SO the African Union has decided to go with the herd mentality and throw its weight behind one of Africa's elder statesmen (of sorts) Omar Hassan al-Bashir. It gave Malawi an ultimatum: invite President al-Bashir or you are stuffed.
The Sudanese leader was never expected to be short of supporters. Most of Africa's 'big men' have lots of skeletons in their own cupboards so much so that it would really be asking for too much to ask a guy like Yoweri Museveni to cast the first stone at al-Bashir. Melesi Zenawi has his own issues to be depended upon to demand accountability from Khartoum.
So the new breed of African leaders like Ian Khama of Botswana and Michael Sata of Zambia are quite rare. Of course they both stepped out of the box, as it were, and warned the twice-indicted suspected war criminal they would give him a one-way ticket to The Hague if he dares visit their countries.
Our own Joyce Banda, who ascended to the throne from an accident of fate, is yet to find her bearings in the maze of the confused African politics. While Khama and Sata had the luxury of seizing up their stance on al-Bashir, Mrs. Banda had to quickly check where her bread was buttered first. She inherited an economy battered partly because of her predecessor's abrasive anti-Western rhetoric.
If you checked, her brave anti-Bashir stand didn’t emerge from her own mouth. Andrew Mitchell, the British International Development Minister who came these parts nearly a fortnight ago, is the one who let the cat out on Abiti's views on the indicted suspected war criminal. President Banda herself has only told us she had politely asked the AU secretariat not to invite al-Bashir to the Lilongwe AU fiesta.
It’s not a secret that most African leaders view the International Criminal Court as a tool for the West to reign in African leaders. They have their own reasons to believe thus. I personally don’t believe George W. Bush and Tony Blair's role in the invasion of Iraq qualifies the American and British former leaders to warm the ICC seats but most African leaders think these two are culpable of war crimes.
I had a brief interaction with the in-coming ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda in Cape Town, South Africa, the other day. It is good that she, herself, is African and her country - the Gambia - is nowhere near the epitome of a model African state.
But Bensouda is an experienced prosecutor and when she bemoans what she terms as the "perceptions" that the Hague-based court is only there to punish Africans one has to sit up and listen.
"A lot of it is only perception," said Bensouda at an Open Society conference last month. "The perception is a dangerous thing; it's given to impress that the only place ICC is working is in Africa."
The abhorrence towards the court is so palpable on the continent that an AU summit in Addis Ababa in 2009 resolved to ask the United Nations Security Council to defer the ICC indictment against al-Bashir. A year later in Kampala, Uganda, AU reiterated its refusal to arrest al-Bashir and turned down a request by the ICC to establish an office in Addis Ababa to liaise with the AU to discuss its accusation that the ICC was picking on Africa.
In Africa it is only Botswana and Zambia that have said they would perform their ICC obligation by arresting al-Bashir if he visited their territories. The economic giant of the region, South Africa, only warned that the Sudanese leader's security would not be guaranteed if he dared to set his foot in the Zululand.
So it was almost expected that the views of our less-than-two-months-old leader on al-Bashir would always be viewed with disdain.
But Mama Joyce needs not to despair. She has announced her arrival on the stage of the confused African politics. If I were her advisor, I would tell her to skip the Addis summit in protest. She also has to lobby like-minded leaders like Khama and Sata to do the same in order to drive the point home.
Now let us examine the political and economic cost of the cancellation of the much-anticipated AU summit. I know Joyce Banda, when she was Vice-President, did not hide her views against the summit. While the Mutharika administration was selling the summit as a "cash cow" for Malawi the then embattled Citizen No. 2 said host countries of such fiestas lose millions.
And when she became the "accidental president" she cleverly mandated the Mutharika Cabinet to advise her on the way forward and only accepted to host the summit when she was promised help from well-wishers.
Now that the whole thing has been turned on its head I know people will lose millions in un-recouped investments. I know car hire firms borrowed money to beef up their fleets while hotel and lodge owners borrowed millions to improve furnishing in their units.
But with Khumbo Kachali's statement that "Malawi will not host the AU summit" all that investment went up in flames. Banks will need their money back - with interest - while countries and agencies that posted deposits will need refunds.
Where will people get the money?
Surely people will lose millions in unplanned investments. Government has no budget line to compensate them. And I am not sure how much government relied on the AU summit to recoup the cost of fast-forwarding the completion of the presidential villas and the Bingu International Conference Centre. But I know for sure that the villas and the Centre will surely be white elephants for a long time.
And we have to maintain them still.
Joyce Banda has to use all that she has up her sleeves to placate angry investors. It’s not an enviable situation at all, trust me!