AU summit moved to Addis Ababa over Bashir row

The upcoming African Union (AU) summit has been moved to the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa after the scheduled host country Malawi refused to welcome controversial Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, a war crimes suspect.

On 8 June Malawi cancelled its hosting of the 9-16 July summit after a spat over the AU’s insistence on inviting Bashir, wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) over allegations of genocide committed in the embattled Darfur region of western Sudan.

The diplomatic incident has brought into renewed focus the differences between the ICC and the AU. Under ICC rules signatory countries, including Malawi and 32 other African states, are obliged to arrest Bashir as soon as he steps into their jurisdiction.

The AU has lobbied the ICC to defer Bashir’s arrest warrant and even accused the ICC of interfering in African affairs. The ICC responded by calling for the application of aid cuts to all countries that fail to arrest the Sudanese president.

Malawi's recently-elected president Joyce Banda barred Bashir from setting foot in Malawi in order to avoid potential economic sanctions from donor countries. The move by Banda’s administration was quickly welcomed by Britain and human rights organisations, although the last minute nature of the decision is likely to anger Malawi businesses that had invested in preparations for the summit.

Banda succeeded the late Bingu wa Mutharika, under whose rule foreign donations to the impoverished country dwindled, and who was reprimanded by the ICC for giving Bashir a red carpet welcome at a Malawi trade summit last December.

Banda is keen for her country to rehabilitate its ties with the west, in particular Washington where she is about to visit. Earlier this year the US-backed Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) suspended its $350 million aid package for Malawi – under the regime of Mutharika – over the country’s December welcome to Bashir as well as for its “failure to show good governance and economic freedom and investing in its citizens.”

During her Washington visit, Banda is expected to appeal to the MCC to change its mind regarding aid, in light of the country’s new stance against Bashir.