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African Statesmen Aim to Calm Tensions Ahead of Malawi Elections 

Leaders of the African Leadership Forum are expected at peace negotiations today between Malawi President Bingu Wa Mutharika and former President Bakili Muluzi to calm escalating tensions ahead of this year's general elections. The leaders comprising former Mozambican President Joachim Chissano and former Ghanaian President John Kufuor aim to diffuse tensions after Muluzi was briefly arrested over graft charges. Muluzi is accused of transferring more than $11-million in donor funds into his personal account, an allegation the former president denies. Supporters of Muluzi are accusing the government of political manipulation and blackmailing of the opposition in the runup to the May 19 vote. Noel Mbowela is a political science professor at the Malawi's Chancellor College in Zomba. He tells reporter Peter Clottey that the tensions between President Mutharika and his predecessor will be almost impossible to resolve.

"It is true that today we are expecting the former Presidents, Ghana's John Kufuor, Mozambique's Joachim Chissano, to try and work on the tension that is supposedly there between President Bingu Wa Mutharika and Bakili Muluzi. This actually has happened because, as you recall, soon after the departure of the two former heads of state, the government here through the Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) issued a warrant of arrest to the former president. So quite obviously, it's like a stab in the back. These two leaders were in the country, and soon after they left, this sad development happened," Mbowela pointed out.

He said the African statesmen were there last week and had to return to ensure tensions are reduced ahead of the elections.

"I am very sure that they are coming to find out what has probably transpired in the last 48 hours. And probably whether the agreement, which they reached with the stakeholders have been abrogated in anyway," he said.

Mbowela said the African statesmen face a herculean task of finding a lasting solution to escalating tensions between the presidents.

"It's very doubtful that they will be able to solve this problem, I think, from two perspectives. The first one is, you see, now the thing has gone into the legal realm. It is now in the court, and therefore arbitration in this case is very tricky. It will depend on how the legal fraternity is going to interpret the allegations and the pace, of course, at which they are going to handle it. So I doubt it if their coming is going to make any impact because they can't go beyond a certain limit," Mbowela pointed out.

He said the opposing parties are too entrenched in their positions to allow for an amicable solution ahead of the May 19 elections.

"We are at a very crucial moment when we are preparing for an election, and quite obviously, the two camps, which are fighting now would not be easily cooled down when time is running out for the elections. So I don't think there would be a big impact, even if they returned because it's like the problem has grown bigger and beyond what they can do to help resolve it," he said.

Mbowela said the possible disqualification of the former president from participating in the upcoming election could undermine the country's peace.

"I think that is the tricky part to disqualify the former president, and we never know what will happen if Muluzi is rejected. But for sure, some people are going to react very, very badly to that development. Why? Because you see, it looks like the arrest (of the former president) is political now. Muluzi has been arrested at the very wrong time, when we are preparing for general election, and at a time when he expressed the willingness to contest. So much as there could be some credit to his arrest and the allegation, people will say it was very political, and therefore, the whole move is simply there to try and frustrate the opposition. And quite obviously, the reaction would not be very good. And I believe this is why the AU (African Union) delegation is in the country," Mbowela noted.

Muluzi's arrest came shortly after the departure of the leaders of the African forum, who held peace negotiations between President Mutharika, Muluzi and other Malawi opposition leaders. The African leaders announced that all the parties agreed in principle to enter into another round of dialogue to curb escalating tensions ahead of the May 19 vote. The contest between incumbent President Mutharika and Mr. Muluzi is expected to be intensely fought.

Muluzi is constitutionally barred from standing for office after successfully serving two consecutive terms as Malawi's president from 1994 to 2004. He tried unsuccessfully to amend the constitution to enable him stand again for a third term as the presidential candidate of the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) party.

The electoral commission is expected soon to determine Muluzi's eligibility for the upcoming election. Some political analysts believe Muluzi's disqualification could plunge the country into chaos.

The outgoing president handed over power to his handpicked successor Bingu Wa Mutharika five years ago. But the two fell out after Mutharika accused Muluzi of trying to control his government. This prompted Mutharika to resign from the ruling UDF to form his own political party the Democratic People's Party (DPP).