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Interview with outgoing Malawi Ambassador to Japan Dr Rueben Ngwenya

Ngwenya bidding farewell with Japanese Emperor Akihito
Ngwenya bidding farewell with Japanese Emperor Akihito

The Malawi government entrusted Major General Dr. Reuben Ngwenya, with the responsibility of representing the country as her Ambassador to Japan. It was not only in Japan; the Ambassador was also responsible for Malawi affairs in such countries as Australia and South Korea. Time has now come for the diplomat to return home after a successful tour of duty. We interviewed him in an email questionnaire to get an overview of how the mission was like in Japan and in this interview; Dr. Ngwenya tackles a salad of issues on the art of diplomacy.Excerpts:

Reporter: Your Excellency, your contract to run the mission in Japan has expired and you will be coming to ground zero soon. What can you say about the mission; was it successful or not and how does it feel to represent your country at such level?

Ambassador Ngwenya: Thank you for this opportunity to highlight some of the important areas. First and foremost, let me thank His Excellency Prof. Arthur Peter Mutharika, President of Malawi for entrusting me as his Ambassador to Japan. As you might be aware, Japan is the third largest world economy; and therefore, our relationship cannot be overemphasized.

My tour of duty has been very successful as Japan’s assistance to Malawi this year has been the highest in history since the beginning of diplomatic relations in 1964.

Reporter: You are one of the few diplomats who served under different regimes. You were appointed by the late President Bingu Wa Mutharika—though he died about a year after Lilongwe dispatched you to Tokyo— you were retained at the mission by the former President Dr. Joyce Banda and the incumbent President Professor Peter Mutharika allowed you to work for him until now that your contract has expired. What should we read in all this?

Dr Reuben Ngwenya
Dr Reuben Ngwenya

Ambassador Ngwenya: I don’t have a straight forward answer, but what I know is that these three Presidents wanted positive results and best performance. The late President Prof. Bingu Mutharika clearly briefed me during my initial appointment that he valued Japan very much and that he was sending me here to promote trade and investment. He further mentioned about my good performance record and the academic and leadership credentials that I have befitting an Ambassador. President Bingu was a rare great visionary leader and wanted concrete action plans, which our Embassy closely worked on. Former President Dr. Joyce Banda was also very keen to achieve results and she commended our embassy work on various occasions. His Excellency Prof. Arthur Peter Mutharika is even much greater. He has emphasized on real and serious investment and trade. He has produced a very concrete compendium with bankable projects that attracts investors and donors. Our Embassy has been very busy to facilitate these as evidenced through major projects including the expansion of Tedzani Hydro Electric power and expansion of Kamuzu International Airport due to start soon. There are also more Private Investors in Malawi now from Japan. On trade, more Malawian products such as coffee, tea, macademia nuts and tobacco among others are exported to Japan, which is good for economic and foreign currency exchange generation for Malawi.

Reporter: Your Excellency, just searching your name on ‘google,’ it appears you were ever in the limelight in the Malawi media especially when Malawi was hit with the unprecedented floods earning you the envious title of “top diplomat” for the great leadership you demonstrated that side in mobilizing resources for Lilongwe.  What other achievement(s) can you point at, Your Excellency?

Farewell pose with the Embassy Staff
Farewell pose with the Embassy Staff

Ambassador Ngwenya: When I was coming to Japan, the brief that I got was that the Malawi Embassy in Japan was among the Missions being considered to be re-located to another country as it is an expensive country. However, with our good work that yielded more development projects from Japan to Malawi, members of the Malawi diplomatic staff were increased and more great aid is further being realized. Just to mention a few , more city roads in Blantyre, construction of more secondary schools, expansion of Domasi College, Construction of Lilongwe TeachersTraining College, conservation of Dzalanyama Forest Reserve to sustain water supply in Lilongwe and modern musical equipment for the Malawi Police Band, just to mention, but a few.

We also negotiated with non-governmental organizations for additional assistance to Malawi. We acquired the modern dialysis equipments that were installed at Kamuzu Central Hospital from Tokushukai Medical Group. This has saved millions of money that the government and patients used to spend when they were referred to South Africa. Visit the center, that’s when you will appreciate its importance. The dialysis machines are fully occupied and patients are on queue like at a food restaurant. We have further negotiated if similar centers could be established in Blantyre and Mzuzu, as all patients from these cities are lining up to the Lilongwe center.

