Quoting the Economist:
These days the ICC’s biggest opponents are in Africa, which provides the court with its biggest group of members (31 out of 114) and is the scene of all the cases currently being investigated or prosecuted: in the CAR, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Libya, Sudan and Uganda. Accusing the court of unfairly targeting African countries, the 53-member African Union (AU) is again calling for “African solutions to African problems”. It particularly dislikes the court’s increasing willingness to go after sitting presidents. At its summit next month it plans to extend the authority of its African Court of Justice and Human Rights to cover criminal as well as civil cases. International lawyers such as Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch, a New York-based lobby, see this as an attempt to circumvent the ICC.
It may not work. The reason so many African cases are before the court is not because of bias; all the ICC’s cases have been referred to it either by the UN Security Council or by the countries themselves. It is because the standards of justice in Africa are often poor. Courts in many parts of the continent are packed with pliant judges keen to do their masters’ bidding. Moreover, attempts to create a regional system of African justice have so far failed. The African Court, under the AU’s aegis, has never issued a ruling of note. The AU’s pledge to ensure that Hissène Habré, held responsible for thousands of deaths as Chad’s president in the 1980s, is brought to justice has not been fulfilled. The Southern African Development Community’s tribunal, set up in 2005, has been virtually suspended since Zimbabwe refused to accept its ban on the expropriation of white farms and the 15-country regional club proved reluctant to enforce its rulings.
Many across the Continent have opposed international involvement in Africa’s affairs. Most of these Afro-nationalists have been dictators and those who depend on them, with a few true African nationalists on the fringe. My take is that Africa needs a conscience, regardless of where it comes from. As things stand tiny Botswana is the only nation that aspires to stand for justice. President Khama has condemned Mugabe, Bashir and those of their ilk.
South Africa, Nigeria, Ethiopia and the DRC, all potential continental leaders by virtue of their size, have been dismal failures at this task.
The ICC might be misguided in its attempts to decouple justice and politics. It might even bring terrible memories of the pre-sixties for those of our parents’ generation (calls of neocolonialism are all over the place). It may also be patently biased against African autocracy. But for now it is all most African peasants have against the goons that run their countries. Those who care about justice and accountability on the Continent should hold their noses and support the efforts of the court to give a voice to the voiceless.