Tag Archives: Uganda

Do not Genocide, Do not War Crime – the ICC goes 4th

Even Ocampo's reassuringly steely gaze cannot mask the ICC's problems

In honour of the recent review of the International Criminal Court in Kampala – attended by all sorts of dignitaries, both major and minor, including Ban-Ki Moon and his prosecutorship Luis Moreno Ocampo – it seems appropriate for Third World Goes Forth to conduct its own review of this most recent of all the international institutions.

The conference in Kampala was, of course, self-congratulatory and upbeat. Ocampo was on fine form: “It is only a matter of time [before] Sudan president Omar Al Bashir and LRA’s Joseph Kony will be arrested,” he said, sounding every inch the bullish wild west sheriff that he always reminds me of. But I’m unsure – both of the likelihood of arrests, and of exactly how much the ICC is achieving.

The ICC is, of course, a wonderful concept. That all men and women should be bound by the bare minimun of human dignity. That there is a point where one person’s behaviour is so bad that the world rejects it out of hand. And that punishment will follow for those found guilty of contravening the court’s central tenets – Do not Genocide, Do not War Crime.

The first problem is in the name. The ICC is not ‘international’; it does not represent the world. Specifically, it does not represent the USA, or China, or Israel, or Russia; to name but a few. There was another international institution that didn’t have the support of the USA – it was the League of Nations, the predecessor of the UN which was, somewhat ironically, established largely due to the ferocious campaiging of the then-US president Woodrow Wilson. He persuaded the world to join, but not the US Congress; and from that moment the League of Nations became a lame duck, failing utterly to prevent the the second World War.

Similarly, the ICC suffers massively from the lack of support from key countries, allowing others to ignore it as and when necessary. This was most evident after the March 2009 arrest warrant for Sudan’s Omar Bashir, when all African countries (with the honourable exception of Botswana; again leading the continent in respect for rights for all humans except bushmen) chose to ignore the warrant at the AU conference in Siirte. The refusal of the US and China to participate in the ICC process meant that they would face few repercussions by ignoring the ICC’s arrest warrant.

There is also a distinct whiff of the political in the ICC’s choice of exaclty who to prosecute, and when to do so. African countries have been up in arms at the perceived anti-African agenda of the court. A quick look at the list of faces being prosecuted by the court reveals an astonishing racial bias – they’re all black Africans. According to the ICC, only black people have committed war crimes in the last few years. And bear in mind that not all these faces are from countries which are signatories to the Rome Statute. Sudan “unsigned” the Rome Statute – relieving itself of all obligations to the ICC – in August 2008, six months before Bashir was indicted. Yet the ICC has not gone after the citzens of any other non-signatory nations for atrocities; say in Iraq (Fallujah, perhaps, or Abu Ghraib?), or in the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip. It has also not gone after seemingly obvious targets such as Osama bin Laden. Of course, there are enough people looking for Osama, and enough charges against him, that another one from the ICC would make little real difference [For the record, Osama’s hiding here]. But it would make significant symbolic difference, and this is what the ICC so far has failed to understand. Of course, the UN Security Council must take some responsibility, as one of the primary bodies that can refer cases to the ICC. But by only prosecuting African faces – regardless of the fact that those faces are fully deserving of prosecution – the court is sending a message that citizens of other countries are above the law; defeating the whole point of an impartial, international criminal court, and making it so much easier to ignore.

As soon as the law is applied to everyone, then the ICC will stand a much greater change of gaining the respect it deserves. Investigating the Gaza flotilla incident might be a good place to start.

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Taking the African out of African-American – Obama’s Uganda law goes 4th

More than a year into the job, Barack Obama – Africa’s president – is finally focussing some of his attention on the continent. He has displayed a surprising lack of interest in Africa until now, to the palpable disappointment of many in the aid and development community, who saw him as a some kind of saviour. What he could do, no one was quite sure, but everyone thought he would do something.

And he had quite an act to follow. For all his faults, George Bush’s Africa policy was generally effective. Staying away from politics and overt policy interventions, his administration – under the direction of African secretary Jendayi Frazer – quietly got on with the business of fixing things, particularly in the HIV/Aids arena. Obama has not continued where Bush left off. He’s cut funding for Bush’s HIV/Aids program, and shown little sign that Africa is high on his admittedly large list of priorities. not much African in the African-American, some say derisively.

