Gaddafi indicted by the International Court of public opinion

It doesn't help that the ICC's Chief Prosecutor always looks so smug. (photo courtesy

The International Criminal Court, like so many other international institutions, suffers from its own lofty ambition. The dream of an international tribunal which upholds basic decency in the world, where tyrants are brought to book and mass murderers are served justice, is a beautiful one. Unfortunately, the ICC does not – can not – live up to this dream, and as the years go by it’s finding itself dragged further and further into the ugly world of modern international politics.

Take this week’s issuing of an indictment for war crimes against one Muammar Gaddafi. On the surface, this makes sense; he’s a monster who’s hunger for power is slaughtering thousands of his own people. He’s exactly the sort of person who the ICC should be indicting.

But dig a little deeper, and it all starts looking a little murkier. For a start, there’s the practical consequences; the ICC’s decision was criticised by a number of people involved in the negotiations with Gaddafi, who said it would shut down communication routes and prevent the possibility of a peaceful solution to the problem. This echoes the reaction of much of the NGO and academic community after the ICC indicted Sudan’s president Omar al Bashir, particularly the ones with hands-on experience in Sudan. They said that the indictment would have little impact except to anger the government and prevent any moderation of policy; sure enough, the morning after the indictment all the international NGOs in Khartoum were ordered out of the country, a move that had a real impact on many lives.

But perhaps you believe that justice should be served no matter what the consequences; it’s a valid viewpoint. Still, the ICC falls short. For in this case, you must believe that justice should be served to all, regardless of race or location or political expediency. And here, the ICC is hamstrung by its indictment processes, which allow an investigation to occur only when a matter is referred to the ICC by a country, the UN Security Council, or when the prosecutor gets special information from another source. In practice, this means that countries can refer people for investigation, or the UN Security Council gets to do it, as they did with Libya. This means essentially that figures linked to sitting governments can only be referred if there is an overwhelming international consensus about the issue. It’s no surprise that it’s taken so long to refer Gaddafi; after all, Russia only gave its tentative support to the rebels two weeks ago, and until it did so there was no chance of a referral being passed. This is why other high-profile figures are not brought to book, or even investigated – Henry Kissinger being one example, for his role in the bombing of Cambodia, and Ariel Sharon another, for his role in the Sabra and Shatila massacres.

In fact, the only people that have ever been indicted by the ICC are African – and black. This is because no single African country exerts any significant pressure on the international stage, meaning that there is often an international consensus to prosecute an African figure. This is not to say they should not be indicted, that there is not good reason for them to be brought before the court – there certainly is. But the fact that it is only Africans seriously undermines the message the court is trying to send – that the court is for everyone, no matter what your race or nationality. It also opens the court up to accusations – which are being made, to the extent that the ICC’s deputy prosecutor had to deny them – that the court’s targets are not legitimate.

We don’t live in a perfect world, with perfect justice. The ICC is an admirable attempt to plug that gap, and should receive significantly more funding and international support to do so. But unless it cleans up its processes, and stops launching investigations only when they are politically expedient, it risks fatally flawing itself before its done any of the good work it should be doing.

VERDICT: The ICC goes 4th; it can keep targeting Africans, as long as it targets the bad guys in the rest of the world too.


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Africa’s Free Trade Agreement: An empty gesture, or the next step in South Africa’s neo-colonisation of Africa?

(Courtesy of Yahoo News)

I got very excited when I read the headlines. “Africa signs deal for Free Trade Area”. “Free Trade Area Treaty Signed”. “Free Trade Deal to Boost Trade, Investment in Africa.”

The terms of the “deal” were even more exciting. Three of Africa’s largest and most efficient trading blocs (SADC, COMESA and the EAC), comprising 26 countries, more than half a billion people, and a little shy of a combined GDP of a trillion dollars (US, not Zimbabwean), were to merge, eliminating tariffs, quotas and preferences on goods traded between them.

This would be a huge step in the economic development of Africa. Trade within Africa is notoriously low (only about 10% of Africa’s trade is with itself, as compared to 60% in Europe), and beset with all sorts of difficulties – most notably high tariffs on goods and very poor infrastructure.  By removing some of these obstacles, it makes it easier to trade, encouraging the development of a manufacturing sector and creating jobs.

