Malawi’s major donors have expressed concerns about President Joyce Banda’s recent remarks while in Zimbabwe that Lilongwe will adopt Harare’s land reform policy as one way of empowering Malawians.
During a meeting with Malawi’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Ephraim Chiume on Tuesday, donors such as the United States, the United Kingdom, European Union (EU) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), sought clarification amid fears that the move could scare away investors.
Both State House presidential press secretary Steven Nhlane and Chiume confirmed the meeting with the donors.
But Nhlane could not be drawn to comment on whether there is any clarification coming from the President on the matter.
“The Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Honourable Ephraim Mganda Chiume is handling the issue. The minister briefed development partners on Tuesday about it,” he said.
On his part, Chiume, while confirming the meeting, said it was a normal briefing meeting between government and its development partners as such there is nothing he could talk about to the media.
“We update our donors all the time and whenever there is another issue, we do that. It is a regular thing, but to bring out to the press what we discussed with them would be totally undiplomatic and unethical,” he said.
However, sources close to the meeting said after the donor’s inquiry, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs promised to issue a public or press statement to put the records straight to avoid any potentially negative perceptions on the investors.
The Zimbabwe Herald Online, a pro-Robert Mugabe newspaper, reported that President Banda announced during her visit in that country that Malawi will replicate Zimbabwe’s land reform and economic empowerment and will send experts to Zimbabwe to study the two programmes.
The President is also reported to have promised to lobby for the removal of sanctions.
In an interview on Thursday, EU resident representative Alexander Baum could neither confirm nor deny the Tuesday meeting, but said it was obvious that the President’s comments raised some questions.
Baum said he personally felt that there is something inconsistent in the statement as the situation in Malawi is “simply incomparable with the situation in Zimbabwe and the Land Bill currently in Parliament does not suggest anything either.”
“Nonetheless, given that President Banda is genuinely promoting Malawi’s participation in the ‘G8 initiative on agriculture and food security’ and the strong role that the private sector plays in it, it is more than welcome to clarify any misrepresentation or misunderstandings around the reports also publicly,” he said.
Baum said the public clarification was even more important in the light of the forthcoming “Grow Africa” Investors Forum, which will be held in Cape Town, South Africa, next week.
However, Baum was quick to add that the donor community is also aware that the Zimbabwe press is not really independent and there is a possibility that what was reported may have been incorrect.
“We first needed to clarify what has been really said against what was reported and then clarify the position with government. We do not have any other specific concerns at this stage, but are looking forward to a more public statement to inform potential investors,” he added.
German Ambassador Peter Woetse, who is also the current chairperson of Common Approach to Budget Support (Cabs), said no representative from his government attended the meeting and referred Weekend Nation to Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Land reforms remarks
Woetse, however, said the reports on the President’s comments, especially on land reforms “obviously beg some questions for clarification.”
“I personally do not see a comparable situation in Malawi with the situation in Zimbabwe. As the press in Zimbabwe is not really independent, I would prefer to learn what was really said from the people attending [the meeting],” said Woetse.
Banda is reported to have uttered the land reform remarks during a tour of the Boka Tobacco Auction Floors in Harare where she also hailed Zimbabwe’s land reforms and the economic empowerment programmes as success stories.
The Saturday Herald
of April 21 2013 also reported that Banda promised to lobby for the removal of what she called “illegal Western sanctions against Zimbabwe.”
Banda’s remarks have since drawn criticism from civil society organisations, with the Civil Society Agriculture Network (Cisanet) saying replicating the land reforms in Malawi will be economic suicide.
On Thursday, one of the vocal campaigners for a free Zimbabwe, Rose Benton, who has been coordinating a Zimbabwe Vigil outside the country’s Embassy in London since 2002, in an interview said her group was also surprised with Banda’s remarks, especially on the sanctions.
“If President Banda did call for the lifting of ‘illegal’ sanctions she was just parroting Mugabe’s electioneering line that seeks to blame the West for Zimbabwe’s catastrophic economic decline. The sanctions are not illegal and were targeted at people involved in human rights abuses and their companies,” she said.
Benton added that probably since the Herald is a Zanu-PF propaganda paper, the statement was not reported honestly.