President Robert Mugabe on Tuesday welcomed Malawian President Joyce Banda in Zimbabwe whom he has invited the to officially open this year’s Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF) in Bulawayo.
The trip is Banda’s first official visit to Zimbabwe since taking over power after the death last year of her predecessor Bingu wa Mutharika, who was a close ally to Mugabe.
Speaking to journalists before she flew out, President Banda said she accepted the invitation because it provided her the opportunity to formally introduce herself to President Mugabe as the new leader of Malawi, besides taking advantage of their meeting to expanding frontiers of cooperation and trade between the sister countries.
“As you are aware, Zimbabwe is not only our long time friend, but also a strategic partner in terms of trade. It goes without saying, therefore, that relations between Malawi and Zimbabwe are critical by any measure,” explained the President at Chileka International Airport in Blantyre on Wednesday.
“In addition, since I became President of this country, I have made it a point to visit our neighbours and friends not only as an obligation of courtesy, but also to assure them that my government will make sure that our relations are not only maintained but allowed to expand,” she added.
One of her major tasks when President Banda assumed office was to pursue a $24 million debt Zimbabwe owed Malawi following a maize deal struck during Mutharika’s presidency.
The broke Zimbabwean government had to repay Lilongwe in kind through fuel.
State media, which often reflects the thinking in Mugabe’s Zanu PF, has in the past criticised President Banda for being a “darling of the West”.
In a ceremony full of pomp and circumstance at Harare’s airport, the two leaders met with joy.
Last year, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Office claimed Banda was almost duped into a non-existent State visit to Zimbabwe after she allegedly got a fake invitation letter from the Central Intelligence Organisation.
The letter purportedly originated from the MDC-T leader’s office after the two jointly addressed a book launch in South Africa.
At the time, Banda described “the invitation” as “primitive politics”.
Mugabe accuses the West of working with Tsvangirai to try and topple him.
He insists Western sanctions caused the economic collapse in his country. Western leaders say Mugabe’s policies, including his trampling of democracy, brought ruin.
President Banda will be in Zimbabwe for four days where she will also hold bilateral talks with Mugabe and have an audience with Malawians based in that country.
It is estimated that there are over 4 million Malawians living in Zimbabwe.
Mugabe will host a state dinner for the Malawian leader Tuesday evening.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :