President Peter Mutharika and his guest President John Magufuli of Tanzania yesterday held bilateral talks in Lilongwe, but avoided any mention of the unresolved Lake Malawi border dispute between the two countries.
During the bilateral talks held at Kamuzu Palace, the two leaders whose countries belong to the regional economic bloc Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc), assembled teams comprising Cabinet ministers.
In their opening statements before going into a closed-door session, Mutharika and Magufuli emphasised on trade cooperation as well as the need for the two countries to peacefully co-exist.
The emphasis on promoting peace and security in the discussion pointed to an indication that the two leaders would take advantage of the meeting to take critical steps to resolve the Lake Malawi border dispute.
However, the issue was not raised and the media had no opportunity to ask questions. Previously, during similar State visits, the tradition has been that journalists interview the visiting leaders.
When journalists sought an opportunity to ask questions at Kamuzu Palace, presidential press secretary Mgeme Kalirani said Magufuli indicated he did not want to take questions from the media.
In his speech, a visibly jovial Magufuli made the environment relaxed when he addressed some of his Cabinet ministers as Malawians.
He outlined his government’s plans to construct a new port at Mtwara that would facilitate easy connectivity for Malawi to Tanzania through Mbamba Bay.
Magufuli decried low trade volumes between the two countries, saying it was his wish to see landlocked Malawi benefit from Tanzania’s strategic position.
He also appealed for quick implementation of the one-border-post at Songwe-Kisumulu border to facilitate improved trade between the countries.
Magufuli said Malawi is the first Sadc country he has visited since becoming Head of State in November 2015 because he values it as best partner and strategic friend.
After bragging about Tanzania’s achievements under his watch, including an economic growth rate of seven percent and what he described as a record inflation rate of three percent in four decades, he flattered his host by stating that Mutharika had transformed Malawi. He cited the crop fields he had seen on his way from the airport as a sign of improvement Malawi must celebrate.
Mutharika, who spoke first, was brief and spent most of his time heaping praises on how good Tanzania has been to Malawi as a bilateral partner. He thanked the Tanzanian government for a prompt response to assist victims of the recent natural disasters that hit Malawi.
Earlier, Magufuli, who arrived at Kamuzu International Airport (KIA) aboard a Tanzania Airways plane, hailed the founding presidents of Malawi and Tanzania, notably Hastings Kamuzu Banda and Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, for setting a strong development foundation.
Ironically, as Kamuzu received such credit, the visiting Magufuli was only taken to Parliament Building where, alongside his wife Janet, they each laid a wreath on the newly erected statue of former president Bingu wa Mutharika, elder brother to Peter Mutharika.
But the Tanzanian First Couple on a State visit was apparently not afforded an opportunity to undertake the same gesture at either the mausoleum or statue of Malawi’s founding president Hastings Kamuzu Banda which lie a stone’s throw away from Parliament Building in Lilongwe.
In a telephone interview later, Minister of Information and Communications Technology Henry Mussa, the official government spokesperson, backed the programme, saying Magufuli’s schedule was tight.
This morning, Magufuli is scheduled to open the 2019 Tobacco Marketing Season at Lilongwe Floors before heading back home later in the day.
The two countries’ border dispute resurfaced in 2012 and in 2016, Mutharika and Magufuli failed to meet on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (Unga) in New York, United States of America (USA), ailed as Magufuli cut short his trip at the eleventh hour following an earthquake that killed 19 and injured over 200 people in Tanzania.
In 2017, a High Level Mediation Team (HLMT) on the border dispute engaged by Sadc also proposed a meeting between the two leaders. But the meeting did not materialise.
Malawi has maintained that the north-eastern boundary between the two countries is the Lake Malawi shoreline as established by Article 1 (2) of the 1890 Anglo-Heligoland Treaty.