Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika told civil society in Malawi that he was going to urge President Robert Mugabe to undertake reforms during his visit to the country following criticism over his naming a highway in honour of the Zimbabwean leader.
But sceptics, including the United States embassy, did not believe Mutharika because of the close connections he had with Zimbabwe and Mugabe.
Mutharika’s wife, Ethel, was a Zimbabwean and had a farm in Zimbabwe to which Mutharika often travelled during holidays.
Mutharika’s relationship with Mugabe himself was reported to be close with the Malawian press often referring to Mugabe as Mutharika’s uncle.
Besides, Zimbabwe was also reported to be the home of about three million “Malawians”.
Viewing cable 06LILONGWE365, MUTARIKA QUELLS DEBATE ON MUGABE VISIT
RR RUEHDU RUEHJO RUEHMR
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R 260831Z APR 06
FM AMEMBASSY LILONGWE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2675
INFO RUCNSAD/SOUTHERN AFRICAN DEVELOPMENT COMMUNITY
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RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 0205
RUEHSB/AMEMBASSY HARARE 1306
UNCLAS LILONGWE 000365
STATE FOR AF/S GABRIELLE MALLORY
STATE FOR INR/AA
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SUBJECT: MUTARIKA QUELLS DEBATE ON MUGABE VISIT
¶1. (SBU) Summary: Malawian civil society organizations have
recently criticized the GOM for inviting Zimbabwean President
Robert Mugabe to visit Malawi and open a new road, named
after Mugabe himself. Local NGO leaders say Malawi should not
name roads after human rights violators such as Mugabe.
President Mutharika has privately tried to assuage the
concerns of civil society and the diplomatic community,
claiming that he will use the visit to quietly urge Mugabe to
undertake reforms. However, Mutharika’s numerous connections
with Zimbabwe–including his Zimbabwean-national wife and
large farm in the country–make it difficult to believe he
will push Mugabe too much, if at all. End Summary.
¶2. (U) Mugabe is scheduled to visit Malawi from May 3-5, and
the GOM plans to open the recently completed “Robert Mugabe
Highway” in Southern Malawi during the visit. This would be
the second road named after the president of Zimbabwe, which
is home to roughly 3 million Zimbabweans of Malawian origin.
Mutharika met with civil society leaders on April 24th to
address their fears, capping off a vigorous government public
information campaign of press statements and paid ads to
defend Mugabe’s visit.
¶3. (SBU) According to NGO reps who participated in the
meeting, Mutharika said he would speak with Mugabe, and ask
him not to use the visit as a platform to speak out against
the West–a major concern of civil society (due to their
stated fears that the visit might affect donor funding in
Malawi). Mutharika also agreed to try and set up a meeting
between representatives from women’s organizations and
Mugabe, so that the organizations could voice their concerns
to Mugabe directly. Finally, Mutharika agreed to develop a
statute outlining the process for honoring important leaders,
which was a suggestion of the delegation. For their part,
the civil society groups in attendance agreed to cancel
planned demonstrations during the visit, and to back off
their concerns over naming the road after President Mugabe.
¶4. (U) Mutharika has long-standing ties to Mugabe, and
Zimbabwe in general. His wife, Ethel Mutharika, is a
Zimbabwean citizen. He also owns a large farm in Zimbabwe,
to which he often travels during holidays. Mutharika and
Mugabe’s relationship is particularly close, and the Malawian
press often refers to Mugabe as Mutharika’s “uncle”. These
personal ties, along with the large number of “Malawians”
living in Zimbabwe, seem to be Mutharika’s motivation for
inviting, and honoring, Mugabe.
¶5. (SBU) Comment: Mutharika’s meeting, following up full page
ads and op-eds by government spokesmen in local papers, shows
just how focused the GOM is on making sure Mugabe’s visit
goes smoothly. Yet while Mutharika has privately assured
diplomatic community members and NGOs that Mugabe’s visit
will be kept in control, it is difficult to believe that
Mugabe won’t use the opportunity to yet again take a swing at
the international community. Mutharika’s promise of a
meeting between Mugabe and the NGO community also seems
fairly unlikely to take place, as Mugabe himself would have
to sign off on such an event. Regardless, it seems as if
government is set on naming the road after Mugabe, while
hoping to keep civil society quiet throughout the visit.