AU: Objectivity Versus African Unionism

THE Joyce Banda-led government of Malawi has decided to defy conventional African expectations and snubbed the African Union (AU)'s conditions for hosting its July summit. The AU had given Malawi the condition that the country had to accept Sudanese President Omar al Bashir as a delegate to the summit and not lay hands on him — given the International Criminal Court's (ICC) directive for his arrest.

This was after the July 2010 ruling on counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Malawian government made the gutsy move and gave up the onus of hosting the summit.

Could Malawi's decision be the trademark of a new era in African politics where any unionism around autocracy will ultimately be broken? Are we seeing the emergence of a new strand of courageous leaders who in their wrong or right are willing to challenge the absolutism that has characterised the AU for so long?

African leaders must critically engage with Malawi's position and not emotionally dismiss it as diversion from pan-Africanism. There must be careful introspection across Africa in considering why Malawi could have risked such a move.

For so long, Sudan has managed to wade-off the attempts by the ICC to bring Omar al Bashir to book. Sudan has massaged the broader African diplomacy into coalescing around Omar al Bashir's defence.

In 2009, the AU announced that it would not respect the ICC arrest warrant and called on the United Nations to suspend that order. In July 2010, Omar al Bashir travelled to Chad — a full member of the ICC — and managed to defy the warrant upon his head. During Bingu wa Mutharika's reign in Malawi, he again evaded arrest when he visited the country.

We also need to contrast the issue of Omar al Bashir's banishment with the post-Bingu wa Mutharika Malawian episode. When Joyce Banda (pictured) took over as president she has led Malawi on a somehow different trajectory from her predecessor. She has restored relationships with Britain — which has pledged to inject £20 million for currency stabilisation and another £10 million for health reforms. This is against the background of Bingu wa Mutharika's injurious relationship with the Brits.

Under Madam Banda the country has also managed to attract the International Monetary Fund's US$157 million aid. This is among a host of other reconciliatory expressions between Mal-awi and Western countries and organisations.

In an era where Western domineering tendencies have been experienced in Africa, one needs to be careful in reading Malawi's resurgence story.

The Libyan bungling by NATO forces; the French influence in Cote d'Ivore and now in Madagascar — all reflect the overstretched interests of the West in Africa. Malawi's re-connection with the West can therefore be drowned in dismissive pre-dispositions which can result in blinkered over-look of the issues at hand. We, however, need to evaluate and analyse Malawi's actions against the distinct nature of Omar al Bashir's actions and war-mongering antics in Sudan and beyond.

There are many who have dismissed Malawi's actions on Omar al Bashir and its different stance from that of the AU as "un-African" and reflective of neo-colonial mind-sets and pre-eminence.

However, the case of Omar al Bashir must not be considered in enclaves of extreme opinions. It requires outright objectivity. The fact that the ICC — which has obviously been more ranting on African leaders — issued the warrant does not therefore mean Omar al Bashir's defence by the whole of Africa is justified. At the same time the fact that Malawi — which many now view to be too pro-Western — has threatened to arrest him does not make Omar al Bashir's case any lighter in Africa.

Africa's proposition should have rather been to develop a quest to try its own political leaders within African institutions that aspire for justice. Africa's position must not be of defending Omar al Bashir against the mara-uding and African-hungry ICC, but rather of proving that he can be held to account by our own African institutions.

Defending Omar al Bashir because he is being accused by an African unfriendly institution does not call for Africa's dereliction of duty by conferring innocence on him.

In 2011, the indecision by the AU and its failure to rein in on Muammar Gaddaffi's autocracy agai-nst his people became the open invitation for NATO, British and the French "adventure" in Africa.

The failure by Africa and African institutions to hold its own leaders to account will always dispense the responsibility for action to others outside of the African domain. The world has become very inter-connected and there are others who are always willing to "solve" their neighbours' problems even if it means ignoring or concealing theirs. There are others who are so sensitive to the effects of the spill-over of neighbours' challenges into their own domain – these normally want to intervene even without invitation. Yet there are others who see opportunities where there is lack of self-regulation.

Its time Africa develops the objectivity req-uired to self-introspect. It's time to begin to note the difference between the pan-African spirit and despondency and tyranny. These are distinct and must never be celebrated or lamented in a twinned capacity.

If Omar al Bashir does not deserve to be languishing in an ICC holding cell then he must rightfully be doing so somewhere in an African cubicle. Africa's fight must not be to protect him but rather to fight for the right to prosecute him on our terms, in our courts and by the very people that he has transgressed.

Joyce Banda and his Malawian government have taken a stance that we must applaud. We must not judge their actions mired by the confusion of anti-West rhetoric but in the implication it has for African justice systems and mechanisms.

The challenge that Malawi has posed to the AU is what we need if we are to strengthen our institutions. The AU must not treat Malawi as an outcast. Rather it must treat it as a beacon of self-regulation and progressive objectivity that breaks the monotonous unionism whose convergence has only been tyrannical distinction. Africa must arise, let's hold our own and liberate the minds that have for so long confused the protection of totalitarianism for comradeship.


Financial Gazette (Harare)

A focus on Malawi’s stand against Omar Bashir and the future of the African Union

Could Malawi's decision be the trademark of a new era in African politics where any unionism around autocracy will ultimately be broken?