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Mutharika had longstanding personal rapport with Mugabe

Former Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika had a longstanding personal rapport with President Robert Mugabe and was highly unlikely to support any effort to remove or condemn Mugabe.

This was said by the United States embassy in Lilongwe as it assessed Mutharika just before his appointment as chairman of the African Union.

The embassy said Bingu and his brother, Peter, shared a reflex, perhaps born out of their childhood experiences with British colonialism, to resist any attempt by foreign donors or other leaders to push their “outsider”approaches to African challenges.

 

Full cable:

 

Viewing cable 10LILONGWE51, PRESIDENT MUTHARIKA’S AGENDA FOR THE AU

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Reference ID

Created

Classification

Origin

10LILONGWE51

2010-01-28 16:48

CONFIDENTIAL

Embassy Lilongwe

VZCZCXRO0594

OO RUEHBZ RUEHDU RUEHJO RUEHLMC RUEHMR RUEHPA RUEHRN RUEHTRO

DE RUEHLG #0051/01 0281712

ZNY CCCCC ZZH

O 281648Z JAN 10

FM AMEMBASSY LILONGWE

TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0033

INFO AFRICAN UNION COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE

RHEHNSC/WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE

RHMFISS/HQ USAFRICOM STUTTGART GE IMMEDIATE

RUEHDS/AMEMBASSY ADDIS ABABA 0001

RUEHLMC/MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE CORPORATION WASHINGTON DC

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 LILONGWE 000051

 

SIPDIS

ADDIS ABABA FOR A/S CARSON

AMEMBASSY YAOUNDE PASS TO AMEMBASSY MALABO

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 2020/01/28

TAGS: AU EAID ECON EINV PREL MI

SUBJECT: PRESIDENT MUTHARIKA’S AGENDA FOR THE AU

 

REF: 09 LILONGWE 690; 10 LILONGWE 37; 09 LILONGWE 676

09 LILONGWE 454; 09 LILONGWE 478

 

CLASSIFIED BY: Sullivan Kevin, DCM; REASON: 1.4(B), (D)

 

1.       SUMMARY: Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika has not

articulated a specific agenda for the African Union if, as

expected, he is elected the organization’s chair at the AU’s

upcoming summit in Addis Ababa. To date, Mutharika has generally

kept a low profile on international political issues. He appears

unlikely to pursue an active role as an international mediator on

difficult issues like Sudan, Somalia or Zimbabwe.   He has shown

little inclination or talent as a conciliator domestically.

Mutharika has shown genuine enthusiasm, on the other hand, for

development and economic issues, but has tended to oppose IMF

orthodoxy and “Western” solutions to African problems. The

President has also expressed a keen interest in climate change, and

could potentially be helpful in urging more African countries to

associate themselves with the Copenhagen Accords. President

Mutharika would relish his role as Chair of the African Union, but

the USG should nurture realistic expectations concerning the

quality of leadership and energy this aging, contrarian leader and

his tiny and underfunded diplomatic team will bring to the office.

End Summary.

 

 

 

2.   As the Southern African Development Community’s candidate

for Chairperson of the African Union, Malawian President Bingu wa

Mutharika appears likely to be elected to the post at the upcoming

heads of state summit in Addis Ababa (ref A).   Malawi’s Ministry

of Foreign Affairs (MFA) recently expressed confidence that Malawi

has enough confirmed support around the continent to prevail over

any Libyan attempt to extend its chairmanship. The President told

a group of donors January 18 (ref B) that he had not yet formulated

a detailed agenda for his term as head of the AU, but would instead

consult with other heads of state at the Addis summit to learn

their views. He promised to brief the Lilongwe diplomatic corps on

his plans soon after returning from Ethiopia.

 

 

 

——————————————— ———————-

—–

 

BINGU: CREATURE OF INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS

 

——————————————— ———————-

—–

 

 

 

3.   While we have no explicit pronouncements concerning

Mutharika’s vision for his possible year as Chairperson, his long

career as an international civil servant and statements outside the

AU context provide some clues as to his views.   Assuming the AU

Chair would mark the pinnacle of Mutharika’s long career as an

international civil servant. He began his international work as a

low-level officer with the United Nations in 1966 and, after a

stint at the World Bank in the mid 1970’s, returned to the UN in

1978 as Director of Trade Development and Finance, serving both in

the United States and in Addis Ababa. From 1991 to 1997, Mutharika

served as Secretary General of what would eventually become the

Common Market of Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).   His

tenure there ended badly, with allegations of financial

mismanagement and a rumored feud with then Malawi’s then-president,

Bakili Muluzi. Nonetheless, Mutharika would bring to the position

of AU Chair a sense that the job is a logical next step for a man

who has dedicated much of his professional life to African regional

issues and organizations.

 

 

 

————————-

 

AFRICA OLD-THINK

 

————————-

 

LILONGWE 00000051 002 OF 004

 

 

4.   Bingu, as he is known in Malawi, would also bring to the

Chairmanship a set of views on policy issues that are in many ways

a throwback to African “old-think.” Malawi still boasts a rapidly

growing economy, but the President over the last few years has

adopted an increasingly statist perspective on major economic

issues. He has largely crowded the private sector out of his

signature fertilizer subsidy program and set unrealistic minimum

prices for agricultural crops. Bingu has called for Malawi’s

transformation from an importing and consuming nation to a

producing and exporting country, but his stubborn insistence on an

overvalued exchange rate and periodic hostility to foreign

investors has hampered this process. He threw several senior

executives from U.S.-based tobacco companies out of Malawi,

purportedly because they refused to pay the minimum prices the

President had established for the commodity. U.S. firm Cargill

recently pulled out of the cotton sector for the same reason (ref

C).