Today, however, he made his first move by signing a strange bill into law. Basically, the law targets Joseph Kony and his followers of the Lords Resistance Army (LRA), the particularly vicious rebel-without-a-cause group whose modus operandi is to wander freely between Uganda, Sudan and the DRC, raping and pillaging at will. The law calls for a “comprehensive strategy with regional governments for dealing with the rebels, including steps to protect the civilian population, provide humanitarian assistance, apprehend the LRA leaders and disarm its followers within six months.”

This is a very wishy-washy piece of legislation. For a start, the USA is already involved in the fight against the LRA, with their Africom command center helping with intelligence. Realistically, they’re not going to do much more – I don’t foresee any American troops being deployed in Northern Uganda. So how exactly do they intend to finish the group off in six short months? That’s by the end of November. And given the fact that the LRA hop borders at will, and thrive in countries where the USA is not exactly powerful or popular (I’m thinking particularly of Sudan), they can escape to a fairly secure hideaway anytime they want.

This is just a meaningless piece of public relations. There are plenty of ways that the USA can be extremely effective in Africa. Merely continuing Bush Junior’s legacy would have been an achievement; by rolling back those policies, and replacing it with public relations nonsense, Obama is swiftly losing his African credentials.

On a side note: the Lord’s Resistance Army has always fascinated me. Joseph Kony sounds like a messianic figure, a devil incarnate; he seems to exert a mystical hold over his followers. And never forget that everything they do is in the name of Jesus; just as Islam has its extremists, so does Christianity, and I don’t think it would be difficult to argue that the LRA out-extremes anything Al-Qaeda or the Taliban have done.

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First Skirmish in the Water Wars – Egypt’s supply goes 4th

The Nile's inconvenient length poses geopolitical problems (pic: WWF)

The pharaohs of Ancient Egypt recognised the Nile as the source of life; it watered crops, it watered people, and it was the only efficient means of transportation for a people yet to discover the wheel. In the thousands of years since, its function has changed little; it’s a little dirtier, perhaps, but it is still the lifeblood upon which Egypt relies, providing all the country’s irrigation and most of its energy.

The problem is this: the Nile is not Egypt’s alone. Indeed, the river fulfils much the same function for Sudan, and provides livelihoods to millions in the other eight African countries through which it passes. But Sudan and Egypt are the only countries among the ten Nile nations who are permitted, under international law, to make proper use of the water. Under a colonial-era treaty, Sudan and Egypt are guaranteed 90% of the water flow, and Egypt has an absolute veto on all project proposals from the upstream countries. In effect, this means that Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania and Burundi are unable to build dams and generate electricity from the flow of the Nile.

This is not as crazy as it sounds – being downstream, and being primarily desert countries, Egypt and Sudan rely on the Nile to a degree that the other countries do not. Also, they may as well dam the waters of the Nile by the time it gets to them because otherwise it will just flow uselessly into the seas. But profits generated by Nile projects in Egypt and Sudan are certainly not shared, and so it is an inherently unequal state of affairs.

This cosy arrangement – cosy for the North Africans – has recently been threatened in what is potentially the most dangerous political development of this year, anywhere. Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and now Kenya have signed a unilateral treaty which states, basically, that they will do whatever they like with the Nile water. The treaty seeks to ensure equitable use of the water, and was spearheaded by Ethiopia. Apparently, one Ethiopian government official was quoted as saying “If those Arabs can sell their oil, then we can sell our water”. He makes a good point. Water is a valuable commodity now, and it is only becoming more precious. There is certainly money to be made.

But I wonder if the treaty signatories appreciate just what a bold diplomatic step this is. Egypt is already facing appreciable water shortages, even with the Nile in full, uninterrupted flow; its massive population is just not sustainable. This is terrifying Hosni Mubarak and his ruling elite, because the root of their longevity has been a basic social contract – Egyptians may not have any rights or participation, but they will always have access to cheap, basic goods (water prices are negligible, and bread is massively subsidised). If the bread, and then the water, disappears, then Mubarak will too. Egypt will do whatever it takes to ensure it keeps what water it already has, including legal, diplomatic and even military action. Whatever happens, the stakes are high.

Keep an eye on this one, it is set to run and run.

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