In our last week’s edition we had a front page lead story featuring the decision by Malawian President Joyce Banda to auction a fleet of 60 expensive Mercedes Benz cars and a presidential jet in a bid to reduce unnecessary government expenditure.
While we were still pondering her move, this week President Banda took another tough decision by refusing to host the African Union summit in July because the bloc insisted on inviting Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir who is wanted by The Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes.
President Banda has made numerous breaks from her autocratic predecessor but few will be this popular in Africa: she has dumped his presidential jet and a fleet of luxury cars. Banda, who came to power in April after the death of Bingu wa Mutharika, has barely paused in her drive to overturn her predecessor’s controversial policies and lifestyle.
Her decision to sell or lease the impoverished country's $17 million (Sh27.2 billion) presidential jet and a fleet of Mercedes government cars will most likely go a long way to cementing the domestic goodwill and confirm her as a darling of the West.
The majority of our readers who read the story praised the president, describing her as a heroine for taking such bold measures in a continent where leaders compete for luxurious lifestyle amid grinding poverty. A minority of our readers, on the other hand, said that she was just a stooge acting to impress Western donors, or the imperialists.
Whether or not President Banda is a Western stooge is beside the point, because many African leaders fall into that category. What must be pointed out here and said in the clearest terms is that she has had the courage to take bold decisions for the benefit of the people of Malawi.
If a head of state makes decisions which mainly go to benefitting the people of his or her country, it is neither here nor there whether the move was influenced by the donor community.
One of the characteristics of a credible leader is having the guts to take bold, and often unpopular, decisions for the advantage of his or her people, and this is what President Banda has done.
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.
Her critics may say that she has again been forced to do so by the so-called donor community, but the message she is sending is very loud and clear: The time for Africa to entertain dictators has passed.
Malawi had received a communication from the AU Commission that, as the host country, it was required to invite all the presidents, including Sudan’s Bashir. The Commission said further that if Malawi was not willing to host al-Bashir, the venue would be shifted to another country.
Sudan also joined the race on Thursday, saying it had urged the pan-African body to shift the summit to its Addis Ababa headquarters after the host nation’s refusal to welcome its leader. In response, the Commission had written to Malawi instructing it to either accept al-Bashir or forget about hosting the summit. President Banda’s response was quick and on the point: She would rather forgo hosting the summit than play host to a leader on the ICC’s wanted list.
While Malawi has an obligation to abide by the decisions of the African Union it’s also under obligation to abide by international laws, including the Roman Statute that set up the ICC.
It will be recalled that Ugandan dictator Iddi Amin Dada used a platform of the Organisation of African Unity, the predecessor to the current African Union, to accuse Tanzania of invading his country, even though he was in reality the invader.
Today, Kenya has also managed to convince the African Union to ask the ICC to refer the cases facing three of its leaders at the international court to a regional tribunal at Arusha or elsewhere in Africa. The cases arise from crimes against humanity committed during the post-election violence following disputed election results.
Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe rigged an election, but has survived because leaders like President Banda are today very few and far between in Africa, giving rise to dictatorships and impunity over fifty years after colonial liberation.
That’s why we at The Guardian on Sunday strongly believe that Africa needs more leaders like President Banda if the continent wants to achieve economic, political and social prosperity. She is indeed doing Africa proud!