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. BODDEFollow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :