Malawi slipping further into isolation

Aid-dependent Malawi expects foreign donors to resume support next year, a senior minister said on Tuesday, despite its biggest donor Britain saying it has no plans to restart funding.

Major aid donors suspended packages worth around $1 billion over concerns about human rights abuses and maladministration by President Bingu wa Mutharika, who drew international condemnation when his forces killed 20 protesters at anti-government rallies in July.

After a visit to Europe and the United States, Malawi’s Minister of Energy Goodal Gondwe told reporters a high-level lobby group had worked to unlock about $500 million in suspended aid.

Gondwe: Expects frozen foreign aid to resume

“They heard our side of the story and we expect that budget support will resume for the next financial year,” Gondwe said.

Malawi relies on foreign aid for about 40 percent of its budget. The aid freeze has left a yawning hole in state finances and intensified a dollar shortage.

The Malawi lobby mission was led by Peter Mutharika, the president’s young brother and heir apparent. It believed it had convinced the European Union to unlock $200 million in aid frozen due to human rights concerns.

But the British foreign ministry said last week after meeting the delegation that Britain had no plans to resume aid. It was suspended after Malawi expelled the British ambassador for saying in a leaked diplomatic cable that Mutharika’s government was becoming more autocratic.

“This programme will remain suspended until the government of Malawi addresses our concerns over economic management, governance and human rights,” Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office said in a statement.

Malawi has done little in recent months to improve a deteriorating situation, rights groups have said, and Mutharika last week increased friction with the EU by allowing Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir into the country.

The EU has pressed governments to arrest Bashir under an International Criminal Court warrant on charges of orchestrating genocide in the Darfur region.

The EU also wants Malawi to investigate the killing of the protesters in July, arson attacks on activists and the recent death of a fierce critic of the Mutharika administration.

A senior diplomat in Lilongwe told Reuters the mission did not understand just how diplomatically isolated Malawi was, and just how much repair work had to be done.

“Malawi needs to show us tangible action. They need to do more by acting on our concerns over economic management, human rights and governance issues,” said the diplomat.

Activists are threatening to start a new round of protests. They have petitioned the president to account for his wealth, address the chronic fuel and dollar shortages that have added to the misery of the poor and restore diplomatic ties with Britain, its former colonial master.

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