13 presidents shun Malawi summit as Mugabe, Bashir in

Heads of State and Government from Southern and Eastern African are gathered in Malawi’s capital Lilongwe for their 15th Summit of Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) which starts on Friday, October 14 but  out of 18 COMESA member states, only five leaders are joining President Bingu wa Mutharika at the summit.

Four countries- Zambia, Kenya, Seychelles and Comoros- will be represented at the Summit by vice presidents while Djibouti is sending its prime minister.

The heads of state who have made it to Malawi summit, most of them are dictators including international fugitive Omar al-Bashir of Sudan and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe.

On arrival, Mugabe who was welcomed by the Speaker of Parliament Henry Chimunthu Banda and other government officials at Kamuzu International Aiport told journalists that “we will advance our programmes as we come out of the meeting.”

Mugabe and Mutharika: Two of a kind

The first to arrive was Zambia Vice President Guy Scott followed by the vice president of Kenya Steven Kalonzo Musyoka. Prime Minister of Djibouti Dileta Muhammed Dileta was the third to jet in.

Bashir and his 26-member delegation arrived minutes before 6pm and they were welcomed with traditional dances and a guard of honour mounted by Malawi Defence Force.

Other leaders expected at the summit are Eritrea’s Issaias Afeworki, Burundi’s Pierre Nkurunziza, and Swazi King Mswati III who is the current chair of Comesa.

Sources close to the summit say leaders of about eight countries have sent their ministers to represent them despite the level of the summit.

However, analysts believe this disturbing development is as a result of Mutharika’s dwindling popularity amid accusations of poor human rights and good governance records.

“The man [Mutharika] has completely lost touch. If he has eyes, let him see… This should send a strong signal to him and his cohorts because there is no way out of 18 countries only five leaders should come for such a big meet,” one economist who declined to be named told Nyasa Times on Thursday.

He added: “His fellow leaders are watching and following his poor record on governance issues and human rights and they would not want to be associated with such a president. Look at the calibre of leaders coming for the event, talk of Mugabe (Zimbabwe), King Mswati  (Swaziland) and Bashir (Sudan), what tags are on their jackets in as far as human rights and good governance is concerned in their countries?”

Many observers including the donor community accuse President Mutharika of destroying Malawi’s democratic tenets and the rule of law through his dictatorial style of leadership that led to the expulsion of British Ambassador to Malawi Cochrane-Dyet.

Some few weeks ago, the Malawi leader was stripped off the Africa Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End of Hunger, earlier awarded to him by the Hunger Project (THP), for reasons bordering on poor human rights and bad governance.

The development came after the Malawi Diaspora Forum (MDF), based in the United Kingdom, whose coordinator is Nyasa Times editor Thom Chiumia, developed a petition in pressing The Hunger Project office in New York not to award Wa Mutharika for his violation of human rights.

COMESA, a fore-runner of the Preferential Trade Area (PTA), will mainly discuss how its 19 member states can deepen regional trade and integration. The summit is being held under the theme “Harnessing Science and Technology for Development.”

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