from Africa in Transition

In Africa, It’s About Governance

October 15, 2013

Blog Post

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International Law

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Many friends and observers of Africa, including myself, see shortcomings in governance as key to the slow rate of economic, social, and political development in some African countries. The converse is also true. Where governance is better, development can be rapid. The Mo Ibrahim Foundation has published its annual ranking of African states. The top five in descending order are Mauritius, Cape Verde, Botswana, Seychelles, South Africa, and Namibia while the bottom five, going from bad to worse, are Zimbabwe, the Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, and Somalia. For a second consecutive year, the Foundation has announced that there is no winner of the Ibrahim Prize for outstanding leadership by a chief of state. Established in 2006, the prize’s independent and highly distinguished judges have awarded the prize only three times, to the former chiefs of state of Botswana, Cape Verde, and Mozambique. They have also recognized the work of Nelson Mandela, out of office long before the prize was established, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, both of South Africa. Subsequently, I will be blogging on the Ibrahim Index and the Ibrahim Prize. Here I cite them to support the point about the relationship between good governance and social and economic progress, and to point out that poor governance remains a significant challenge for Africa.

Essential to good governance is accountability, and the International Criminal Court (ICC) promotes it. In an interview with Radio Netherlands, retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu, an icon of South Africa’s liberation movement, said, “The ICC has been a powerful force for justice, peace and accountability not just in Africa but around the world. Far from targeting Africa, it has served and protected Africa.”

Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta and deputy president William Ruto have been indicted by the ICC for crimes against humanity in the aftermath of Kenya’s 2007 elections. Though they are cooperating with the court, they are seeking to avoid standing trial, either until their time in office ends, or forever. Accordingly, at a special summit of the African Union (AU), Kenyatta argued that the Western countries, especially the UK and the United States, had turned the court into a neocolonialist tool. He called for a mass walkout from the Treaty of Rome that established the court and which thirty four African countries have ratified. He argued that the ICC was contemptuous of the African Union, and the African Union accordingly resolved that the two should not appear before the ICC.

London’s Daily Telegraph is reporting that “European diplomats” are seeking to have the UN Security Council direct the ICC to put the Kenyatta and Ruto trials on hold. A British Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesman, however, says that there has been no change in the government’s support for the ICC.

It remains to be seen whether African states will follow the AU resolution. Adherence to the Treaty of Rome is a matter for individual sovereign states. Kenya’s parliament has already called for Kenya to withdraw, and I believe there is a good chance this will happen. If so, it is difficult to see how the trials of Kenyatta and Ruto can proceed. Legally, their indictments still stand and their trials should go forward. It also remains to be seen whether the efforts by “European diplomats” to seek the trial’s postponement by the UN Security Council will be serious.