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Malawi refuses to host African Union summit

New president Joyce Banda cancels glittering AU meeting rather than invite Sudan President Omar al-Bashir.
Joyce banda malawi gay 2012 5 21Enlarge
Malawi's new President Joyce Banda gives a press conference on April 10, 2012 in Lilongwe. Banda said she was pinning her hopes on donors to re-open aid taps after she started talking to them on possible resumption of aid frozen over governance and macroeconomic concerns. Banda was sworn in on April 7, 2012 just hours after officials confirmed the death of president Bingu wa Mutharika whose rule had sparked alarms over democratic freedoms and economic mismanagement. (Amos Gumulira /AFP/Getty Images)

Malawi's new president Joyce Banda is definitely shaping up to be Africa's most interesting head of state — she is taking bold steps that could turn around the poor southern African nation.

Today Banda cancelled the African Union summit in Malawi, rather than invite Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir and she also announced that Malawi will sell the presidential jet.

Banda stood up to the African Union by refusing to host its summit in July because she did not want Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir to attend.

After taking office in April following the death of President Bingu wa Mutharika, Banda revoked Bashir's invitation to the AU meeting, citing his indictment for war crimes in Darfur by the International Criminal Court (ICC), according to Voice of America. She said if Bashir attended Malawi would be obliged to arrest him.

More from GlobalPost: Malawi quits as African Union summit host

The African Union pressed Banda to allow Bashir to attend. The AU wrote that Malawi had no right to dictate who could attend the AU summit set to open July 6, reported Associated Press. The AU said if Malawi insisted on barring Bashir, the summit would be moved to AU headquarters in Ethiopia.

Banda decided to cancel the AU summit.

"Much as we have obligations to the AU, we also have obligations to other institutions," said Malawi Vice-President  Kumbo Kachali. "After considering the interests of Malawians, I want to inform Malawians that the cabinet met today and decided it was not interested to accept the conditions by the African Union, therefore Malawi is not hosting the summit," reported the AFP news agency

This is a sharp reversal from Malawi's previous support for Bashir. In October 2011 Bashir visited Malawi and Mutharika refused to arrest him. Malawi is a member of the International Criminal Court and so should have arrested Bashir. The ICC reported Malawi to the UN Security Council for breaking its pledges.

Chad, Kenya and Djibouti have also been referred to the UN Security Council for refusing to arrest Bashir, even though they recognise the ICC, reported the BBC.

In another decisive move, Banda announced that her government will sell the presidential jet, worth $13 million, according to AFP. She also said the government will sell off luxury vehicles, saying that they could not be afforded by the poor nation where nearly 40 percent of the 13 million people scrape by on less than a dollar a day.

Since taking over as Malawi's leader, Banda has called for the repeal of the criminalization of homosexuality and she has devalued the Malawi kwacha.

Related: Malawi to overturn homosexual ban

Relations with foreign donors have improved because of Banda's new policies. Mutharika had publicly feuded with the British government and as a result the UK cut off its direct aid, which resulted in severe shortages of foreign currency, fuel and essential drugs in Malawi.

Shortly after taking office, Banda fired Malawi's police chief Peter Mukhito, who was accused of mishandling anti-government riots last year in which at least 19 people were shot dead.

Banda also replaced Information Minister Patricia Kaliati who, shortly after Mutharika's death, held a press conference to say that Banda had no right to take over as president, despite what the constitution said. Banda also replaced Malawi's state broadcaster has also been replaced.

What I like about Banda is that she said she identifies with countries street vendors, saying that Malawians are poor but hard-working. If any leader can boost the fortunes of Malawi, Banda looks like the one.

More from GlobalPost: Economic growth pulls Malawians from poverty 

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