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African leaders should rethink decision on ICC

By Maina Chamaka | February 11th 2016

During the recent African Union (AU) summit in Ethiopia, one of the leaders’ resolutions was on the withdrawal from the Rome Statute, on the basis that the ICC only targets Africa.

The continent’s single block of signatories cannot be just wished away. However, individual membership to the Rome Statute was done voluntarily and with a clear understanding of the provisions therein.

The main reason behind this could have probably been that the African leaders saw this as a panacea to insulate their regimes from armed resistance groups and punish their enemies that were capable of destabilising their regimes. As it appears, this never worked as expected, and the court has come to haunt the very same African leaders who passed it after some becoming culpable too.

Some leaders have perfected the art of extending their terms – through constitutional manipulation or through dictatorial means – in the guise that their own citizens have demanded that they stay in power. Yet others have amassed immense powers enough to crush any resistance and protests.

There has been a considerable drop in civil society agitation, armed struggle and coup de tats across the continent. Further, there are countries that have progressive democracies, enabling some African leaders to sit in the comforts of power, well convinced that there is no threat to their governments that may now warrant the intervention of the court.

By appending their signatures to the Rome Statute, African leaders knew very well that this is part of their commitment to international law as the community of nations, and therefore by abrogating the law, norms and shared values, they will be acting in bad faith and condoning impunity. There is no safe haven for impunity; there is no reward for impunity.


Much as it is important to have single voices on some of the issues touching on Africa, African leaders are developing the ‘protecting one of our own’ mentality when it comes to international crimes, well aware that they are vulnerable too.

They should be part and parcel of the progressive people working hard to make the world a better place for humanity, rather than being judged harshly by history for trying to take the world backward.

There is also this misguided belief among most African leaders that in subverting and circumventing the international justice system, they would have succeeded in shielding themselves from crimes they commit to their people.

Even if they leave the Rome Statute in droves, they are still bound by the same law as is the case with Sudan, which is not a member State yet Omar al Bashir is a wanted guy.

In Kenya for example, the move will be inconsequential since the Constitution provides that any international laws and norms form part of the Kenyan law. Changing the provisions will require the mandate of the people.

African leaders have the mandate of the people to guide the continent in the right direction. Whatever they do on behalf of the African people should be in the interests of justice and the well-being of their people, rather than their selfish and personal interests.

They should therefore rethink their Addis Ababa decision, their strategy on ICC and relationship with the rest of the world.

This is the only way to guarantee progress and justice for the victims.

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