Al-Bashir and the Malawi AU Summit – Will President Banda Stand her Ground?

May 7, 2012

With just over two months before the 19th African Union Summit kicks off in Malawi, it is being asked whether Malawi will allow indicted Sudanese president, Omar Al-Bashir, to attend the Summit. It has been reported that Africa’s newest president, Joyce Banda, does not want to host Bashir and has asked the AU to encourage Sudan to send someone else in his place. This decision, at least on the face of it, is positive and certainly the right thing to do.  The way in which she is handling the issue however, is perhaps not what one would expect from an African leader that has, in a very short space of time, proved herself to be a no-nonsense and forward thinking president.

Banda’s concern over hosting Bashir is apparently not the fact that he is accused of crimes against humanity and genocide or that he is the subject of ICC arrest warrants. Instead of citing Malawi’s international obligations to cooperate with the International Criminal Court (ICC), assumed when Malawi became a state party to the Rome Statute, she is concerned about the economic implications of his presence, and by economic implications she means donor funding, funding that was largely cut off as a result of the late Bingu wa Mutharika’s autocratic rule.

Banda certainly has a tough job ahead of her since taking office in April. Malawi is a country on the brink of economic ruin and she should certainly not be criticized for putting the economic interests of her country first. It is essential that Malawi looks to repairing the strained relationship with the west – a relationship which holds the best prospects of catalyzing economic recovery and which could be severely jeopardized were Bashir to attend. On the hand Malawi also does not want to step on the toes of the AU whilst still in the early days of her presidency.

Therefore in addition to the economic implications of hosting Bashir, should Malawi attach any weight, and if so how much, to the political implications and the potential backlash of AU for not hosting him?

It is a difficult position for any president, but even more so for one trying to establish herself as a credible leader both regionally and internationally.

Banda however, has perhaps gone about the Bashir conundrum the wrong way by being overly deferential to the AU. Banda should not have put the decision in the hands of the AU. The AU has made its stance on the ICC’s arrest warrants abundantly clear and has repeatedly called for AU member states not to cooperate with the ICC’s arrest warrants. In light of its vigilant stance Malawi might be asking too much of the AU to stop Bashir from attending the Summit, despite Banda’s apparent ICC-free motives.

Banda should simply stand firm and not subject herself to the AU’s political puppetry. Malawi would be well within its rights not to invite Bashir, regardless of whether it has the AU’s permission or not. It is certainly in Malawi’s best interest not to host him.  

So while we wait with bated breath for the final decision, spare a thought for Banda as she navigates the political minefield that is international criminal justice.

That said it would be encouraging to see an African leader proudly endorse its Rome Statute obligations – Will that leader be Joyce Banda? Watch this space.

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