16 June 2012

Malawi: President Not to Attend AU Summit

Blantyre — Malawi president Joyce Banda on Thursday said she would not attend the AU Summit to be held in Addis Ababa, saying she would delegate her vice, Khumbo Kachali, instead.

Banda said this upon arrival at Chileka Airport in Blantyre commercial centre in north Malawi from the United Kingdom and the United States where she had gone for official visits.

She could not give reasons for her failure to attend the summit which until June 8 was scheduled to take place in Malawi capital, Lilongwe.

Malawi Vice President Khumbo Kachali announced on June 8 that Malawi Government had opted out on AU Summit hosting following the organisation's request to let the hosting rights be shifted to another country due to Malawi's insistence that it would arrest Sudan President al Bashir should he come to Malawi for the summit.

Responding to a journalist's question that she was making too many foreign trips.

Banda said: "Most of the foreign trips I've taken are justifiable because protocol demands that when you rise to presidency, you pay courtesy calls to countries funding you.

"As for the trip to the US, it was fully funded by USAID.

"But I've noted your concern and I'll stick around; even the AU Summit, I'll send him," she said, pointing at her Vice, Kachali.

On the cancellation of the AU Summit hosting Banda said she respects the decision by AU to have the venue shifted.

She urged Malawians to regard the whole issue as water under the bridge, saying when the donor community turned their backs on Malawi when president al Bashir attended the Comesa summit in October 2011, the AU did not show any concern, so it was not worthy repeating especially at the time the country was mending fences with the donor community.

"I as Joyce Banda and President of Malawi, I respect the decision by the African Union to move the AU summit from Lilongwe to Addis Ababa," she said.

"For me what is paramount and what comes first is Malawi and Malawians.

"We have to respect that and have no further comments.

"As far as I'm concerned, I respect President Bashir and I respect him as President of Sudan.

"But I am President of Malawi and my main agenda right now is Malawi's economic recovery," said President Banda.

Banda, who replaced President Bingu Mutharika on April 7 following the latter's death, had in the first place refused to have Lilongwe host the AU Summit saying it would be too costly for the country whose economy was in shambles.

She however, changed tune later saying Lilongwe would host the AU summit to honour the wishes of her fallen predecesor, Mutharika.

But Banda made it clear that Malawi was not ready to host al Bashir saying doing so would threaten the country's economic future since the donor community had made it clear that hosting the Sudan President would result in aid freeze to Malawi. Xinhua.

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