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‘Sleepy Malawi’ in intensive diplomatic mission, to establish embassy in Jerusalem

By Mwangi Maina | November 13th 2020 at 18:12:09 GMT +0300

Malawi foreign affairs Minister Eisenhower Mkaka having a chat with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during Mkaka's visit in Israel.

Four months after he took an oath, in the middle of a global pandemic, to truly perform the functions of the high office of President of the Republic of Malawi, Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera has been on an intensive diplomatic charm offensive in the region and abroad.

Ex-Malawi High Commissioner to South Africa and Tokyo, Dr James John Chikago however says he doesn’t understand the actual reason behind the state visits, but acknowledges there was diplomatic isolation during Prof. Arthur Peter Mutharika’s tenure.

‘’He never traveled outside the country, there was massive isolation,’’ Dr Chikago says.

‘Sleepy Malawi’ because of the potential the former British colony drowses on, not only in agriculture but also in tourism.

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A landlocked country in the Great Lakes Region, nicknamed ‘The Warm Heart of Africa’, Malawi- one of the world’s least- developed nations registered double history in February 2020, when it’s Constitutional Court overturned the Presidential election of May 2019, and in June- when the opposition won a rerun election to become the first African country where a repeat poll was won by the opposition candidate.

President Chakwera, as many would say, is on a first-term overlap that is diplomatically positioning Nyasaland- as formerly known during independence, in the region, continent and globally.

Malawi- Israel relations

Malawi established relations with Israel in 1964, since then, the two nations continue to enjoy cordial and warm historical engagement with social and economic development partnerships being at center stage.

Recently, Lilongwe declared interest in establishing a fully-fledged embassy in Jerusalem. A move Malawi’s foreign minister Eisenhower Mkaka referred as ‘’bold and significant’’ during his November visit to Israel.

Mkaka met Israeli’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who re-affirmed through their talks, the opening of an embassy in Jerusalem as a move to cement both countries diplomatic ties.

His Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi welcomed President Chakwera’s move to open an embassy, urging other African leaders to follow Lilongwe’s decision.

This will make Malawi the first African nation in decades to open an embassy in the disputed city of Jerusalem.

The status of Jerusalem is contested, with Israel claiming the entire city as its capital while Palestine says it should be her capital.

Many countries with ties in Israel opt for Tel Aviv as the location for establishing their diplomatic missions. Only the United States of America and Guatemala have embassies in Jerusalem.

Ambassador Joseph Oded, Israel’s envoy to Malawi with a permanent residence in Nairobi in an interview with Standard Digital says Malawi is one of the three African countries that did not cut ties with Israel during the ups and downs of the latter’s relationship to African states in the late 60’s.

Lilongwe is scheduled to open the mission by the summer of 2021, according to Malawi’s foreign Minister Mkaka.

Key Partnerships

During the November 3 meeting in Israel, Minister Mkaka expressed his country’s gratitude to Israel ongoing support through MASHAV (Israeli’s Agency for International Development Cooperation) programs and the agricultural training program for Malawian students in Israel.

Amb. Oded says social and economic development cooperation, particularly in agriculture, education and health are at the heart of the key partnerships.

Israel has established a modern farm in Malawi University of Science and Technology, a project that has been technologically upgraded and gives Malawian agricultural students a glimpse of how Israel uses Agri-tech in running their farms.

Israel has accorded Malawi with an 11 month-agricultural program for her students, a project Ambassador Joseph Oded says is very expensive and vigorous.

Students majoring in agricultural courses are allocated in different farms in Israel, and learn more on Israeli farming as well as Agri-tech.

The envoy adds that the decision by Lilongwe to open an embassy in Jerusalem is significant, and will be beneficial to the people of Malawi. He says the number of students picked for the 11 month-agricultural program has been increased from 40 to 200 annually due to the commitment of establishing a mission.

The involvement of Israeli companies and an establishment of a cancer center are also part of what Amb. Oded calls key achievements between the two nations.

The soft-spoken diplomat further adds, quoting his prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, ‘Israel is back in Africa and Africa is back in Israel’.

Regional Diplomacy

The regional diplomatic charm offensive by the man of God cum Head of State saw him land in Lusaka, Zambia on September 22, this was his first foreign visit since he assumed the presidency.

Malawi's Lazarus Chakwera signing the visitors' book at State House Lusaka, looking on is Zambia's President Edgar Lungu.

President McCarthy Chakwera and his Zambian counterpart Edgar Lungu engaged on matters trade and economies.

During the talks, Chakwera called for peaceful co-existence among SADC region member states in order to attain sustainable development. Malawi will assume the regional bloc chairmanship in August 2021, perhaps that informed the decision by Chakwera to engage on regional matters, including the political and security situation in DRC and Cabo Delgado in the northern part of Mozambique.

Eight days later, President Chakwera flew to Harare for talks with President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Apart from trade matters, Israel was key in the discussions, Lilongwe and Harare are turning to Jerusalem for diplomatic support.

Malawi and Zimbabwe have had a long history, they share common values, history and culture. They were one country under the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.

The new kid in the block, seen as a novice in regional and continental diplomacy, and from a trip in Harare, Chakwera settled for a visit to Tete city in Mozambique where he held discussions with his counterpart Filipe Nyusi.

This was the third visit after Zambia and Zimbabwe. The two heads of state engaged more on the insurgency which pose a threat to Malawi and the region. Mozambique is also a key strategic trade partner to Lilongwe.

All state visits done in a span of two weeks, the diplomatic overlap took Chakwera to Tanzania, together with his host President, John Pombe Magufuli, the two agreed to engage more on trade and agriculture in coming days. Malawi promised to utilize Bagamoyo port.

Though the overlap by the religious Head of State badly portrays his predecessor, Prof. Arthur Peter Mutharika, Ex-Malawi High Commissioner to South Africa and Tokyo, Dr James John Chikago told Standard Digital that the landlocked nation was trying to reinvent herself diplomatically in a very fast way, continentally and globally.

The former diplomat further adds that he doesn’t understand what Lilongwe will offer.

‘’Foreign policy must be informed by domestic policy, what do Malawi want to do?’’ paused Dr Chikago.

The ex-envoy says Malawi ought to correct the problems it has domestically then focus on the region and the world.

‘’Malawi has been ignoring local experts, it needs to identify the strengths, what do we want in the foreign arena, diplomacy is all about mutual respect and cooperation,’’ he said.

But regional pundits argue, for Chakwera to reinforce his diplomatic convictions, that indeed Malawi needs her neighbors to develop, the regional crisscrossing is highly needed.

President Chakwera flew to Pretoria, South Africa for a two-day working visit on Thursday 11, and met his South African counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa. The two leaders engaged in bilateral talks along the lines of national development and cooperation between the two countries, including special permits for Malawian citizens working in South Africa.

By the time of publishing this story, President Chakwera had already landed at Kamuzu International airport in Lilongwe from Pretoria.

Malawi launched a foreign and diaspora engagement policy in February 2019, which guides the Ministry of foreign affairs and Malawi’s diplomatic missions abroad in engagements on matters international relations.

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