Friday, September 25, 2009

Don't Move Mzuni

In a recent news report the Vice Chancellor Professor Landson Mhango is reported as having said that Mzuzu University is not in a hurry to relocate to another campus. This is the right decision although it still begs the question: should the university relocate in the first place?. The model of universities as isolated, elite places that provided all the social facilities to students – accommodation, sports facilities, health and entertain facilities – is no longer valid if it ever was. This is particularly the case for a university like Mzuni which relies on fee paying students. It will serve considerable amounts of resources if it relies on the services that the city of Mzuzu as a whole provides to its citizenry. Students’ fees can then be concentrated on teaching facilities. It is also easier for students to find accommodation within the city and transport than in some isolated campus outisde the city limits. One has only to visit Makerere, Nairobi and Addis to see the advantages of locating the universities within the city and compare the difficulties that isolated Unima or Buanda have. . One can sustain a whole range of night classes and enrol much larger numbers of students in a city university as one is likely to be much less constrained by student housing requirements. What Mzuni ought to be doing now is demanding for more space from the city authorities or government around where it is located now.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Mozambicans and Chinese and Malawi

At recent reception we were pulled aside by a Mozambican journalist who had found out that we were from Malawi. The first quesion he asked was “What is wrong with you Malawians?” The journalist claimed Mozambicans were angry about the attack by Malawi police had attacked a Mozambican police station. He said that the President of Malawi had said nothing about the attack twenty four hours after the incident. We responded that our understanding on the Malawi side is that Malawi President was informed by Mozambican authorities of the incident and that Bingu had been taken by surprise. The time lapse could be explaned by the fact he  wanted to verify what exactly what had happened. Our Mozambican journalist hinted that Mozambicans believed that elements of the Malawi government had supportive of RENAMO had deliberately carried out this act. We suggested that this was unlikely and that this was a border incident involving two remote posts whose occupants probably socialised over the border.

On electricity, the understanding in Mozambique is that Malawi had rejected Mozambique’s offer because Malawi had found alternative sources of energy. We suggested that our understanding was that there were disagreements over tariffs. Our neighbour then suggested that Malawi had also not responded positively to the construction of the Tete link up to the border of Malawi. Again the view was that Malawi was rejecting this extension in preference for its own Shire-Zambezi project over which Mozambicans felt they had not been adequately consulted. We suggested that on Malawi side there have been concerns about delays in the repair of Nacala rail. He said that was partly true because the Nampula province had hitherto been controlled by RENAMO. The good news now was that a company closely allied with President of Mozambique was interested in the project.

A surprising question from our neighbour was why Bingu had returned to Malawi on a different plane from the one he had taken to Maputo. We had no response to that as we had never heard of  the changes in the transport arrangements. .

Our journalist also pointed out that Mozambique left COMESA when Bingu was its Executive Secretary and that there was something to that. This took us by surprise considering (a) that Mozambique left COMESA in 1997 after Bingu had left COMESA and (b) only recently Mozambique, Zambia and COMESA had signed a Memorandum on the Shire-Zambezi project. It is true that there was bad blood between the boss of SADC and Bingu at COMESA and that this had polarised the region, with Mozambique, Namibia and Angola leaning towards SADC.

In general Mozambicans seem to believe that Malawi harbours the same designs for Mozambique as Banda had. They resent Malawi’s designs on the Zambezi without adequate consultation.  We assured our neighbour that there is nothing in Malawi foreign policy towards the Southern African region today that draws on Dr. Banda’s legacy and that we have never heard anything from any Malawi politicians questioning the territorial integrity of Mozambique or seeking to interfere in the internal affairs of the country. Our neighbour suggested that this may be true at the top but that many people in the security services were still closely related to their RENAMO colleagues.  
Mozambicans have their own North/South divide and they seem to be the belief that there was ethnic affinity behind Dr. Banda’s support for RENAMO and that somehow Malawi still favours their “North”. We said we doubted that. There is no history of Malawi favouring any of our neighbour's regions because of ethnic affinity. For one,  the groups that cut across borders with Mozambique – Lomwes, Yaos, Ngonis, Sena - do not form one political block in Malawi that would push Malawi in that direction.

Our neighbour also suggested that Malawi was displaying the same nonchalant attitude towards Mozambique as “Anglophones always to towards Lusophones”.

Mozambicans have never forgiven Dr. Banda who they are convinced was involved in the assassination of their first President.  

Our advice is that Malawi should place Mozambique among the list of its most important countries in diplomatic and economic terms and treat it visibly as such.

Only last week we listened to the ranting and ravings of the Chinese ambassador on Zodiak Radio. The Ambassador was complaining about the ingratitude of Malawi which had allowed its national press to say unfriendly things towards China by its reporting on Chinese immigrants in Malawi in a prejudiced manner and by apparently supporting the Dalai Lama. The Ambassador laid down conditions of friendship that would effectively include muzzling the national press. However the important point here is that Chinese also have unpleasant memory of Malawi. It is doubtful that the ambassador would have spoken with the same tone if the countries involved were Zambia, Tanzania or Zimbabwe which are old friends.

Malawi was among the last of the African countries to abandon Taiwan. And at many international fora Malawi delegation spoke on behalf of the recognition of Taiwan often reading texts that were scripted by the Taiwanese. Malawi were often  followed around by their Taiwanese minders that paid Malawi diplomats lavishly. The Chinese were often heard saying “Malawians have no self-respect and sense of dignity”. It is doubtful that they have changed their attitudes about Malawi so soon. They probably believe our switch was purely mercenary and they thus feel free to respond so angrily and undiplomatically to any sign of ingratitude on our part.

Both stories above remind us how history and institutional memories play an important role in shaping the foreign policies of countries. And it is important that our diplomats bear in mind the histories thay may have shaped the attitudes of our partners  towards us. The impressions they have of us may not be based on facts on the ground today but they definitely shape the diplomatic climate within which Malawi relates to these foes of yesteryear that may not entirely have forgiven, let alone forgotten our sins.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The rare metals anxiety

There is a new battle raging over rare metals. Apparently China produces 95 percent of these metals. Recently China decided to ban export of these metalsThis has stimulated interest in alternative sources of such minerals. An article headlined “Interest in rare earths stimulated by concerns over possible Chinese export curbs” READ MORE..  mentions Malawi as one of the major sources of such metals.

Some years ago Lynas Corporation Ltd acquired rare earths deposit (Kangankunde Carbonatite Complex) located in Balaka. It made some investments but its activities came to a standstill because of legal problems READ MORE. . Now it turns out that China wants to buy Lynas International so as to further corner the rare metals market. The Western countries are not amused. And this is how small countries can easily be pawns in big powers’ games. For Malawi, the point is that we must think strategically if we are not to be simple pawns.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Kayelekera accident

Paladin reports contractor fatality at Malawi uranium mine

No sooner had we commented on the access road to Kayelekera that we read the following report

JOHANNESBURG ( – ASX- and TSX-listed uranium miner Paladin Energy on Tuesday reported that a fatality had occurred at the Kayelekera uranium mine, in Malawi, as a result of a motor vehicle incident.

A construction contractor’s work vehicle overturned on a site access road on Monday, killing the driver, who is a Malawi national.

Police and relevant government officials have been informed and investigations were continuing, it said in a statement.

The 3,3-million pounds a year Kayelekera uranium mine was commissioned in January 2009, with production ramp-up beginning late April 2009.