Why the plan to hand Bashir over to the ICC is misguided and will likely be counterproductive
THE LAST WORD | ANDREW M. MWENDA | The new government of Sudan has given a major indication that it will hand its former president, Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, over to the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague. The ICC indicted Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity. For many years, the government of Sudan backed by the African Union (AU) refused to hand him over. That the new administration is thinking of handing him over is a major betrayal of the African cause.
Since the ICC was created, it has only been concerned with the indictment of leaders of Africa. Powerful countries such as the USA, Russia and China that sit on the United Nations Security Council, the body mandated to approve such indictments, are not signatories of the Rome Statute which brought the ICC to life. Other powerful nations such as Britain and France have veto power in the Security Council to block any censure from the court.
So clearly, both in law and practice, the ICC was created to act as an institution through which the Western World can continue to exercise colonial-type control over African nations. This is why the leaders of the USA (such as presidents George Bush and Barack Obama), UK (Tony Blair and David Cameron) and France (Nicolas Sarkozy) who have committed similar war crimes and crimes against humanity in Iraq and Libya have never been indicted.
The failure of the ICC to apprehend leaders of these powerful nations demonstrates that this court was not set up to seek international justice but to act as an instrument to control how the nations of Africa are managed. After one African politician after another was arraigned before this court, many people came to see its actual purpose. African leaders and a few intellectuals began to drum this concern. The court lost credibility and has been silent for a while.
So why is the new administration of Sudan seeking to bring the ICC back to life? The defenders of ICC have always argued that African peoples are powerless before their own leaders who misrule them. That therefore the international community should take over the responsibility of looking after the interests of African peoples. This claim (that Africans are powerless and helpless before their leaders) is blind to reality and contradictory analytically.
For instance, governments in Africa regularly change and presidents who have ruled for long fall. Bashir is one such example as he was overthrown by a popular uprising; Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe was another. In 2015, Blaise Compaoré; the long serving president of Burkina Faso, had succumbed. So the belief that Africans are powerless to get rid of their leaders is not rooted in fact but a misguided conviction among a particular section of the African elite.
Given that Africans have the power to remove long serving presidents – even those who appear invulnerable – why should we surrender the power to hold them accountable to the ICC? The case of Bashir is even the more inspiring because upon his removal, he was arrested and taken to jail where he faces charges of corruption and abuse of power. The overthrow of Bashir through a popular uprising and his subsequent arrest, detention and now trial in Sudanese courts is proof that Africans are not helpless victims of rapacious rulers in need of salvation from abroad.
Since independence and contrary to popular beliefs, Africans have always changed their leaders. In the 1960s, 70s and 80s, the main instrument of change was the military coup. Almost every year a government in Africa succumbed to a coup. In the 1990s armed rebellions toppled governments in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Eritrea, Ethiopia etc. and many others succumbed to popular protest. In fact nearly all the bad governments had been in power because of the protection accorded to them by Western powers through aid both military and economic.
It is clear that among the social groups that helped topple Bashir, there were organisations funded by the Western World. These are the fifth columnists of the West’s imperial project to strengthen its control over Africa. These groups must be the spearheads of ICC in the new government. Otherwise the desire to hand over Bashir to ICC defies imagination because his fate shows that Africans have capacity to hold their leaders to account without help from abroad.
The desire to seek salvation of the African peoples from the West is a deeply entrenched mentality among a section of African elites. It is based on the conviction that Africans are helpless victims of their rulers and their circumstances. Hence Africans cannot be active agents in their own liberation – whether political or economic. Rather they need the paternal hand of the West to save them from their predicament – whether to politically remove bad rulers or to improve their material conditions, hence foreign aid in form of money or military interventions.
A large section of African elites buy into this narrative because of brainwashing. Yet for over 70 years when nearly all of Africa was ruled by European powers not a single African country graduated from poverty. Indeed, in spite of all the failures of post independence Africa, opportunities to access public services such as education, health, electricity, clean water, roads etc. have been made available by governments in post independence Africa.
Secondly nearly all the African leaders who have been accused of the most venal practices were brought to power and sustained in power by Western powers to wit Mobutu Sese Seko of former Zaire, Idi Amin of Uganda, Siad Barre of Somalia, Samuel Doe of Liberia, Jean Bokasa of Central Africa Republic etc. How then does the same Western world claim to be the saviors of Africa from tyranny?
On the other hand some of the most promising leaders of Africa like Patrice Lumumba of Congo, Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Milton Obote of Uganda, Madibo Keita of Mali etc. were overthrown in military coups orchestrated by the governments of the Western world. So the historical evidence is clear: the West has been involved in our subjugation directly through colonialism or indirectly through their neocolonial agents.
Africans are not helpless victims of their rulers in need of foreign assistance. On the contrary, foreign assistance poses a significant risk to our future as we have witnessed most recently in Libya. Those who pretend to seek to liberate us have their own interests, which often are not for our own good. We need to be active agents in the struggles for our liberation, not passive spectators.