On BBC Focus on Africa on Friday, someone called our president a spine¬less puppet of the West, because no self-respecting African leader should want to arrest and hand anyone of their own to the In¬ternational Criminal Court.
Surely, I thought to myself, this person was not sending this message from Juba, Southern Sudan.
Of course we all know it had made it very clear to Malawi by the civilized world that hosting Omar Hassan Ahmad Al-Bashir, a man wanted for crimes against humanity and genocide, would have unpleasant consequenc¬es for this country.
Someone even suggested that our presi¬dent had been blackmailed into wanting to ar¬rest Al Bashir, but I don't know about that.
Blackmail is a very scary word—and not for the Eurocentric reason that the English lan¬guage regards everything black as evil.
The dictionary says, in part, blackmail is: use of threats or moral pressure. The proposi¬tion that Malawi's decision to give up on host¬ing the AU summit over Al Bashir has been, partly, because of blackmail is hard to sustain, on the face of it.
But the charge has been made, albeit pri¬vately, that Joyce Banda was arm-twisted into making this decision. "Do not host Al Bashir or you will see..."
The argument will surely please those who claim Africa is facing a new wave of im¬perial expansion. It is this perceived threat of neo-imperialism that some African national¬ist leaders—and our own Bingu desperately wanted to be part of this club led by Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe—have exploited for their own ends.
But these leaders are only concerned about defending their position of power and privilege and have manipulated the supposed threat of western powers in Africa to provide a pretext for bludgeoning their own people into submission and prolonging their rule.
But these old strongmen have realized that they are incapable of uniting the oppressed people of Africa against this so-called new co¬lonial enterprise. They might rant against the perceived colonial interests of the ICC, but the suffering people of their countries would gladly take the ICC over them any day.
What these leaders have done is create internal conditions of severe disillusionment that Western intervention in their affairs would be welcomed by many in the hope it will mean salvation from oppression, hunger, corruption, genocide, cronyism and political thuggery.
The old dictators of Africa like to blame the Western powers for the sorry state of af¬fairs on this continent but have themselves done substantially nothing to respect the rights of their own people.
The many present problems of Africa are the direct result of the ineptitude of the Afri¬can Union, which has done nothing since its days as the Organization of African Unity to foster a culture of democracy and tolerance to diversity on this continent.
The hypocrisy of the AU over Al Bashir is breath-taking. Its leaders have not come out in unison to denounce the atrocities com¬mitted against the people of Southern Sudan. Instead they pander to, wine and dine with, Al Bashir as if he was some kind of hero.
I recall once when the buzz word in town was this thing called the New Plan for African Development (Nepad). But I wasn't surprised that only 12 out of the 50-odd members of the AU agreed to subject their governments to peer reviews on the rule of law, good governance and democracy.
It seems respect for the rule of law, hu¬man rights and clean governance is too high a mountain to climb for many African coun¬tries, who, nevertheless, pretend to be mod¬els of democracy even as they oppress their own people.
Under Nepad, governments had to ensure an end to corruption and the brutal treatment of political parties, the judiciary, the civil so¬ciety, the media and other groups or individu¬als who hold different views from theirs.
But that fizzled out simply because many African governments are led by leaders who somehow want to perpetuate their rule even if it means shedding innocent blood of citi¬zens.
Robert Mugabe, Yoweri Museveni, Eduardo Dos Santos, Al Bashir, Paul Biya, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, Denis Sassou Nguesso, Blaise Campaore are poi¬gnant examples.
For the many problems of their own making, these men have mastered the art of blaming the West while millions of their peo¬ple are denied basic rights to free speech, as¬sembly, employment and are driven into des¬titute. The African people who blame these men for their miserable situation do not need the West to tell them when their empty stom-achs are rumbling with hunger or when they are being killed for demanding their rights.
When Malawi hosted the Comesa Sum¬mit in Lilongwe last year, there wasn't a massive boycott by African leaders because a wanted war criminal was in their midst. So with the AU Summit now moved to Ethio¬pia, it will be business as usual for these old men. If they had any self-respect, they would have been categorical in their dismay with the actions of Al Bashir but, except for Sata and Khama and now our own Joyce Banda, that will not happen.
JB has done well to manoeuvre that tight spot between the proverbial rock and a hard place, but she could have gone one better.
She should have expressed outrage with Al Bashir for the atrocities committed in Juba, for trampling on the human rights of the long-suffering people of Southern Sudan, for rampant lawlessness, for apparent geno¬cide and for the displacement of hundreds of thousands.
Malawi is likely going to be rewarded for its stance against Al Bashir with cash and goodwill. But to take the booty and not say anything about the condition of the people of Juba would be selling out. So while we re¬ceive the money, let us as a nation pretend to shed great fat crocodile tears for the people of Southern Sudan even though, frankly, we might not care too much about them.
Malawi should know that principles which place little value on human life are not worth the paper they are written on.