But read the fine print, and its becomes clear that the agreement is not to establish a Free Trade Area but merely to talk about establishing a Free Trade Area. It is an agreement to negotiate, and South Africa’s Trade Minister Rob Davies doesn’t expect any progress for three years, saying that even though the heads of state “thought an inordinate amount of time was needed to do this, they still allocated 36 months to do so.”

The negotiations are being spearheaded by South Africa – the agreement was signed in Johannesburg and presided over by Jacob Zuma. While a Free Trade Area is hugely important for Africa’s development, the rest of the continent needs to be wary that South Africa doesn’t use its huge clout to create provisions that favour its own development rather than Africa’s. After all, South Africa has the most to gain with any free trade agreement because it’s able to take immediate advantage. I have a horrible suspicion that if substantive negotiations take place, and a real agreement signed, it will represent of triumph of South Africa’s neo-colonial foreign policy (the policy that is filling the continent with Shoprites and Nandos the way America filled with world with McDonalds and Coca-Cola) rather than a a genuine attempt at African economic reform. Not that the two are necessarily mutually exclusive. And, I’d take Nandos over McDonalds every day of the week.

It will be interesting to see if there will be parallel negotiations on free movement of people, a much more delicate topic, and something South Africa, with its domestic problems around xenophobia, will be less in favour of.

VERDICT: The African Free Trade Area goes forth. As a first step, this is encouraging; however, until we hear something more concrete it remains mere PR.


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iMaverick: the beginning of an African media revolution?

There’d been rumours swirling for weeks; Branko Brkic and the team at the Daily Maverick were going to announce something big on Wednesday. And, true to the hype, they did; the creation of Africa’s first ever tablet-only newspaper, iMaverick (specifically for the iPad, but available too on Android and other devices). This was not the revolutionary bit; the sting was in the tail. Subscribers would be able to get content from the daily iMaverick for the not insignificant sum of R395 ($60) per month. This did, however, include a brand spanking new iPad 2.

My first though was: genius, pure genius. No one wants to pay for content in this age of “free” information, but no one minds paying huge sums for hardware. By bundling the two together, the media outlet gets the money it needs to run a decent operation, and the subscriber gets a nice shiny toy – which doubles as a damn good device for displaying news (as well as advertising). A tablet also does away with the need for printing and distribution – the two most significant costs for any newspaper.

Also, the novelty of the idea guarantees the kind of word of mouth advertising for the new paper that no kind of money can buy.

Tablet newspapers are the future for media in Africa. It seems outlandish now, when iPads and their ilk are still novelty items owned by the very rich. But just a few years ago, cellphones were thought to be incompatible with Africa, and just look at them now. For a long time, I’ve thought that some kind of cellphone newspaper was the way forward, because it’s easy to pay for things with cellphones; I’ve never been able to figure out how that would translate into a comprehensive publication. Tablets solve that problem, with their intuitive interface and superb graphics. Especially if connected to the cellphone billing system, rather than the clunky internet versions like paypal, then tablets will become the easiest way to extract money out of consumers. This will mean that the price of the hardware will fall significantly in the next few years; rather give loads of people an iPad and extract money from them for years than get just a few people to cough up a huge sum.

Media will swiftly graduate to this option, which is so much more sustainable than the internet alternatives. Particularly African media, who will use this as a way to subvert traditional media monopolies and regulatory systems. There’ll be a load of teething problems with this, of course; but it’s a lot harder for governments to stop publication when there’s no printing press to shut down. And the huge reduction in publishing costs will mean more money that can be spent on the journalists who generate the content, thereby helping to improve the quality of news coverage on the continent.

So, iMaverick; ahead of its time, and a glimpse of the future. I just hope there are enough people who want an iPad, and can afford the still expensive monthly subscription, to keep it going until the present catches up.

DISCLAIMER: I write occasionally for the Daily Maverick, iMaverick’s sister publication.

