There is a whole book one can write about President Lazarus Chakwera’s struggles with domestic policy.
From the appointment of his Cabinet, a troubled and troubling local economy, procurement scandals that have rocked is Tonse Alliance led administration to accusations of flip-flopping and allegations of high level corruption in government.
In fact, days heading into the Southern African Development Community’s (Sadc) 41st Summit of Heads of State and Government in Lilongwe, The Nation exposed just how one of his senior aides abused his position as presidential advisor to try and smuggle a Bill into Malawi that would have committed the Malawian taxpayer into tens of billions in loans without the knowledge of Cabinet, including the Attorney General, Minister of Justice and even Minister of Finance.
And as a kicker, the Anti-Corruption Bureau arrested Energy Minister Newton Kambala, the President’s advisor on strategy Chris Chaima Banda and Chakwera’s Tonse Alliance partner Enock Chihana who is leader of Alliance for Democracy. Clearly, the pre-summit optics weren’t great.
On the regional and world stage, however, Chakwera is a different man—and a more appealing story where he shines—and is decisive; projects himself as a competent international statesman who puts Malawi’s interests—and fate—in an African and regional context.
Take his Sadc chairperson’s acceptance speech in which he called for level the playing field on the Covid-19 pandemic, revitalization of the agricultural sector, enhancement of value addition, facilitation of trade, and simplifying rules of origin for the region to attain its vision.
Even when he was talking about Malawi’s Agenda 2063, the country’s vision focused on three drivers (Agricultural Productivity and Commercialisation; Industrialization, and Urbanization) towards middle-income status for its economy, Chakwera tethered Malawi’s vision to the region’s destiny.
“These are the tools for regional integration I promise to push for during my tenure as chair, because the time has come to turn our talk on regional integration into our walk. That is why Malawi will ensure that the Fifth Sadc Industrialisation Week is held here sometime this coming November to make this year’s theme a reality,” he said.
The Malawi leader also appears to be pursuing a pan-Africanist foreign policy agenda much like former South African President Thabo Mbeki, telling Africans that for the sake of the dignity of all human beings everywhere, Africans have a moral duty to refuse to be treated as second-class citizens in the rules of engagement for participating in the global economy.
Firm in both poetry and poise, Chakwera strongly stated that time has come for Africans to work together to put the ratified African Free Trade Area to full use until the economic rules that disadvantage African nations are rewritten.
The time, he added, has also come for Africans to stand together in insisting that the Bretton Woods Institutions reconfigure the terms and conditions they have imposed on the continent for decades, leaving Africans in deeper poverty than they found them.
“So, the time has come for us to insist that Africa must have at least one permanent seat on the UN Security Council. And now, as the world faces this global health crisis that has killed millions, torpedoed economies, and disrupted social order, we as Africans have a moral duty to reject second class status in the distribution and production of Covid-19 vaccines, vaccines invented and manufactured in labs where some of the scientists doing such work are Africans,” said Chakwera in what could live in history as one of the boldest statements from a President of one of the poorest countries in the world whose survival without Western aid would be perilous and send more of his people into poverty.
But that resoluteness has been consistent when it comes to Chakwera’s foreign policy forays and positions. Soon after taking over power last year, he made his pro-Israel policy clear—he would open an embassy in Jerusalem that Israel considers the city of its eternal capital, but which Palestinians say is part of a future State for them; particularly East Jerusalem that Israel seized in the 1967 Middle East war.
Chakwera received global and local condemnation with that decision, but he stood his ground. Even when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas sent an envoy to Malawi to lobby President Chakwera to withdraw the plan, calling it a violation of a UN resolution on the disputed territory, Chakwera has remained steadfast—even defiant. Since coming into office, he has embarked on shuttle diplomacy that has tried to remake Malawi’s foreign policy where, I believe, the former preacher could chalk the most endearing legacy.
And oh, the manner and competence with which the Sadc Summit was organised and conducted; the presidential gait with which Chakwera presided over the event throughout the period of the summit exuded a man in control of his country—and his fate.
With the Summit, Chakwera made his mark on the region—and the world.