Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, speaking at the Dr. Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History on April 5, 2008. The event commemorated the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
The Southern Times
By Tichaona Zindoga
Joyce Banda’s Conundrum
Malawi’s decision to cancel its hosting of next month’s African Union Summit over the presence of Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir might have underlined President Joyce Banda’s growing status as a darling of Western donors, or somewhat of an “Iron Lady”, but analysts from across the continent are not impressed with her performance thus far.
President Banda has also promised to repeal anti-gay legislation and has cut down on the perceived excesses of her predecessor, the late Bingu wa Mutharika.
President al-Bashir is wanted at the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity stemming from the civil war that resulted in the secession of South Sudan.
The African Union has steadfastly stood by President al-Bashir.
But Malawi has broken ranks with the AU common position by declaring that it will arrest him should he set foot in the country.
Oddly, a few weeks ago President Banda intimated that she would go by the cabinet decision to allow President al-Bashir to attend the AU meeting in Malawi.
Her about-turn has fuelled speculation that she came under pressure from her Western backers to retract on that position.
On June 8, the Malawi’s Vice President Khumbo Kachali said they would rather not host the summit than allow President al-Bashir in.
“Much as Malawi has obligations to the AU, it has also other obligations. The cabinet has decided not to host the summit.”
The AU immediately said the meeting would go ahead on July 6 at its headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Analysts have torn into the claim of “other obligations”, saying this is a euphemism for Western interests.
The timing has also been questioned as Malawi’s announcement came days after a renewed call by outgoing ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo for President al-Bashir’s arrest.
“The decision not to host the AU summit is a good donor-pleasing decision, a poor leadership decision, counterproductive African decision, and a wrong business decision,” was the conclusion of the Malawi Voice newspaper.
“It is a national embarrassment and will negatively impact the poor Malawians now and for a long time.”
The paper insinuated that the decision could be tied to a promise of US$350 million in American “aid”.
Malawi’s opposition castigated the U-turn, saying it was “hurried” and the country stood to lose out more.
Malawi Congress Party spokesman for finance, Joseph Njovuyalema, said in Parliament: “During the preparations hotels were in high gear of refurbishments, service contracts had been signed, some items were being procured and huge bills have been incurred who is going to pay for these expenses and no-shows?”
In Ghana, Kofi Ali Abdul Yekin, the chairman and co-ordinator of think tank Action Group of Africa called President Banda a latter-day Judas Iscariot.
He wrote in Modern Ghana: “The Biblical story of Jesus and Judas in which one sold away the other for financial gain to outsiders might be sounding too religious to reflect the recent developments in the Africa Union but, alas, here we are!
“The members of the AU Assembly are now openly threatening to hand over one another to the ICC (International Criminal Court) in The Hague, for prosecution as Jesus was handed out to the Romans to be crucified at the Golgotha.
“Yesterday, it was the justice to the Jews according to the then Roman imperial world power but today, it is the justice of The Hague to the Africans according to the ‘International Community’.”
He said President Banda was driven by a desire to please the West.
“These unprecedented developments in the Africa Union (are) said to have several evidence confirming that the domineering motives are financial rewards from the European Union aid donors and the IMF International Monetary Fund.”
The IMF ‑ banished by ex-President Mutharika – has suddenly warmed to Malawi and wants to extend a US$157m facility.
Respected Pan-African columnist, Abayomi Azikiwe added: “the refusal to host the leader of a significant state on the continent indicates that the imperialists are still attempting to exert powerful influence on the affairs of the African Union”.
The strong sentiments against President Banda have their opposites, mainly from Western media.
The Sunday Guardian, for example, wrote; “Today Africa has a leader who isn’t willing to invite those wanted by the ICC. In a continent where some African leaders shield those who committed heinous crimes against humanity, Banda’s move to ditch the hosting of the AU summit speaks volumes about what a gutsy leader she is.” Civic groups commended Banda for standing on the side of the alleged victims of atrocities in Darfur during Sudan’s civil war.
However, it would seem President Banda is caught between a rock and a hard place.
Analysts have pointed out that Malawi is over-reliant on donor aid.
Up until last year when Former President Mutharika had his fall-out with the West, the country depended on General Budgetary Support to the tune of at least 40 percent of its national budget.
Efforts by Mutharika to have a locally financed budget were repeatedly stonewalled and opposed by then Vice President Banda.
The country witnessed violent protests as fuel and foreign currency shortages started to bite.