India and Malawi on Friday explored the possibility of entering into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the development of the southern African nation’s mineral resources, particularly uranium and coal.

Though Malawian Vice-President Joyce Banda specifically sought India’s assistance in the development of its recently discovered uranium sources, the Indian delegation, led by Vice-President Hamid Ansari, remained non-committal as Malawi made it clear that it primarily wanted India’s help in generating energy out of its resources.

A joint communique issued later in the day said the two sides agreed to expedite negotiations to finalise the MoU.

Asked about the kind of help Malawi wanted from India vis-À-vis development of uranium, Ms. Banda said energy security was of paramount importance to her country. “Mining of uranium is just a component in energy generation and we are trying to use all sources, including uranium, water, wind and coal for this.”

The discovery of uranium in Malawi a few years back has drawn considerable world attention and recent years have seen several countries open diplomatic missions there. Large-scale mining of uranium is yet to be developed, with uranium production beginning as recently as September 2009 at the Kayelekara mine owned by Paladin Energy of Australia.

India is seeking a foothold in Malawi’s energy sector on the strength of its historic ties with this former British colony, and Mr. Ansari’s visit, according to External Affairs Ministry officials, reflected the “enormous fund of goodwill Malawi has for India.”

Grand welcome

The welcome given to Mr. Ansari appears to have taken officials by surprise, particularly the painstaking efforts put in to rearrange the presidential banquet after rains washed out the arrangements made at State House half-an-hour before the event on Thursday evening.

Instead of pruning the scale of the banquet, President Bingu Wa Mutharika -- an alumnus of Delhi University -- ordered that the venue be shifted to the hotel where Mr. Ansari was staying.

Though delayed by a couple of hours and chaotic because the hotel was caught unawares, the Malawian elite was out in strength to join Mr. Mutharika in raising a toast to the Vice-President as he became the highest level Indian dignitary to touch down on Malawi soil since the country gained independence in 1964.

In 1964, Indira Gandhi, the then Information and Broadcasting Minister, came to Malawi to attend the country’s first Independence Day function.

India announced a $1 million grant as emergency relief for the rehabilitation of victims of the series of earthquakes in the country, and a $4 million grant to support development in agriculture, health and education. Besides, India has decided to extend a Line of Credit of $50 million to support the development goals of Malawi as part of its effort to give a concrete expression of Indian commitment to the progress of a valued friend.

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