LILONGWE, Sept 29 (Reuters)- Malawi on Thursday said it has ended its persona non grata status for Zambia’s new President Michael Sata, trying to head off a diplomatic spat ahead of its hosting of a major regional conference next month.
Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika’s government arrested Sata in 2007 when the then opposition politician entered the country to visit a former Malawi president. Sata was then bundled into a car, driven several hundred kilometres, dumped at the border and told he could never come back.
Malawi presidential spokesman Hetherwick Ntaba said in a statement Sata can no longer be treated as a prohibited immigrant now that he the head of state.
“Under such circumstances, the fear of immigration embarrassment in Malawi for President Sata cannot arise in international diplomacy,” Ntaba said.
Prior to the announcement, Sata has said he will not go to the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa summit in Malawi.
Mutharika has strained ties with major aid donor Britain, expelling its ambassador to the state over a leaked diplomatic cable where he called the Malawian leader autocratic.
He also faced international scorn and further aid loss for his impoverished state after his forces killed 20 people in an anti-government rally in July.
Opposition leader Sata, who won election early this month in a peaceful transfer of power decided at the ballot box, is a rarity in Africa, where elections are often rigged or results ignored, with leaders subverting the democratic process trough force.
Sata sued the Malawian authorities and the case is still in court. Malawi has never disclosed the reasons why it deported Sata.