Malawi expels British diplomat over leaked cable

By Emmanuel Muwamba – The Malawi Government on Monday deported the British High Commissioner, Fergus Cochrane-Dyet, following an article published on Saturday (April 16) quoting leaked diplomatic telegram.

Cochrane-Dyet was given 72 hours on Monday to leave the country.

The British High Commission press and political affairs office told the press that Cochrane-Dyet was summoned by Foreign Affairs Minister Professor Etta Banda over the article.

The article which quoted a leaked diplomatic telegram published in the Weekend Nation described President Bingu wa Mutharika as a dictator.

“President Mutharika is becoming ever more autocratic and intolerant of criticism. In a public speech on 6 March, he called for his supporters to go to the streets to fight his critics to bring discipline in this country…” reads the cable dated March 2011.

The envoy also pointed out that there is strained relationship between the government and donors.

“Some ambassadors have been summoned by the Foreign Minister for a dressing down, others (including me) have been summoned by the President’s brother for gentler delivery of the same message: stop supporting civil society to destabilise the government…”

The leaked communication describes President Mutharika as “combative”.

“We want the Government to reverse its two-year slide on governance issues, mend fences with faith groups and civil society, and adopt a more open approach to dissenting views. We want civil society to be less confrontational…” further reads the leaked cable.

The leaked diplomatic telegram in question was written after Malawi’s key donors operating under the Common Approach Support recently cautioned the country over its worsening governance record.

The telegram said the revolution in the Middle East may have inspired civil society groups and made government paranoid.

Britain is a leading major bilateral donor for the aid dependent Malawi. Close to 40 percent of Malawi’s budget is supported by donors with the UK leading the pack.

Last year Britain reduced its budget support to Malawi in protest against the purchase of a jet exclusively for the President.

Government spent $13.5 million on the jet a development the UK thought was not pro-poor. So far, Germany has frozen funds to budget support in protest to repressive laws. It has also withheld its funding earmarked for the Local Development Fund until Local Government Elections are held.

Norway and the UK are also withholding $66 million support to the health sector under the Sector Wide Approach demanding an audit.