Good news and bad, in Africa

Two events happened in the last few days in Africa, one promising and one bad, which will have further knock-on effects in Africa and abroad. The good (with reservations) was the referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC) of the situation in Darfur, Sudan, for prosecution of individuals implicated in crimes against humanity. The bad was Mugabe’s successful stealing of yet another election in Zimbabwe. Oh, and apologies for yet another long post!

The International Criminal Court is a recently created permanent organ, tasked with prosecuting crimes by individuals against humanity, such as war crimes and genocide. It’s a conceptual decendent of the Nuremburg trials, and more recently the courts that dealt with the war in the former Yugoslavia, and the Rwandan genocide. The obvious advantage of institutionalising it is that people contemplating crimes against humanity can see the personal risks that will imply for them.

The US, however, has been completely against the ICC. It very, very nearly suceeded in preventing it being created, and has since pressured numerous nations into bilateral agreements aimed at weaking the ICC. The chief reason given for this is that the US doesn’t want it’s soldiers in other countries subject to “politically motivated” prosecution. However, this seems impossible anyway: the ICC is only targeted at major crimes against humanity, which hopefully US soldiers will never get involved in. Furthermore, it will only prosecute individuals from countries who’s legal systems can’t or won’t prosecute individuals internally. Most to the point, however, is that since the US is not a signatory to the ICC accords, Americans can only be tried by Security Council resolution — which the US will always veto. Finally, none of the top five contributors of troops to international peacekeeping operations (Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Nigeria and Ghana) objected to the ICC.

So the noteworthy news is that the US did NOT veto the Security Council resolution to refer Darfur to the ICC. The price of securing this, however, is that the resulting resolution explicitly exempts US citizens in the Suda from being tried at the ICC, or in any other nation’s courts. Also, the Security Council didn’t pay much attention to a Nigerian-led African Union suggestion, which is a pity. But overall, a victory, I think, for a global standard of conduct for leaders in sensitive areas. And hopefully a step in the direction of preventing future tragedies.

On the other hand, Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, has successfully stolen another election. The election was obviously unfair; the only question is to the extent. All indications on the ground are that the opposition MDC had a good chance of winning, but instead the ruling ZANU-PF won over two thirds of the seats. Some of the techniques the government used included dominating airtime on it’s media monopoly; distributing food aid (required after the botched land reform process) to government supporters only; manning polling stations with the police and army; counting ballots at each station rather than at a more-easily-observed central location; preventing the millions of Zimbabweans who have been forced to leave (mostly to South Africa) from voting; and using a voters’ roll that has perhaps a double-digit percentage of voters who are dead, but yet seem to vote ZANU-PF to a surprising extent. Violence was much less common than last election, but people remember well the results then of voting for the opposition.

As the key country in the region, it is to South Africa’s shame that the South African observer mission declared the elections free and fair. This is part of the ongoing policy of “quiet diplomacy”, which has not so far worked. There are reasons that quiet diplomacy might be a good idea, but it’s now reached the stage of wilfull ignorance of reality. Most other observer missions were banned from the country.

I’ve been very excited about the wave of good governance and peace that has been spreading in Africa over the last few years, such as negotiated settlements in Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique, Angola, Liberia, and southern Sudan; as well as African Union intervention in western Sudan (Darfur), Congo (DRC) and recently Togo, and a new emphasis on good governance. That South Africa has often been in the forefront of these activites makes Zimbabwe even more noteworthy, and a poor comparison to the actions of the West African states in Togo.