Malawi and ICC: Why Malawi invited Bashir in the first place

Malawi government has cried foul over what it sees as double standards and unfair treatment by the International Criminal Court (ICC) after the ICC reported Malawi to United Nations (UN) for Malawi government’s failure to arrest the ICC wanted man, Sudanese President, Omar al-Bashr last October when he attended Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) in Malawi.

Malawi government feels that the ICC is singling it out, as the court has not reported other countries that have previously failed to arrest al-Bashr. Malawi’s information minister, Patricia Kaliati recently argued: “When we were signing the Rome Statute, we wanted to be part of the international community, not to be targeted. We can as well withdraw our ICC signature.”

Bashir in Malawi: No arrest

The complication of Kaliati’s statement, according to legal scholars, is that withdrawing from the ICC will not affect the fact that Malawi did not arrest al-Bashr while it was a signatory – Malawi will still be accountable for its actions, or lack of it. It is not clear whether Kaliati had any legal advise before commenting on the issue but there is a void in her comment: she needs to explain what Malawi is trying to achieve by revoking its ICC membership.

It does not take a lot to realise that the ICC, as an organisation, is partially blind – by design or not. The ICC is not very consistent with its decisions. I certainly sympathise with those who questions its objectivity (Malawi government in this case) and those who see it as a client organisation for the West. Take a look at how it aided NATO’s mission in Libya in preventing the late Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and his son Saif al-Islam from fleeing to countries that could have welcomed them. Yes, the world is running out of safe havens for dictators, and that is very good news. Yet by listing the Gaddafis as ICC’s wanted men made it nearly impossible that they could be welcomed anywhere – the ICC cornered them. Otherwise why have the ICC not demanded that Saif be handed over now that he is captured? Was the charge a ploy to corner them in Libya?

But I do not believe Malawians need these lectures, necessary as they may be. The most crucial point when it comes to the ICC issue is that Malawians are owed an explanation by their government as to why al-Bashr was invited to Malawi in the first place when the government clearly knew of its implications – if the government of Malawi did not know this then someone has to take responsibility and accept incompetence. Why is it that five of the six heads of state that attended the summit are running what qualify as repressive regimes? Alongside al-Bashir at the COMESA summit were Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, Eritrea’s Issaias Afeworki, Burundi’s Pierre Nkurunziza, Swazi King Mswati III and Zambia’s vice President Guy Scott, who had only assumed the office.

History shows that the current regime is a mere continuation of the past administrations. Malawi governments have always aligned themselves with repressive regimes. The country’s, first president, Hatings Kamuzu Banda was the only African president who maintained diplomatic ties with apartheid South Africa. His successor, Bakili Muluzi befriended the late Gaddafi and he had to warned against visiting Saddam Hussein only months before the 2003 USA invasion of Bagdad. Muluzi adored Gaddafi so much to the extent that in 2003 Malawi had an emergency “half day holiday” so people could go and welcome or see the Colonel when he visited.

The difference with the current administration is that a considerable number of Malawians raised their concerns about the reputation of the visiting heads of state for the COMESA summit. Some Malawians even called on their government to arrest al-Bashr. Instead, the government arrested its own citizens (for sedition and an alleged illegal protest) to protect al-Bashr and to save the blushes of the hosting government. Perhaps it is naïve for anyone of us, including the ICC to believe that the government would invite al-Bashr only to arrest him.

Yet the question remains: why invite him? Did Malawi really need this unnecessary and a reputation damaging attention? Do we really need this unnecessary attention? Has the country not have enough diplomatic problems already? By the way, why were presidents from our crucial neighbours, Mozambique and Tanzania absent? Doesn’t landlocked Malawi rely on Mozambique and Tanzania for its imports? Was this not a trade meeting that needed attention of these key commercial partners? Were they invited? Why did they not attend?

These are issues that really matter for Malawi and Malawians. Malawi as a country will only improve with better decision making, better choice of friends and better diplomatic relations with the international community, whether we are an ICC signatory or not.

Jimmy blogs at jimmykainja.co.uk

Twitter: @jkainja

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