 

 

 

5.   Although foreign assistance makes up approximately 40

percent of Malawi’s national budget, the President has staked out

public positions in opposition to conventional wisdom coming from

donors, including international financial institutions. Mutharika

has argued that none of the world fastest developing economies over

recent decades has followed the orthodox prescriptions of the IMF

and other Western donors, so why should Malawi? In fact, the GOM

has maintained reasonable fiscal discipline since Bingu came to

power and has not taken significant steps to nationalize industries

or land, so the President’s bark has in some ways been worse than

his bite.   It would not be surprising, however, if Mutharika used

the AU Chair as a platform to project some of his more contrarian

economic notions, particularly given his own credentials as an

international economist

 

 

 

——————————————— ———————

 

FAVORITES: FOOD SECURITY AND CLIMATE CHANGE

 

——————————————— ———————

 

 

 

6.   Food Security and climate change are two development issues

where President Mutharika has demonstrated a strong interest (ref

D). Bingu has made food security his number one domestic priority,

and his agricultural input subsidy program has won him popularity

at home and plaudits abroad. While the program deserves some

credit for Malawi’s recent bumper harvests, it has suffered from

mismanagement, politicization and corruption. Consistently good

rains have had at least as much to do with the country’s recent

success as the subsidy program. On climate change, Mutharika has

spoken frequently and passionately about the need for African

countries like Malawi both to mitigate the phenomenon and adapt to

it. What is less clear is the GOM’s attitude toward the recent

accord struck in Copenhagen, about which the President has said

little. Bingu is likely to blame the developed world for the

problem and push hard for as much money as possible from rich

countries, but may be persuaded to support and follow the current

process, and urge other countries in the region to do the same.

 

 

 

—————————————

 

LOW KEY ON POLITICAL ISSUES

 

—————————————

 

 

 

7.   While he has sought out the international spotlight on

economic issues, President Mutharika has generally kept a low

profile on key African political issues including Sudan, Somalia,

Madagascar and Zimbabwe. In the case of Zimbabwe, the President

(like many Malawians) has deep personal connections to this

neighbor. Mutharika has a longstanding personal rapport with

Robert Mugabe, and so is highly unlikely to support any effort to

remove or condemn him. Bingu and his brother, Justice Minister

Peter Mutharika, share a reflex, perhaps born out of their

 

LILONGWE 00000051 003 OF 004

 

 

childhood experiences with British colonialism, to resist any

attempt by foreign donors or other leaders to push their “outsider”

approaches to African challenges.

 

 

 

8.    That said, Malawi has generally supported moderate SADC

positions on regional issues, and has dipped its toe into regional

peacekeeping missions, particularly MONUC, through company-size

deployments. Plans to deploy an entire Malawian battalion to UNMIS

in Sudan and then MINURCAT in Chad fell through due primarily to

the Malawi Defense Forces’ (MDF) lack of required equipment. The

USG has provided extensive and successful PKO training to the MDF

through the ACOTA program and has provided some PKO equipment (ref

E), but the GOM is still short some $15 million worth of equipment.

President Mutharika recently told a group of diplomats that he did

not intend to divert scarce resources from development projects to

buy peacekeeping material. If donors want us to deploy, he

concluded, they will have to buy us what we need. His assumption

of the AU Chair may nevertheless provide additional opportunities

to engage Bingu on this point, as well as some added motivation for

Malawi to shine on the continental stage.

 

 

 

———————————

 

CHINA’S RISING PROFILE

 

———————————

 

 

 

9.     One foreign power with whom President Mutharika seems

happy to work is China. As it has in other African countries,

China is assuming an increasingly prominent role in Malawi. The

Chinese are now changing the face of Lilongwe’s Capitol Hill by

constructing the country’s imposing new Parliament building as well

as a five-star hotel and conference center. The hotel and

conference center, as well as a new stadium in Lilongwe, are being

financed by concessional loans, not grants, but neither President

Mutharika and nor other senior officials have explained to the

public that the Malawian people will eventually get the bill for

these projects. Some significant off-the-books assistance to

senior government and ruling party officials may be one reason for

the increasingly warm relationship.

 

 

 

——————————————— ———————-

——-

 

MALAWI’S MFA: UNDERSTAFFED AND UNDER-RESOURCED

 

——————————————— ———————-

——-

 

 

 

10.   Post has enjoyed a positive and productive relationship

with senior Malawian MFA officials over the last year or so.

Malawi has supported recognition for Kosovo, as well as key human

rights resolutions concerning Iran and Burma. At the same time, we

are concerned that the MFA’s small staff will be overwhelmed by the

increased demands of chairing the AU, and could well disappoint in

its ability to organize meetings or pursue solutions on key issues.

The Ambassador and DCM have discussed with the GOM and other donors

the need to increase the MFA’s human resources to address this

looming challenge, but have so far received only vague assurances

that the MFA and Malawian Mission in Addis Ababa will dedicate

sufficient resources to meet their new responsibilities. When the

Ambassador discussed the issue with Justice Minister and

presidential brother Peter Mutharika, the latter’s only request was

for additional assistance to cover travel and other expenses. The

used corporate jet the President recently purchased should prove

useful for AU-related travel within Africa, but the GOM may have to

divert resources from other accounts to fill the gas tank.

 

 

 

11.   President Mutharika will relish his expected role as Chair

of the African Union, but we should all nurture realistic

 

LILONGWE 00000051 004 OF 004

 

 

expectations concerning the quality of leadership and energy this

aging, contrarian leader and his tiny and underfunded diplomatic

team will bring to the office.

BODDE

 

(11 VIEWS)

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