LILONGWE (Reuters) - Britain ordered Malawi’s acting ambassador to leave the country on Wednesday soon after the African state expelled Britain’s envoy over his criticism of its leader.
Malawi, a former British colony, expelled British envoy Fergus Cochrane-Dyet after he called its leadership autocratic in a leaked diplomatic cable, a Malawian government spokesman said on Wednesday.
Hours later, Britain responded by expelling Malawi’s acting ambassador to Britain, Flossie Gomile Chidyaonga.
Foreign Secretary William Hague in a statement hinted at further consequences saying he had asked UK officials “to review rapidly the full range of our wider relationship with Malawi.”
Britain is a major aid to donor to Malawi, giving about 93 million pounds a year, according to the British government.
Malawi’s Weekend Nation newspaper published excerpts of what it said was a March 2011 British diplomatic cable which said President Bingu wa Mutharika was “becoming ever more autocratic and intolerant of criticism.”
Diplomatic sources at the British mission confirmed the authenticity of the cable.
Mutharika has been heavily criticised by rights groups for trying to suppress free speech.
Malawi already faces a freeze in foreign assistance over its hostility to homosexuals and a media crackdown.
Hague called Malawi’s decision to expel Cochrane-Dyet “totally unacceptable and unwarranted.” “Mr Cochrane-Dyet is an able and effective diplomat who has behaved with integrity throughout his posting to Lilongwe, and who retains the full confidence of the British government,” he said.
“It is a worrying sign that the Malawian government is expending its energies in this way, rather than focussing on the real and substantial challenges facing it, including the need for improved governance,” he said.
Cochrane-Dyet was given a formal letter of expulsion on Tuesday night, government spokesman Vuwa Kaunda told Reuters.
“Government has decided to expel High Commissioner Fergus Cochrane-Dyet because the tone in the leaked cable was not diplomatic ... Government has lost confidence in him,” he said.
The European Union said in a statement released in Lilongwe that it was “deeply concerned” and surprised at the expulsion.
“The European Union believes that the decision of the Government of Malawi, which is apparently based on unconfirmed media reports and perceived criticisms of the government, is unjustified and inappropriate,” it said.
Britain had warned on April 19 that “there were likely to be consequences affecting the full range of issues in the bilateral relationship” if Malawi expelled Cochrane-Dyet.
Malawi’s government is heavily dependent on foreign aid, with donor funding normally accounting for more than 40 percent of official receipts.
Reporting by Mabvuto Banda, Adrian Croft, Mohammed Abbas; Editing by Stella Mapenzauswa and Elizabeth Fullerton