Why was Malawi, a country at the peripheral of global strategic importance, chosen to be among the seven African nations that Hillary Clintonâ€”the third most powerful woman in command of the worldâ€™s superpower, the USâ€”had to visit? Ephraim Nyondo finds out.
A visit to any country by Hillary Clinton, the global superpowerâ€™s Secretary of Stateâ€”an office that ranks her the third in command, is not an ordinary gesture in global politics.
It is a gesture that the entire world watches with keen, and the reason is simple: They wantâ€”through the type of nations she visitsâ€”to locate interests and hidden fears of the US, hallmarks that shape its foreign policy directions.
What was the agenda?
So, what could have been the interest and hidden fears at the heart of Clintonâ€™s 11-day sojourn into seven African nations which ended Tuesday in Ghana?
One thing for sure is that such powerful leaders hardly go public with real intentions of their sojourns.Â
Remember how UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon stepped in Malawi under the guise of discussing development with the late president Bingu wa Mutharika only to result in the pardon of the convicted gay couple?
Lately, the USâ€™s increased visibility and voice in Africa has, history shows, been driven by two fears. One, the growing security threats from Islamist militants and two, Chinaâ€™s increasing economic and political hegemony on the continent.
On security concerns, the choice of Kenya and Uganda proves the point.
For instance, the US recently deployed a small number of Special Forces troops in Uganda to help African militaries combat the brutal Lordâ€™s Resistance Army of Joseph Kony. Kenyaâ€”a victim of deadly terrorist attacks from Al Qaedaâ€”has been one of the USâ€™s key allies in combating terrorism.
Or is it Chinese hegemony?
On the Chinese hegemony, the words from Clintonâ€™s own mouth bare it all.
During her first stop on Wednesday last week in Senegal, Clinton, according to UKâ€™s Guardian newspaper, told a university audience that the US was committed to â€œa model of sustainable partnership that adds value, rather than extracts itâ€ from Africa.
â€œUnlike other countries, America will stand up for democracy and universal human rights even when it might be easier to look the other way and keep the resources flowing,â€ she said.
Resource-hungry China is often criticised for turning a blind eye to dictatorships and internal repression in its partnerships with African states such as Angola, Ethiopia, Sudan and Zimbabwe. It built the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa as a gift and has just doubled its credit line to Africa to $20bn (Â£12bn).
Now, if security and Chinese influence have been at the heart of Clintonâ€™s Africaâ€™s tour, where, particularly, does Malawi come in to be among the chosen few?
Arguably, Malawi does not feature to be of strategic importance in the USâ€™s fight against terrorism. Even on the Chinese front, without oil and precious minerals, Malawiâ€™s economy hardly offers a significant competitive ground for global powers to wrestle on.
Thus, out of the seven visited nations, Malawiâ€”if you take it from the perspective of international relations where there is nothing like benevolenceâ€”is not much of strategic importance to the US. It ranks peripheral.
This, as a result, begs one question:Â Why did Clintonâ€”the first high-profile US official to visit Malawi since the advent of democracy in 1994â€”had to prioritise Malawi, a country at the peripheral of global strategic importance?
Of course, Malawi and US relations dates back to 1964. In fact, during the Cold War era, Malawi, as the only country in southern Africa that was publicly pro-west, was of great strategic importance to the US. History shows how the Western capitalist powers used Malawi to monitor pro-east communists relations in southern Africa. We could easily understand why Dan Quayle, US vice-president who served under George H.W Bush between 1989 and 1993, had to visit Malawi in 1991.
However, the fall of Cold War removed Malawiâ€™s strategic importance to the US, though not the financial inflows that began since independence. Malawi, subject to economical and political adjustments, still remains a recipient of aid from the US.
Could it then be good governance supervision?
And it is against this that professor of social and economic history at Chancellor College Wiseman Chijere Chirwa argues that Clintonâ€™s visit was, basically, to supervise the good governance strides Malawi is making after earlier controversies that led to the suspension of the K88 billion energy grant under the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).
â€œMalawi is a beneficiary of the largest part of MCC finance project. After we lost it due to earlier controversies, we had to renegotiate it. I have a feeling she, basically, stopped by to experience and get a glimpse of the governance changes we have put in place,â€ he says.
In fact, even Dr Augustine Magolowondo, one of the countryâ€™s renowned political scientists, through speculations, concurs with professor Chirwaâ€™s insights.
â€œUnder the MCC, the US pours in significant amount of money. I think she came to underscore the volume of their aid and also their commitment,â€ he says.
He adds the visit could also mean an endorsement of the current administrationâ€™s reforms and policies.
â€œYou know Malawi doesnâ€™t matter so much to the US like Kenya and Uganda would. I see the visit basically as an encouragement to this administration not to fall,â€ he adds.
Already, with the UK expressing concerns about the current administrationâ€™s failure to commit itself to Section 65 and also waves of public firings, the gestures of falling back are potent for all to see.
â€œThis visit could also be a value-add to what her boss Barack Obama said when he visited Ghana years ago about Africaâ€™s need to build institutions not individuals,â€ says Professor Chirwa.
He adds the US must be concerned that the support they have rendered to Malawi since independence has ended up building individuals not institutionsâ€”the hallmarks of Africaâ€™s governance failure.
â€œThey want Malawi to build institutions not Joyce Banda. That needs to be emphasised,â€ he says.
And although that voice did not come out clear on Clintonâ€™s mouth, her visit to Malawi, a country at the peripheral of US strategic importance, was basically premised on it.
Â They want their dollars to promote good governance and respect of human rightsâ€”the quest to lift the country out of poverty, disease and destitution. This, certainly, was Clintonâ€™s loud whisper to Malawians and their government.