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Third World Goes Forth in Somaliland

Apologies all for the long delay in blogging; normal service will now resume. Third World Goes Forth is currently in Somaliland, the unrecognised breakaway republic nestled in the North West corner of the failed state that is Somalia. Somaliland, however, is not a failed state; it’s got a government, a currency, and the best internet connection in the Horn of Africa.

Somaliland’s just celebrated it’s 20th anniversary, in some style, with a huge military parade and thousands and thousands of cheering Somalilanders along the main avenue. But like the geeky kid at school who throws a party that no one comes to, Somaliland celebrated alone;  the international community have put all their eggs in the basketcase that is the Somalia Transitional Federal Government, a body which controls a small patch of territory in Mogadishu, with the help of the African Union, and does little else.

It’s an interesting place to think about the concept of soveriegnty, and its limitations; as soon as we have some insight, we’ll let you know.

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Yemen and the new Counter-Revolution

Finally, they’ve figured it out. How to to do counter-revolution properly. It’s not about machine-gunning protestors or throwing them into solitary confinement. That’s old school, and in this age where everyone, including the usually subservient and quiescent populace is up in arms about rights and freedoms and suchlike, and they can all get the documentary proof through their smartphones (which is promptly beamed to Al-Jazeera), the normal strong-arm tactics just aren’t working.

Effective counter-revolution in the 21st century is far more nuanced, and is premised on the popular confusion between the president and the regime. The idea is simple: get rid of the president and keep the regime going. In Tunisia, Ben Ali’s departure didn’t herald a new dawn of democracy and participation; rather, it saw a cabinet stuffed with old guard appointees. In Egypt, Mubarak went off into the sunset but left his military in firm control, and they’ve been up to all his old tricks (read here for Third World Goes Forth’s take on how the military continues to censor Egyptian media).

And in Yemen, we have the news announced today that Ali Abdullah Saleh, perhaps the only man who fully understands how Yemen’s delicate balance of power works (he’s had to in order to keep himself in power for so long), is going to step down sometime ‘in the next 30 days’. The deal for his departure has been organised by the Gulf Cooperation Council, the same august body that supported the rebels in Libya and the monarch in Bahrain, so we know exactly where their moral compass is pointing (south, in case you were wondering). The 30 day window should be just enough time to rearrange things so that even though Saleh is gone, his regime will linger. And the protestors, their core demand having been met, no longer have a symbol to protest against.

And so the revolution fizzles out at the expense of one man. While Saleh might not be happy – as Ben Ali and Mubarak weren’t – the state he established will continue in his image.

VERDICT: subtle counter-revolution goes fourth; evil is so much more so when it is intelligent.

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Ivory Coast clear as Gbagbo is captured

Counter-revolutionary chic: Gbagbo loses power, and his shirt (AFP/Getty)

And another one bites the dust. Laurent Gbagbo, who held out longer than Hosni Mubarak, longer than Ben Ali (but perhaps not longer than Gaddafi or Ali Abdullah Saleh – we shall see) was seized in his underground bunker under the presidential palace in Abidjan. Seized by who, exactly? Initial reports suggested that the French had finally lost patience and done the job themselves; subsequently all sides have been saying that only ‘Ivorian’ forces were involved, whatever that term means these days. After all, it was Gbagbo’s interpretation of the concept of  ‘Ivoirite’ that kept Ouattara out of presidential elections for a decade, on the basis that he was not fully Ivorian. And both sides in this conflict have relied on forces that would fail even the most liberal definition of Ivorian – Liberian mercenaries, Angolan mercenaries, Nigerian mercenaries…and French mercenaries?

France seized the initiative in Cote D’Ivoire, as they did in Libya; one wonders how much this has to do with Nicolas Sarkozy’s record low popularity figures. One suspects everything. Nonetheless, even if it was only ‘Ivorian’ troops that broke down the door, the column of 30 French armoured vehicles in support certainly helped.

And now the world breathes a sigh of relief; Cote D’Ivoire, it appears, is sorted, and will disappear from the headlines. But the tensions and undercurrents which caused this civil war are not resolved, and Ouattara has a tough time on his hands to reconcile what was even before this a deeply divided country. Gbagbo is being kept in the Golf hotel, which is where Ouattara established his interim government, and where he has been holed up ever since the election. Apparently the room service is not bad.

