The West on one side, East on the other and Malawi in between
When I read in the media that the newly elected Malawi’s President Peter Mutharika promised during his inauguration last week that while he intends to keep Malawi’s traditional donors (the West), he shall extend Malawi’s opportunities for bilateral development partners to the East, and names like China and Russia came out, I was a little surprised.
I had predicted that Mutharika would at any cost advance stronger ties with the West since he has strong influential friendships politically and economically in the West where he spent much of his life; but I truly welcomed his speech with a mixture of reactions; hope and dread.
I was overwhelmed with hope because I believe that the East with its Communistic background has more flexible aid conditionalities – in a democratic sense; for instance Russia’s foreign aid policy in Africa considers areas to with Food Security, Health Programs and Technology, and disregard trivial issues like Homosexuals rights which the West is imposing on its African Aid beneficiaries. The East is also a little more generous than the self-interest seeking Capitalistic West which has aided Malawi for the past 50 years.
On the other hand, I wondered if at all “in between” the East and the West is a safe place for Malawi to be, especially at this point in the world history when the East and the West have locked horns in a grave political and economic tussle, and are on the verge of a military warfare which has the potential of creating a World War Three.
China has already proved to be a trustworthy partner that Malawi and the whole African community can count on. For example, China has in a very short period financed state-of -the-art infrastructure development, e.g, Parliament, Five-star hotel, Malawi University of Science and Technology, etc in Malawi. China recently built the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, and is also currently building a whole planned city in Machakos, the Republic of Kenya and a state-of-the-art railway to connect Nairobi and the coastal city of Mombasa which will reduce a distance that used to be travelled in about 10 hours by bus, to 3hours by train.
Russia, which used to provide massive foreign aid during the Cold War, has the smallest aid budget of all the G8 nations after the fall of the Soviet Union, and has not embarked on mega developmental projects in Africa like China –though the Russians have recently established strong ties with Egypt on a fair gas deal which Washington is probably not really amused with.
But I have no doubt whatsoever that Russians, just like their Chinese allies would quickly respond in favour of Malawi because Russia has for the past years, probably since 2009 changed its policy on Foreign Aid and does not really hesitate to release it at the moment.
For instance, Russia was too quick to offer the bankrupt Ukraine a huge bailout package of 15billion dollars which was twice as much as of what Ukraine needed to prevent a default on its foreign debt. The USA and Europe were failing to bailout Ukraine despite coaxing the troubled nation into an anti-Russian deal, and instead were scheming to push Ukraine into the fierce grip of the IMF, which Ukraine already owed 3 billion dollars.
Ofcourse, one or two people might argue that Russia quickly offered the bailout package to influence Ukraine, through the former ousted pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych into a pro-Russian trade and political deal against the European Union, but I guess that’s exactly the type of a partner that Malawi needs; the type that would be too quick to bail you out, at a cost seemingly expensive for others.
However, concluding that Russia would be as desperate to take Malawi on board as Vladimir Putin had been for Ukraine would be too ridiculous and totally insane, because though I used the example of Ukraine to show that Russia does not hesitate to release aid at this critical time in history, Ukraine is a huge integral part of the former Soviet Union, so much that if Putin’s dream is to rebuilt the Russian Federal empire that fell in 1989 then Ukraine is worth every penny or bullet, unlike Malawi.
But why do I think that Putin will easily welcome Malawi aboard his wagon of beneficiaries of Russia’s foreign aid? Russia needs to extend its global political and economic influence, and I don’t see why the power hungry Kremlin would ignore the temptation of one more territory crying for its aid. Aid is a powerful weapon that rich countries have at their disposal because the main reason they give aid to poor countries, even when they know that the country is too poor to payback with the interest, -sometimes they might deliberately make sure that the poor country fail to pay back the loan, – is never to make poor countries rich, rather to expand their political influence.
The West is making every effort to isolate Russia from the international political and economic domain due to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and the uprising in Ukraine. Russia has already been removed from the G8, and Putin has happily quitted. But aggressive sanctions taken against the Kremlin have only successfully brought Russia and China closer than before. Both, Russia and China are the worst nightmares of the West, and the closer together they become, the greater the threat they pose to the West.
Therefore, I strongly believe that when poor developing African countries like Malawi, that the West enjoys to politically and economically exploit begin to overtly desert the West and salivate for Eastern opportunities, especially from the worst enemies of the West; like China and Russia, that uphold fundamentally different political and economic philosophies which the West despise so much, the Western giants like the USA might find it humiliating and history in Latin America and the Middle East shows that these giants with their huge Corporations and CIA do not respond well to humiliation. I suspect, the West might wish to make an example of Malawi to other African nations, who wish to follow suit, that deserting the West for it enemies’ greener pastures is not the best of alternative.
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