On the 12th May 2016 Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni, was sworn in for a fifth term at the helm of the beautiful Central African country. In attendance were various African head of states and governments, including Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir, who has an arrest warrant issued by the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. In his speech Museveni referred to the ICC as “a useless body. They are a bunch of useless people.” This is not the first time an African leader has made such remarks about the ICC and it wasn’t Museveni’s first time either. In brief, the problem African leaders have with ICC is that they say that it unfairly targets Africans and ignores other war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by others. This is an allegation with basis I fact, all 32 people indicted in its history are all Africans. This argument ignores the bigger problem, which is why does Africa not have their own independent and credible national judicial institutions or even African Criminal Court.
Admissibility is a legal term that defines when a case may come before a court, with the ICC, it may only accept a case, if the national judicial system is investigating and prosecuting the same matter in an independent and credible manner. This was the case in Kenya with the Waki Commission, set up to investigate and prosecuted the post-election violence, was found to not be credible and the cases passed to the ICC. This failure of our institutions is what puts us in this situations, where we are always undermined by the Western powers and they feel the need to act like a big brother and ‘essentially protect us from ourselves’, even against our wishes. Africa needs functioning credible, strong and independent judicial institutions, in which the ordinary citizen has access and can expect fair treatment no matter his/her economic status, tribe, political affiliation or gender.
We already have a continental court with the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, but it does not work efficiently, because of lack of political will and economic means. The African Union, the parent of the African Court is mostly funded by non-African institutions and governments. Again this is another area in which Africa needs a long term solution not just rhetoric, the area of economy.
The ICC might very well be biased against the African continent, as African leaders make up the majority of indictments and prosecutions, even though we know there are human rights violations in Europe, the Americas and Asia. But leaving the ICC isn’t the answer to countering this supposed bias. Instead of trying to evade prosecution from the ICC, African leaders need to be working at eliminating poverty in their countries, educating their citizens, and establishing the rule of law and truly observing human rights. They need to renounce and uproot from their governments, the greedy, self-serving attitudes that have plunged our continent into poverty and wars for so long, and take responsibility for bettering their countries, rather than always blaming others for our misfortunes.
Our leaders are well within their rights to demand that the ICC be fair and just in prosecuting all the leaders around the world who commit crimes against humanity. In the meantime, they need to ensure that they are blameless themselves, rather than trying to find ways to avoid prosecution.
Once again we refer to Museveni’s speech where he referred to the Chinese nation and said “Those people are also our genuine friends. They have no arrogance. If a man has his own house and he goes in another man’s house … what type of fool are you?” Here he was basically saying that the Chinese government offer aid or maybe investment without any conditions, unlike the western countries. African countries rely too much on foreign aid in every area of government from health and education to military, this has created a situation where they always have to beg. The natural resources of Africa are not benefiting Africans, either through corruption or global economic policies that do not offer Africa their deserved share. Policies of institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have put Africa in so much debt, due to high interests, that it will take generations to pay back. What is needed is not to choose Chinese over Americans but to create an African economy that is self-sustainable and strong, where we trade among ourselves, negotiate together as one and allow free movement of goods and people within the continent.
In conclusion, what Museveni should have said in his speech is that we need an Africa with strong, independent and accessible national institutions, a strong, united and inclusive economy and the ability, as Africans, to identify and solve our own problems.
By Joseph Nkurunziza Chairperson of Africa Democracy Forum @ryarasa