MALAWI: DONORS DO RARE TOUR D'HORIZON WITH PRESIDENT MUTHARIKA

2010 Jan 19: SUBJECT: MALAWI:  DONORS DO RARE TOUR D’HORIZON WITH  PRESIDENT MUTHARIKA   REF: A. 09 LILONGWE 696      B. LILONGWE 29      C. 09 LILONGWE 650      D. 09 LILONGWE 690      E. 09 LILONGWE 478   LILONGWE 00000037  001.2 OF 003    Classified By: DCM Kevin K. Sullivan for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

(C) SUMMARY:  President Mutharika hosted selected  diplomats for a rare, wide-ranging discussion at State House  January 18.  Nine members of his cabinet, representing his  nine developmental priorities, accompanied him.  Among other  things, the President and his ministers defended the ruling  party’s involvement in electing the Leader of the Opposition  in Parliament, as well as Malawi’s existing legislation  pertaining to homosexuality.  The President also expressed  unwillingness to “devalue” the Kwacha, and frustration that  many bilateral donors condition their assistance on Malawi’s  acceptance of an IMF program.  On the positive side,  Mutharika made unequivocal commitments to holding local  elections later this year, and to stepping down from the  presidency as scheduled in 2014.  He also promised to brief  diplomats on his AU agenda after the upcoming leaders summit  in Addis, and to meet more regularly with donors in the  future.  End Summary.

(SBU) In response to a request from representatives of  donor country heads of mission (including the U.S.),  President Bingu wa Mutharika hosted a two-hour discussion at  State House with selected heads of mission January 18.  In  addition to the U.S., other countries represented included  Germany, Ireland, the U.K. and Japan.  Nine cabinet members  accompanied the President, including the ministers of foreign  affairs, finance, education, health, transport, local  government, energy, and youth and sports, and the Chief  Secretary of the Cabinet.

(SBU) The President greeted the heads of mission warmly  and said that he would like to begin meeting with them more  regularly.  The German Ambassador, on behalf of the donor  group, thanked the President for the opportunity to speak  directly with him.  He underscored that donor reps would  benefit from more direct access to his thinking, and that the  President might also benefit from a clearer understanding of  perceptions in donor country capitals concerning developments  in Malawi. The German emphasized that donors saw themselves  as friends of Malawi who recognized and respected the  progress the country had made over the last five years.

———– ———— DEMOCRACY: TOUGH ON OPPOSITION; COMMITTED TO CONSTITUTION ——————- ————

(C) According to a pre-agreed script, if fell to the Irish  Ambassador to raise democracy and governance issues.  He  began by welcoming the greater political stability and  legislative productivity that the ruling party’s victory in  May 2009 had ushered in.  The Irish rep recalled the  President’s commitment not to abuse the new power that the  election had given him and his Democratic Progressive Party  (DPP).  In this context, he expressed surprise at the process  by which Parliament’s new leader of the opposition was chosen  (ref A), as well as with the fact that no Parliamentary  committee chairmanships had been allocated to the opposition.  He also conveyed donors’ desire to have a date certain on  local government elections as soon as possible in order to  facilitate donor support for the elections.

(C) Responding for the GOM, Local Government Minister  Goodall Gondwe gave a rather weak reply concerning why ruling  party MPs had voted in the election for the Leader of the  Opposition.  He pointed out that the position had no  constitutional basis, but Q rather a creation of the  Standing Orders on Parliamentary Procedure.  He argued that  the GOM’s intention had been to instill the job with “some  dignity” by broadening its base in Parliament beyond the  rather small (and fractious) contingent of opposition  representatives.  The President and others chimQin, arguing  that Malawi Congress Party leader John Tembo had worked hard  to increase the profile and perks of the position during the  last parliamentary session — at the same time he was  blocking Malawi’s development through obstructionist tactics.  Concerning opposition committee chairmanships, Gondwe pointed   LILONGWE 00000037  002.2 OF 003    out that Malawi’s parliamentary system was an amalgam from  different traditions, and under the American system the  opposition chaired no committees either.

(C) Both Gondwe and President Mutharika made clear  commitments to hold local elections later in the year (ref  A).  The President claimed that many Malawians ascribed a low  priority to filling these local offices, but he acknowledged  that the Constitution was clear in establishing these  institutions.  Recent changes to the Constitution had merely  allowed the President more latitude to reschedule the  elections in the event of natural disasters or other  emergencies.  Foreign Minister Etta Banda wondered whether  donors would be as generous in supporting the operation of  local governing councils as they intended to be for the  elections.  The German Ambassador responded that his country  already had extensive programs in place to do just that

———— SAME-SEX MARRIAGE: LET COURTS DECIDE (BUT WE’RE AGAINST IT) ———————————————–

(C) The German Ambassador raised the issue of the same-sex  couple that had recently sought to marry in Blantyre and had  been arrested (ref B).  He noted that he had received many  inquiries from German legislators and others concerning the  case, and asked whether the GOM would be reviewing the  constitutionality of current Malawian laws prohibiting  homosexuality.  Both the Education Minister George Chapoanda  and Chief Secretary Bright Msaka provided judicious  responses, arguing that different societies and cultures took  different views of homosexuality, and that it was important  to respect those differences.  Msaka remarked that a  referendum would show that a vast majority of Malawian  society opposed same-sex relationships.  President Mutharika  was more emphatic and definitive: citing the Book of Genesis,  he said “If God had wanted men to have sex with men, he would  not have created Eve.  He would simply have duplicated Adam!”  The President stated his belief that homosexuality was  unnatural and should not be sanctioned under Malawian law.  That said, he noted that the matter was now before the Malawian courts, which would come to their own conclusion  concerning the constitutionality of current proscriptions.

