Donors concerned over 'negative trends' in Malawi

12th February 2011, Comments 0 comments

Malawi drew criticism from donor countries Saturday over "certain negative trends" in the poor southern African nation, including a new law that allows publications to be banned.

The donors, who together bankroll more than 40 percent of Malawi's development budget, said they "share concerns voiced by many Malawians about certain negative trends."

The new media law, which allows the information minister to ban publications deemed contrary to the public interest, has "heightened these concerns," the donor countries said in a joint statement issued in the administrative capital, Lilongwe.

The donors -- Britain, France, Germany, Iceland, Japan, Norway and the United States -- said they "look forward to expanded dialogue" with the Malawian government over their concerns.

"It is our responsibility as partners and friends to monitor closely Malawi's adherence to international standards for protecting its citizens' rights," they said.

The unhappiness of donor countries was also reflected in a last-minute decision by a top German official to cancel a visit to Malawi.

Germany's development ministry said that state secretary Gudrun Kopp had cancelled a visit which was to have taken place between February 12-15 as "important meetings to discuss development and human rights could not be confirmed in time".

The announcement came a day after the head of Kopp's ministry, Economic Cooperation and Development Minister Dirk Niebel, said that he was suspending a 2.5-million-euro ($3.4 million) tranche of aid that was to have been handed to Malawi as a result of the media bill and the Malawian government's refusal to discuss it.

Malawi's Justice Minister George Chaponda was quoted by local media earlier this week as saying the government would not repeal the new media law nor legalise homosexuality because the country was a sovereign state.

Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika has been criticised by the opposition and the local chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa for signing off on the bill, which is widely seen as a government move to target publications that are critical of his administration.

Mutharika, who often accuses local independent newspapers of negative reporting about Malawi, threatened in 2009 to shut down those he accused of lying when they reported that up to one million people would need food aid.

Malawi in 1995 adopted a new constitution with a bill of rights that guarantees the freedom of the press after three decades of oppressive rule under dictator Kamuzu Banda.

© 2011 AFP

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