President Banda heads to Mozambique to ‘repair’ relationship

Malawi President  Mrs. Joyce Banda is this Saturday expected to arrive in neighbouring Maputo, Mozambique where topping the list of agenda is repairing of bilateral ties that came to grind halt during the eight year misrule of late president Bingu wa Mutharika.

Government officials are tight lipped on the trip but according to information monitored on BBC Network Africa program, President Banda is expected to hold talks with her Mozambican counterpart Armando Guebuza.

Meanwhile, Mozambican analysts told the UK based radio, Banda’s visit is of great benefit to Malawi considering the economic boom Mozambique is facing after decades of an all out civil war.

“Malawi has a lot to benefit from its neighbour because Mozambique is currently one of Africa’s fastest growing economies. Since the end of the civil war Mozambique’s economy has been growing by double digit margin mainly due to exploration of mineral resources,” unidentified journalist told the radio.

President Banda

The visit is seen as opening a new chapter in relations between Mozambique and Malawi, which had cooled under late Mutharika.

Perhaps the worst incident occurred in August 2009, when Malawian police crossed the border into Ngauma district, in the northern Mozambican province of Niassa, supposedly to reclaim a bicycle carrying maize that had been seized by the Mozambican frontier guard.

In the ensuing clash the Malawian policeman burnt down the post massed by the frontier guard, an extraordinary violation of Mozambican sovereignty.

As the Malawian economy went into decline, Malawian officials tried to blame the country’s chronic shortage of fuel on Mozambique. It was said that the Mozambican ports were congested, resulting in delays in fuel tankers reaching Malawi. Later it was claimed that tanker trucks were held up by long delays at the Samora Machel bridge over the Zambezi in Tete province.

The Mozambican port and road authorities rebutted these claims. In reality, Malawi’s fuel headaches were caused by a shortage of foreign exchange.

In 2011, Mutharika inaugurated a port at Nsanje on the Shire river, claiming that Malawian trade imports could use the Zambezi and Shire to reach Nsanje. But most of the Zambezi-Shire waterway runs through Mozambican territory, and the Mozambican authorities had not given their go-ahead to the use if the rivers by international shipping.

Mutharika’s inauguration of Nsanje was a damp squib, since Mozambique insisted that shipping could only use the two rivers once a thorough environmental impact study was carried out.

While both countries wait for the environmental impact study, Nsanje can be nothing more than a small fishing port.

There were signs of a warming in relations at Mutharika’s funeral. To assist the Malawian government in organizing the ceremonies, Mozambique offered two wagon loads of maize, one wagon of fuel, and one wagon of cooking salt. The gift also included ten head of cattle, 505 sacks of rice, 20 sacks of sugar, 500 sacks of salt, 20 crates of cooking oil, 50 crates of biscuits, and 50 crates of sardines.

Banda thanked the Mozambican government for its gesture. Guebuza, who attended the funeral, took the opportunity to congratulate Banda and the Malawian nation “for the orderly and peaceful transition, following the sudden death of our colleague”.

Speaking on behalf of SADC (Southern African Development Community), Guebuza told Banda “we feel comforted in knowing that your great country has a leader of your calibre, who has shown her commitment to the development of the Malawian people”.

Immediately after taking office, Banda made it clear that she was prioritizing re-establishing good relations with other SADC members.

Her three day visit includes a trip to the port of Beira, one of the key ports for landlocked Malawi’s imports and exports.

The sour relationship between the two countries reached an all time low two years ago when Guebuza refused to be used as conduit by Mutharika and snubbed an invitation to attend the controversial inauguration of the world inland port in Nsanje district.

Meanwhile, senior Malawi government officials who are accompanying the president to the coastal country are beaming with confidence that Mrs. Banda would repair the fractured relationship “at all cost”.

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