Africa’s broken relationship with the International Criminal Court

To be or not to be is the question that Africa has begun answering in regards to the ICC. President Pierre Nkurunziza signed a decree on Tuesday the 18th of October 2016 signalling Burundi’s intention to quit the International Criminal Court. This came after its parliament had voted overwhelmingly to remove the country from the court’s jurisdiction.

Before the ink on the decree had dried, South Africa had already made a formal request to have its membership withdrawn from the ICC. Adding intrigue to this ongoing debate, Gambia announced its intention to withdraw its membership from the ICC too.

Initially it was easy for commentators to dismiss Burundi’s actions since the court had launched preliminary investigations into the country’s leadership. But South Africa and Gambia have made it abundantly clear that Africa’s threats to leave the ICC en-masse were not empty.

I probably agree on many issues with many of you, perhaps this is one of the few cases were my personal view is not in tandem with the so called pro-democratic forces. I support and respect the African Union’s position to leave the ICC and here is why:

The court’s neo-colonial agenda

We must never forget that the architecture of the international system was crafted by the victors of the second world war. Institutions like the United Nations, the World Bank and the IMF have been used by the powers that be to further their own neo-colonial agenda. Unfortunately, the ICC has become an extension of that global system.

To highlight my point, the Security Council can refer cases to the ICC despite the fact that three of its five permanent members with veto powers are not party to the Rome statute. Even more worrying is the fact that the Security Council has not always acted above board. For instance, the United States of America has on several occasions vetoed Security Council resolutions concerning Israeli war crimes on Palestinian territory. And so, has Russia and China vetoed UN draft resolution to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court.

It’s amazing that countries that do not want to be held accountable under the Rome Statute play referee, referring or blocking cases that can go to the ICC from the Security Council? We must not only wonder where the Security Council derives its moral authority from, but question why it is allowed to play such a role?

This whole system has been faulty from its origin. Even if we were to somehow accept the authority of the Security Council, are we Africans supposed to sit and smile when we do not have veto power in this council, worse in matters that affect African countries?

I do not think so. I hope this ICC crisis will act as a sign to the powers that be that all is not well. International systems need to reform if they are to live up to their promises and moral values.

Africa says peace over justice

African institutions like the AU and other regional bodies have an opinion in this thorny debate namely that pursuing justice can undermine peace negotiations. Many might not agree with Africa’s stance on this debate but its stance is clear, Africa believes in peace over justice.

The ICC obviously does not agree. It believes in justice at whatever cost to the affected country. This behaviour is not any different to how Western leaders behave or have behaved in the past. They have sought to get rid of leaders who are not subservient to their interests under the pretext of them being evil. This is not to exonerate that the condemned regimes, but it is simply to explain the Western hypicrisy, for it mantians cozy relationships with far worse regimes. The West under the banner of international community overthrew Gaddafi. Need I remind you dear reader that Africans were excluded in the deliberations on Libya, their advice utterly ignored. Now the country is ungovernable with even more human rights abuses. The international community chose expediency over peace and Libya reaped anarchy.

The ICC has taken this unfortunate direction, indicting sitting Heads of States, which obviously, the African Union disagrees with. The African Union’s view is to suspend justice in exchange for a possible end to a conflict. It has argued that prosecution or indictment poses a dangerous and unfortunate obstacle to any peace process. That is why the African Union viewed the indictment of Omar Bashir in 2009 as an assault on the peace process in Sudan. Justice must never be mande a hindrance to diplomatic efforts to establish peace.

Surely the Court could have delayed indicting any sitting Heads of State until they have left office. This small gesture would have resolved the conflict between the AU and the Court. Showing a bit of respect to African Institutions and their line of thinking is not too much to ask for. I wonder if the Court will ever attempt to arrest any Western sitting Head of State.

 The selective enforcement of the Rome Statute

The Gambian Information Minister Sheriff Bojang explaining why Gambia decided to leave the ICC had this to say: “this action is warranted by the fact that the ICC, despite being called the International Criminal Court, is in fact an International Caucasian Court for the persecution and humiliation of people of colour, especially Africans”.

Unfortunately, the sentiments expressed by the Gambian Information Minister are shared by many Africans across the globe, myself included. Why has Tony Blair and his army generals not been indicted by the court? This is a question we cannot ignore. Great Britain is a party to the Rome Statute thus their actions are within the court’s jurisdiction. The then United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan described explicitly that the Iraq war was illegal as it breached the UN Charter. Do the Iraqi civilian lives lost through this illegal war count for nothing? Or are Western perpetrators of war crimes above the law?

