Malawi, which had strong historical ties with Zimbabwe, felt that President Robert Mugabe was being treated unfairly by the West.
The United States embassy said that there was a perception in the Malawi Ministry of Foreign Affairs that the West kept finding fault with Mugabe in an effort to dislodge him.
Some of the issues the West was using against Mugabe were the seizure of white farms, the 2002 presidential elections and the 2005 demolitions of illegal structures.
Malawi President Bingu Mutharika was also said to be a close personal friend of Mugabe and was married to a Zimbabwean.
Viewing cable 07LILONGWE144, MALAWI AND ITS NEIGHBORS
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SUBJECT: MALAWI AND ITS NEIGHBORS
¶1. (U) Summary: Malawi’s role in the Southern African region is
limited, as the GOM is primarily focused on internal politics and
local economic development. While Malawi is a founding member of the
Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), it is not particularly
involved in the development or administration of the organization.
However, Malawi’s membership in the African Union’s Peace and
Security Council is enhancing its commitment to peace and security
in SADC. Diplomatic relations between Malawi and its three
immediate neighbors are strong. While Malawi and Zimbabwe are not
neighbors they have a unique relationship based on close social,
political and economic ties. End Summary.
Malawi and SADC
¶2. (U) Malawi was among the nine founding member countries of SADC’s
predecessor organization SADCC (Southern Africa Development
Coordination Conference.) Former president Hastings Banda was
originally against the idea of Malawi joining SADCC, as Malawi was
at the time the only African country which had diplomatic relations
with apartheid South Africa. However, Banda was eventually
convinced that the organization could serve as a source of financial
aid and provide economic benefits.
¶3. (U) Today Malawi sees SADC membership as a way of participating
in regional social, political and economic issues. However, there
is little interaction or integration with SADC on the ground in
Malawi, outside of occasional conferences that local politicians
attend abroad. Most GOM leaders have little to say regarding SADC’s
current role and its future development, and the GOM does not
currently have a representative assigned to SADC headquarters in
¶4. (U) The largest area of interaction between Malawi and other SADC
members is in the area of trade. Sixty-six percent of Malawi’s
imports come from SADC countries, while twenty-eight percent of its
exports go to SADC. Mozambique is Malawi’s largest trading partner
among its immediate neighbors, followed by Zimbabwe, Zambia and
Tanzania, in that order.
¶5. (U) Another area where Malawi is engaged with SADC is in
international peace-keeping. Malawi has made a commitment to a
proposed SADC standing brigade of peacekeepers. Malawi’s commitment
is enhanced by the fact that it is a member of the African Union
(AU) Peace and Security Council. The Malawi Defence Force (MDF)
currently contributes a company (111 strong) to the United Nations
peacekeeping mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC),
which is also a member of SADC. Additionally, the GOM is currently
considering a request to send a battalion of peacekeepers to join
African Union missions in Somalia or Sudan.
¶6. (U) Currently Malawi is a member of two regional organizations,
SADC and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).
While there is no specific deadline laid out, Ministry of Foreign
Affairs officials say the GOM will “have to decide soon” which
organization to resign from as the two organization duplicate tasks.
It seems highly likely that Malawi, which considers itself to firmly
be in “Southern Africa,” will give up its position in COMESA if
forced to make a decision between the two. However, as President
Bingu wa Mutharika served as secretary general of COMESA, his
attitude will be the key factor in this decision.
Malawi and its neighbors
¶7. (U) Malawi has cordial relations with all three of the countries
across its borders. However, the level of Malawi’s relationships
with Tanzania, Zambia and Mozambique differ in scope and particular
in fosus. While not bordering Malawi, Zimbabwe has perhaps the most
substantial ties to Malawi of any country in the region.
Malawi and Tanzania
¶8. (U) Diplomatic relations between Malawi and Tanzania are strong.
