Africa, Solidarity and the ICC

SG Meeting

New York, October 2004. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan shaking hands with Philippe Kirsch, President of the ICC, after signing an agreement on the relationship between the UN and the ICC. The UN, under Annan’s leadership (1997-2006) played a key role in the establishment of the ICC. Photo: Eskinder Debebe, UN.

By Henning Melber, Senior Research Associate of The Nordic Africa Institute

The International Criminal Court (ICC) was created to investigate and prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. A total of 124 countries ratified the Rome Statutes and brought the ICC into existence. 34 African states were the biggest continental bloc of signatories. The ICC can only bring individual perpetrators to task and its jurisdiction is limited to citizens of countries that ratified the Statutes. None of the big powers were among these.

In contrast, African governments took African perpetrators to task. As a result, the ICC almost exclusively investigated and prosecuted crimes on the continent. But the ICC not only prosecuted rebel leaders. It also investigated the responsibility of Heads of State in acts of mass violence, such as the Sudanese President al-Bashir or Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta. This reinforced the feeling that the powerful in the world are the ones setting the rules of the game while not abiding to them.

After years of dissatisfaction the first African states terminated their obligations. Burundi, South Africa and Gambia announced their withdrawal from the ICC in October. In contrast, Botswana, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania and Zambia were among the states expressing within days their regrets over these decisions. After all, who benefits from such exit as response to the double standards and asymmetrical power relations in global politics?

Leaving the ICC erodes international criminal jurisdiction and thereby the protection of people further, especially on a continent, where no other local, regional or continental court with a similar mandate exists. The SADC Tribunal as the only of its kind was closed when its judges ruled against the Zimbabwean government. Being confronted with a highly flawed international system, where the rule of law all too often degenerates into the law of the rulers, should have different consequences.

citatteckenThe decisive question to answer therefore remains: solidarity with whom – the rotten apples in the basket or the ordinary people suffering?

One should rather demand that only ICC member states have a say over its matters and decide if and when it executes its jurisdiction. After all, EU member states (or those members of any other body, be it international or even the local football club) would rightly so dismiss any influence or claim by non-members over their authority to decide and act. This would mean that three of the Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council (China, Russia and the USA) would not be entitled to refer matters to the ICC. Notably, four of the Permanent Members are currently accused of war crimes outside their territories and should therefore be investigated by the ICC if it had the power to do so.

Being unable to prosecute some of the imperialist aggressors of this world, however, should not let all perpetrators go off the hook. Advocacy for strengthening the ICC as an instrument used by a coalition of the willing would instead recognise and live up to the kind of international solidarity, which had organized worldwide support for the resistance of people on the African continent against colonialism. Apartheid, for that matter, was declared by the United Nations a crime against humanity. Solidarity and a global governance system guided by normative frameworks rooted in the UN Charter and related conventions were, after all, not only ideological humbug or completely ineffective.

Those states and policy makers who lower their levels of advocating human dignity and rights and compromise justice for the sake of convenience as a misnomer of solidarity with the wicked and evil have often forgotten that they earlier on were beneficiaries of a similar uncompromising siding with what is right in the face of wrong. The decisive question to answer therefore remains: solidarity with whom – the rotten apples in the basket or the ordinary people suffering and victimized by those who do not care for their lives? – Which side are we on?

Henning Melber is Senior Research Associate of The Nordic Africa Institute, Director emeritus/Senior Advisor of The Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation, Extraordinary Professor at the University of Pretoria and the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein and Senior Research Fellow with the Institute for Commonwealth Studies/School for Advanced Study of the University of London. These are his personal views.


Africa and Europe – two continents, one future


Lompuol, a fishing village not far from Thiès in Senegal. Photo: Goodwines, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

… or some reflections on the need and necessity to know and understand more in order to act better.

Last week, I attended the Africa Days at Dalarna University in Falun, Sweden. The keynote speaker was Henning Melber, previous director of the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation, today senior advisor at the Nordic Africa Institute. He spoke of the difference between ‘African Studies’ and ‘Africa Studies’. In the former, it should be African actors – researchers, scholars and activists – who engage with and on the African continent, its countries, people and environments. To the latter, we count, apart from this critical mass, also us outsiders, us who do research on Africa.