According to South African ruling party ANC’s head of International Relations Sub-Committee Obed Bapela, 66% of the ICC budget comes from the European Union (EU). It therefore does not come as a surprise that Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister, has not been indicted for war crimes during the illegal Iraq invasion in 2003. We know that he who pays the piper calls the tune. But we Africans are sick and tired for being second class citizens of this world.

Dr Milton Wolf says selective enforcement of the law is the first sign of tyranny. We as Africans are feeling the weight of this tyranny. In fact, we have always felt it. During our liberation struggle our heroes were labelled terrorists. Yet, yesterday’s monsters, those who murdered, brutalised and dehumanised our people during Africa’s colonization, are celebrated in Western cities. King Leopold the second is celebrated across Belgium but he committed a genocide in the Congo. As victims of the worst kind of racism (slavery) , we are very conscious of the existence of racism on the international scene.

Thus, we view this selective application of international law not only as a form of legal abuse but a threat to the rule of international law. What is good for the goose must also be good for the gander.

 A case for victims

The Africa Group for Justice and Accountability notes that the decision to leave the ICC has the potential to deprive the victims of human rights violations a recourse to justice. That is why I find pulling out from the ICC without a clear strategy on how to make our leaders account for atrocities they commit in their respective countries not only morally wrong but also foolhardy. It sends the wrong message about our seriousness to deal with these heinous crimes and our desire to see an end to impunity.

We cannot afford to forget the African victims in this intellectual discourse. Since Africa’s pull-out is no longer in doubt, the AU must establish its own independent African Criminal Court with the jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for the international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. We must all now be gripped with discussions around the modalities of establishing this Court.

Of course establishing the court will bring with it many challenges. Friends and foes alike  will question our court’s integrity but I sincerely believe that in the long run Africa will rise to the occasion.

We shall over come


Debunking the myth: Young people are the leaders of tomorrow

This piece is inspired by the questions I received in response to my previous article which can be found (here). Most questions were centered on how the young generation can solve this leadership deficit on the continent and in Zimbabwe in particular.

Mugabe has run Zimbabwe for the past 36 years, ruining so many lives and destroying the future of many young people in the process. Martin Luther King junior says “a man can’t ride you, unless your back is bent”. We therefore must have given consent to his rule or rather misrule.

I believe that as Zimbabweans, we are not yet serious in removing Robert Mugabe and seeing his Zanu PF gone, particularly the youth and young adults who constitute approximately 41% of the entire population. Imagine, only 14% of those 41% have registered to vote, despite the myriad of challenges facing our country today. When citizens of the Republic are called to come in the thousands to express their disappointment in how the country is being run, we have been weighed and found wanting. We have dismally failed to stand with one another, let alone stand up to Mugabe and his minions.

Instead we have criticised Morgan Tsvangirai and all the other members of the opposition. People who have given and continue to give their all, trying to rebuild a prosperous Zimbabwe for all. Acie Lumumba, as he is commonly known, recently asked people to stop bad mouthing those who are trying to fight for change. I agree with him on this issue. It is time for all of us to step up and play our part. Ko vakuru havana kutiudza here kuti hakuna mombe inofurira ivete (haven’t our elders told us that there is no cow that grazes on behalf of the sleeping cow).

Young people are the leaders of tomorrow: Myth

Young people more often than not have embraced this myth that they are the leaders of tomorrow. A lie perpetuated to keep them disengaged in the continent’s challenges. No wonder that young people have been lackadaisical in playing leading roles in this struggle to improve the welfare of our people. They have allowed themselves to be used hoping to get the bread crumbs that occasionally fall off from the political high table.

As the saying goes “many things are taught in time, but to teach the right thing at the right time is what counts for good”. It is indeed time we debunk this myth and awake the consciousness and the revolutionary zeal of our young people. They are not tomorrow’s leaders, but today’s leaders.

Debunking the myth

Age is a very high price to pay for maturity. I strongly believe one can be young and very mature. I hope reciting these few historical examples will help awaken our young people to their potential.

Alexander the Great succeeded his father at the age of 20. During his military campaigns he conquered parts of Asia and North Africa. By the age of 30 he had created one of the largest empires of the ancient world. He is regarded as one of the greatest military commanders the world has seen. Yet he died only aged 33.

