President Peter Mutharika was among the first presidents to arrive in New York for the United Nations General Assembly (Unga) and based on reports from the Internet, he was the last to return to his people.
He jetted back into Malawi yesterday around midday.
A search of news stories covering neighbouring Zambia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe show that the leaders of the countries left for New York a day or two before the opening of the assembly on September 19 while President Mutharika left on September 15 and arrived on September 16.
Presidents of Zambia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe left New York for their respective countries earlier than the final day of the assembly.
On the other hand, Mutharika arrived home around 1pm yesterday after a 17-day sojourn to Unga where he, among other things, delivered a statement to the assembly.
The assembly opened on 12 September, but the general assembly took place between Tuesday, September 19 and Monday September 25.
Tanzanian President John Magufuli did not attend Unga for the second year running, citing financial difficulties in his country.
Mozambican President Felipe Nyusi arrived in New York on September 18 and by the end of the assembly he was back home.
South African president Jacob Zuma on the other hand arrived for Unga on September 17 and left before the close of the assembly a week later.
Zambian President Edgar Lungu arrived in New York on September 18 and left a week later en route to Angola for the presidential inauguration on September 25 2017.
Other African countries such as Burundi and Kenya were not represented by their presidents due to difficult political situations at home.
But speaking on arrival at Kamuzu International Airport yesterday, Mutharika said there were 38 meetings held in New York apart from the general assembly itself.
“We had a lot of meetings, we had about 38. I attended 16 of those personally. The other 22 were attended by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Gender, Ministry of Civic Education and by the ambassador to Washington and ambassador to New York,” Mutharika said.
Among the meetings, he cited the high level event on ending child, early and forced marriages which other African presidents also attended.
But opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) has condemned Mutharika’s tendency to overstay in the US after Unga, saying it amounts to taking Malawians for granted.
“The president must learn to be accountable to the people that sponsor his trip to Unga and these are Malawians. The government needs to understand that going there early and returning late has financial implications on the already fragile economy,” said MCP deputy secretary general Eisenhower Mkaka in an interview yesterday.
While not commenting on the President’s programme during his extended stay because he was yet to be briefed by the State House and Ministry of Foreign Affairs teams that accompanied the President, Dausi said a press conference would be held to respond to all questions.
After the 2016 Unga, Mutharika extended his stay in New York by three weeks amid speculation and rumours of ill-health when there was no information from State House or the Office of the President and Cabinet on his whereabouts.
It later transpired that Mutharika took three weeks to seek medical treatment and recuperation from a minor surgery on his shoulder.
This year’s UN summit took place between Tuesday, September 19 to Monday September 25 under the theme: “Focusing on People: Striving for Peace and a Decent Life for all on a Sustainable Planet”.
Meanwhile, government spokesperson Nicholas Dausi has defended and justified the President’s use of a chartered plane for the first and last legs of the President’s trip—between Johannesburg and Lilongwe—arguing it minimised waiting time in between connecting flights.
Mutharika used a chartered jet on departure from Lilongwe to Johannesburg, South Africa and used the same plane to connect in Johannesburg from New York.
He said in the Southern Africa region, only President Mutharika was travelling on commercial airlines when going to international engagements. n