Malawians, diplomats fume over ‘Robert Mugabe Road’

BLANTYRE - Western diplomats in Malawi have threatened to boycott the European Union-funded road opening ceremony to be conducted in that country next month by President Robert Mugabe.
Political observers described as ‘suicidal’ the Malawian government’s decision to name the

road after the Zimbabwean dictator and warned of serious problems in Brussels, headquarters of the body that funded the construction of the Midima road connecting Blantyre and Mulanje.
Malawi’s Information Minister Patricia Kaliati said his government would proceed to host Mugabe and name the road after him, despite EU objections, because “Malawi is a sovereign state and some civil society organisations are being used by some members of the donor community”.
“If some countries have problems with Zimbabwe, that should not concern us. Malawi is a sovereign state, fully entitled to choose its friends,” Kaliati told the local press.
“Zimbabwe has been a friend of Malawi for a long time, and it is playing host to over five million Malawians. If we quarrel with Mugabe, where will these Malawians go? Will some of these Western countries host them?” she questioned.
Rafiq Hajat, Executive Director of the Institute for Policy Interaction (IPI), a Blantyre-based think tank, said Mugabe’s visit was “highly irresponsible and counterproductive on the part of the Malawi Government and President Bingu wa Mutharika.”
He said by honouring Mugabe in this way, Malawi was “slapping the EU in the face”.
Referring to Mugabe’s well-known use of public platforms to lash out at the West, Hajat warned: “We are just recovering from donor fatigue, we do not have the luxury of being self-sufficient to be doing this.”
Meanwhile, Mutharika’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and Zimbabwe’s ruling Zanu (PF) will sign a cooperation agreement during the visit, aimed at “formalising the working relationship between the two parties”.
Malawi’s leading daily newspaper gave voice to public concern about the visit, saying: “What is indeed surprising is why the Malawi government thinks Mugabe, whose policies have created pot-holes on the once great roads and the economy of Zimbabwe, should open our newly-tarmacked road? Why not name the road after African leaders like former South African President Nelson Mandela, former Mozambican President Joacchim Chissano or former President of Botswana Ketumile Matsire who have nurtured democracy, civil rights and followed policies that have built, and not destroyed, the economies of the countries they were privileged to lead?”
The editorial said that by impoverishing Zimbabwe “Mugabe has also messed us up”.
“Are we naive enough to think that the EU, and indeed our other major donors, will be indifferent to the honour our government is according Mugabe? Malawi has so many other roads and other developmental projects requiring help from EU, let the government act in the best interest of all Malawians,” said the editorial. – Own correspondent

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