In the discussion that followed, I pointed out to Henning that this distinction works in English but not in German or Swedish. In German, “Afrikanische Studien” would sound contrived, and the same goes for “Afrikanska studier” in Swedish. In Finnish, however, it works (Afrikan tutkimus). Maybe this comes across to you readers as a play with words and semantics, but there’s more to it than that.

The difference between ‘African’ and ‘Africa’ reveals the complicated relations between Africa and Europe. The very fact that European universities have master and phd programs called ‘African Studies’ uncovers a colonial past and approach to the African continent. In the African Studies Programs at the universities of the Western World, the professors are usually white-skinned. (Today there are of course also African Studies Programs at universities in India, China and Japan, but let’s leave out this fact that for now, we can come back to it some other time). These mostly white-skinned “experts” are the people who explain how things in Africa are and have been. They are the ones who lay down the law about how nothing works (of course it does!), why there’s famine (a more complex story, to which I shall return) and how the political, economic and social development ought to be.

In the German word ‘Afrikastudien’, and the Swedish ‘Afrikastudier’, this colonial connotation is less striking. And there is a longer distance between us and them, Europe and Africa. In accordance with Henning Melber, I pledge to:

a) be aware of this academic colonisation,
b) work against it by entering into dialogue with African colleges,
c) do what Robert Chambers already in the 1980’s encouraged us to do; Putting the Last First = put Africa in the center.

If you haven’t already noticed, there has been a paradigm shift in Europe. In the beginning of October, German Chancellor Angela Merkel embarked on a three-nation Africa tour. Not to escape trouble on the home front or in Brussels, but to initiate a new strategic partnership with Africa. These are her words in German national weekly newspaper Die Zeit (October 13th, 2016): “Wenn wir deutsche Interessen verfolgen wollen, müssen wir realistischerweise sagen, dass auch das Wohl Afrikas im deutschen Interesse liegt”. This can roughly be translated to mean that it is in the interest of Germany, as well as Europe, to promote Africa’s economic, social and political development, to remove the fundamental reasons as to why people in Africa decide to seek their happiness and future in Europe – mainly poverty and unemployment.

Merkel means business. Her Africa strategy is a continuation of her strategy to find a solution to the ongoing refugee crisis. But with one difference: The conflict in Syria demands another solution than the refugee question per se. Because the latter is mostly about people from Sub-Saharan Africa trying to reach Europe along the Mediterranean routes. To solve this problem we – Europe – have to invest in Africa’s future. Or, as Paul Collier, Merkel’s new advisor on African affairs, puts it: “We have to meet Africa at eye level and with respect, because only the Africans themselves can save their continent” (Die Zeit, 13 October 2016, page 7). Paul Collier, by the way – yes, it’s him – the Africa expert and Oxford professor who wrote the book Exodus: How Migration is Changing Our World.

What does this mean for us? Firstly, we have to become aware of that Europe’s future depends on Africa. Secondly, that Africa is a part of Europe. Thirdly, that Africa is within Europe. Meeting at eye level means equality and mutual respect. Africa being a part of Europe calls for critical self-reflection: why are EU trawlers allowed to empty fishing grounds outside of Senegal? Why is the EU dumping tomatoes in Ghana? In Senegal, fishermen lose their jobs, in Ghana the tomatoes rot on the fields because it is more expensive to can them in the abandoned cannery than to import cheap ‘Made in the EU’-cans with crushed tomatoes and tomato paste. Africa being within Europe means that the African diaspora has become a part of the European narrative and everyday life, it enriches our continent by exposing what we already are; hybrids and creoles.

