By Prince Kurupati
Malawian diplomats serving in South Africa were a few days back embarrassingly declared persona non grata by the South African government and ordered to leave the country. The incident forced the hands of the Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera to issue a response directly to South Africa. However, Chakwera’s response has since divided the nation with some castigating him for tainting Malawi’s image before the eyes of the world.
In his response to the incident of the expelled Malawian diplomats serving in South Africa, President Chakwera expressed regret over the conduct of the implicated individuals. He went on to state that “even before the unfortunate incident, all the bad apples in the foreign missions had already been served with letters of recall to come back home.” The President went on to state that the move to recall and replace the diplomats came after the realization that Malawian foreign missions deployed across the globe were “bad apples”.
The “bad apples” remarks made by Chakwera have since caused huge fiery debates in Malawi. On one side of the spectrum is the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) which has accused Chakwera of tainting the image of the country on the global stage via the remarks. In a statement, DPP’s national organizing secretary Chimwemwe Chipungu said “it is completely unprecedented and inconceivable in diplomacy for the President of a country to publicly demean and undermine the country’s diplomats while they serve our country abroad.”
Chipungu further castigated the President stating that even though the foreign mission serving in South Africa was implicated for wrongdoing, the President needed to have the decorum to protect them in the time they were still in a foreign land and only institute any disciplinary proceedings once they landed in Malawi.
“Although motivated by the desire to appease and please the South African Government, the President must remain mindful of the fact that the diplomats are his own citizens towards whom he owes a fundamental duty under our Constitution. The diplomats, while still in South Africa, therefore deserve the protection of their President and their own government. A demure and restrained expression of regret would have been a fitting response by our President towards his South African counterpart,” Chipungu said.
Though castigating President Chakwera for being a people-pleaser to South Africa, Chipungu said the decision taken by South Africa bearing the circumstances in mind cannot be faulted. “We acknowledge that it was within the powers and rights of the South African Government, under the law governing international relations (Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations), to declare the Malawi diplomats persona non grata,” he said.
In his apology to South Africa, President Chakwera also stated that his administration is already undertaking the selection process to identify the new diplomats to be deployed to South Africa as well as other missions across the globe. On this front, President Chakwera said the selection process they are conducting is “thorough, legal, meticulous and objective”. He said that this marks a “departure from past practice of filling out embassies with cronies sent without due process or due diligence.”
DPP’s Chipungu however rubbished the remarks saying instead of “removing rubble”, Chakwera was actually “gathering rubble”. He said it is the President who is actually “trying to fill the embassies with his cronies, regardless of their conduct”.
In his concluding remarks, Chipungu said Chakwera is not an emblem of a corruption-fighter something which is trying to insinuate through the recalling and replacement of foreign missions – he is actually the opposite. “President Chakwera must know by now that he is not standing on any moral high ground in so far as fighting corruption is concerned. In fact, President Chakwera is on ground zero. President Chakwera had lots of undeserved goodwill at the start of his term. He has, unfortunately, squandered it all before the end of the year,” Chipungu said.