The African-American Civil Rights Movement was led by two men both in their thirties: Malcolm X and Martin Luther King junior. They both confronted the brutal and racist American system head on. One preaching nothing but love and the other a radical, preaching violence as the necessary self defence against oppression. They were both assassinated in their thirties, but five decades later their legacy lives on.

Bringing it closer to home, Thomas Sankara seized power in Burkina Faso at the age of 33, with the goal of eliminating corruption and the dominance of the former French colonial power. In the four years he ruled before his assassination in 1987, he managed to improve literacy levels from 13% to 73%. His administration redistributed land from the feudal landlords directly to the peasants, making the country self-sufficient within three years.

Let no one fool us into believing that we are too young to play a meaningful role in our country.

Have we forgotten that that during our liberation struggle, thousands of teens and young adults crossed the border to train and fight the colonial regime. Joyce Mujuru became one of the first women commanders in the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) in her early-twenties. Dumiso Dabengwa became the head of Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) intelligence in his thirties. Nikita Mangena became the commander of ZIPRA in his mid-twenties. General Tongogara became the commander of ZANLA in his thirties. When did we forget that age does not define maturity?

The distinction between the young and the old

To clarify who is young and who is old let me share with you a story that I once read a long time ago. There were two preachers, one senior and the other junior having a conversation. During which the senior preacher kept referring to the other preacher as young man. After a while the so called young man became annoyed and asked why the other preacher kept referring to him as young man. “Yes I keep calling you young man because I was hoping you would ask” the senior preacher retorted. “I want to teach you the difference between the young and the old. You see, a young person is one who looks forward to the future. Their thoughts are completely focussed on the future whereas an old person looks back into the past”.

It must come as no surprise that Zanu PF keeps referring to the past and devotes little or no attention at all towards our future. Zanu PF is an old party, run by old people.

We are the solution we have been waiting for

We must reclaim our destiny without fail. If anyone thinks he/she is too young or too small to play a significant role in our struggle, it is only because they haven’t spent a night with a mosquito. Abraham Lincoln says “we cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today”. We need to face the enemy head on. It is our generational mandate and revolutionary duty to mould Zimbabwe and Africa into the country and continent that we all want to see.

We are the solution to the continent’s leadership deficit challenges we have been waiting for. Instead of complaining on the lack of leadership in our governments and political spaces, let us go and occupy those spaces. Instead of complaining of incompetent leadership running our local governments, let us go and occupy those positions.

I am not a great fan of Barack Obama, but I agree completely with his sentiment that “change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek”.

Poor leadership cause of Africa’s underdevelopment

In his book ‘How Europe Underdeveloped Africa’ Walter Rodney contends that Western capitalist nations developed through a process that under developed African nations. It is true that the relationship between the colonies and their colonizers was nothing but parasitic. Economic wealth was transferred from the colonies to the colonizers. Thus I can safely argue that Western imperial powers set the stage for Africa’s underdevelopment.

But being an African, to continue blaming Western powers for under developing Africa decades after most countries have gained independence, is simply failure to take responsibility. This is not to discount the continued negative effects of imperialism and neo-colonialism, but a sheer understanding that for us to turn things around we must take responsibility for own actions.

We must ask ourselves tough questions, and provide brutally honest answers. We cannot keep blaming these imperial powers forever. For how long can we hide behind the finger of colonialism?

According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), sub-Saharan Africa remains one of the poorest parts of the world. People south of the Sahara continue to wallow in poverty, suffering from material deprivation. This is despite the fact that the continent is blessed with vast natural and human resources.

So, why have most sub-Saharan countries failed to improve the lives of their citizens?

Corruption and poor governance Africa’s vices 

Due to corruption and poor governance many of our African leaders have totally driven themselves further away from achieving the aspirations and the needs of their people. They have created the ‘personal rule paradigm’ where they treat their offices as a form of personal property and a source of private gain. They openly appoint under qualified and even incompetent personnel in key positions at state owned institutions and government departments. Building patronage and at the same time undermining development.

A 2002 African Union study estimated that corruption cost the continent roughly $150 billion a year. A massive sum of money, used for the benefit of a few private individuals and their families. If this amount were to be reinvested in the African economy, used to rebuild factories, schools and hospitals, I am sure it would result in economic growth. Thus, if we are serious about our development, we must fight corruption without failure.

