March 4, 2011

Police accuse donor of "subversive" acts

The police in Malawi blame one of its major donors for anti-government protests, following a united front of foreign donors expressing concern over new legislation. According to statements by Davy Chingwalu of the Malawian police force, the Norwegian Embassy in Lilongwe for the third year in a row had "funded" the allegedly "subversive" Freedom March organised by a performing arts group to mark Malawi's "Martyr's Day"on March 3. Martyr's Day commemorates the country's independence from Britain, but, while a public holiday, normally is not marked in Malawi except for some public speeches. The new, popular marking during the last three years has had an anti-government touch, being interpreted as a protest march in favour of freedom and democracy.

Following the establishment of a North-Africa inspired protest movement in Malawi last month - focusing on the country's high petrol prices - authorities have been on a high alert to disperse any possible protest marches. Police spokesman Chingwalu therefore saw the Freedom March as a "subversive" incident. The organising Nandzikambe performing arts group allegedly was sponsored by Norwegian development aid funds. Mr Chingwalu added that the Norwegian Embassy had breached the "terms of the Geneva Convention" [regulating wartime protection of civilians and troops] when denouncing the alleged foreign interference in Malawi politics.

The attack on Norway comes after a series of confrontation between Malawi and its main donors. Norway earlier this year demanded a payback of euro 2.7 million (US$ 3.8 million) of development aid funds that had been spent on other sectors than agreed. The demand created great headlines in Malawi, but government agreed to repay the funds. Conflict with donors was deepened in February as Malawi was preparing legislation victimising sexual minorities and further limiting press freedom, followed by heavy criticism by Western donors. Germany and the US took the lead in condemning these new tendencies.

Currently, euro 2.5 million of German budget aid for Malawi for 2010 are still held back and a further euro 5 million in budget aid for 2011 have been frozen. German Deputy Development Minister Gudrun Kopp had cancelled her planned trip to Malawi in February, explaining that the frozen aid funds would only be released when "the democratisation process sees positive developmentsā€. The toughest message so far was given by the US aid agency MCC, which in January signed a record US$ 350 aid deal to renovate Malawi's energy sector. In February, the MCC decided to delay the release of these funds until clarifications were given about the new legislation. The MCC only releases its massive impacts to countries with high human rights standards.

The German and US moves were followed up by joint action by Malawi's eight main donors. France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Japan, Norway, the UK and the US presented government with a joint statement in February, condemning "certain negative trends in the country," referring to the same legislation. "As partners and friends, we would like to recall that good governance and respect for human rights - including freedom of expression, observance of democratic principles, and freedom from discrimination - are the foundation upon which our partnership is built," the statement reads. The Malawian government so far has not given in to the demands from donors. On the contrary, President Bingu wa Mutharika defended the media legislation. Also, gay and lesbian sexual relations were banned in February.

Malawi is among the world's most aid dependent nations. During the governance of President Mutharika - a former IMF official - aid levels from Western donors until now had steadily grown as Malawi had been seen to make progress regarding economic policies, the fight against corruption and in democracy and human rights issues. (afrol news / SADOCC)

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