Malawi, traditionally dependent on Western aid donors, will look for “new friends” in countries such as China and Russia, newly elected President Peter Mutharika said at his inauguration Monday.
The ceremony at a stadium in the commercial capital Blantyre was boycotted by outgoing president Joyce Banda, who was soundly beaten by Mutharika in disputed elections held on May 20.
Mutharika, who takes power in one of the world’s poorest countries, where 40% of the budget comes from aid, said the donor nations were “welcome to stay here”.
Foreign policy would be based on what is best for Malawi, he said.
“We will continue with traditional relationships, but we are now looking for new friends in emerging economies such as Brazil, China, India, South Africa and Russia.”
Britain and the United States have pledged to work with his government.
“The UK government looks forward to working with President Mutharika and his government on our shared goals of strengthening Malawi’s democracy, food security, prosperity and its positive role within the region,” Foreign Office Minister for Africa Mark Simmonds said in a weekend statement.
The US State department also “looks forward to continuing our close partnership with the government of Malawi in the advance of our mutual interests of supporting Malawi’s development.”
No official invitation
Mutharika said he regretted Banda’s absence, saying she had “declined to come here and hand over power to me.”
“I was looking forward to shaking her hand and burying the past. I have an olive branch in my hands.”
A spokesman for Banda said, “She was not officially invited and her official presidential convoy was withdrawn early hours of Saturday as soon as it was announced that Peter Mutharika had won the presidency.
“It would have been difficult for the outgoing president to travel to Blantyre.”
Mutharika takes over despite facing treason charges for attempting to conceal the death in office two years ago of his brother, Bingu wa Mutharika, in an alleged bid to prevent Banda – then vice-president – from assuming power.
“It’s been a long journey,” Mutharika said of his ascent to power. “We didn’t know we would reach this far and be here today.”
“I have been imprisoned and tried on flimsy charges of treason,” he said.“I have been teargassed three times. But that’s all in the past.”
He said he had no intention of “vengeance”.
The treason charges against Mutharika are likely to be dropped as Malawian presidents have immunity from prosecution while in office.
But there has been speculation that Mutharika might now try turn the tables on Banda and have her charged with corruption over a $30-million graft scandal dubbed “Cashgate”.
Banda has claimed the credit for uncovering the fraud, which saw aid money syphoned into top government officials’ pockets. But critics, including Mutharika, suggest the funds went into her party’s election war-chest.
“Those who have broken laws of this country will meet the full course of justice,” he warned in his speech.
Banda had alleged anomalies in the election and sought to have the vote nullified.
Legal attempts to force a recount failed and the electoral commission declared Mutharika winner with 36.4% of the votes cast against Banda’s 20.2%.
Banda on Saturday congratulated Mutharika on his victory.
Mutharika, wearing a black suit with a white shirt and blue tie, entered the stadium in a Landrover, waving a blue hat to a cheering crowd. – AFP