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Stitch in time: Diplomacy the positive way

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Granted, Malawi is too under-sized, perhaps too under-utilised, to be making global news for all the wrong reasons.

But its actions have an influence global in nature.

Why? Because when, for example, sycophants of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) decide to stretch their little finger by allegedly threatening opposition contestants in the Nsanje-Lalanje, the world notices.

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The world, in this case, means The United Kingdom— which, having an approximate size of 243,610 sq km against Malawi’s approximate size of 118,484 sq km is about twice as big as Malawi— and the US – which, having a geographical size of approximately 9,833,517 sq km against Malawi’s approximate size of 118,484 sq km, is 83 times bigger than Malawi.

Malawi’s size notwithstanding, when opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president Lazarus Chakwera wrote development partners two weeks ago— asking them for their immediate intervention over alleged threats Nsanje Lalanje MCP Parliamentary candidate, Lawrence Sitolo, has been receiving from ruling party officials— the ‘world’ reacted to the call despite it being made by an opposition leader in under-sized, somehow under-utilised, Malawi.

In his letter, Chakwera claims that DPP members asked Sitolo to either receive K100 million and defect from MCP to become an independent candidate or resign and accept a diplomatic posting to an unnamed duty station, apart from getting K50 million on top of that.

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Of course, DPP spokesperson, Francis Kasaila, has dismissed Chakwera’s claims, describing them as sentiments of an apposition party leader who is out of sorts; an opposition leader who is creating a bed for his candidate to fall into after losing the election.

This comes barely three weeks after Kasaila told Galaxy Radio that the MCP can never win an election in the Lower Shire.

Weighing in on the issue raised by Chakwera, Minister of Information and Communications, Nicholas Dausi, wondered why the MCP leader did not engage the Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec), who are mandated to run elections in Malawi. He said so after dismissing the claims for, according to him, they give Malawi a bad name when there is nothing, really, happening along the lines of Chakwera’s claims.

What has opened the Pandora’s box are the October 17 by-elections Mec is set to conduct in Nsanje Lalanje, Lilongwe City South East and Lilongwe Msozi North constituencies.

But the elections will not only centre on constituency battles as councillors aspiring for ward positions in Mayani North Ward in Dedza District, Mtsiliza Ward in Lilongwe and Ndirande Makata Ward in Blantyre City will test their chances against the scale of voters’ choice.

In the end, accusations and counter-accusations— which have become the in-thing in the run-up to, during and aftermath of elections in under-sized, perhaps under-utilised, Malawi— have attracted the attention of the ‘world’, hence a joint statement released on September 5, 2017.

In it, US Ambassador to Malawi, Virginia Palmer, and United Kingdom (UK) High Commissioner, Holly Tett, basically appeal to Malawians’ sense of pride, other than their [Malawians’] obsession with partisan politics, by singing an old song of keeping the cloth of the nation’s reputation intact.

“Malawi’s democratic record is a model for Africa and beyond. As Malawi’s development partners, we support Malawi’s preparations for another round of democratic elections, a core component of which are free and fair campaigns. We urge all parties to respect the rights of their opponents to stand for election and campaign freely,” Palmer and Tett say.

Now, the sentiments may no go down well with President Peter Mutharika, who last month lectured the country’s development partners by asking them to keep out of Malawi affairs , since, as he put it, they are not here to tell “us” what to do.

But, then, it is common knowledge that development partners— specifically those who have diplomats— follow the politics of a country they are posted to. In fact, they follow the politics and other issues.

After all— and as https://diplomacy.state.gov indicates— a US ambassador is, for example, “the President’s highest-ranking representative to a specific nation or international organisation abroad”.

It adds: “An effective ambassador has to be a strong leader—a good manager, a resilient negotiator, and a respected representative of the United States. A key role of an ambassador is to coordinate the activities not only of the Foreign Service Officers and staff serving under him, but also representatives of other US agencies in the country. At some overseas posts, personnel from as many as 27 federal agencies work in concert with embassy staff.

“Foreign Service Officers are professional, trained diplomats who represent American interests abroad under the direction of the ambassador. All Foreign Service Officers listen to and observe what is going on in the host country, analyse it, and report to the ambassador and Washington. This makes US policy more sensitive to the needs of other countries and their people…”

The same applies to the UK High Commissioner who, according to www.politics.co.uk, heads a UK diplomatic mission that functions “as the channel of communication between the British government and that of the host country, to act as the official representative of the UK — in general, and in respect of specific public agencies with local interest— in that country, and to promote the interests of the UK and its citizens in that country”.

But, perhaps, the next point is crucial.

“In order to carry out their work, diplomatic missions must have a strong grasp of the host country’s politics, society and culture. They must be able to explain British policies, identify potential threats to and opportunities for British interests, and provide political and economic analysis of local conditions to inform decision-making at home. Much of the day-to-day work carried out by diplomatic missions involves promoting UK trade interests.”

Therefore, in responding to Chakwera’s call, both Palmer and Tett are simply being “more sensitive to the needs of other countries and their people”.

What do the people of Nsanje Lalanje, Lilongwe City South East and Lilongwe Msozi North constituencies— as well as those of Mayani North Ward in Dedza District, Mtsiliza Ward in Lilongwe and Ndirande Makata Road in Blantyre City— want?

Free and fair elections which, according to Palmer and Tett, can only be held once all political parties “respect the rights of all opponents to stand for election and campaign freely”.

And, when high-level representatives such as these speak, the government and ruling party involved may do itself by finding the easy way out; that is, shaking off claims of intimidation, as raised by those from opposition parties.

In this case, the ruling party needs to promote fairness by openly calling on their followers to embrace their detractors— the only way under-sized, perhaps too little, countries such as Malawi may keep what remains of their reputation intact in a crowded world.

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