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Thursday 17 October 2013

Africa: Justice or License to Kill?

The Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG) an organization set up in 2007 by Sudanese billionaire Mo Ibrahim to promote good governance in Africa awards each year the world’s most valuable individual prize – five million dollars plus two hundred thousand dollars a year for life – to an elected African leader who governed well, raised living standards and then left office.

Yesterday it was announced that th committee in charge of the selection for this year has not found any worthy candidate. Not many European and international leaders could stand up to the standards required, either. Actually in the seven years since its institution the prize was awarded only thrice: to Cape Verde’s Pedro Verona Pires; to Festus Mogae from Botswana and to Joaquim Chissano from Mozambique. With the announcement came also the annual report on national security. It groups Kenya with “failed nations” like Somalia and others facing unmanageable security situations at the bottom of the list ranking 52 African nations.

IIAG judgment on Kenya might be too harsh. Yet it represent fairly well the international public opinion, after the botched action of the Kenya security forces during the recent Westgate terrorist attack.

Another fact undermining confidence in the Kenya government ability to deal with security crises and connected human rights abuses is the activity of the Kenya diplomacy seeking a deferral of the International Criminal Court (ICC) case against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta. He and his deputy, William Ruto, face charges of organising violence after the 2007 election. The Kenyan Parliament has already initiated the process of withdrawing the country from ICC.

The African Union (AU) representatives sat in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) last Saturday in an extraordinary session prompted by Kenya and devoted to Africa’s relationship with the International Criminal Court (ICC).
In the final statement they emphasised that in order to safeguard the constitutional order, stability and integrity of member states, “no serving AU head of state or government or anybody acting or entitled to act in such a capacity, shall be required to appear before any international court or tribunal during their term of office.” And “While recognising the critical role Kenya is playing in the fight against terrorism, the Assembly noted that the proceedings against the President and his Deputy will distract and prevent them from fulfilling their constitutional responsibilities, including national and regional security affairs.”

Hailemarian Desalegn, Ethiopia Prime Minister, told the summit: “Our goal is not and should not be a crusade against the ICC, but a solemn call for the organisation to take Africa’s concerns seriously.”
Yet the AU initiative has been understood by many as a real confrontation with ICC. Some newspaper titles were of the kind “ICC on trial in front of the African Union”. Looming in the background there is the menace of mass withdrawal from it, since many African governments see it as heavily biased against the continent. The ICC statute were ratified by 122 countries, including 34 in Africa. Apart from Kenya there are at the moment 7 investigations going on, in Uganda, DR Congo, the Central African Republic, Sudan, Libya, Mali and Ivory Coast.

One of the reasons given by the opposition is “how can ICC put on trial a president that has been democratically elected by more than half of the voters?” In Italy supporters of Berlusconi use a similar argument: how can a politician be banned from public offices when he is supported by one third of the national electorate?

A few senior international figures have criticised the AU. Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said that withdrawing from the court would be a “badge of shame“.

Nobel Peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, one of the most loved and respected African leaders, after his countryman Nelson Mandela has also expressed a very strong criticism of the Kenya government action. He has the right credentials to speak for justice, not only because he suffered and struggled against the apartheid, and for that he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. He has been a fierce critic of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians as well as China’s treatment of Tibetans. In August last year he pulled out of a leadership summit in Johannesburg because he refused to share a platform with former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and he said that Mr Blair and former US President George W Bush should be tried at the ICC for lying about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction in order to justify invading the country.

Last week in an online appeal he wrote: “While some African leaders play both the race and colonial cards, the facts are clear. Far from being a so-called white man’s witch hunt, the ICC could not be more African if it tried. More than 20 African countries helped to found the ICC. Of the 108 nations that initially joined the ICC, 30 are in Africa. Five of the court’s 18 judges are African, as is its vice president, Sanji Mmasenono Monageng of Botswana. The court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, who has huge power over which cases are brought forward, is from Gambia. The ICC is very clearly an African court. Those leaders seeking to skirt the court are effectively looking for a license to kill, maim and oppress their own people without consequence. They simply vilify the institution as racist and unjust, as Hermann Goering and his fellow Nazi defendants vilified the Nuremberg tribunals following World War II.”
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