast-biting moment, a necessary rite of passage to a more mature age.

Britain, nevertheless, remained one of Malawi’s main economic partners and, for most of the post-independence years, Malawi’s principal bilateral aid donor. It’s aid included, until the expulsion of the British High Commissioner this year, significant contributions to the general operating budget apart from specific aid projects around the country through government and non-government organizations (NGOs). Britain’s aid fingerprints are all over the health, education and infrastructure development sectors of the economy.

However, since the expulsion of Cochrane-Dyet, Britain has suspended all direct budgetary support although it maintains financing of specific programs and NGO-channelled aid. Malawi, now undergoing severe economic problems unable, for example, to import adequate fuel to oil the economy is reeling. It’s not as if the Malawi Government wasn’t warned of the consequences of expelling the British High Commissioner. Going by newspaper columns, editorials and commentry on private radio, there was unanimity of opinion in the country against expelling the British High Commissioner for the reasons given. The obdurate Mutharika brothers nevertheless proceeded in their determination and bit the hand (or breast, take your pick) that nourished the Malawi economy.

Britain, moreover, is one of the world’s most influential diplomatic powers. The British voice is not taken lightly in the United Nations (Britain is a permanent member of the Security Council), or at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) where Malawi is actively seeking sympathy and emmergency economic bailouts. The IMF is refusing to endorse the current Malawi Government budget, prompting other bilateral donors to suspend budgetary support, citing precisely the issues which the British High Commissioner was reporting to the British Government in those leaked Wikileaks cables. Those cables cited the poor state of governance and excessive financial mismanagement in Malawi Government structures.

Unless the Malawi Government quickly makes amends with Britain, Malawi will continue to encount  flotsam and jetsam from its adolescent decision to jettison the British High Commissioner. The Malawi Government has recently sent its foreign minister, the President’s brother Arthur-Peter Mutharika, to London to try to normalise diplomatic relations and gain a resumption of aid. The erstwhile cocky challenger is now asking for aid yet refusing to apologise for its temerity – quite the spectacle! Good luck dealing with Her Majesty’s Government with that attitude.

Expulsion of Foreign Tobacco Buyers and its Consequences

On Tuesday September 8th 2009, the Malawi Government announced the deportation of four foreigners working for three companies that traditionally bought Malawian tobacco. They were accused of buying it at low prices that year and the year before. The four included chief executive officers for Limbe Leaf and Alliance One, Kelvin Stainton and Collin Armstrong respectively. The other two were Van der Merwe of Limbe Leaf and Alex Mackay of Premium TAMA.

“The four people have been issued with deportation orders because they have been working against the government development agenda. Their Temporary Employment Permits have since been revoked,” said Elvis Thodi, Malawi’s Chief Immigration Officer. He didn’t reveal the government agenda that had been contravened by the four expatriates.

It is now established that tobacco prices on the Malawi Auction Floors have bottomed out since then. Indeed, the government now blames the country’s current devastating economic woes, such as lack of fuel at the pumps, partly on the fact that Malawi’s top export, tobacco, is fetching record low prices. But the deportations were two years ago! In fact, some reports suggest that the same quality of tobacco is being bought at better prices in neighbouring Zambia and Mozambique where no buyers were ever deported for such market reasons.

Deporting Jumani Masauko Kamuzu Banda

A man claiming to be the son of Malawi’s founding President Hastings Kamuzu Banda, Jumani Masauko Kamuzu Banda, was deported from Malawi to Sweden on Wednesday September 27th, 2011. The explanation by Malawi’s Immigration authorities was that he had overstayed his Malawian visa. Jumani Banda lives in Sweden. The Immigration authorities neglected to mention that Jumani had earlier been arrested allegedly for insulting current Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika at the latter’s private residence in Lilongwe’s Area 3. Jumani’s lawyer says Jumani held a Malawian passport. And as much as there may be controversy about his biological father, no one disputes the fact that Jumani was born in Malawi to Malawian parents. That he holds a Malawian passport makes the case for deporting him even weaker still. Indeed Jumani was starting a political career in Malawi against the current regime, hence his troubles with the Mutharika brothers. In effect, therefore, Malawi deported a Malawian citizen. You tell me, what is wrong with this picture?

Instead of taking the draconian step of deportation, this was an opportunity for President Mutharika and his brother Arthur-Peter to initiate debate on dual citizenship, especially considering that the President and his brother themselves equally spent uninterrupted decades of their own lives abroad. Some even claim they hold foreign citizenships and passports. Yet no one seriously questions their Malawian citizenship nor would there be any serious thought of deporting them to Zambia or the United States. Their own uninterrupted decades-long stay in those countries should make them understand and appreciate the benefits, to Malawi and the Malawian diaspora, of dual citizenship. And yet here they are, deporting a fellow Malawian; a man who has a Malawian passport, whom nobody disputes was born in Malawi to Malawian parents!

The Child Who Learned to Whistle

Malawi’s senior citizens, those who measure their ages in generations rather than years, say a child who has just learned to whistle can be a nuissance; whistling even late at night when it is supposed to be sleeping, and thus also disturbing others. When one looks at the way the Murtharika regime has used the deportation option in recent years, one could be forgiven to believe that it has just discovered the option and is practicing to use it thus using it even at inappropriate opportunities. Malawi’s new troubles with Zambia come fast on the heels of her needless antagonization of Mozambique, another neighbouring country, on the Nsanje Inland Port dispute of recent vintage. Of the three countries whose territories abut Malawi, therefore, only Tanzania has not been publicly angered recently by any abrasive gestures of Malawi’s Mutharika government.

Malawi is endowed with the capacity and spirit to reverse the growing view of  her as the Chindere Chakufikapo (pariah state) of the region. A new, more responsible, government in Malawi can easily and quickly pull itself out of the diplomatic and economic quagmire it has dug itself into in recent months while also repairing her relations with her neighbours. Good neighbourliness and sensible diplomacy with our historically closest overseas ally Great Britain  rather than impetuous deportations – are prerequisites for Malawi’s diplomatic and economic good health. As is a peaceful, constitutional, democratic change of government.  Pretty please.

*Ambuje Che Tom likambale is a Malawian writer based in Canada.

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