Last week, Joyce Banda, the first women president of Malawi (the second head of state of an African country), refused to allow Sudanese President Omer Al Bashir to be invited to the African Union Summit scheduled for July in Malawi. Under the Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court, signatory states, of which Malawi is one, are obligated to arrest and to extradite to The Hague any individual under indictment by the ICC.
Since March 2009, the Sudanese dictator has been under indictment for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur; the charge of genocide was later added. He is the only sitting head of state indicted as a war criminal.
The African Union, also known in some circles as “The Dictators Club,” threatened to move the Summit if Madame Banda did not relent. Much to her credit, she stood her ground, choosing instead to preserve credibility within the international community as a nation that honors its signed agreements. She was also thinking about the needs of her people, among the poorest in Africa, giving donors no excuse to refuse aid packages.
Relations with donors have already improved under Mrs. Banda and the UK, which had been extremely critical of Mr. Mutharika, [her predecessor] is now urging other donors to restore funding as soon as possible.
Mrs. Banda was elected vice-president as Mr. Mutharika’s running mate in 2009 but the pair had since fallen out. When the president died, there were reports that Mr. Mutharika’s allies attempted to sidestep the constitution to prevent her succeeding him. Mrs. Banda also announced that an official inquiry would be opened into this “attempted coup” and the circumstances of Mr. Mutharika’s death
Ms. Banda is a 61-year old married woman with two children and a university degree in early childhood education has been her country’s President for just two months. She has said she plans to repeal her country’s laws against homosexuality in her first state of the union address, a bold move, since homosexuality has been criminalized in 37 African nations.
This is a woman for whom the exhortation “Watch and Learn” was invented.