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Malawi: No Regrets Over AU Summit Cancellation

Malawi's refusal to invite President al-Bashir to the AU summit has drawn support.
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Malawi's President Joyce Banda on her recent visit to the UK. Photograph by Commonwealth Secretariat.

Blantyre, Malawi :

Malawi’s government says it has no regrets over its decision to cancel the African Union (AU) summit it was expected to host in July. Earlier this month, the southern African country refused to invite Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, despite considerable political pressure. The event has now been moved to AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Our country, our rules

In accordance with the ICC warrant, Malawi has said that it would arrest al-Bashir if he entered their territories. This stance goes against that of the AU who claimed that Malawi had no mandate to dictate who should attend the July summit, and it is believed that Malawi’s position derives, in part, from the country’s desire to appease its international donors.

Last October, $350.7 million from the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) for Malawi was frozen after al-Bashir was allowed to attend the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) summit in Malawi’s capital Lilongwe.

Banda, who was inaugurated in April after President Bingu wa Mutharika died of a cardiac arrest, has embarked on a drive to restore donor relations and repair the economic problems left by her predecessor. She made it clear that Malawi is in no position to repeat what happened last year.

“As far as I am concerned I respect President Al-Bashir and I respect him as head of state for Sudan but I am president of Malawi. My problem right now, or my agenda right now, is Malawi’s economic recovery,” she said.

President Banda added that she will not now attend the summit in Addis Ababa and will instead be represented by her Vice-President Khumbo Kachali.

Getting behind Banda

Banda’s decision appears to be supported at home and more widely. Opposition leader, Friday Jumbe, told Think Africa Press that the AU seemed to be taking Malawi for granted and questioned why the bloc was so insistent Malawi host the event on such controversial terms:

“We cannot be forced to host a summit on the condition that al-Bashir, who everybody knows is hunted by the international community, should come to Malawi” he said. “Al-Bashir and Sudan are the members of the United Nations. Al-Bashir can’t fly to America and nobody has forced the American government to say, Al-Bashir must come to America.”

Jumbe continued: “Do not embarrass us. We are a small country, we didn’t want to get involved in an international fracas and the AU should have understood our position, therefore the decision by government to withdraw from the AU summit is acceptable.”

Government authorities in Botswana have also spoken out against the AU commission’s actions. In a recent statement released by Botswana’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, President Ian Khama’s government expressed its disappointment and concern over the pressure exerted by the AU on Malawi:

“Unfortunately, this pressure has consequently led to the summit being moved to Addis Ababa, thus, depriving Malawi from hosting the meeting. Botswana, therefore, condemns this action as it is inconsistent with the very fundamental principles of democracy, human rights and good governance espoused by the AU and which Malawi upholds”.

The statement went on to note that, as a sovereign state, Malawi has the right to make its own decisions on such matters and concluded: “In this regard, Botswana will take the opportunity at the forthcoming AU Summit to put its case across on this important matter of this principle.”

Banda’s decision has also been welcomed by some in South Africa. In the article "St. Joyce of Malawi", for example, Chris Gibbons praised President Banda who “for the first time in African history, has exposed the African Union for the corrupt clique of crooks and dictators it is”. The AU's immediate decision to move the summit, he says, “leaves it – like the emperor in his new clothes – fully exposed for who they truly are”.

Gibbons also contrasts Malawi with South Africa, where the courts recently intervened to clarify the country’s responsibilities under international law. Joyce Banda, he points out, “didn't need to approach a court, nor did she need assistance from any Malawian NGOs. Her decision was quick, uncomplicated and principled: we've signed the treaty, we'll honour it”.

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