Withdrawing from Rome Statute will entrench impunity in Africa

The biggest highlight from the recently concluded African Union (AU) Summit was certainly the decision to back the Kenya-fronted agenda to facilitate mass withdrawal from the Rome Statute that spawned the International Criminal Court (ICC). While moving the agenda, President Kenyatta characterised the court as a vehicle that had strayed off course; in the process jeopardising security, sovereignty and dignity of Africans. In supporting the move, Chadian President Idriss Deby accused the ICC of unfairly targeting Africa yet more flagrant violations of human rights happen elsewhere too.

Anybody not familiar with happenings in Africa would easily buy into the logic and justifications of the condescending attitude of African leaders towards the ICC. However, to a woman refugee in some camp in Burundi or a recovering victim of Kenya’s post-election violence, such news only aggravate an already fragile situation. One only needs to profile the most strident supporters of the idea of pulling out of the Rome Statute to see that it is a clear attempt to insulate themselves from the sting of justice. Even more contradictory is the fact that it all unfolded at a human rights themed Summit.

Proponents of the move have argued that Africa has taken the short end of the stick in the global justice system and many other spheres for far too long. In the case of the ICC, they point out that eight of the nine inquiries opened by the Court are from Africa; colossally lopsided, they say. What they fail to tell us is that out of all these cases, there were outright violations of human rights. People were maimed, killed, and displaced while loads others languish under oppressive regimes.

The fact that African leaders are keen to shed off the last deterrence mechanism against genocide and other war crimes in the wake of democratic reversals in many parts of the continent is a breath stopper. From Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, despotic tendencies characterized by manipulation of term limits have put a strain on the political rights and civil liberties. The situation in Burundi is now threatening to snowball into a regional crisis with far reaching consequences yet the African Union still play hide and seek games with Nkurunziza. To pull out of the ICC without a credible, and functional alternative is therefore simply too grim to ponder.

Some analysts say the latest move by the African Union is a calculated cry for recognition of the continent in global affairs. Indeed President Kenyatta nudged his colleagues to be persistent in their resolve to reform the ICC. In essence, AU is keen on pecking a chunk from the global power pie; perhaps buoyed by the Africa rising narrative. Rather than come up with some outrageous proposal whose utilitarian value begins and ends in presidential palaces, how about AU committing to actualize some of its own targets?

In the highly acclaimed Agenda 2063 blueprint for instance, Africa has codified impressive dreams that if harnessed could raise its significance and influence in global affairs. Indeed the first and third aspirations within the document hold much promise. Imagine if the AU Summit tasked the relevant bodies to expedite intra-Africa trade which currently stands a paltry 12% compared to 40% in North America and nearly 60% in Western Europe? What if the Summit resolved to suspend Burundi until normalcy is restored in the country? What if African leaders agreed on a roadmap to harness its vast human and natural resources for inclusive and sustainable continental growth?

These concerns may be peripheral in AU’s to do list, but if pursued with the zeal as we do other things, they hold much promise for the people of the continent. A prosperous, united, secure and democratic Africa which is responsive to rule of law, human rights, and global dynamics is what we need. Regimes reeking of rule by law, corruption, and impunity are certainly undesirable and should not be allowed to take root in the continent.

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The writer is a graduate student at the Institute for Diplomacy and International Studies, University of Nairobi.   

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International Criminal CourtRome StatuteAfrican UnionBurundi violence