Malawi threatens to expel British ambassador


Malawi is seeking to expel the British ambassador for criticising the southern African country’s leadership for being autocratic, said diplomatic sources

The move will likely antagonise, Britain, a major donor of aid to the impoverished country, which already faces a freeze of millions of dollars in foreign assistance from countries protesting its hostile stance toward homosexuals and a crackdown on media, reuters reports.

The British Foreign Office said in a statement on Tuesday that Malawi is considering declaring the British high commissioner (ambassador) to the country, Fergus Cochrane-Dyet, “persona non grata”.
“If the Government of Malawi pursued such action there were likely to be consequences affecting the full range of issues in the bilateral relationship,” Acting Permanent Under Secretary Geoffrey Adams told Malawi’s charge d’affaires in London, the statement said.

Malawi’s Weekend Nation published excerpts of what it said was a March 2011 British diplomatic cable where the mission to the country said: “President (Bingu wa) Mutharika is becoming ever more autocratic and intolerant of criticism.”

The newspaper did not disclose how it obtained the document.

Diplomatic sources at the British mission confirmed the authenticity of cable.

The British High Commission (embassy) press and political affairs assistant in Lilongwe, Lewis Kulisewa, told Reuters that the ambassador was summoned by the foreign affairs minister on Monday to explain what was said in the cable.

The government of Malawi had planned a news conference for Tuesday to discuss the matter but postponed the briefing.

Mutharika has been heavily criticised by rights groups for trying to suppress free speech. The U.S. State Department said in its annual human rights report that “journalists were harassed, intimidated, and threatened with arrest.”

Malawi’s government is heavily dependent on foreign aid, with donor funding normally accounting for more than 40 percent of official receipts.

Finance Minister Ken Kandodo told Reuters last month the aid freeze would probably mean the government having to borrow more this financial year.