Holger Weiss, Professor of General History at Åbo Akademi University, guest blogging on the Nordic Africa Institute’s blog (translation from a blog post in Swedish on Historikerbloggen at Åbo Akademi University)

Zambia’s peaceful reputation undermined by political violence


160825_Patience Mususa_Campaign Truck Sontapo_red

A campaign truck for President Lungu and his party, PF. The provocative slogan Sontapo epowabombele (‘point at your works’) was developed to challenge the opposition to finger-point what it has done for Zambians.



Part 1 of 2 – The unusual silence on a minibus in Lusaka

By Patience Mususa, Researcher at the Nordic Africa Institute

Zambia has just gone through a highly contested presidential election that saw incumbent president Edgar Lungu, leader of the Patriotic Front (PF), win with a narrow margin over Hakainde Hichilema, the leader of the United Party for National Development (UPND). The opposition accused the ruling party of rigging, and challenged the results with a petition to the Constitutional Court on 19th August. The court is legally mandated to hear the matter within fourteen days.

Rising political violence has been one of the most worrying developments during the electoral campaign leading to the 11th August polls. PF and UPND engaged in several violent, and sometimes lethal confrontations.

Media reports suggest over 50 violent incidents, with most of the violence committed by PF supporters – or “cadres” as party followers active on the streets are known in Zambia. The UPND claimed the police had failed to protect their members and justified retaliation as self-defence. Accusations of either party creating a militia were thrown back and forth. Whatever the truth behind these claims, sights of predominantly PF followers in military style garb were an intimidating sight. UPND supporters where often scared to wear their party regalia for fear of being attacked – a well-founded fear, as a University of Zambia student was killed on 24th June in Lusaka allegedly for wearing a UPND T-shirt.

Such attacks contributed to a generally tense atmosphere, something people had not experienced for the last two decades or so. While a number of people were outraged by the violence, many hoped that the country’s tradition of peacefulness would ultimately prevail. In reality, the events instilled fear and people were reluctant to openly discuss the rising violence in public. As I travelled on a minibus in Lusaka in early July, when the campaign was in full swing, an elderly gentleman sitting behind me voiced loudly his shock at the brutal beating of a young man, a neighbour of his and a Rastafarian, who refused to respond with the PF hand symbol – a raised fist – when solicited by a group of PF followers. No one on the bus responded to his outrage. We all sat in silence, and the bus conductor who collected money was wearing PF regalia wrapped around his head. This response was unusual. In my past experience, when someone on public transport raised a contentious subject, there was always someone ready to engage in discussion.

In the elderly man’s view, the level and intensity of violence was unprecedented in Zambia’s recent political history. He was surprised by it, as was I. He also admitted that, like other Zambians, he was initially in denial. Zambian political commentator and historian Sishuwa Sishuwa told me that the violence shows a continuity with the kind of politics that emerged during the decolonisation struggle in the 1960s. In March 1963, for example, violent clashes between supporters of the United National Independence Party (UNIP), led by Kenneth Kaunda – who led Zambia from independence in 1964 until 1991 – and the African National Congress (ANC), led to the death of Omela Mumba, a regional secretary for UNIP in eastern Zambia, then an ANC stronghold. In the post-independence period, to the early 1970’s, multi-party politics continued to be characterised by violence, with UNIP members engaged in confrontations with supporters of the ANC led by Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula, and the United Progressive Party (UPP) led by Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe.

These hostilities were marked not only by ideological differences, but were also tinged by ethnic politics. National unity and the struggle against inter-ethnic rivalries were Kaunda’s justifications for constitutionally establishing a one-party state in 1973. Kaunda argued that multi-party democracy promoted ethnic divisions and violence. He portrayed himself as the unifier against these dangers, consolidating his own position as the Head of State. He welcomed some prominent members of the opposition parties in UNIP, but initially failed to persuade Nkumbula and Kapwepwe to join. When the two opposition leaders finally joined the party in 1978, and announced their intention to challenge Kaunda for its leadership, UNIP rules were hastily changed to disqualify them from running.

