Monday, November 7, 2016


South Africa has started the process of exiting the International Criminal Court (ICC). Its leaders argue that being part of the ICC compromises their role as a regional peace broker.

The Burundian parliament has voted to leave and Gambia became the latest country on the continent to declare its intent in the same direction. Gambia’s decision could prove an embarrassment to the ICC’s chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, a native of the small West African nation.

South Africa’s decision, which became official with their writing to the UN came as a surprise and the worry is that it may galvanise other African country’s to act out their own desires.

"One can say the momentum to leave the ICC on the continent begun with the refusal by the court to drop a case against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, for his alleged role in his country’s post-election violence a decade ago. The ICC’s adamant stance turned off previous supporters on the continent and has since been easily spun as a racist attempt to subjugate Africans...

This perception has not been allayed by the fact that nine out of the ten cases for crimes against humanity are against Africans. The appointment of Bensouda to replace the tenacious Moreno Ocampo has not helped matters much.

There is a lot wrong with Africa, not least of all how human and civil rights are trampled upon by the high and mighty without any fear of repercussions.

It helps that a better educated population, with a growing middle class is increasingly appreciating democracy or at least that people have certain rights and is forcing leaders around the continent to tamper their heavy handedness.

However the institutions that Africans would ideally turn to for justice are underfunded, understaffed and fit like a square peg in a round hole in a cultural context where the big man still reigns supreme.

The ICC’s case is not helped by the fact that it is essentially an institution, designed, funded and backed by the west, despite its veneer of international respectability. African leaders probably fell over themselves to sign onto the Rome Statute, which established the ICC, to keep in favour with a donor community that was tearing out its hair at the medieval bloodletting going on the continent while feeling powerless to stop it.

Not necessarily because they have any sympathy for us poor Africans, but more because insecurity was getting in the way of accessing valuable natural resources in the jungles of the Congo or the savannah of South Sudan or the river banks of Liberia.

"It is easy to make the case that foreign self-interest is pushing some of these otherwise noble initiatives, especially when the nine out of ten cases are African and while places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya lie in ruins with not a squeak out of the Hague...

Whether South Africa’s decision will trigger a mad rush for the exit by Africa, only time will tell but clearly its not difficult to mobilise against the court, as Kenya showed recently.

That being said we cannot sweep under the rag the wanton human rights abuses happening all around the continent.

The more sustainable solution is that our courts should be empowered to handle these cases themselves, a solution which would evoke sceptical tongue clicking around the continent.

Let it not be forgotten that we are not reinventing the wheel or that Africans have a particular penchant for brutality and savagery. European history is drenched in accounts of genocide and gratuitous violence that have only been tempered in recent years – at least in Europe,  by economic interconnectedness and military balance.

The good news is that Africa will get there one day, as our borders fall away and we begin to focus on mutual benefit as opposed to parochial interests. The bad news is that external interference may stall this natural progression.

Until that is sorted out the ICC may have to wait.

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