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Museveni turns from ICC admirer to critic

Emma Mutaizibwa asks how has President Museveni moved from being a leading exponent of the International Criminal Court (ICC) justice system to one of its harshest critics?

At the just-concluded African Union conference in Addis Ababa to mark 50 years of self-governance last month, emotions ran high when Heads of State accused the ICC of targeting the African race. In the driving seat of this pan-African jingoism and revolt towards the Western institution was Museveni.

“ICC should tell us if they plan to detain (Kenyan President Uhuru) Kenyatta. They should give us an explanation if he is going to come back to Kenya because the information we are receiving is different.

We will not agree to have him attend if the intention is to detain him. If we don’t have a clear picture of the plans by the International Court, then it means our relations with them will be soured. They should treat us with dignity,” Museveni allegedly told a closed-door meeting of leaders.

Earlier, on April 9, 2013, President Museveni caused a stir, when he hailed Kenyans for rejecting “the blackmail of the International Criminal Court (ICC)” by electing the indicted Uhuru Kenyatta and running-mate William Ruto as president and vice president respectively.

But barely eight years ago, Museveni spoke a different language. In April 2004, he appeared alongside then chief prosecutor, Louis Moreno Ocampo, who had just announced the indictment of LRA leader Joseph Kony and his top commanders. Then, the indictment of Kony, an epitome of senseless brutality, largely worked in Museveni’s favour.

Museveni was still friends with ICC, when, March 4, 2009, Sudan President Omar al-Bashir became the first sitting head of state to be indicted by the ICC for crimes against humanity in the war-ravaged Darfur region.

With the charges hovering over Bashir’s head, Museveni saw a window of opportunity. Not only had Bashir given weaponry to the LRA, the Khartoum regime had spent a number of years threatening Museveni’s influence in the region. Kony and Bashir if arrested faced years of torment at The Hague.

As a reward for Uganda’s embrace, the ICC organized the first ever review of the Rome Statute in Kampala, where Museveni proudly stood out as one of its leading ideologues. It is unclear when Museveni’s views on the ICC changed. But according to Dr Philip Kasaija, an international law lecturer at Makerere University this flak towards the ICC is emblematic of the opportunistic tendencies of African leaders.

“He [Museveni] is just an opportunist. Many African heads of state are potential indictees and, therefore, want to tread carefully now. Part of the African leadership has used the ICC to solve its internal problems,” told The Observer last week.

Kasaija, though, says the recent indictment of the ‘Ocampo six’ for election violence, in Kenya’s 2007 elections appears to have rattled several African leaders.

“African countries constitute the largest bloc at the ICC. But since the Kenyan situation unfolded, there is fear because anyone can be a potential candidate for The Hague,” he argues.

Consequently the African leadership has attempted to caricature the ICC as a lame-duck institution without credibility since Western countries like the United States have not ratified the ICC treaty. But Dr Kasaija insists that the decision to ratify the ICC was voluntary.

“Sovereignty means you are independent and you take your own decisions. Therefore, the argument that many Western countries have not ratified the ICC treaty is superfluous,” argues Kasaija.

Kasaija adds that it was the African leaders who endorsed the appointment of Fatou Bensouda, because ‘they wanted an African at the ICC.’ Writing in Sunday Nation recently, Kenyan scholar Prof Makau Mutua rejected arguments that the ICC is “race-hunting” Africans, arguing that nobody forced African leaders to join ICC.

“It is African leaders who’ve been “hunting” their own citizens for 50 years. And they’ve gotten away with it – until the ICC…Perhaps they joined thinking that the ICC was like the local court in Kibera which they could buy or silence.”

However, Kasaija says the ICC is not wholly blameless, accusing former chief prosecutor Ocampo of playing to the whims of  politicians.

“He should not have appeared with Museveni in London during the announcement of the Kony indictment. That showed he was not independent. Ocampo also played to the gallery when he said that he had a watertight case against those indicted over the Kenyan election. It’s now clear that the case is falling apart,” Kasaija says.

Whereas there has been an argument that the ICC indictment largely kept Kony out of Uganda’s locales, some of the former LRA peace negotiators have viewed it as an impediment to the total realisation of peace in northern Uganda. Some human rights experts have also argued against the ICC justice system.

The director of Makerere Institute for Social Research (MISR) Prof Mahmood Mamdani, during a public lecture on the Kenyan elections, said there were better alternatives for justice and reconciliation than court sentences.

“The judicial process tends to be a winner-take-all process. In the court of law, you are right or wrong, innocent or guilty; both parties cannot be guilty in a court of law. In a civil war, however, both parties often bear some share of the guilt,” he argued.

He cited the murder of ANC anti-apartheid icon Steve Biko whose killers were let off the hook for the purpose of reconciliation in the rainbow nation.


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