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Malawi vows to open embassy in Jerusalem by next summer

Announcement made by FM Eisenhower Mkaka during visit to Israel; mission would be third embassy in capital, and first of an African country

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

FM Gabi Ashkenazi, right, and his Malawian counterpart, Eisenhower Mkaka, at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, November 3, 2020 (Avo Ohayun/GPO)
FM Gabi Ashkenazi, right, and his Malawian counterpart, Eisenhower Mkaka, at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, November 3, 2020 (Avo Ohayun/GPO)

Malawi plans to open an embassy in Jerusalem by next summer, the southeast African country’s foreign minister, Eisenhower Mkaka, announced Tuesday during a visit to Israel.

It would be the third embassy in Jerusalem, after the United States and Guatemala, and the first of an African country.

Mkaka “reiterated the intent of the Republic of Malawi to open a fully-fledged Embassy in Jerusalem [by summer of 2021],” according to a joint statement issued by the two countries.

“This important statement testifies to the depth of relations between Israel and Malawi, and will lead to their continued strengthening of the cordial relations between the two nations,” the statement read.

“I want to congratulate Malawi on this historic decision,” Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said at a joint press conference with Mkaka. “I look forward to your embassy opening soon and I am sure that more African leaders will follow this decision.”

Ashkenazi vowed to deepen bilateral cooperation with Malawi in many areas and announced Jerusalem’s intention to soon appoint a MASHAV development expert to Malawi.

“We will help Malawi build a better future, for the next generation,” he said.

Israel’s top diplomat also asked the African nation country to confront Iran and to outlaw the Tehran-backed Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah.

Mkaka, in his remarks, did not say when the embassy would open but confirmed that his country’s president, Lazarus Chakwera, had decided to establish the mission in Jerusalem, calling it a “bold and significant step.”

Malawi — a mostly Christian country with 21 million inhabitants — has no embassy in Israel. Israel’s non-resident ambassador to Malawi, Oded Joseph, is based in Nairobi, Kenya.

“We did also congratulate you on the historic peace agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, known as the Abraham Accord, which is in the peaceful transformation in the Middle East,” Mkaka told Ashkenazi.

“We both agreed that these developments are timely in creating a conducive environment for further agreements in the Middle East, and also will also have a beneficial effect on Israel’s relations with countries in Africa.”

Malawi is one of the few African countries that maintained uninterrupted diplomatic relations since 1964, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “For many years, the State of Israel provided Malawi worth much aid, with an emphasis on agriculture.”

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, hailed Malawi’s intention to open an embassy in the capital. “Thank you, Malawi, for recognizing the historic truth that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people & the State of Israel,” he tweeted.

In September, President Chakwera first announced plans to open a diplomatic office in Jerusalem during a speech announcing a series of reforms that would include upgrading the country’s Foreign Ministry and its network of embassies worldwide.

“The reforms will also include a review of our diplomatic presence, including our resolve to have new diplomatic missions in Lagos, Nigeria and Jerusalem, Israel. I will be sharing more details about this in the near future,” Chakwera, an Evangelical who was inaugurated as the Southern African nation’s president on July 6, announced at the time.

FM Gabi Ashkenazi, left, welcomes his Malawian counterpart, Eisenhower Mkaka, to the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, November 3, 2020 (courtesy MFA)

Chakwera, 65, holds a PhD in theology and has long been supportive of the Jewish state, which he last visited last year.

In February, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he would look into the possibility of opening an embassy in Jerusalem. Appearing alongside Museveni at a news conference in Entebbe, Netanyahu suggested that Israel would open an embassy in Kampala if Uganda were to open an embassy in Jerusalem.

“We’re studying that,” Museveni replied.

Netanyahu said he was hoping they could move ahead on the embassies “in the near future.”

US President Donald Trump signs a document as Kosovar Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti (R) and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic (L) sign an agreement on opening economic relations, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, on September 4, 2020. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP)

So far, only the US and Guatemala operate full-fledged embassies in Jerusalem. A number of countries have vowed to relocate their Tel Aviv missions to the city but have yet to do, including the Czech Republic, Moldova, Romania and Honduras. Some nations have opened trade, defense or cultural missions in the city, including Brazil, Australia and Hungary.

In September, Serbia and Kosovo unexpectedly announced their intention to establish embassies in the capital as well, in the context of a bilateral economic normalization agreement brokered by the US administration.

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