Maputo — The new President of Malawi, Joyce Banda, is to make an official visit to Mozambique from Saturday to Monday, at the invitation of her Mozambican counterpart, Armando Guebuza.
The visit is seen as opening a new chapter in relations between Mozambique and Malawi, which had cooled under Banda's predecessor, the late Bingu wa Mutharika.
Perhaps the worst incident occurred in August 2009, when Malawian police crossed the border into Ngauma district, in the northern Mozambican province of Niassa, supposedly to reclaim a bicycle carrying maize that had been seized by the Mozambican frontier guard.
In the ensuing clash the Malawian policeman burnt down the post massed by the frontier guard, an extraordinary violation of Mozambican sovereignty.
As the Malawian economy went into decline, Malawian officials tried to blame the country's chronic shortage of fuel on Mozambique. It was said that the Mozambican ports were congested, resulting in delays in fuel tankers reaching Malawi. Later it was claimed that tanker trucks were held up by long delays at the Samora Machel bridge over the Zambezi in Tete province.
The Mozambican port and road authorities rebutted these claims. In reality, Malawi's fuel headaches were caused by a shortage of foreign exchange.
In 2011, Mutharika inaugurated a port at Nsanje on the Shire river, claiming that Malawian trade imports could use the Zambezi and Shire to reach Nsanje. But most of the Zambezi-Shire waterway runs through Mozambican territory, and the Mozambican authorities had not given their go-ahead to the use if the rivers by international shipping.
Mutharika's inauguration of Nsanje was a damp squib, since Mozambique insisted that shipping could only use the two rivers once a thorough environmental impact study was carried out.
While both countries wait for the environmental impact study, Nsanje can be nothing more than a small fishing port.
There were signs of a warming in relations at Mutharika's funeral. To assist the Malawian government in organizing the ceremonies, Mozambique offered two wagon loads of maize, one wagon of fuel, and one wagon of cooking salt. The gift also included ten head of cattle, 505 sacks of rice, 20 sacks of sugar, 500 sacks of salt, 20 crates of cooking oil, 50 crates of biscuits, and 50 crates of sardines.
Joyce Banda thanked the Mozambican government for its gesture. Guebuza, who attended the funeral, took the opportunity to congratulate Banda and the Malawian nation "for the orderly and peaceful transition, following the sudden death of our colleague".
Speaking on behalf of SADC (Southern African Development Community), Guebuza told Banda "we feel comforted in knowing that your great country has a leader of your calibre, who has shown her commitment to the development of the Malawian people".
Immediately after taking office, Banda made it clear that she was prioritizing re-establishing good relations with other SADC members.
Her three day visit includes a trip to the port of Beira, one of the key ports for landlocked Malawi's imports and exports.