Nigeria and India have expressed shock at their high security risk classification by Malawi’s Department of Immigration and Citizenship Services ahead of the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections.
In a memo dated April 23 2019 and addressed to all heads of sections in the country’s border posts, the Immigration Department advises officers to exercise caution in processing visa applications from risky countries (Category 1) and cites Nigeria, India and Russia. Further, the communication advises officers to refer to Immigration headquarters applications by citizens from the said countries for vetting with National Intelligence Service (NIS).
In a telephone interview yesterday, chief immigration officer Masauko Medi justified the categorisation of the three countries as part of a long list of countries whose citizens are required to be issued with a visa while in their own countries.
He said the department was currently employing some risk mitigation measures for the country’s security in the wake of the May 21 elections.
Said Medi: “This is standard procedure in internal security. Each country has its own list of high risk countries and visa application processes are based on those lists.
“The list was developed way back, but is constantly updated. We send the lists to International Civil Aviation Organisation [Icao] and the International Air Transport Association [IATA] to feed their systems.”
Ironically, the Immigration memo was issued barely a day after a visibly charged President Peter Mutharika alleged at a campaign rally in Ntchisi that some of his challengers had engaged nationals of Nigeria, Greece and Russia in a purported scheme to rig the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections results using information and communications technology.
But the Immigration Department’s move has not gone down well with India and Nigeria.
In separate telephone interviews yesterday, head of Chancery at the Nigerian Embassy Ibrahim Ghani and Acting India High Commissioner Anil Suli denied being communicated to by Malawi on the high risk classification.
Ghani said: “At no time have we been told that Nigeria is classified as Category 1 of high risk countries. But we cannot make our official position now before the Ministry of Foreign Affairs communicates to us formally.”
Ghani also said Nigeria has not received any complaint from the Government of Malawi on any suspicious activities by its citizens.
Reacting to the development, international relations analyst Eddie Kalonga said the move would have far reaching consequences if the countries mentioned were to retaliate.
He said: “Malawi has set a bad precedent in as far as international relations are concerned.”
Besides the highlighted three, a list from the Immigration Department shows that Category 1 has 50 other countries, including other African States such as Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Rwanda, Sudan and Senegal.
Malawi has not experienced a big diplomatic row since 2011 when former president Bingu wa Mutharika expelled then British High Commissioner Fergus Cochrane-Dyet for allegedly delving into local politics.