It is hard to tell from her ever-changing positions whose motivations, to the best of my knowledge, appear to be based on where her feet are at that particular moment in timeâ€”in government or lost in opposition wonderland and figuring out how to get back home like Alice.
When Banda was buddy-buddy with her predecessor the late Bingu wa Mutharika as Foreign Affairs Minister, she was for itâ€”at least that was her confession at her first post-inauguration press conference.
But after her sacking from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in December 2010 and forming her own Peopleâ€™s Party (PP), she was against it, saying Malawi could not afford it.
Probably still suffering from the hangover of being a defacto opposition politician a couple of days after becoming President, Banda maintained her misgivingsâ€”almost grudgingly. She even bundled around K1 billion as the possible price tag taxpayers would have to pay for hosting the summit.
To be fair, Banda explained at the press conference that when she supported the move in 2008, the economy was doing well. But the fact is that while Malawi posted sustained high economic growth rates, it remained one of the 10 poorest nations globally with heart-breaking human development indicators. As she nods to the move as President today, the poverty situation has worsened.
At the press conference, she added that if the Cabinet thought we should host the event, “then fine.” So, lo and behold, the Mutharika Cabinet, which Banda chaired, resolved that Malawi should play the prosperous host it has never been.
Did she expect this Cabinet to say no to their fallen benefactorâ€™s pet project? Make no mistake, by the time Banda was entering the Cabinet room, she had already decided to proceed.
By putting the issue to Cabinet, Banda just wanted political cover in that the decision would sound unanimous after a phony Cabinet debate. Remember, most of those folks in the room hope to keep their chairs when she finally announces her own team.
In fact, that this was her personal decision was also reflected in the style and tone of the press release that new Information and Civic Education Minister Moses Kunkuyuâ€”her only Cabinet appointmentâ€”made.
The first paragraph started with, “Government wishes to inform the Malawi nation that it has pleased her Excellency, the State President, Mrs. Joyce Banda to approve that Malawi should continue with the original plans to host the AU Summitâ€¦”
The â€˜God fearingâ€™ ministerâ€”the Presidentâ€™s description not mineâ€”also tried to clean up his new bossâ€™ flip-flopping image on the issue by saying the reason the Peopleâ€™s Party (PP) leader was against hosting a summit of this magnitude was because of “the prevailing economic constraints facing the country.” Great! So, what changed? Have Malawiâ€™s poverty levels suddenly dropped? No, silly, some folks have promised to help us “financially and materially” to host it.
“The President is glad to inform the nation that after thorough consultations both locally and internationally, some heads of State and governments have pledged to support Malawi financially and materially in her quest to host the AU Summit.”
Whew! It is now her quest, eh? So, what is the following sentence doing in the news release? “Her Excellency, the State President, also wishes to state further that this will be an opportunity to honour the former president, the late Professor Bingu wa Mutharikaâ€™s wish to host the [Summit] in Malawi in July 2012.”
This is the most glaringly opportunistic and amateur spinning I have ever seen. How can a successorâ€™s â€˜questâ€™ to host the summit honour a late predecessorâ€™s original wish for the same?
Donâ€™t be fooled, this is all about Joyce Banda and her envisioned historical and ambitious place on the continent and beyond. It has nothing to do with the little that was left of Mutharikaâ€™s honour.
And what makes the Banda administration think that Malawians want Mutharika to be honoured in this manner and at their expense?
Again, is this the kind of message that the â€˜newâ€™ government wants to send?â€”that nostalgia and not cold hard facts will be the main basis of their decisions when it comes to public resources?
Because the cold, hard facts at Treasury are screaming against hosting this costly event, especially when the other determining factor for proceeding with the functionâ€”pledged support from other countriesâ€”has not been quantified, let alone specified and delivered.
Such reasoning becomes even chaffier when the motive of the foreign governmentsâ€™ benevolence is not communicated to Malawians.
Banda must be wary of nice-talking suitors who just want to use her to achieve their continental dominance at the expense of our national interests. The terms of any AU summit help must be clearly spelt out; otherwise, we could be left clutching bills we cannot settle.