Malawi’s foreign minister says his country has begun talks to strengthen bilateral ties with both Mozambique and Zambia following months of strained diplomatic relations.
Peter Mutharika, younger brother of President Bingu Wa Mutharika, said there is need for Lilongwe to foster good neighborliness and strong ties among nations in southern Africa.
“That’s why we have started talking to find ways [to] improve our relationships. Neighbors sometimes can have minor issues, and those issues you always resolve through talking so that we can find our ways forward,” said Mutharika.
There has been an ongoing diplomatic spat between Malawi and Zambia. Since the recent election of Zambia President Michael Sata, relations between Lusaka and Lilongwe seem to have deteriorated.
As an opposition leader, Mr. Sata was deported from Malawi in 2006 by the Mutharika government after visiting former President Bakili Muluzi. Since coming to power in elections this year, President Sata has demanded an apology from the Malawi government; Lilongwe has refused.
Mr. Sata snubbed Mr. Mutharika by refusing to invite him to Zambia’s recent independence anniversary celebrations. Mr. Sata instead invited Malawi Vice President Joyce Banda and former President Bakili Muluzi, both of whom oppose Mr. Mutharika.
Mozambique also engaged in diplomatic row with Malawi over the Shire-Zambezi waterway. Lilongwe accused Maputo of breaking agreements on making a “trial run” to test the navigability of the waterway from the Indian Ocean to the Malawian inland port of Nsanje.
Foreign minister Mutharika expressed hope that Malawi’s newly opened official communication lines with neighboring countries will help to resolve any “hitch.”
“One has always to be optimistic [about this]… that these discussions will move forward,” said Mutharika. “Actually the relationship is not as bad as [people] are presenting it. There have been some minor disagreements but, it is very cordial. Our heads of state are friendly with each other. They are just issues between countries that always exist between neighbors. It’s important not to magnify them.”
Britain suspended aid to Malawi and expelled its envoy. This came after President Mutharika expelled British High Commissioner Fergus Cochrane-Dyet in April for criticizing him. Since then, Malawi has made efforts to restore normal relations, and aid.
“We have started a process and I hope that that process will lead to a good result,” said Mutharika. “Am hopeful that relations will improve…There was a hitch, and we are trying to find ways to re-establish, to make sure that the relationship goes back to where it was before.”