Opposition political parties have criticised the Malawi Government for taking the country backwards by implementing policies that led to some of the traditional partners to stop supporting its fiscal budget.
One of the issues the opposition cites is the establishment of bilateral relationships with the Brics nations—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. They allege that this is one of the decisions that has not pleased bilateral partners.
According to Umodzi Party (UP) president John Chisi, the donors are annoyed and reluctant to help Malawi because the relationships that President Peter Mutharika has formed with the Brics and “they want to prove a point that Brics cannot take care of us”. The observation of the opposition is more of an assumption than reality. Which countries is Chisi talking about, Russia, China or Brazil?
As far as foreign policy is concerned, Malawi has done well. It has maintained a policy of non-alignment and has established diplomatic relations with other countries as it deems fit. And it would not be in the interest of Malawi to have diplomatic relations with the Western countries only as that will be like putting all your eggs in one basket.
As everyone has come to realise, Western donors have stringent lending conditions. While demanding accountability and transparency is a good thing, some of the conditions imposed have entailed changing local socio-economic policies, which have worked to the detriment of Malawi. Many of the problems that Malawi faces can be traced to the influence of Western countries, who have imposed their economic models as a precondition for aid. For example, floating the currency, retrenchments, removing subsidies and privatisation have negatively impacted on Malawi. Sometimes Western donors interfere in local politics as evidenced by some comments made by donor representatives on local politics just to drive their own agenda.
Yes, donors cut aid because of Cashgate. However, Cashgate or no Cashgate, Western donors can still impose other conditions. It is good that Malawi foreign policy is flexible. If Western countries are reluctant to assist, Malawi has the right to look elsewhere and not to be tied to particular donors. Hence, it is within Malawi’s mandate to cast its net wide and establish diplomatic relations with other countries as long as Malawians stand to benefit. For example, Malawi terminated its relations with Taiwan (Republic of China), partly because of the perceived benefits with mainland China.
Many African countries are now gravitating to China and Russia because they are less demanding. For Malawi, the major driving force for these relationships is economic. That is why Malawi has trade agreements with a number of countries.
We also know that Malawi’s bilateral donors have diplomatic relations with Brics. So, Malawi’s donors cannot be reluctant to assist on the basis that Malawi has established diplomatic relations with Brics.
What the opposition should be saying is that government should stop misusing donor funds. This has been a problem since the era of Bakili Muluzi. Equally, if government can mobilise local resources, it should avoid lavish spending, corruption and misuse of resources, there will be less or no dependence on donor aid. After all, Malawi has survived without the 40 percent donor budgetary support for two years now.