Our Embassy also sourced modern hospital beds and operating equipment that were sent to the Ministry of Health. I also sourced several computers for the Ministry of Education that were distributed to government model secondary schools. My most pride also goes to assisting the Ministry of Local Government and City Councils. We negotiated for the fire engines, ambulances and garbage collection vehicles that have been distributed to the three major cities of Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu. A new contract has also been signed with Adachi City in Tokyo to send more garbage collection vehicles to Lilongwe and Mzuzu Cities to improve sanitary services.

Even more important, there has been more connection for Private Investment from Japan to Malawi. During 2015 Malawi investment forum, I influenced several giant Japanese companies to attend. These included; Mitsubishi, Toyota, Mitsui, Toshiba, JETRO, JICA and many others. This has yielded a lot of fruit as these companies are now surveying on Geo-thermal electricity generation, coal mining, vast irrigation and advanced banking sector that will help Malawians to access better developmental financial services. Plans for Lilongwe City roads are also in the pipeline.

We also managed to improve export of Malawian products to Japan. Through exhibitions, Japanese companies have increased the importation of Malawi famous coffee, tea, macadamia nuts, aquarium fish, tobacco and many others. We have realized that the demand is huge, but the supply from Malawi is low. Even Malawi Gin distilled from maize is very famous and on very high demand, but cannot meet the demand.

When Malawi was at the worst disaster in 2015, we quickly coordinated the response to the call by the President for external support. Japan was the first country to respond and assist with over 74 Million kwacha following our submission and discussion with the Japanese government. This necessitated several other friendly countries to follow suit. I also contacted Cities, Private companies and the Malawi association in Japan and other countries of accreditation, who provided great aid.

Reporter: This is impressive but how did you generally feel when the appointing authorities here in Lilongwe were giving you more responsibility to be in charge of affairs not only there in Japan, but also in Australia and South Korea?

Ambassador Ngwenya: This is a sign of great confidence. This time, the Missions responsibility is extended to more other countries including Philippines, New Zealand and all Pacific Islands, and all these countries have equally increased their assistance and private investment into Malawi.

Reporter: When you were in Malawi before your appointment as Malawi Ambassador to Japan, you served as Advisor to the President on Security issues during late Bingu Wa Mutharika’s time and at the same time; you were also a senior Lecturer at Mzuzu University drilling students studying for their degrees in Security Studies. Your Excellency, all this seems to imply that you are an authority on security issues. Your Excellency, you might have been learning via the media of the gruesome murders taking place here at home almost on daily basis on our friends with Albinism and some quarters of the society are blaming the security units for failure to contain the situation. Can you advise government on what can be done to have this madness stopped?

Ambassador Ngwenya: This is indeed a sad situation. I know that the government and other security organizations including the community at large are working tirelessly to stop these unfortunate incidents. Being security issues, however, I may not be able to discuss these in detail now; but my immediate response is that there is urgent need for all security actors to work together in a more practical and coordinated manner, and these challenges will be issues of the past.

Reporter: Your Excellency, outgoing Malawi Ambassador to Japan, we wish all the best as you are coming back home here in Malawi but what is your parting shot?

Ambassador Ngwenya: I want to re-iterate that I am returning home a very happy person after my successful tour of duty. I am also delighted that my recall is normal and that our Embassy is not involved in any fraud as might have been reported in some media.  I do not blame the media because I did not have this opportunity to brief them on my recall and a summary of the great successes.

I am also very grateful to the government of Japan and countries of accreditation for their greatest support to me. My wife and I had a prestigious farewell audience with Their Majesties; His Majesty Emperor Akihito and Her Majesty Michiko. They pledged their total support to His Excellency Prof. Arthur Peter Mutharika, President of Malawi and the entire nation. Our Presidents are always great as they are elected at national level. They just need more effective advisors to assist them in critical sectors.

Last, but not the least, I wish to congratulate the New Ambassador Hon. Msulira Banda. He is a great personality that I know; and I promise my total support to him for the continued prosperity of our great Malawi.

Reporter: Thank you so much, Your Excellency for taking your time to talk to us!

Ambassador Ngwenya: You are most welcome and be more blessed!

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