At exactly 8:50 am Malawian time, the military plane carrying Malawi’s president Bingu wa Mutharika took off at Chileka Airport for Lusaka, Zambia to attend the inauguration of Zambia’ next president, the Nyansa Times Reporters.
It seems Mutharika was so sure that the person to be re-crowned was his close freind Rupiah Banda. But Mutharika realised, probably while airborne that the man who won is actually Michael Sata, the man he banned from entering Malawi.
Asked by reporters how he viewed the elections in Zambia, Mutharika surprising feigned ignorance of the way things had gone in Zambia, reports Nyasa Times.
He only indicated that Zambians had voted for a president and he was attending his inauguration. Mutharika kept close links with the defeated Banda.
“As you know, Zambians and Malawians are brothers and sisters and as such while the Zambians celebrate the election of a new president, we have to celebrate with them,” said Mutharika, without making any reference to Sata, the winner.
On March 15, 2007, the Mutharika government deported Sata from Malawi shortly after arrival; a development Sata believed was politically-inclined.
Sata had claimed then that he had travelled to Malawi to meet with the business community, and alleged that the Zambian government had effected the deportation by falsely claiming that he was in Malawi to assist that country’s former president, Bakili Muluzi.
The Zambian government denied this while the Malawian government gave no explanation for Sata’s deportation.
At Sata’s inauguration, it was Bakili Muluzi who was seen.
Sata’s lawyer, Ralph Kasambara told Nyasa Times that Sata was arrested at Chileka international Airport in Blantyre 15 March, 2007, when he flew into Malawi to hold talks with former president Bakili Muluzi.
“No reasons were given for his arrest but he was detained for several hours at Blantyre Police Station, where he was declared Persona Non Grata (PNG) or Prohibited Immigrant (PI),” Kasambara said.
He was then driven 500 kilometres and dumped at Mwami Border Post on the Malawi-Zambia border.
Sata sued Malawi for defamation and character assassination.
“He sued for defamation and wrongful detention,” said Kasambara, who represented the man who would be President of the copper-rich nation, adding “the case was concluded, we are just waiting for Justice Healey Potani’s judgement.”
According to laws, Sata is still PNG or PI in Malawi, unless Chief Immigration Officer Elvis Thodi reverses his status. Thodi was not answering his phones on Friday.
Despite President Bingu wa Mutharika congratulating the new Zambian leader and urging Malawians to celebrate with their northern neighbours, he flew to Lusaka but it was uncertain he attended the swearing-in ceremony of the new Zambian leader.
However, it seems he was not at the actual ceremony, for he was not seen anywhere on the high table. It was not even clear whether he was invited by Sata’s handlers, for he announced his plans to fly to Lusaka way before King Cobra was declared winner.
“He was obviously invited by President Banda for Sata’s people couldn’t have powers to draw up a list of invitees on Wednesday when it wasn’t clear he would emerge victorious,” said a source familiar with government protocol.
It is not even clear whether Mutharika used the occasion to personally congratulate Sata.
“It seems he just flew to Lusaka and flew back to Blantyre,” said the source, noting “It is not clear why this trip was necessary.”
It will, however, be interesting if the new Zambian leader has forgotten that little wooden bench at that crowded and dirty police station in Blantyre on 15 March, 2007 and the uncomfortable and unplanned long drive to the border.