Malawi in a regional and international context
The Muluzi government has broken Banda’s isolationist foreign policy and made Malawi an active member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). It has good and peaceful relations with its three neighbors (Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique). Malawi has enjoyed particular importance in the African Union since President Mutharika was elected chairman at the AU summit in Addis Ababa on January 31, 2010. He took over the office from the founder of the AU, the Libyan head of state Gaddafi, for one year and passed the baton on to his counterpart from Equatorial Guinea on January 30, 2011.
At the end of May 2011, Ban Ki-Moon, a UN Secretary General, visited the country for the first time. After Mutharika’s first term of office (2004-2009) was marked by domestic political tensions, the focus of the second term was on his international travel activities.
According to ethnicityology, Joyce Banda changed course in foreign policy by declaring on June 4, 2012 that the then Sudanese President Bashir, wanted by the International Criminal Court, was not welcome to the AU summit planned for July 2012 and would possibly be arrested. As a consequence of Bashir’s massive protest, the summit on June 8th, 2012 was canceled by Banda and moved to Addis Ababa. In August 2013, Joyce Banda took over the rotating chairmanship of SADC for one year.
After the conflict between RENAMO and the government in Mozambique flared up again, more refugees came to Malawi in 2016. Even after the controversial elections, a few hundred people fled to Malawi in October 2019. At the beginning of the 1990’s, at the height of the civil war, over a million fled Mozambicans lived at times in Malawian refugee camps (this corresponded to a share of around 10% of the Malawian population)
In August 2012 there were serious disputes with Tanzania over the course of the border in Lake Malawi. Lilongwe claims the entire lake on the basis of a border treaty from 1890, while Tanzania wants the middle of the water to be defined as the border. The aggression was triggered by the Tanzanian Foreign Minister, who publicly threatened war. This was preceded by Malawi’s permission to a British company to examine oil deposits in the lake. Peaceful negotiations that started on August 20, 2012 were quickly agreed. Since an agreement could not be reached on a bilateral level, the unification mandated by former presidents in southern Africa, chaired by former Mozambican President Chissano, to mediate the conflict in December 2012. If these ongoing efforts are also unsuccessful, the International Court of Justice should be called in. Meanwhile, a new map put into circulation by Tanzania, which, contrary to international law, shows the center of Lake Malawi as the border between the two states, caused displeasure. Even a personal conversation between Mutharika and his Tanzanian counterpart Magufuli at the end of January 2017 was not a breakthrough achievement. The problem was excluded from the otherwise good relationships for the time being. The Chakwera government maintains this course. During his inaugural visit to Tanzania in October 2020, Chakwera and his counterpart Magufuli declared the conflict a “non-issue”.
The most important relationships remain with Western Europe and the United States, as this is where the development aid comes from, on which the country is highly dependent. Muluzi had established and expanded relations with Arab states (above all Libya and Egypt) that had not existed until then. Relations with Taiwan established in the 1960’s were abandoned in late December 2007 in favor of relations with the People’s Republic of China. President Mutharika opened a Malawian embassy in March 2008 as part of his state visit to Beijing. In May 2010 the elaborate parliament building in Lilongwe, begun by Taiwan and completed by Beijing, was handed over to the Malawian government. Construction costs were estimated at US $ 40 million. China has other major projects (luxury hotels, highways, etc.), but some of them have not yet been completed. In general, China’s economic influence is increasing. In October 2019, President Mutharika attended the Russian-African Summit, where he had a half-hour conversation with President Putin. Russian investments in nuclear energy, rare earths and medicine were promised. Meanwhile, President Chakwera’s announcement in early September 2020 that he would open a Malawian embassy in Jerusalem caused irritation. However, at the same time he announced the opening of an embassy in Lagos, Nigeria (and not in the capital Abudja). The opening of a Malawian embassy in Jerusalem was specified during the visit of Foreign Minister Mkapa to Israel in November 2020. This project also met with criticism. So far, diplomatic relations with Israel and Nigeria have been maintained without an embassy on site.
The Federal Foreign Office provides information on relations between Germany and Malawi. At the beginning of September 2010, Mutharika was on a state visit to Germany. It was the first official visit by a Malawian president since 1981. In addition to Berlin, where he was received by the Federal President and Chancellor, he also visited the port of Hamburg, which serves as a model for a planned inland port in Nsanje in the south of Malawi, and met German entrepreneurs in Frankfurt. He also met with board members of the German-Malawian Society. At the beginning of January 2019, Development Aid Minister Gerd Müller visited Malawi. He announced substantial new commitments (see under “German Development Cooperation”).
Relations with Great Britain, one of the largest bilateral donors, have not always been tense. As a result of an e-mail from the British ambassador to the Foreign Office in London that was allegedly unintentionally public in April 2011, in which he described the then President Bingu wa Mutharika as increasingly authoritarian and averse to criticism, the British ambassador became a persona non-gratadeclared and expelled from the country. In return, the acting Malawian ambassador in London was expelled. These events also strained relations with the EU, the US and other major donor countries. When Joyce Banda came to power in April 2012, relations with Western donors improved immediately. The exchange of ambassadors was carried out with Great Britain. Development aid payments were resumed, but budget support was frozen again after the Cash Gate scandal became known. Apart from the Cash Gate scandal, Malawi’s relations with donors in Europe, the EU and North America are currently relaxed. However, President Peter Mutharika considered the resumption of budget support unlikely.
The importance of the partners USA, China and Great Britain as development models is discussed controversially in Malawi.