In the 1960s and 1970s Malawi did not have diplomatic relations as
Tanzania harbored opponents of former President Banda. Currently the
main issue between the two countries is a debate over border
demarcation. The Songwe River, which has historically served as the
international boundary, has changed course, creating uncertainty as
to where the real border lies. A Malawi-Tanzania Joint Project group
is working on this issue, which is expected to be amicably settled.
The group is also discussing possible construction of a hydro
electric dam on the river which would benefit`both countries.
LILONGWE 00000144 002 OF 003
¶9. (U) The partition of Lake Malawi (known as Lake Nyasa in
Tanzania) is also disputed. Tanzania claims international borders
through the lake in line with the colonial borders between the then
German and British territories before 1914; Malawi claims the whole
lake area including the waters next to the Tanzanian shore. This is
based on the British administration of both Tanganyika and Nyasaland
after 1919 which put the whole lake under British Nyasaland for
obvious practical reasons without a separate administration for the
Tanganyika portion. Malawi’s stance is supported by the Organization
of African Unity (OAU) (the African Union’s predecessor
organization) position that all African countries at independence
inherited borders set during the colonial era. The demarcation
dispute has led to disagreements in the past. For the time being the
conflict is dormant and Malawi has not tried to enforce its claims
to the Tanzanian part of the lake area for several years.
¶10. (U) Currently Malawi and Tanzania, together with Mozambique and
Zambia, are working on developing the Tanzanian Indian Ocean port of
Mtwara, which lies just north of the Mozambican border and some 500
miles east of Lake Malawi. In late 2004 the leaders of the four
countries met in Malawi to sign an agreement to push forward with
plans for a Mtwara Development Corridor. The agreement envisions a
wide-ranging development program aimed at improving trade,
investment and tourism in the northern provinces of Malawi and
Mozambique, the northern and eastern provinces of Zambia, and the
southern regions of the United Republic of Tanzania. However, plans
to implement the initiative have stalled as the GOM–the main force
behind the agreement–has focused its attention on developing the
Shire-Zambezi waterway in southern Malawi and, to a lesser extent,
the Nacala corridor.
Malawi and Zambia
¶11. (U) Diplomatic relations between Malawi and Zambia are strong.
Boundary claims been have amicably sorted out by a Malawi-Zambia
Joint Commission and beacons are being constructed to clearly mark
the territorial boundaries. As Zambia relies on transport through
Malawi for an outlet to the Indian Ocean, regional transport remains
the largest issue of collaboration and potential contention between
the two countries. Updating raid extensions linking the two
countries, such as construction of the Mchinji-Chipata rail line
funded by the Zambian government and scheduled to begin in late
2007, is a viable area for future development.
¶12. (U) During the campaign for the recent Zambian presidential
election, opposition leader Michael Sata took advantage of Malawi’s
diplomatic relations with Taiwan, traveling to Lilongwe at least two
times to meet with Taiwanese government and business
representatives. Sata’s trips to Malawi and criticism of the PRC
presence in Zambia gained substantial press coverage and forced the
GRZ to defend its relationship with Beijing. To the extent that the
GRZ believed Malawi was allowing Taiwan to give political and
financial support to a leading opposition figure (and the
President’s nemesis), the incident could have strained relations
between the two capitals. However, President Mutharika’s attendance
at Zambia’s 2006 National Day celebration, where he was designated a
guest of honor, showed that the GRZ had set aside any hard feelings
over the matter.
Malawi and Mozambique
¶13. (U) Malawi is surrounded by Mozambique on most of its east,
south and part of its west. There are no border disputes between the
¶14. (U) Between 1985 and 1995, Malawi accommodated more than a
million refugees from Mozambique. The refugee crisis placed a
substantial strain on Malawi’s economy but also drew significant
inflows of international assistance. The accommodation and eventual
repatriation of the Mozambicans is considered a major success by
¶15. (U) The largest current sector of overlap and interaction
between Mozambique and Malawi comes on the side of transportation.
