Africa on trial in 2013

121112-national-this-day-in-black-history-jomo-kenyattaThe prosecution of African leaders in the International Criminal Court in the Hague is set to increase in 2013. This April will see two Kenyan former ministers – William Ruto and Uhuru Kenyatta, son of Kenya’s founding father Jomo Kenyatta (pictured) – tried for crimes against humanity, including murder and persecution.

 

There are currently 15 cases before the International Criminal Court (ICC) involving 24 defendants – and all of them are African. This has led to accusations that it is Africa that is on trial, and that the judge and jury are the West.

Of course no national leader should be except from justice, whichever continent they hail from. Naturally they should be held accountable and all corruption and oppression must be investigated and, if proven, punished. The question is by whom.

Writing on BBC Africa, writer Zaya Yeebo, comments:

There is every indication that the ICC is targeting African leaders, working to a script written in Washington, Paris and London.

The former President of Ivory Coast, Laurent Gbagbo, was “abducted” at midnight and secretly carted off to The Hague. Liberia’s former President, Charles Taylor, is still incarcerated at the ICC [he is being tried by the Special Court for Sierra Leone]. Sudan’s head of state, President Omar al-Bashir, has been indicted. Muammar Gaddafi’s son Saif, and Libya’s intelligence chief were indicted before the court could even establish the nature of their crimes. The trend is easy to spot.

It is indisputable that some of these men were behind untold suffering. Their actions cannot be defended or denied. But this list of people suggests African leaders are the only ones imprisoning, torturing and murdering their citizens. They are clearly not. But no-one else is on trial.

When American staff sergeant Robert Bales allegedly shot dead 16 civilians in Afghanistan, including nine children, he was quietly spirited away to a military prison in the US, despite the demands of Afghan President Hamid Karzai to try him in the country where the massacre took place.

Had Mr Bales been an African, his commander-in-chief – although thousands of miles away – would have been subjected to the ICC’s Rome process. But the idea that US President Barack Obama would be put on trial for crimes in Afghanistan is absurd. Yet senior Kenyan officialsare being held responsible for the deplorable actions of men who were not even taking orders from them.

The American ability to dictate the court’s agenda was not at all diminished by the fact that the US refused to ratify the Rome Statute creating the court, meaning no American is subject to the court’s authority.

But when the African Union – which knows a little more about African affairs than some American diplomats – tries to advise the court, it is systematically ignored. This attitude tells you everything you need to know about the ICC.

The trials are nothing to do with seeking justice for the hundreds of thousands of wronged people.

They are designed to target the leaders who have offended powerful western interests enough to earn the court’s attention. If African “warlords” have western friends, they are ignored.

The International Criminal Court is in fact a pathetic continuation of an imperial tradition, a way for western powers to pretend they are protecting human rights in Africa, that they are teaching Africans right from wrong. It is time Africa’s criminals were held to account by Africans.”

This is the rub. The African Union is used to being sidelined whenever America and former Western colonial powers wish to exercise their own agenda in Africa. Yet the European Union would never dream of being dictated to by an African-dominated body.

No doubt there are many people who richly deserve to be prosecuted for war crimes, yet no one has mounted a convincing argument as to why someone like former Liberia ruler Charles Taylor could not be tried at a Pan-African court.

DRC warlord Thomas Lubanga Dyilo was the first person ever prosecuted by the ICC in 2009 and ever since has been concentrating on Africa more than any other region of the world, leading to the frequent criticism that the Hague is indulging in “selective prosecutions.”

The implication that African nations will readily cover for their fellow African’s misdemeanour’s carries with it a strong odour of racism and false notions of Western superiority.

The Rwandan-backed M23 militia in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is currently being driven back by an African Union force assisted by surrounding countries including the much-maligned Zimbabwe. But don’t hold your breath for any praise of Robert Mugabe any time soon.

Because, as Zaya Yeebo suggests, the bogeymen are whoever the West decide they are. Decisions that have more to do with compliability with Western strategic trade, resource, and military interests.

Which is why the oppressive regimes of Uganda and Ethiopia remained friends with the West, and stayed out of the Western media, despite brutally suppressing political opponents while others, like Libya’s Muammar al-Gaddafi,felt the full force of American ‘justice’.

Another serving head of state, North Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir has an ICC warrant out for his arrest, yet – according to Freedom House – of the 19 countries and regions with the worst human rights abuses in the world just six are in Africa.

Others include North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tibet, Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Laos and the territory of South Ossetia. So can we expect the ICC to arrest the Chinese president or the Saudi king and haul them before the Hague? I didn’t think so.

And what of American or allied forces crimes against humanity in Iraq and Afghanistan? Or the escalating use of drone attacks across the world from Pakistan to Mali and Somalia? The late former Labour foreign secretary Robin Cook let the cat out of the bag when the ICC was being established by reportedly admitting that it was not a court set up to bring to book British prime ministers and American presidents.

Fatou Bensouda, the Gambian ICC chief prosecutor, told New African magazine that the ICC is “not against” Africa but the court’s record suggests otherwise. It is notable, for example, that while North Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir is indicted Syria’s Bashar al-Assad is not.

And that America’s extra-judicial drone killings in places like Mali and northern Nigeria, which undoubtedly are claiming the lives of innocent civilians, are exempt from the ICC’s radar.

