Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (PANA) - The African Union (AU) Friday confirmed it will no longer be holding its July summit in Malawi, after the country insisted it would rather lose the hosting right than allow Sudan's President Omar el-Bashir to attend, because of his indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC) over war crimes charges.
“The AU learnt about the announcement made by the Vice President of Malawi Khumbo Kachali on both radio and television and has accordingly confirmed that the next Summit would be held in Addis Ababa,” an AU official told PANA on phone, following Malawi's announcement.
PANA learnt that AU officials attended an emergency meeting in Addis Ababa Friday to discuss the relocation of the Summit from Lilongwe to the Ethiopian capital, which hosts the headquarters of the Union.
Meanwhile, Malawi's decision to give up the hosting rights is being described as a ''an investment tsunami'' for business people.
"In short, we're very, very, very saddened and we don't know what to do," Mike Mlombwa, Chie Executive Officer of the Countrywide Car Hire and President of the Indigenous Business
Association of Malawi (IBAM), told PANA Friday. "I am sure if we don't play our cards properly maybe this can cause a collapse of some businesses in this country."
Analysts however said Malawi's decision not to host the summit may put the southern African country in the comfort zone with Western donor countries.
The United States and Great Britain have made it clear there would be "consequences" for donor-recipient countries that host President el-Bashir.
Responding to a letter from the AU secretariat that Malawi has no right to dictate who attends the summit and who does not, Vice-President Khumbo Kachali in a special address to the nation Friday on state radio and television: "While we have obligations to abide by decisions of the African Union, we are also under obligation to other international agreements, including the Rome Statute (that set up the ICC). Malawi will not be hosting the African Union summit."
Kachali, acting as President in the absence of President Joyce Banda currently on an official tour of Great Britain and the US, disclosed that the AU secretariat wrote the Malawi Government that it either allows all African leaders to attend the summit or it forgets it.
"The African Union Commission has informed the Government that as a host nation, Malawi has an obligation to invite all heads of state and government, including President el-Bashir of Sudan," he said. "The African Union's position is that if we are not willing to receive President el-Bashir they will move the summit out of Malawi."
Khartoum wrote the AU Thursday that since Malawi does not want to host al-Bashir it should consider moving the summit from Lilongwe to its headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
"Cabinet decided that it is not in the best interest of all Malawians to accept the condition put forward by the African Union Commission to receive President el-Bashir. Cabinet therefore took a decision that Malawi will not be hosting the African Union summit and we have informed the African Commission."
Kachali said Cabinet took this decision "with the primary consideration of what is in the best interest of Malawians".
But certainly the decision is not in the interest of businessmen like Mlombwa, who said: "The cancellation has affected us greatly because, as we're talking now, as the Indigenous Business Association of Malawi president, I am receiving lots of calls, because everybody is mad, they don't know what to do."
Mlombwa said people in the hospitality industry like hotels and transport business invested a lot and took out "big loans" to spruce up their units and procure new fleets of vehicles in readiness for the summit.
"The saddest thing is that some countries and organisations paid deposits and most have already exhausted that money and now don't know how to pay back that money," he said.
Mlombwa himself said he applied for "a big loan" to beef up his fleet of vehicles.
"We didn't want to shame our country, we wanted all the visitors when they come to Malawi they shall use comfortable vehicles," he said.
The Malawi Government and the AU secretariat had placed advertisements in newspapers calling for people with "good houses" to lease them to the summit.
"I had to repaint my house and took out a bank loan to buy new expensive furniture ready to lease my house for a month at a comfortable profit," said a resident of Lilongwe's upmarket suburb of Area 43. "Now this is all money down the drain."
President Banda, who arrives in Washington Friday, is scheduled to hold talks with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton next week.
On the menu is the resurrection of the US$350.7m Millennium Challenge Account (MCC) that the Obama administration suspended for Malawi because of, among other reasons, Malawi's decision to host el-Bashir in 2010.
"Joyce Banda couldn't risk MCC for which she has worked so hard to resurrect," said a diplomat in Lilongwe. "We were watching her every move."
-0- PANA AO/RT/SEG 8June2012