Banda and the AU
The continent now has its second female head of state in Joyce Banda of Malawi. Banda’s sudden rise to the helm of Malawian politics has been met with adulation from the continent and the international community. The politics of Malawi has been defined by patriarchy and forms of populist politics that utilises a careful mix of ethnicity and evangelical Christianity. The leadership of Banda has been seen as a avenue towards a new form of politics in Malawi. However one of the biggest features of politics in Malawi however is its heavy reliance on international aid and in particular the need for financial aid from the major western financial powers such as the United States and Britain.
Since taking power Banda has followed the book in relation to good governance and policy measures approved and outlined by the international community and in particular the western donor nations. Since taking the helm of Malawian politics Banda has devalued the currency, plans to sell the presidential jet and repeal anti-homosexuality laws. It is therefore no surprise to this writer that Banda has decided to go against the position of the African Union in relation to Sudan and its leader Omar Al-Bashir. In addition to this Banda has decided to not attend the July Summit altogether.
The African Union was planning on host its July head of government summits in Malawi; however Banda decided to enforce the International Criminal Courts arrest warrant for the Sudanese leader Omar Al-Bashir. As a result of this decision the summit has been moved to Ethiopia. Banda’s decision has been hailed as a question of principle by certain quarters in the west, but as far as this writer is concerned it is a question of perspective. Banda has decided to follow the ICC’s stance on the issue of the Sudan rather than follow the perspective of the African Union. Banda understands the western perspective in relation to the Sudan and has decided that it makes more sense to follow the mood of the west. It is not a surprising move considering that Malawi is expecting to receive some $500 million from the International Monetary Fund and the Millennium Challenge Corporation. Banda is the new darling of the West similar in stature to Helen Johnson Sirleaf from Liberia.
When Johnson-Sirleaf became president of Liberia she was the antithesis of Charles Taylor and rightly hailed as a fresh new figure in international politics. It is not a surprise that she was awarded the Nobel peace prize to represent what the western donor community views as good governance. The problem with the political approach of both Banda and Johnson-Sirleaf is that they lose their claim to independence and lack any political credibility on the African continent and in their own countries. Johnson-Sirleaf won her second term in an election that was boycotted by the opposition! There is a fine line between respecting international opinion and also representing the general economic and political interests of African people and the continent. In essence an African leader that seeks to gain western support will eventually lose credibility among there people and the wider African continent. The issue is that Joyce Banda has defined her relationship with the west but has not developed a clear political approach towards the Southern African region and the continent.
Malawi needs more than development aid it needs leadership that wants to assert Malawi’s place on the African continent. The recent decision by Banda to go against the collective will of the AU is a principled decision, which is based on the principle that the west is always right. Rather than stay neutral on the issue of the Sudan she has decided to go beyond what is necessary and endorse a western perspective on the issue of Sudan. It is good public relations for Banda but it will not last and Malawi will lose influence on the continent. We will have to wait to see the consequences of this decision. Interesting times ahead.