africans should hold their noses and support the icc

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.

what if ruto and uhuru were jailed by the icc?

Kenyan politics is currently in flux. Two key presidential candidates, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto may be barred from running for public office next year on constitutional grounds. The key beneficiaries of such an eventuality will most probably be Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka, the Premier and Vice President respectively.

But what would such an eventuality mean for Kenya?

I’d say not much.

Over the last few weeks Uhuru and Ruto have been crisscrossing the country and holding chest-thumping rallies to prove to someone – either the ICC or the Kenyan political and economic elite – that they have the support of the grassroots. They have also issued thinly veiled threats that violence may erupt in the country if they are whisked to the Hague and barred from running for president in next year’s general election. Why does Uhuru and Ruto feel the need to do this?

In my view, and according to the rules of power politics, a tiger need not shout about its tigritude [I believe it is the great son of Nigeria, Wole Soyinka who coined this phrase].

That Ruto and Uhuru have felt compelled to shout about their support-base and issue threats tells me that they are feeling the heat. The fact of the matter is that the key backers of the duo are the ones who would lose the most in case of a resurgence of violence – think of Kenyan retail, banking, insurance, media and transport barons. These are the people that will lose the most when the Mombasa-Kampala Highway is impassable and Equity Bank closes everywhere. They know this and Uhuru and Ruto also know this. Furthermore, igniting further violence would most certainly attract sterner reaction from international watchdogs like the ICC and the UN Security Council.

There is also the [small] matter that now ordinary Kenyans will also know where exactly the violence is coming from.

Violence is therefore not an option. Not for Ruto and Uhuru. Not for their backers. And most certainly not for the rest of Kenya.

I suggest that the rest of Kenya call their (Uhuru and Ruto’s) bluff about violence next year.

Their battles with justice should not derail the much needed institutional reforms that will take the country out of the miasma of mediocrity that continues to engulf most of the Continent.

In the final analysis, the words of former VP George Saitoti will ring true: There comes a time when Kenya gets bigger than any single individual. Ruto, Uhuru and the wider political class are about to be schooled on this maxim the harsh way.

well said, Wanyeki

Muthoni Wanyeki is my favorite weekly columnist with the East African, a regional weekly. This week she wrote a piece on the Kenyan government’s reluctance to prosecute perpetrators of the post-election violence of early 2008.

the pros and cons of having a local tribunal

Kenya’s Justice Minister, Mutula Kilonzo, has made it clear that the government does not want the architects of Kenya’s post-election killings to be tried in the Hague. He instead wants to create a local tribunal. Previous attempts to establish a local tribunal were defeated in the Kenyan parliament.

A local tribunal is both symbolic and practical. It is symbolic in the sense that it reaffirms Kenya’s sovereignty in the eyes of the international community. It would show that we are neither Somalia nor Chad (although we might be getting there if things go unchecked) and can take care of our own mess. It is also practical because Justice is political and sometimes the pursuit of justice may need to be subordinated to political expediency in order to achieve better results. It is no secret that some of  those who organised the killings early last year are the same ethnic princes (both in ODM and PNU) running the country right now. Dislodging these buffoons from power may end up creating even more instability in the country. Better have a local tribunal in which those behind the killings would be exposed and perhaps forced to pay some fine while preserving the current state of cautious stability.

But there is also a case for an international tribunal. 1500 (more or less) human beings, with families, were killed. They were denied the basic human right to life. Someone has to pay for this. Political expediency, it can be argued, should never guide the administration of justice. Only an international tribunal would guarantee an apolitical trial of the cold-blooded killers who planned and executed the slaughter of  hundreds of their fellow Kenyans in Nairobi, Nakuru, Naivasha, Kisumu, Mombasa and other urban centres.

Either way, I think it is time that Kofi Annan leaked out the names of those implicated in the organization and execution of the killings. Expose them now Mr. Annan.