Last week Sudan President Omar Al-Bashir dodged a bullet.
While in South Africa for an AU summit last week, the high court there barred him from flying out until an application to force Pretoria to arrest him was heard.
This was all in aid of an arrest warrant for alleged crimes against humanity that was issued by the International Criminal Court in 2009.
South African authorities granted immunity to all delegates attending the summit, stalling human rights activists attempts to have him arrested, long enough for him to fly back home on Monday.
"For the rest of us who know how this continent works, we were taken aback that a court could deliver such a ruling, but were never in any doubt that South Africa would not hand Bashir over to the ICC.
It would just have been plain bad manners....
You invite a man into your house and then hand me over to his detractors? Never mind all the high sounding warnings about a drop in South Africa’s standing in the eyes of the international community (read western democracies), it just was never going to happen.
His escape from Pretoria may have been another thumbing of the nose at the ICC, but Bashir knows that he can’t sleep easy.
Earlier this year Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta had his case thrown out. Kenyatta and his deputy President William Ruto were charged with being accessories to the post-election violence in Kenya in 2007 where hundreds were killed and thousands displaced.
Which brings us back to the issue of the ICC’s relevance today.
The court’s record in mainly trying African suspects lends it to accusations of bias to the point of racism. Its critics argue that more heinous crimes against humanity have been committed in the Middle East, for instance, than any other house of horrors our blood thirstiest can conjure on the continent.
If that is true, ICC may find it difficult to pick the low hanging fruit on the African continent for a while. If it isn’t true, we can expect that the UN-backed ICC will cast its net further afield and maybe go after human rights abusers in Europe and North America for instance. Good luck!
Away from the geo politics, is the real suffering of people from the Kenyan rift valley to Dafur to Congo that under the current context are unlikely to see justice for the wrong visited upon them.
It may be convenient to dismiss the ICC as a neo-colonial tool to bring Africa under the thumb of the western capitals, but there are many unresolved issues on this continent which if allowed to fester too long, may force some of our politicians to clamour for their day in court at the Hague, than be lynched locally.
Out political classes actually bring these “embarrassments” upon themselves.
"If we promoted strong judicial and law enforcement agencies no one would want to create extra-territorial institutions to run around policing the world.
But the truth is, the nature of power is that it concentrates rather than diffuses power away from itself. Faceless, impartial institutions are just not convenient...
For the time being it serves their urge to hang on to power to stifle institutional development but in the long run it is bound to boomerang on them, as those same institution, neutered and detoothed, will be impotent to serve them when they will have moved on into civilian life.
The world is changing. With information being transmitted quickly and widely, hanging on to power unjustifiably will become increasingly difficult. Hence the need for more robust institutions that will operate without fear and favour in the service of the country.
The question then has to be what coincidence of circumstances have to come together so that the political elite can see the value of these?
First off it will not happen out of the goodness of their hearts. Our political leaders have to be compelled to nurture these institutions be it at risk to their absolute power. This calls for leadership not only in government but in the opposition and civil society.
Secondly, enough indigenous capital has to be built up that is credible enough to hold our governments accountable. Multibillion dollar multinationals and their agents have little or no interest in rocking the boat if the status quo aids their business. Local businessmen with a long term stake in the economy beyond yearend bonuses are our best bet.
Of course both conditions among others, will take years, even generations to mature fully but without them it’s unlikely that our political leaders will survive the ignominy of being chased around the world because someone else thought they need to be brought to book for crimes they have committed against their own.