Malawi's President Joyce Banda. Picture: Sunday Alamba

Peter Fabricius says no country in Africa is an island and that we are all diminished by failures elsewhere on the continent.

Johannesburg - On Africa Day it seems particularly apt to remind ourselves that no country in Africa is an island and that we are all diminished by failures elsewhere on the continent.

Those - including some in our government - who are crowing about the demise of Malawi President Joyce Banda because they regard her as a Western puppet should bear this in mind.

This looks a lot like a scapegoating reaction designed to mask the discomfort of witnessing yet another African country going wrong.

To present Banda as a mere Western proxy instead of a sovereign African leader may be psychologically convenient, but it is not accurate.

Yes, she got more aid from the West than her predecessor, Bingu wa Mutharika, was getting at the end of his presidency because he was becoming increasingly autocratic.

But that support hardly accounts for her behaviour, now or before.

Banda, previously vice-president, won a lot of sympathy when she constitutionally succeeded Mutharika after he died suddenly in office in April 2012, not least because she had to overcome what amounted to a coup attempt by the late president’s brother, Peter Mutharika, to bypass the constitution and seize power himself.

She also tried to restore good governance which Mutharika increasingly had been abandoning.

However, Banda’s sympathisers had begun to lose faith in her some time before the recent elections, not only because of ineptness but also because of some worrying signs of dishonesty, especially the rather dodgy sale of the presidential jet – to someone who lets her use it for free.

And Western donors had begun to abandon her when massive corruption came to light after an assassination attempt against an official who was trying to root out the corruption.

The corruption and more so the austerity measures Banda felt compelled to introduce cost her substantial political support, so no one was really surprised when preliminary election results announced at the weekend showed Peter Mutharika leading with 42 percent of the vote, followed by Banda with 23 percent.

Then came Banda’s astonishing and irregular intervention on Saturday, when she announced she was annulling the elections, because of fraud and “rampant irregularities”, and ordered a new vote within 90 days.

Banda said she would not be a candidate in the new poll, to remove any suspicion that she had cancelled the election to cling to power.

Her move nonetheless threw Malawi into confusion, with the Malawi Electoral Commission responding that Banda had no constitutional power to cancel an election and Malawi’s high court on Saturday issuing an injunction stopping her from interfering in the electoral process.

Her announcement has sparked some violence, with much threatened.

For all her increasing faults, though, Banda ultimately comes across as a tragic and inept, rather than a vicious, leader, one more sinned against than sinning.

In the light of the scheming by Peter Mutharika and his clique after his brother’s death – including their sending the dead man to South Africa for medical treatment to give them time to plot their power grab – it’s not hard to imagine he might have tried to rig the poll.

But of course it was not within Banda’s authority to correct this.

She should merely have gone to court to challenge the results – though, it must be said again in her defence, she seemed to believe that she was fighting the Malawian establishment.

To those in our government and elsewhere who are crowing that another “Western stooge” – like Zimbabwe’s Morgan Tsvangirai – has revealed her true colours and fallen from grace, one can only ask: is the presumably authentically African alternative, Mutharika, like Robert Mugabe, really the sort of leader the continent needs instead?

Recent events in Malawi – as in Zimbabwe – seem rather to be another symptom of what former president Thabo Mbeki lamented at Unisa on Thursday, a dearth of leadership in Africa.

And so to those in our government and elsewhere who are gloating about Banda’s debacle, one should say: Send not to know for whom the bell tolls…

* Peter Fabricius is Independent Newspapers’ foreign editor.

Pretoria News