Museveni and the ICC nostalgia

05Jun 2016
Mboneko Munyaga
Guardian On Sunday
Justice Africa
Museveni and the ICC nostalgia

UGANDAN President Yoweri Museveni and the International Criminal Court (ICC) can at best be described as estranged bedfellows.

12 years ago, Museveni was a good admirer of the court because its then prosecutor, Louis Moreno Ocampo had just announced the indictment of his political bogeyman, Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) that for years waged a bush war in northern Uganda, which Museveni had apparently failed to crush.

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

For years Kampala accused Bashir of arming Kony, apparently as retaliation for Uganda’s own backing of South Sudan’s separatist war from Khartoum. With Bashir wanted by the ICC, Museveni saw opportunity for the court working in his favour by packing off both Kony and Bashir to political oblivion.

In fact, relations between Uganda and the ICC were so cozy that the ICC organized the first ever review of the Rome Statute in Kampala, where Museveni proudly defended the court’s justice system. But things went wrong somewhere along the way. By 2013, Museveni no longer embraced the ICC.

Museveni was the leading spear attacking the ICC of targeting African leaders during the African Union (AU) conference in Addis Ababa in June 2013 to mark 50 years of self-governance where emotions ran high with the leaders generally calling for their countries to quit the Western institution.

“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.

In fact, his onslaught against the ICC had started much earlier. On April 9, 2013, President Museveni 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 deputy president respectively. They have all since been let off the hook because the court failed to build solid cases against them.

The Kenyan leaders and four others were facing charges of crimes against humanity for their role in the 2007 post election violence in the Rift Valley in which hundreds were killed and thousands maimed. Also, tens of hundreds others were internally displaced and have never quite rebuilt their lives.

On May 12, 2016, Western diplomats led by the United States walked out of Museveni’s inauguration ceremony in Kampala after the Ugandan leader called the ICC “a bunch of useless people” in his address and also to protest the presence of Al-Bashir who is still wanted by the court. Museveni has been in power since 1986.

There is probably some justification in claims by African leaders that the ICC pursues a political agenda but breach of human rights is indeed a political question and cannot go unaddressed.

If it is not the ICC, then there must be a strong African mechanism to deal with the culture of impunity. Unfortunately, many African leaders again do not see it that way.

The list of invited guests in Kampala included Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta and South Africa’s Jacob Zuma, who a year ago, failed to honour an ICC arrest warrant for Bashir when the Sudanese leader travelled to South Africa to attend an African Union summit.

He flew out of the country from a military base near Pretoria as a court heard an application that would have compelled the government to arrest him if granted, which was almost a foregone conclusion.

Museveni on the other hand, was for years a darling of the west but relations have since soured and he is himself now a potential candidate for appearing before the ICC.

Intelligence has since indicated that former long time Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi and opposition leader, Kizza Besigye, a perennial loser in presidential bids, are working closely with Mr Ocampo to open a case against the Ugandan leader. At least the trio has met in London.

The Ugandan leader’s U-turn against the ICC can at best be understood in that light but the position of western countries doesn’t help either. It is good to shed tears over the victims of genocide but who created the potent conditions for brother to turn on brother and continue to fan the ambers of hatred if it is not Western interests in Africa?
Africa has indeed never advanced much beyond what Kwame Nkrumah describes as the ‘Challenge of the Congo,’ a neo-colonial dilemma, more than 50 years ago.

In my opinion, civil society and journalists can help the continent a lot if they pursued a strongly African centrist stance by both blasting despots and exposing western machinations against the continent and not to be just songbirds of hidden agendas.