And while warlords from the DRC have been the focus of the Hague’s attention, the wider conflict driven by the Congo’s rich natural resources – indeed in terms of minerals it is the richest country in the world – neighbouring Rwanda’s decade-long record of sponsoring militia to grab the DRC’s wealth, often mined by Western multinational interests under corrupt unofficial ‘deals’, are similarly ignored.

The intersection between Western strategic interests and selective targeting of African leaders who do not readily facilitate these interests has all the hallmarks of neo-colonialism and imperialism.

The African historian, Dr Hakim Adi, wrote in September last year:

Unfortunately, there has not only been a continuation of occupation of colonial territory, and unwillingness to right wrongs [like the oppression of the Mau Mau in Kenya], but also a continuation of the unequal relationship between Britain and many countries in Africa… as well as a resurrection of the values of the empire-builders of the nineteenth century who justified their colonial conquests, massacres and plunder with the talk about their ‘civilizing mission’ and the responsibility of taking up ‘the white man’s burden.’

At the turn of the century, for example, the New Labour governments of Tony Blair based their foreign policy on the need to establish a ‘new kind of imperialism’, as Robert Cooper, the government’s foreign policy advisor, called it.

The notion of ‘failed’ or ‘failing’ states, especially in countries that are poor or former colonies, was another part of the arsenal of justification for global intervention and new forms of colonialism. Cooper even referred to some states as pre-modern, as the imperialists of the 19th century might have done, and advocated pre-emptive intervention when there were any signs of ‘failure’ as determined by Britain and the other big powers.

In the last few decades British governments have presented a plethora of justifications for global intervention and neo-colonial domination of countries around the world, from Blair’s ‘doctrine of international community,’ and ‘humanitarian intervention,’ to the so-called ‘responsibility to protect’ civilian populations. Armed with such apparently noble aims and defending allegedly ‘universal values,’ which appear to be those of neo-liberal globalization enshrined in the Paris Charter of 1990, Britain’s governments have intervened throughout the world in concert and in contention with the other big powers.

In countries such as Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya what has been established can only be described as neo-colonial protectorates in what in many cases are former British colonies. Thousands have died, and chaos and instability have ensued. The illegal aim of regime change so clearly exposed and condemned during the Suez Crisis in 1956 has again become the openly admitted aim of Britain’s foreign policy in countries such as Iraq, Libya, and Syria.

Even where colonial-style invasion has not taken place every effort is made to impose ‘British values,’ which it is claimed are universal, and to advance the interests of the major British financial institutions and monopolies. The British Government acted with the World Bank, for example, to promote disastrous water privatization programmes in former colonies such Sierra Leone and Tanzania, exposing how ‘aid-funded business’ is used in the interests of the multinationals rather than to solve the problems facing impoverished countries.

Successive governments and the major political parties have also continually interfered in the internal affairs of Zimbabwe and other countries through such organisations as the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, while MPs regularly discuss other countries as if they were still British colonies.

In most cases the vast majority of Britain’s citizens oppose the colonialist policies of its governments. The most notable example being the mass protests against the invasion of Iraq and the widespread view that such crimes are not carried out in the name of the people of Britain. In this sense we can say that the sentiment of the majority may be described as anti-colonial rather than post-colonial, while the minority who are currently the decision-makers, far from distancing themselves from the colonial era, remain dangerously wedded to its values and appear to believe that with this outlook Britain can be made great again.”

Although Dr Adi’s focus was on the role of Britain, and did not address the ICC, a clear link can be made with the actions of Britain and the Western-influenced ICC in seeking to ‘civilise’ Africa of specially-selected human rights abusers.

And in an era when China, Brazil and India are competing with America, Britain and France for Africa’s growing wealth, the ICC stands out as a symbol of an old-style neo-colonialist approach every bit as much as the Pentegon’s Africom military arm.

Last week Chibundu Onuzo wrote in The Guardian that the memory of colonialism continued to haunt the West in its’ dealings with Africa and that China was capitalising on this.

She is right up to a point, however it is the present-day examples of neo-colonialism that reinforce such memories, and a combination of the ICC’s focus on prosecuting Africans and the US’s drone attacks shows that in many ways the Western approach has changed little over the decades.

The contradictory blend of unrestrained lethal force and a ‘civilising’ moral superiority that seeks to impose democracy – so long as that democracy bows to the West – leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of many Africans.

So when the likes of Tony Blair talk about supporting a new generation of visionary leaders in Africa, as he did last month, his words are rightly greeted with scepticism. In a speech last march Blair said:

20 years ago a conversation with African leaders would often be dominated by the legacy of the past, often a colonial legacy. Today there is impatience with such a dialogue about history. There is instead an urgent desire to focus on the future.”

There is indeed a desire to focus on the future, but it is not one borne out of convenient historical amnesia in which past bloody oppression or the present-day maintaining of unfair trade and power structures are allowed to continue in-perpetuity.

If 2013 is to see more African figures prosecuted in the Hague while tyrants from other parts of the world escape their clutches that can only strengthen the resolve of the continent to embrace the future on its’ own terms, sorting out it’s own problems, administering its’ own justice and growing its’ economies free from the ties of neo-colonialism.

By Lester Holloway @brolezholloway

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