President Lazarus Chakwera was at Kamuzu Palace in Lilongwe yesterday, but his voice boomed from the United Nations Headquarters in New York, United States of America with a plea to world leaders to cancel poor countries’ debts.
Delivering his maiden address to the United Nations General Assembly (Unga) virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic, the President told the meeting that least developed countries (LDCs) such as Malawi were facing challenges requiring collective effort to surmount.
In highlighting the challenges, Chakwera asked rich countries and international lenders to immediately cancel debts of poor countries, including Malawi, whose economies have been ravaged by the global coronavirus pandemic.
Said the President: “With regard to the high risk of debt default, we acknowledge the World Bank Group, the International Monetary Fund [IMF], the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development [OECD] and many key development partners for the debt moratorium granted to LDCs.
“Considering the potential length and breadth of this pandemic, we request and are hopeful for debt cancellation ultimately and an extension of the debt moratorium in the meantime.”
He said the extension of the moratorium and debt cancellation would enable LDCs recover from negative impact of Covid-19 in a sustainable manner.
By June this year, Malawi’s debt stock stood at K4.1 trillion, an increase from K3.4 trillion in December 2019. The current debt stock represents 59 percent of the country’s total wealth as measured by nominal gross domestic product (GDP) which is estimated at $7 billion (about K5.2 trillion). From the debt stock, 57.3 percent represents domestic borrowing and is equivalent to 33 percent of GDP.
In 2006, Malawi had 90 percent or $2.6 billion of its $3 billion foreign debt written off by international lenders under the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (Hipc) initiative.
In his address, Chakwera—who won Malawi’s first court-ordered fresh presidential election on June 23—dwelt on the plight of LDCs, an organ which Malawi currently chairs.
However, the President took advantage of the world stage to promote his Tonse philosophy, appealing for unity among world powers and the least developed nations to end poverty and economic challenges facing the third world, fight the coronavirus and mitigate the impact of climate change, among others.
Directing his address to the sitting president of 75th Unga Volkan Bozkir, Chakwera delved on local politics and the recent transition of power and the hopes of his administration and its key ethos of servant leadership and Tonse philosophy.
He said: “The smooth transition of power between me and my predecessor has fostered a peaceful environment and sustained our billing as the Warm Heart of Africa, which I have since vowed to govern by servant leadership and a philosophy called ‘Tonse’, meaning ‘all of us’.”
Bozkir, whom Malawi’s sixth president congratulated for his ascendancy to the presidency of the UN body, replaced Nigeria’s permanent representative to the UN Tijani Muhammad-Bande.
On issues surrounding LDCs, Chakwera said Malawi as a member of the group was hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic and that it was “ravaging health systems across the globe and causing deep economic harm to our nations”.
He said, Malawi, in particular, being a member of both LDCs and Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDC) was among the hardest hit, a situation compounded by a skewed development trajectory.
The President also called for support in ensuring LDCs and Malawi in particular achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and end hunger.
State House had initially planned to allow the President to address the UN body live, but later resolved to do a pre-recorded speech.
On international politics, Chakwera expressed concerns over delays to reform the UN in particular composition of the United Nations Security Council, a long-time goal of developing nations.
He said: “For the avoidance of doubt, we call for two Permanent Seats with Veto Power and five Non-Permanent Seats for Africa. We need a UN that fully meets Africa’s needs in peace processes, which can only be achieved if Africa is involved in making such decisions.”
While the President has skipped the physical attendance of the Unga, a permanent fixture on his predecessor Peter Mutharika’s calendar, earlier this week he made his first official State visit when he travelled to neighbouring Zambia.
Chakwera’s first foreign policy move, however, was announced in his maiden State of the Nation Address when he stated that his administration will open an embassy in Israel based in Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv.