Analysts say crisis may eventually get to ICC
By John Eche
Nemesis is lurking in the air and as the political developments in The Gambia continue to unravel, some analysts are beginning to wager that the ongoing events may finally see embattled maximum leader, Yahya Jammeh being dragged before the International Criminal Court, ICC to face prosecution over his handling of the affairs of state in the West African nation.
Should this be the case, he would be appearing before a court that is being presided over by the Gambian, Fatou Bensouda. Bensouda who succeeded Luis Moreno-Ocampo as lead Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC), a few years ago, had incidentally only moved on to the court after a stint of service as Attorney General of The Gambia and erstwhile loyalist of the currently embattled strongman.
In a sign of the shifting tenor of politics, only recently also, Jammeh had commenced moves, alongside an equally embattled President Jacob Zuma of South Africa, to pull his country out of the ICC. But that process had not been concluded as at the time of going to press and given the current situation of affairs, any hasty move in that direction now will definitely be interpreted as an attempt to prevent the forthcoming apocalypse.
As for the South African move, it has equally come under severe censure as another of Zuma’s plots to obfuscate the issues in dispute in his home country and particularly as it has to do with the long and yet growing list of corruption and governance charges that have been laid at his doorsteps.
Overall however, the ICC which began prosecuting crimes against humanity 11 years ago, has not had a very chequered track record. This, observers say, has partly been due to sloppy investigations on its part as well as the difficulty in forging political consensus and credibility, particularly when the United States and several other western powers have long signalled that they would not submit themselves and their citizens to the jurisdiction of the court.
So far, the ICC can boast of only one major conviction, and that in a case relating to a second-tier defendant. In 2012, the ICC sentenced Congolese militia leader, Thomas Lubanga to 14 years in prison for using child soldiers as cannon fodder.
With its political difficulties, arrest warrants issued against other accused persons, like Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony, have not been honoured because they are too important to be extradited. Another recently very controversial one was the case against Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta.
The ICC is currently investigating eight cases, all of them in Africa — a situation which has engendered lots of criticism. The prosecution of crimes by the ICC has degenerated into “race-baiting,” Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn had said at an African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa. In a resolution, the leaders of AU member states then demanded that the case against Kenyatta be dismissed and remitted to the courts in Nairobi.
Rising to the defence of her institution, Bensouda calls the attacks “outrageous,” pointing out that she herself is black and investigates cases without regard for skin color or nationality. “It is indisputable that Africans are being raped, displaced, tortured and held as child slaves by other Africans. Are we supposed to ignore that?”
Besides, she added, the list of countries the ICC is currently focusing on also includes Afghanistan, Honduras and Georgia. “What offends me most of all is how quickly many concentrate on the words of the powerful, forgetting the millions who have no voice. We investigate without distinction of person or political rank.”
Tough talk notwithstanding, “Big Mama” as her staff members call her, has however not been able to push on very strongly with the Kenyatta affair. This is despite her defiant rhetoric on the subject: “We will bring Kenyatta to trial here in The Hague, and I am very optimistic that we will achieve a guilty verdict against him and his vice-president, William Ruto.”
But despite this tough-talking, Kenyatta continues to reside in an opulent mansion next to the State House, the president’s official residence in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, is the country’s largest landowner, also controls its largest bank, not to mention a major hotel chain. And for good measure, he is currently in the thick of campaigns to secure a second term in office as Kenyans head to the polls later in the year.
With an estimated net worth of $500 million (€378 million), Kenyatta is one of the 25 richest and most powerful men on the continent even as Kenyan politics reflects the extent to which a handful of families dominate the country. Fifty years ago, shortly after independence from Great Britain, a Kenyatta and an Odinga competed for power. These were the older Jomo Kenyatta and his then adversary, Oginga. Today, not much has changed except the first names of the contenders as the sons, Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga, have followed in the footsteps of their fathers, Jomo and Oginga, and today bestride the Kenyan political firmament as the leading players in the unfolding political process.
In Kenya also, this seeming scourge of nepotism is compounded by ethnic division, in a country whose leaders are more likely to champion the interests of their tribes than ideologies or political platforms. They procure jobs and perks for their “blood brothers” and, if need be, they incite ethnic groups against one another, sometimes to the point of conflict as has been the case with the outbreak of post-election violence a few years ago.
While the Gambian challenge presently has not demonstrated an outward strain of deeply divisive family dominance, it is not lacking in its own atavisms. And chief among the contentions now is that of finding the answer to this question: what would Bensouda do should the next case file that gets handed over to her be that which demands her superintending over the process that will see the ICC pressing charges against her benefactor and erstwhile boss, President General Dr Sheikh El-Hadj, Yahya Jammeh?
Fatou Bensouda, ICC Prosecutor