Malawi expels British envoy over scathing leaked document

Blantyre, Malawi (PANA) - Malawi has given a top British envoy 48 hours to leave the country only days after a leading weekly published a scathing leaked cable between him and British Foreign Affairs Minister, William Hague.

The Weekend Nation published Fergus Cochrane-Dyet cable to Hague in which he outlined what he termed as "Malawi worsening governance and deteriorating human rights situation".

Malawi's Foreign Affairs Minister, Prof. Etta Banda, Monday summoned Cochrane-Dyet to a meeting where she was given 48 hours to leave Malawi.

"Prof. Banda said he had instructions to expel His Excellency Cochrane-Dyet because she said Malawi had lost confidence in him," said a source privy to what has been dubbed 'highly-sensitive' discussion.

Prof. Banda's phone was switched off the whole afternoon while his deputy Stevyn Kamwendo expressed ignorance about the meeting but British High Commission Political Officer Lewis Kulisewa, while he could not confirm nor deny the expulsion, told PANA the meeting indeed took place.

"The British High Commissioner was summoned to see Foreign Affairs Minister Prof. Etta Banda on Monday afternoon in response to an article published by Weekend Nation," said Kulisewa, adding: "The High Commission awaits official notification of what the minister said at that meeting and will make a statement to the media."

In the cable, Cochrane-Dyet had outlined a number of concerns on good governance and human rights.

"The governance situation continues to deteriorate in terms of media freedom, freedom of speech and minority rights," the British envoy said.

Cochrane-Dyet said President Bingu wa Mutharika "is becoming ever more autocratic and intolerant of criticism", citing a recent public speech where Mutharika called on his supporters to go to the streets to fight his critics to bring discipline in this country.

He said civil society activists report a campaign of intimidation through threatening anonymous phone calls.

"They seem genuinely afraid," observed Cochrane-Dyet in the cable to the British top diplomat. "The office of one high profile activist has allegedly been raided and his house broken into. There are unsubstantiated rumours that the ruling party is forming a youth wing modelled on the Young Pioneers used as a tool of repression during the country’s three-decade dictatorship."

Cochrane-Dyet told Hague the Mutharika administration was increasingly growing impatient with the donor community with some ambassador being summoned by the Foreign Minister "for a dressing down, others (including me) have been summoned by the President’s brother for gentler delivery of the same message."

Describing the 77-year-old economist-turned-politician as a "this combative President" Cochrane-Dyet expressed worry that the situation in Malawi "is likely to rise still further ahead of elections in 2014" when some politicians in the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) want Mutharika to be succeeded by his 71-year-old younger brother, Education Minister Prof. Peter Mutharika.

"There is a real risk that the President vitriolic rhetoric will prompt his supporters to take unauthorised action against civil society or faith group activists (like Henry II’s knights)," he observed. "If activists are hurt or killed, this would call into question the Government’s eligibility for future budget support under DFIDs underlying principles."

The German, US and Norwegian governments have also expressed disquiet about the deteriorating Malawi situation with Berlin announcing it was halving its pledged aid to Malawi. Cochrane-Dyet observed that further withdrawal of donor aid will be disastrous for the impoverished southern African country.

"The effect of a serious cut in overseas aid for the fragile Malawian economy and for development would be serious; the 75% of Malawians who live on less than $1 per day would suffer most. The President’s brother looked thoughtful when I spelled this out to him," concludes the cable which was circulating widely on the Internet before the Weekend Nation picked it up.
-0- PANA RT/VAO 18April2011

18 april 2011 18:38:56

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