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African Union got it wrong, continent needs the ICC

By Makau Mutua | February 14th 2016 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

Last week — as Burundi burned — the African Union resolved that African states should pull out of the International Criminal Court en masse. The AU threw the hissy fit because Kenya’s William Ruto and Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir stand accused of the most abominable crimes before the world court. The tantrum is inexplicable unless seen through the eye of the African dictator.

That’s because Africa’s strongmen don’t see like the rest of us — their eyes view the world through a distorted lens. Like Apartheid South African Boers, AU heads of state live in an evil insular world of self-deceit, malevolence, and impunity. It’s completely true — the AU mandarins don’t need the ICC, but Africa does. Let me tell you why.

First, the ICC wasn’t created for the AU or the African heads of state. It was established for hoi polloi, the ordinary man and woman in the world so often victimised by powerful and senior figures in society. The ICC was created to pursue the likes of the AU heads of state and their ilk everywhere. That’s why it’s presumptuous for the AU to purport to walk out of the ICC en masse as though it owns it. The AU has no moral or legal power to leave the ICC because it’s not a party to the Rome Statute. Nor is the ICC a dinner party from which a disgusted guest can storm out because of unpalatable cuisine.

Second, the argument that the ICC targets African leaders is spurious. We all know the truth about extreme atrocities in Africa. Is there anyone who doubts that African leaders — like Burundi’s Pierre Nkurunziza — are responsible for its pogroms? Does any African doubt that Sudan’s al-Bashir has conducted a campaign of genocide in Darfur? Didn’t Liberia go to the dogs because of Charles Taylor? Wasn’t Idi Amin a monster? Don’t we all know Laurent Gbagbo nearly destroyed the Ivory Coast? What’s true about all these desperate cases — and many others — is that dictatorial maniacal leaders killed their citizens with impunity.

No one could stop them at home. That’s why an external arbiter — one that’s internationally agreed upon — is necessary.

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Third, Africa’s judicial systems are powerless against the powerful. We know our judiciaries are beholden to powerful cartels at the centre of power. There is a vacuum of justice in Africa. It’s not even close — you can’t point to a single powerful figure ever convicted by a Kenyan court. The story is true virtually elsewhere on our continent. We understand democracy — and admire its virtues — but our elites and people find its practice difficult. That’s partially because majority of our people are hungry, and our elites crude and driven by primitive accumulation of wealth. The elites commit atrocities to protect untampered power and ill-gotten wealth. That’s why the ICC is the only plausible equaliser.

Fourth, water seeks its own level. Mediocrity finds comfort in failure. The ICC is generally a community of nations that internally are governed by the rule of law. The one block of states in the ICC that disdains the rule of law is Africa. That’s why it’s the only block calling for a pullout because the ICC seeks to hold its leaders accountable.

In Kenya, for example, the likes of Majority Aden Duale are the leading proponents of withdrawing from the ICC. Yet Mr Duale’s own Somali community has borne the brunt of atrocities from the Kenyan state since independence. Is there any doubt Mr Duale doesn’t speak for Somalis? He should be the first to support the ICC.

Fifth, the AU has no credibility to accuse the ICC of selective justice. In fact, the AU and its acolytes in academia are living on a house built on sand. That’s because the AU wants to have its cake and eat it too. On the one hand, the AU opposed the ICC cases against Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta and Mr Ruto as well as Sudan’s al-Bashir. But — and this is incredible — it supports the case against Mr Gbagbo, Uganda’s Joseph Kony and Dominic Ogwen, and the DRC cases. The difference is that the prior cases involve sitting leaders while the latter are against deposed or rebel leaders. This blatant double standard shatters any shred of credibility that the AU might claim.

Finally, ordinary Africans must realise that predator carnivores only exist because they can hunt and kill their prey. It’s a simple equation — without its prey the predator either dies, or changes its diet. African leaders will never become a civilised lot unless ordinary Africans civilise them. The hungry, the barefoot, the unclothed, and those without a roof over their heads — the “unwashed masses” —are the ones that need the ICC. It’s they who must block the exits from the ICC by AU mandarins.

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