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Malawi's expulsion of British diplomat signals Africa's tense ties with West

Tense Britain-Malawi relations are symptomatic of how African nations are increasingly intolerant of Western criticism as China steps up its no-pressure approach to aid and trade.

By Scott BaldaufStaff Writer / May 9, 2011



Johannesburg, South Africa

Malawi's president on Sunday defended his decision to expel Britain's senior envoy, a move symptomatic of how African governments are increasingly prickly toward criticism from the West.

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In his first statement on the issue, President Bingu wa Mutharika told reporters that he would not take insults from Britain, including former envoy Fergus Cochrane-Dyet's statement in a leaked diplomatic cable that the president is “intolerant of criticism" – which led to his April 26 expulsion. The president's spokesman had previously explained that "the tone in the leaked cable was not diplomatic."

Mr. Mutharika's intolerance for being criticized as intolerant is more than mere irony, with potential consequences for the 75 percent of Malawi's population that lives on less than $1 a day. Britain, which gives $154 million per year, is Malawi's largest aid donor, and promptly expelled Malawi's high commission to the UK in response.

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Tiffs between Africa and the West are in no short supply these days. Kenya's spokesman recently said it was "malicious" for the US ambassador to call the government “a swamp of flourishing corruption” in a statement leaked by WikiLeaks. Uganda's president has so far ignored US criticism over repressive tactics and voting irregularities in the April election.

Some African leaders revel in criticism, of course. President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe has repeatedly told his Western critics to “go and hang,” saying he does not need lectures on human rights from former colonial oppressor Britain. Last year, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda briefly threatened withdrawing his peacekeeping forces from the African Union's mission in Sudan’s Darfur region, after a UN report found that Mr. Kagame’s troops had slaughtered thousands of Rwandan Hutus who had fled to the Democratic Republic of Congo after the 1994 genocide of Kagame’s own Tutsi tribe.

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