——————————– DEVELOPMENT: TAKING ISSUE WITH IMF, WASHINGTON CONSENSUS —————–

(C) The British High Commissioner began discussions on the  development agenda by praising Malawi’s recent record of  strong economic growth and macroeconomic stability.  He noted  that maintaining this trend under current global conditions  would not be easy.  He expressed donors’ hope that a new IMF  program for Malawi would be approved soon (ref C).  The UK  rep asked Mutharika what he thought would be key economic and  development issues in 2010.  The President and several  cabinet ministers replied by indicating that Malawi’s  existing development strategy and priorities had not changed,  and would not change.  Mutharika noted that apart from  diverting some resources to cope with unexpected problems,  such as recent earthquakes in Karonga, Malawi would remain  focused on achieving the majority of Millennium Development  Goals by 2013.

(C) Later in the meeting, Mutharika addressed squarely the  questions that lay behind the High Commissioners  presentation.  He asked donor reps why, if they admired Malawi’s economic management, they continued to condition  their budget support on an agreement with the IMF.  The  President said he strongly disagreed with the so-called  “Washington Consensus” and argued that IMF prescriptions had  led to disastrous results in many countries that had  implemented them.  He claimed that Asian countries had  developed successfully by ignoring the Washington Consensus.  Mutharika acknowledged that “it’s your money, but after my  many years working in multilateral institutions, I fail to  understand why bilateral donors feel compelled to maintain  this link with the IMF.”

(C) On a more positive note, the President told  ambassadors that donor countries could rightly claim their  share of credit for Malawi’s development progress over the  last several years, since they had contributed significantly  to it.

————AU CHAIR: NO AGENDA YET; DONORS MUST PAY FOR PEACEKEEPING ——————————–

(C) The German Ambassador told the President that donors  strongly supported his candidacy for Chairman of the African  Union (ref D) and looked forward to working with him in that  capacity.  He added that donors valued Malawi’s contributions  to international peacekeeping missions.  Mutharika welcomed  the expression of support.  He said that he did not have a  detailed agenda for the organization in mind yet, but  promised to host donor reps for another discussion on AU  issues after the upcoming summit.

(C) The U.S. Charge conveyed donors’ desire to support Malawi’s deployment of a full peacekeeping battalion to an  African mission, perhaps during Malawi’s period as AU Chair.  Although the U.S. and others had contributed to training Malawi’s battalion, the main challenge remained providing  adequate equipment (ref E).  Charge noted that the USG had  held productive discussions with the MDF and Ministry of  Finance concerning possible solutions.  Mutharika replied  that he had been ready to deploy the battalion for over a  year, but that he would not do so until MDF troops were  adequately equipped.  He expressed frustration that after  months of discussions with donors on the issue, his  government was more confused than ever about what kind of  support would be provided.  The President conveyed clearly  that he could not justify diverting scarce resources from  domestic development efforts to pay for peacekeeping  equipment; donors would have to come up with the money if  they wanted to see Malawi deploy.

———————————– 2014: THE ROAD TO THE ROCKING CHAIR ———————————–

(C) As the meeting was concluding, Mutharika said that he  felt Malawi’s development, and development partnerships, were  on the right track.  He noted wryly that while donor reps had  not asked about his plans following his current term, he  wanted to reiterate for the record his commitment to retire  from politics in 2014.  “I intend to spend the first six  months after that in my rocking chair,” he quipped.  The  President said his main concern was about what kind of Malawi  he would leave behind, or indeed, what kind of Africa?  He  admitted that it was ambitious to think about making an  impact on the continent, but did not dismiss the notion.

————————————- COMMENT: DIALOGUE A STEP IN RIGHT DIRECTION —————————————

(C) President Mutharika is a contrarian by nature, and  takes considerable pleasure in challenging the conventional  wisdom and preferred approaches of Western governments.  This  meeting was the President’s first unscripted encounter with  donors in some time, and he took advantage of the opportunity  to tweak their noses on everything from IMF orthodoxy to  same-sex marriage.  The U.S. and European Governments can  expect Mutharika to do more of the same on some issues as  Chairman of the African Union.  While donors did not like  some of what they heard in the lively January 18 exchange, a  more direct and substantive dialogue with President Mutharika  is itself a positive step.  Neither most donors nor his own  cabinet for that matter have had adequate opportunities in  recent years to lay out the difficult issues facing the  country.  The President expressed some of his views  forcefully in this first meeting, but in general established  a friendly, welcoming tone.  Donor reps plan to hold the  President to his commitment to meet again after the AU Summit  next month, and more frequently thereafter.  BODDE

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