Peace and security a prerequisite for development

Peter Lock in his essay titled A critical analysis on the reasons of underdevelopment in Africa says security is a pre-condition for economic development. I agree, wars and general civil strife have destroyed our much admired human resource base, have forced Africa’s sons and daughters to drown in the seas trying to escape conflict. Our leaders have diverted funds meant for development in order to suppress dissent.

But I genuinely believe that we can reform our politics and eliminate conflict within our countries. It does not help that we inherited unstable countries with different ethnicities all bundled together into a single state. But if we want peace, then our politics must be very inclusive. We must abandon the winner takes all system that is so prevalent in many countries on the continent. Proportional representation and devolution can go a long way to achieve peace and stability, removing any cracks that may emerge along ethnic lines.

Class identity a threat to development

Some scholars on development have attributed the lack of a national identity as the biggest threat to development. During the colonial era, nationalist leaders identified with the ordinary peasants and workers. However, this harmonious social identity has now been replaced with a ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality. ‘Us’ being the privileged ruling political class and ‘them’ being the ordinary citizens.  Leaders begin to speak of grandiose ideas that have no bearing on the lived realities of their citizens.

Thomas Sankara, one of Africa’s greatest sons, showed us what can be achieved when a cohesive national identity is created. United as a country, Burkina Faso was able to fight corruption, disease and poverty. In the four years he ruled (1983-87) literacy levels improved from 13% to 73%. Land was redistributed from the feudal landlords directly to the peasants, making the country self-sufficient within three years. He reduced the salaries of all public servants, including his own, sold the government fleet of Mercedes Benz’ and made the Renault 5 the official government car. He forbade the use of 1st class airline tickets and appointed women to higher government positions. They were able to build railway lines and improve the general infrastructure in the country without the financial support from multilateral financial institutions.

That he was able to achieve all of this is not a miracle, but was due to good governance and a genuine desire to create a cohesive national identity. The African political elites must always realise that their only purpose is to improve the lives of ordinary citizens and nothing else.

The connection between poor leadership and underdevelopment

Peace, security, good governance and social cohesion are prerequisites for (economic) development but good leadership lies at the heart of this conversation. I am sure we all can agree that there is a strong connection between good leadership and development, or to put it more candidly, between underdevelopment and poor leadership. Munroe says ‘leadership is like beauty, it’s hard to define but you know it when you see it’.

Unfortunately, there are few African countries where good leadership is present. The fact that Robert Mugabe is seen as an African champion is quite indicative to this lack of leadership on the continent. He has destroyed the Zimbabwean economy, reducing the once admired basket of Southern Africa into a basket case, scattering millions across the globe and in the process breaking families apart.

Fanon in his wisdom already saw the crisis of lack of leadership in post-colonial Africa. He saw a leadership that was so eager to fill the shoes of its former colonial masters. This leadership’s failure to identify with the society they purport to rule has also provoked citizens to disengage in constructive debate, forcing them to pursue individual or ethno-identity interests that have become the breeding grounds for conflicts, corruption and underdevelopment in Africa. It is therefore no surprise, why they have been unable to advance the course of development.

Without failure we must critically assess those who vie for leadership positions in our societies, least we select entertainers, sweet faced teddy bears, cool cats, orators, as opposed to strong visionaries.

Africa’s future lies in our hands

Instead of grandstanding at international platforms preaching anti-colonialism rhetoric, we must start addressing the issues that affect Africa’s development. We must reduce poverty and increase access to health, nutrition, accommodation, education and income earning opportunities for everyone without fail.

We must develop an authentic ideology that we can use to further the development agenda and consolidate our independence. As Africa’s young generation it is our responsibility to shape and develop this ideology. An ideology that must address Africa’s challenges: income inequality, impoverishment and insecurity. We must always seek to improve the lives of ordinary citizens and not engage in an orgy of intellectual idealism.

To end the trend of underdevelopment in Africa, we must rise to the occasion and foster a common social identity, creating a social enclave where we all belong with our diversity.

Africa, we are one.



Bond Notes: Our refusal to learn from history

The study of history has a moral purpose, so we are told. It is believed that studying history can create better citizens in a free society. At least this is the shared belief among authors of history books. I am sure the government of Zimbabwe shares this belief too. At one point, they wanted to make the study of history compulsory. In any case, why would anyone read history books, if not to learn from them? Continue reading