Malawi has come under heavy criticism for abstaining from Thursday’s vote at the United Nations (UN) that condemned United States (US) plans to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
The US move announced by President Donald Trump is contentious as Jerusalem remains divided and claimed by both Israelis and Palestinians in one of the world’s long-standing political standoffs.
A Turkish-sponsored resolution in the General Assembly was passed condemning the US move and with many African countries voting for the resolution, Malawi’s failure to take sides on the matter has been criticised at home as indecisive and cowardly.
Malawi was among five African countries who abstained from the vote namely Benin, Cameroon, Togo, Somalia and Equatorial Guinea. No single African country voted alongside Israel and USA against the resolution with the remaining 29 countries all voting to condemn the US move.
Just before the vote, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley threatened allies and other countries dependent on US aid that Washington would be “taking names” on the vote but the threats and some heavy lobbying not withstanding, 35 of the 193 U.N. member nations abstained and 21 were absent.
Eddy Kalonga, a senior lecturer in diplomacy and international relations at African University in Lilongwe, criticised the decision by Malawi to abstain from the crucial vote, chiding it as an act of cowardice in face of the US threats.
“It’s a disturbing and shocking indecisiveness, we follow the principle of sovereignty which dates back to the 17th century. We need to make decisions on our own. Kamuzu demonstrated during apartheid what sovereignty means, in the face of regional isolation of South Africa, he opted to be friends with the loathed regime and we were awarded with the construction of Lilongwe as a capital. The main point is, it’s wrong, we need to be decisive on international relations. We just have to pick sides and be bold about it and it must be in our interests,” he said.
Activist Billy Mayaya, was equally unimpressed, saying Malawi had fallen for Trump’s “unprecedented saber rattling strategy” designed to control the dynamics of the Israeli-Palestine conflict.
“There is a general consensus that Jerusalem must be an integral part of a two-state solution to enhance the peace process. Anything less will severely compromise the fragile peace that exists. Malawi’s decision was a sovereign decision although the expectation would have been to stand in solidarity with the broader decision of the community of nation on the matter,” he said.
Social commentator Jimmy Kainja, turning to Twitter also chided Lilongwe’s position on the matter concurring with Kalonga that Malawi should have taken a position.
“#Malawi’s strategy was to abstain—afraid to make a concrete decision. It’s the same strategy that cowardly MPs have used in Parliament when voting on crucial issues. No wonder no one takes us seriously. You have to have a position and stand by it!” wrote Kainja.
Both Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Emmanuel Fabiano and Principal Secretary Isaac Munlo could not be reached for comment yesterday.
US Embassy in Lilongwe could not immediately respond to Weekend Nation questions on how far the US had gone to pressure Lilongwe to toe its line on the vote and whether the US expects its aid recipient to be now subservient to its will on the international stage.