In his fourth trip as head of state, Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera chose to travel to neighboring Tanzania and boost trade ties as he embarks on sweeping changes aimed at lifting the economy.
For years, Malawi and Tanzania have been major trading partners, though relations between the two nations are not rosy.
A border dispute over Lake Malawi has been simmering since 1967. Successive Malawian governments have argued that the lake is inextricably linked to the nation, and key to its economic life, folklore, culture and national sentiment. Meanwhile, in Tanzania, the lake supports a big number of fishermen and shoreline communities that have ancestral burial places that now lie under the lake.
During the colonial era, the Germans who ruled Tanganyika allowed the British controlled Nyasaland (Malawi’s former colonial name) to maintain full control of the lake within their territory. However, the lake has since expanded beyond the Tanzania-Malawi border opening up debates over whether Malawi now fully controls its main natural resource.
President Lazarus Chakwera’s visit has largely gone to plan. In addition to meetings with his counterpart President John Magufuli, on Thursday, he visited the Malawi Cargo Centre, the port of Dar es Salaam and inaugurated the Mbezi Luis Upcountry Bus Terminal, one of the bus terminals where people can board buses that ply the route between Tanzania’s largest commercial town and Malawi’s capital city Lilongwe.
Malawi is a landlocked nation with a populations of nearly 18.5 million. According to the World Bank, it is the poorest country in Southern Africa and heavily relies on fellow SADC member Tanzania for 90 percent of its wet and dry cargo transportation.
Dr. Chakwera assumed power in June after defeating then incumbent President Prof. Peter Mutharika in a court-sanctioned election re-run. He has since been to Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique on one-day working visits before making his first three-day state tour to Tanzania.
Quoting data from Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA), Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation minister, Prof Palamagamba Kabudi, said Tanzania’s exports to Malawi have increased from $370 million in 2015 to $560 million in 2019.
On the other hand, Tanzania’s imports from Malawi rose from $10 million in 2015 to $26 million in 2019.
“The increase is a result of efforts by the two countries to improve their transport infrastructure, increase in industrial production as well as cutting on Non-Tariff Barriers,” he said.
And while the President Chakwera cut short his trip on Thursday evening to attend to domestic demonstrations held by women alleging gender imbalance in the country, presidential press secretary Brian Banda said it was a total success.
Both countries need the strategic relationship to endure. Its success is very much needed now as Malawi’s only other route to the outside world is through Cabo Delgado province in Northern Mozambique; a region devoid of state controlled and governed by armed groups linked to Al Shabaab.