Malawi President Joyce Banda will not attend the African Union summit which was moved to Ethiopia after she said her country did not want to host Sudan’s leader, wanted by the International Criminal Court on genocide charges.
Banda, president since April, has been trying to woo back overseas donors which froze hundreds of million of dollars of aid under her predecessor who picked fights with Western countries and was condemned for a deadly crackdown on anti-government protesters.
A few weeks after taking office, she asked the African Union (AU) to prevent Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir taking part in the July summit, saying his visit to Malawi could damage the economy. .
As an International Criminal Court (ICC) member state, Malawi is supposed to arrest Bashir if he enters its territory.
The AU this week moved the meeting to the Ethiopian capital due to Malawi’s stand.
“I respect the decision of the African Union to move the summit from Lilongwe to Addis Ababa but I am not attending the meeting,” Banda told a news conference late on Thursday.
When asked whether she was protesting the AU decision to move the summit, rather than prevent Bashir from attending, she said: “My main agenda is to put Malawi on an economic recovery path and that’s what I am trying to do.”
The Sudanese leader visited Malawi last year when President Bingu wa Mutharika was in power, which sparked international criticism. Mutharika died of a heart attack in April.
The withdrawal of aid left a gaping hole in a budget that traditionally relies on overseas assistance for about 40 percent of its funding.
Bashir has been indicted by the ICC over allegations he is responsible for the deaths of up to 300,000 people in Darfur since 2003. He has denied the charges.
Banda’s stance has been supported by human rights groups and the leader of fellow southern African state Botswana. Its President Ian Khama said last month of Bashir: “His failed leadership is like a cancer in his country.”
The ICC, the world’s first permanent war crimes court, has no police force of its own and is reliant upon state co-operation to have suspects arrested.
The court’s chief prosecutor has called for aid cuts to countries that fail to detain Bashir.