“Every kwacha that comes to Malawi from the UK comes from the pockets of British tax-payers. It’s money that could otherwise be spent on schools, hospitals, roads in the UK, or on alleviating poverty in, say, Afghanistan or Sierra Leone,” said Cochrane-Dyet at a farewell party for outgoing Deputy British High Commissioner to Malawi, Wendy Freeman, and welcome her successor Kirk Hollingsworth.
He was responding to accusations from some members of the public who said Britain is using her financial assistance to Malawi to bring in homosexuality after his government was on the fore-front in accusing Malawi of lack of respect to human rights during the trial of the country’s first open gay couple, Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga.
They were convicted and sentenced to 14-year jail terms for "gross indecency and unnatural acts" but were pardoned during a visit by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
“Of course the British Government and the British tax-payer, in partnership with the Malawian Government, want to ensure the political and economic environment in Malawi is conducive to the country’s development, because otherwise we would be wasting our money.
“This means supporting issues like democracy, human rights, the rule of law, the fight against corruption. Because if you look round at the world’s most prosperous countries, they are nearly all liberal democracies with free markets permitting a high degree of individual freedom for their citizens.
“And human rights includes rights for minorities, because the way a country treats its minorities tells you a lot about how much a country is really open, compassionate and tolerant, all qualities that set free its citizens’ creative and entrepreneurial energies,” he said.
After he pardoned the gay couple, Malawi president Bingu wa Mutharika said, “These donors apart from condemning my government on the gay couple, they also condemned us for purchasing a private jet and even reduced their support for that. If they continue to reduce the support, then they have to close their offices and go,” said Mutharika who referred to Tiwonge’s movements as ‘stupid, demonic and useless.
“Chimbalanga and Monjeza were being used and I was not about to let this country be led astray or suffer because of two misguided and confused men. Their actions were disgusting, demanding and disregard of our culture, religion and laws. I am now waiting to hear what else donors will demand from me.”
UK is the largest donor to Malawi providing over £80 m, nearly MK 20 billion, per year bilaterally, and about the same again through multilateral institutions.
Cochrane-Dyet also bashed local media reports which suggested Malawi’s true friends came from the East rather than the West.
“This is incorrect. Malawi has real friends in the east, real friends in the west, real friends in the north and in the south. It is good for any country to have a range of friends. This isn’t a beauty contest: the UK welcomes the fact that Malawi has established links with important new partners who can contribute to Malawi’s development.
“However, in Malawian culture, like my own, old friendships are special. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that Britain is Malawi’s oldest friend and that our support has been steadfast.
“Some of the proposed new infrastructure projects are being given to Malawi free of charge. But most are based on loans that Malawi will be repaying for many years. The assistance from the UK, on the other hand, comes in the form of grants, in other words it’s free of charge. The same applies to the support from the EU, other Europeans, and North America.”
He said because most of this feeds not into high-profile infrastructure projects but into areas like education, health and agriculture, and because we don’t shout about it, many Malawians don’t realize that traditional donors are providing a third of Malawi’s national budget.
“The UK is a dependable friend. We and Malawi have walked a long road together, and the UK intends to walk a lot further. The new UK Coalition Government has announced that the commitment to increase spending on international development to 0.7% of UK GDP will become law.
What this means is that, despite cuts in other areas of public expenditure to tackle the fiscal deficit, overall UK spending on international development through DFID, currently running at over a massive £8 billion per year, will go up and up,” he said.
The British Government, through DFID’s Good Governance Fund donated broadcasting equipment, 23 handheld digital recorders, 2 transmitters, 21 battery chargers, and 92 rechargeable batteries worth £16,000 (MK3.7 million) to three community radio stations.
“We hope this equipment, will help democracy in Malawi by broadening information access for the rural masses, as well as promoting the voice of marginalized rural communities in public life and national development,” he said adding that a vital part of any democratic system is a free media, not only as an important check and balance, but also as a vehicle for free debate and the exchange of ideas.