Malawi's President Joyce Banda is insisting that the country will co-operate with the International Criminal Court (ICC), to which it is a state party, and have Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir arrested if he enters Malawi to attend the African Union (AU) summit in July.
There are concerns that in doing so Malawi will be violating its obligation under the AU Constitutive Act, as the continental body has enjoined all its member states not to cooperate with the ICC on this specific case. As a result, such a move may set Malawi on a collision course with some AU member states.
The AU has clearly stated that Al-Bashir has been invited to attend the summit as a head of state, and it remains to be seen whether the continental body will accede to Sudan's request to move the summit to Addis Ababa instead.
Al-Bashir has been charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity and acts of genocide allegedly committed in the Darfur region in Sudan. Last October, before the death of President Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi, Al-Bashir's visit to the country attracted much international criticism from external donors who had already frozen aid to Lilongwe, as he was not arrested during this visit.
However, Banda is well aware of the importance of restoring Malawi's image abroad, as the country is in desperate need of international aid. Notwithstanding this pragmatic stance, some see Banda as a puppet president.
Meanwhile, Parliament has repealed the amendment to section 46 of Malawi's Penal Code, which allowed the Minister of Information to ban all publications that were deemed not to be in the public interest. It was during protests over this repressive media law that the late Mutharika ordered a violent crackdown on the protesters.
It appears as though Malawi is indeed making strides toward democracy. However, there are concerns over the fact that civil society may actually be weakening, given that Banda has co-opted several civil society members into her cabinet.
It remains to be seen how much Banda will achieve before Malawi's next elections in 2014. Her main challenges will be in stabilising the economy and maintaining her image as someone who works towards improving the human rights record in Malawi.