Like any landlocked country, Malawi is geographically disadvantaged as it does not have direct access to the sea. Due to this geographic remoteness, its business gets affected. This is a dilemma Malawi has had to put up with for ages that it had to be at the mercy of some countries to access some trade routes.
Any diplomatic friction with other countries that have direct access to the sea leaves this country at the peripheral of the trade equation. Malawi has been in that situation before. Until recently the diplomatic relationship between Malawi and Mozambique was strained because of the controversies surrounding the Shire Zambezi Water ways.
When President Bingu Wa Mutharika launched his ambitious project whose focal point was to establish the Nsanje inland port with the aim of linking Malawi to the sea through Mozambique, the Mozambican government objected to the project, they argued that the ambitious project started without conducting thorough feasibility studies.
However, at the back of people’s minds knew that the technicalities cited were merely a cover up, the main issue being that the ships to Nsanje Port would have to pass though Mozambican territory an idea Mozambican government was not comfortable with for fear of losing revenue it collects when Malawi collects goods from Beira and Nacala ports.
The dream was cut short and the death of the project weakened the diplomatic relation between Malawi and Mozambique as Bingu became bitter with Mozambique and made little efforts to restore it.
Bingu died when the realatiionship between the two countries was at the lowest ebb. Joyce Banda and Peter Mutharika came and went but were not successful in mending the diplomatic cracks. However, within two years in office, President Chakwera as his own man has successfully worked back the relationship, taking it even to another level where his predecessors failed.
In the last two years there have been exchange visits between President Chakwera and his Mozambican counterpart Fillipe Nyusi. In November last year President Nyusi had a three-day state visit to Malawi from 22 to 24 November.
During his three day stay in the country the Mozambican leader was a Special Guest of Honour at the 4th SADC Industrialization Week at Bingu International Conference Centre (BICC) in Lilongwe. The two leaders then toured the railway line connection project linking Malawi and Mozambique in Marka, Nsanje. The two leaders also visited Phombeya in Balaka where they toured the Malawi-Mozambique Interconnector Power Project (IPP) site.
In a way of reciprocating the good gesture by the Mozambican leader, President Chakwera travelled to Mozambique on a four-day state visit from 21 to 24 April this year. In his busy schedule President Chakwera held several bilateral discussions with President Nyusi which centered on strengthening trade and mutual cooperation between the two countries.
To wrap the four-day successful visit to Mozambique the two leaders had an honest assessment of the relationship between the two neighbouring countries.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the Malawi-Mozambique Business forum on 23 April where he was the Guest of Hounour, President Chakwera said: “It is pleasing to note that Malawi and Mozambique, together we are working towards a common aspiration. As a way of assisting the private sector, it is important that the procedures, terms and conditions of accessing and using port facilities whether it is Nacala or any other port should be faciliatory rather than hindering private sector growth.”
President Chakwera continued his tell-it-all speech by saying: “currently, the bilateral trade between Malawi and Mozambique is relatively low despite close proximity of major commercial and industrial hubs of the two countries. Between 2017 and 2020, Malawi’s exports to Mozambique accounted for two percent of Malawi’s total exports while Mozambique exports to Malawi represented one percent of Mozambique’s exports during the same period. In my view, there is scope for increased trade between our countries. One way to grow trade is to forge linkages of the private sectors of the two countries.”
President Chakwera’s remarks show how distant the two countries have been in diplomatic and trade relationship. The frank conversation also demonstrated how far the countries have come in mending fences. It is through these open dialogues that the two countries have fostered their relationship.
When critics were busy criticizing President Chakwera for undertaking such an important trip to Mozambique, they never saw the trip bearing fruits any time soon. It emerged this week that the rail transportation via Nacala corridor has resumed after seven-months break due to the damaged rail infrastructure linking Malawi and Mozambique. Already the development has seen the in-flow of 500 000 liters of fuel into the country using the Nacala corridor.
During that period Malawi was transporting all its fuel into the country by road through Tanzania route which was costly compared to rail transport.
The news of resumption of rail transportation has excited Malawians from different background. Some praises even came from the unlikely source.
One of the social media prominent influencer and President Chakwera’s critic Joshua Chisa Mbele weighed in commending President Chakwera for facilitating the turnaround in trade fortunes between the two countries.
He said: “This is good news. This is progress. I am now Chakwera’s best friend. Fuel must come through the rail while we are waiting to put a pipeline. When the Beira corridor is open, we will be better off. The reconstruction of M1 from Lumbadzi to Karonga is just a game changer. President Chakwera has very good intentions for this country I have said this line repeatedly in the past.”
Meanwhile National Oil Company of Malawi (Nocma) Deputy Chief Executive Officer Hellen Buluma said Nocma has 23 million litres of fuel stuck in Nacala awaiting to be lifted via rail under the current supply contract.
She indicated that the rail lines will help to transport, minimum of 1.2 million litres per day and 24 million litres per month.
The new-found relationship between Malawi and Mozambique will open up the trade opportunities that were affected because of the diplomatic strain between the neighbouring countries.
Two years may not be enough to fulfil every campaign promise but the country is on the right trajectory, no wonder one by one President Chakwera’s leadership is winning the hearts of many even his critics. Malawi is changing and President Chakwera is the driver of that change.