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Malawi’s Liberland adventure

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Lobin Lowe

How former Minister of Agriculture, Lobin Lowe, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with an Eastern Europe territory, 700-hectares in size, with no diplomatic recognition with any country globally and unknown by his compatriots in government

Former Minister of Agriculture Lobin Lowe found himself signing an agreement with a territory which government officials, including some cabinet ministers, do not know it exists: Liberland.

The 700-hectare territory, located somewhere in Eastern Europe between Croatia and Serbia, has no diplomatic recognition by any member of the United Nations, according to online entries.

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It is with that territory that Lowe and his officials, including the then Principal Secretary Sandram Maweru, signed an agriculture-related Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in October 2022.

Lowe confirmed to Malawi News Friday having signed the MoU.

But he referred us to Principal Secretary for Agriculture or Maweru “to give the content and context for the event”.

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He also said the Cannabis Regulatory Authority would be in a position to give the context of the MoU because Liberland came as “an off-taker of cannabis products”.

Maweru could not be reached for comment but Principal Secretary Medrina Banda, who also worked under Maweru, expressed ignorance over the MoU.

She said there are no such documents in her office.

She said she has asked the Director of Planning to give her a report on the matter.

“I have searched for any documents on this MoU. There is nothing in my office. So I cannot respond on this until I am briefed by the responsible officers who signed the MoU if it’s indeed signed. I have asked Director of Planning to give me a report,” Banda disclosed.

Asked on the contents of the MoU and what Malawi stands to benefit from the reported diplomatic success, Minister of Agriculture Sam Kawale said he did not know a country called Liberland existed.

“Where is Liberland? What was the MoU about? Send me documents. First time hearing about it,” Kawale said.

Asked on what might have interested Malawi in Liberland through the Ministry of Agriculture, spokesperson in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Relations John Kabaghe said Malawi does not have any diplomatic relations with the government of Liberland.

He also said the ministry is not aware of the MoU in question, adding that they are currently engaging their counterparts at the Ministry of Agriculture to establish facts and truth about the move.

“The ministry wishes to inform the public that it has no knowledge of the purported MoU. The ministry is currently engaging the Ministry of Agriculture in order to establish the truth behind the reports, and may provide a further update, should one be warranted,” he said.

The government of Liberland however touted the signing of the MoU spearheaded by its Secretary of State, Tariq Abbasi, describing it as a way of strengthening the diplomatic ties between the two nations.

“The Ministry of Agriculture of Malawi has ratified the Memorandum. The reason is simple: Both Liberland and Malawi wish to start their cooperation through activities in this sector,” the online article reads in part.

Cannabis Regulatory Authority Chief Executive Officer Ketulo Salipila pushed the matter back to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, saying it granted permission to Abbasi to come into the country.

He disclosed that the official in question visited a number of government MDAs and that the authority was just one of them.

He added that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was aware that Abbasi came from a country that is not recognised.

“I understand Liberland had interests in agriculture, mining and other sectors in the country and they applied for diplomatic status to come in the country but after the Ministry of Foreign Affairs realised that their country is not a sovereign state and is not recognised, they were given visas to come as officials of an organisation, the Liberland Aid Foundation, and not as diplomats,” Salipira said.

He then disclosed that Liberland has an attache’ in the country facilitating other development and investment interests that his country has with Malawi.

“But for the status of the MoU and whatever it is all about I think the Ministry of Agriculture can respond. It was at the centre of it all. I do not have handy the letter that we got about these officials so I may not accurately give you the other information you asked,” he added.

Asked on what advice his office gave the Ministry of Agriculture on the agreement in question, Attorney General Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda said Friday that he was not aware about it, adding that diplomatic matters are the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with few exceptions.

“I can’t competently comment because this is news to me. [I] will endeavour to get a copy from concerned officers,” Nyirenda said.

President Lazarus Chakwera sacked Lowe from cabinet on October 25 last year for failing to deliver on AIP.

His sacking came soon after his ministry admitted in a statement signed by Maweru that it had been duped K750 million in a scandalous fertiliser deal with a United Kingdom company, Barkaat Foods Limited.

After pocketing the money, the UK firm, which turned out to be a butchery, terminated the contract and said it would not supply the fertiliser.

Government is battling to recover the money.

The revelation of the K750 million loss came amid months-long allegation doing the rounds on social media that government had actually been fleeced K30 billion in a fertiliser contract. Government denies this figure.

As for the relations with the little-known Liberland, government has taken some an unpopular diplomatic moves in the past two years.

First was its declaration in 2020 that it would open an embassy in Jerusalem, a hotly-contested decision as that would make Malawi only a third country in the world – after United States and Gautemala— to open an embassy in the city. Jerusalem remains a point of dispute between Israel and Palestine.

The Malawi government also has had excursions with Somaliland.

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