In the meantime, there’s still Gaddafi to worry about. What Gbagbo’s capture does throw into relief is the international policy of not targeting the person of Gaddafi. Perhaps a targeted assassination of one man with blood on his hands is more just than the bombing of all his footsoldiers? Maybe it’s like lancing a boil?

VERDICT: Cote D’Ivoire goes forth, 134 days too late.

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Christian and Muslim extremists unite to kill 8 UN aid workers

Remember late last year when the media storm over Terry Jones, the mad Florida pastor who wanted to burn the Qur’an to honour those who died in 9/11, happened? The uproar, worldwide, was instantaneous and furious. Everyone who was anyone condemned the actions, from Obama to Ahmadinejad. Even those who defended his right to free speech and expression admitted his idea was tasteless and designed  to provoke. Ultimately, as we all remember, Jones was beaten back and on September 11th, 2010, stated that “We will definitely not burn the Qur’an…not today, not ever”.

Fast forward to today. 12 dead, 8 of whom were UN aid workers are dead in Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan. Why? Because on the 21st of March, 2011, a pastor at the very same Dove World Outreach  Centre, burnt a copy of the Qur’an was burnt. Reports vary as to who actually burnt it, with CNN reporting it was Jones himself, while other news outlets reporting that it was a pastor by the name of Wayne Sapp who did so under the supervision of Jones. Why did they do this? Well, the reason has to be seen to be believed. On its website, the church proudly proclaims (verbatim): “the Koran will be put on trial, then, if found guilty of causing murder, rape, and terrorism, it will be executed! According to our International Poll, it looks like the choice for this will be BURNING.”

As if this isn’t ridiculous enough, it then updated the site to add, the next day, that “yesterday we put the Koran on trial. The event is over, the Koran was found guilty and a copy was burned inside the building.”

(Image courtesy of Christian Science Monitor)

And so here we are. 10 days later and riots  are running through Afghanistan and 12 innocent people are dead. Aside from the obvious, I have several problems with this story:

1) I read on average about 6 major news outlets every day. These range from Al Jazeera to Fox News. On not one of them in the last week, have I seen any story about a Qur’an being burnt. On not one of them did I see any build up, any fuss being kicked up, over what was about to happen. After what happened last year, why on earth not? Where was the media when they were actually needed?

2) Now that the media have woken up to cover the story, after these tragic deaths, why are most stories focussing on the Qur’an burning instead of today’s events? Most articles purporting to cover the Afghanistan riots of this afternoon have used the deaths as a headline and then proceeded spend most of the article focussing on what should have been covered last week?

3) Why, 11 long days after the event took place, did some Imam decide it would be a good idea to inform his congregation of what had happened? His irresponsibility contributes just as directly to the deaths of these innocent people as Sapp’s. It just goes to show that there are people are are willing to abuse faith in every religion.

Most of all though, I am frustrated. Frustrated that the media didn’t try to prevent this burning as they did the last one. Frustrated that the reaction of the Afghans has only really allowed those who did the burning to have an ‘I told you so’ moment. Frustrated that two sets of hatred and bitterness (the Jones camp and the Imam’s camp) can wield so much power.  Frustrated that these riots will probably spread now that the news is out. Frustrated that the UN will probably downscale its efforts in Mazar-e-Sharif as a result of today, and that the only people who will suffer from this will be the Afghanis themselves. Frustrated that Jones and Sapp will probably never be held properly accountable for the deaths they have caused. And finally, most of all frustrated that those who have suffered the most from this, were, as usual, those who deserved it least. As much as the UN may be criticised, the deceased UN workers were there doing their best to to aid and protect Mazar-e-Sharif as it grows into a stable city. They were there, because even though it was a crazy and tough place to work, it was something they probably cared about greatly. And they certainly had nothing to do with burning any Qur’an anywhere.

VERDICT: The media goes 4th by ignoring a story it shouldn’t have and the religious crazies on both sides of this go 4th for causing the deaths of 12 innocent people.




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