Prior to the onset of the civil war in Mozambique in the 1970s,
approximately 60 percent of Malawi’s imports and exports were routed
via rail to the Mozambican deep sea port of Beira. Though the
railway became inoperable during the war, an important road route
now links Malawi to Beira. Many of Malawi’s imports, including
approximately 60 percent of its fuel, are trucked in via this route.
Mozambique has begun rehabilitation of the Sena Line to Beira
within Mozambique, which is scheduled to reopen in 2009. Malawi
could regain rail access directly to Beira by rehabilitating its
LILONGWE 00000144 003 OF 003
section and linking up to the Sena Line.
¶16. (U) The Nacala corridor to Mozambique’s Northern coast currently
serves as Malawi’s only all-rail route to port and provides another
route for fuel imports into Malawi. Shipping volume via Nacala is
relatively low at present owing both to port’s degraded
infrastructure, which has made shipping from the port unreliable,
and the fact that road transport to other ports is currently less
expensive and more dependable. Upgrades to Nacala’s rail and port
facilities are currently underway which should dramatically increase
the efficiency of the Nacala corridor, making it a more attractive
¶17. (SBU) Despite these promising developments in regional rail
options, the GOM, and President Mutharika in particular, is pushing
to develop a Shire-Zambezi Waterway, in order to transport goods by
ship from Southern Malawi through the Zambezi River to the central
Mozambican coast. The concept is still in the early stages of
pre-feasibility assessment, but is considered by many to be
economically infeasible and lacking critical regional support. Most
of the infrastructure investment required to realize this project
would actually fall to Mozambique, which has not demonstrated any
significant interest to date in developing a water transportation
system, instead focusing on developing its rail lines.
Malawi and Zimbabwe
¶18. (U) While Malawi and Zimbabwe are not contiguous neighbors they
have had a much closer social, political and economic relationship.
A significant number of Zimbabweans, with estimates ranging into the
millions, are of Malawian origin. Both Malawi and Zimbabwe are
former British colonies and former members of the Central African
Federation which also included Zambia. Many Malawians were imported
to Zimbabwe as laborers under the Federation. Also, a number of
both white and black Zimbabwean expats–including the former Clerk
of the Zimbabwean parliament, tourist operators, and a number of
Zimbabwean farmers–are currently living and working in Malawi.
¶19. (U) In addition to the traditional historical similarities
between the two countries, Mlawi also currently has strong
political ties with Zimbabwe. President Mutharika, whose wife is
Zimbabwean, is a close personal friend to President Robert Mugabe.
According to a Foreign Ministry official Malawi’s stand on Mugabe is
that he is being treated unfairly. There is a perception that the
west keeps finding fault with Mugabe in an effort to dislodge him.
The official pointed to the white farm seizures, the 2002 election
and the 2005 demolitions of “illegal structures” as issues used by
the west to demonize Mugabe. Malawian civil society’s opposition to
the naming of a highway after Mugabe showed that President
Mutharika’s support for Mugabe is not shared by all Malawians.
¶20. (SBU) Two potential developments within the region could prove
to become major issues in Malawi. As noted above, if the GOM pushes
forward with the development of the Shire-Zambezi Waterway it will
have to enter into serious negotiations with the government of
Mozambique, which would need to build the port. These could expose a
crippling divergence of views, however, as Mozambique has shown no
interest in developing the Shire-Zambezi waterway and instead
remains focused on expanding its railrmad routes and improving its
existing ports. Further abroad, the political and economic
situation playing itself out in Zimbabwe could have an enormous
impact on Malawi, especially if it were to take a drastic turn for
the worse. So far only a few Zimbabweans of Malawian origin have
been repatriated to Malawi. Worsening economic conditions in
Zimbabwe could enlarge the trickle of Zimbabweans arriving in
Malawi. End Comment.
¶21. (U) This report has been coordinated informally with colleagues
in Dar es Salaam, Maputo, Harare and Lusaka.