There are some similarities with the way Lungu ascended to power. He became PF president by violently hijacking the party convention at the end of 2014, thus preventing a democratic election of a new party leader following the death of Michael Sata. Starting in the last months of the 2016 presidential campaign, Lungu also forcefully resurrected the mantra of “One Zambia, One Nation”, used by Kaunda to encourage unity and inter-ethnic peace. Lungu’s team also deployed a consistent number of songs on national TV and radio stations calling for peace and acceptance of the results, which are reminiscent of Kaunda’s benevolent dictatorship, when the rhetoric of unity went hand in hand with repression of freedom of expression. The major difference with Kaunda is that Lungu, who is perceived by his supporters as a “humble man”, has governed the country since 2015 with no welfare largesse and in the midst of a major economic downturn. In economic terms at least, there are hardly any signs of Lungu’s “benevolence”.

What is most troubling is that Lungu’s appeals to peace and calm almost always end up with blaming the UPND and its “tribalist” leader Hakainde Hichilema, a Tonga speaker from Southern Province, for provoking violence and threatening national unity. While there is some truth to the claim that Hichilema has also played on ethnic loyalties, especially in his home province, Lungu’s predecessor Michael Sata rallied the support of Bemba speakers in the northern parts of the country and in the Copperbelt, with open references to an ethnic agenda. Perhaps less vocally, Lungu while continuing the PF alliance with powerful politicians that protect “Bemba interests”, has also been consolidating in his own eastern Zambia regional ties with politicians like former president Rupiah Banda who hails from the area.

During the campaign, some feared that Lungu’s intention in preaching peace, while letting his party supporters run rampage, was to escalate conflict to a level where he would be justified to call a state of emergency and avoid holding elections altogether. Are these fears founded? Polling day was largely peaceful and no state of emergency has been called so far. But the violence and the disregard for the rule of law have not gone away. The UPND had to submit their petition to the Constitutional Court quietly, in order to avoid a physical clash with PF supporters and the police. The Constitution is also clear that Lungu should step aside to let the Speaker of the National Assembly perform executive functions as acting President, while the legal process takes its course. Against the advice of the Attorney General, Lungu has refused to step down and his legal team petitioned the Constitutional Court to interpret the matter.

Worse, media freedom has been heavily curtailed. A blackout of some of the country’s key media players started in June with the closure of the largest independent newspaper, The Post, allegedly over unpaid taxes. On 22nd August, the government-controlled Independent Broadcasting Authority shut down Muvi TV, the largest private television station in the country, and two independent radio stations, arguing that their reporting is a threat to national peace and security. Since the elections, riots have broken out in UPND rural strongholds, but the limited capacity of independent media to report on these matters, and internet disruptions in some of the areas affected, have led to a social media panic where it is difficult to distinguish fact from fiction. Particularly disturbing is the highly divisive language drawing on ethnic stereotypes that is characterising this electoral dispute. Zambians such as myself are asking: what has caused these fissures in a country otherwise known as peaceful?

Patience Mususa is Zambian and her research is on urban planning, urbanization, mining and welfare development in Zambia.


Lessons learned from the pioneers of African unity

Gamal Abdel Nasser 1963

Egypt’s president Gamal Abdel Nasser at Africa Hall in Addis Ababa, 25 May 1963. For four days leaders and representatives of 32 African governments met to discuss the realization of African unity. Photo: UN/JH.

On Pan-Africanism, African Diaspora and African Development

by Victor Adetula, Head of Research at the Nordic Africa Institute

May 25th is a memorable day for Pan-Africanism. This is the day when, 53 years ago today, representatives of 32 African governments signed a treaty in Addis Ababa to establish the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).

Many meanings and ideas can be projected into Pan-Africanism, and indeed there has been, and will continue to be, a lively debate about the definition of this too often politicized term. However, the merit of such a debate is far less important to the discussion here than the fact that there are dimensions of Pan-Africanism, and also that Pan-Africanism has passed through many phases before its present phase where it is being celebrated as an ideology for African development. This conception of Pan-Africansim seeks and emphasises the unity and solidarity of all Africans for the purpose of African development.

Pan-Africanism gained prominence in Africa, especially in the 1950s, and became a veritable tool for anti-colonial struggles. The influence of Trans-Atlantic Pan-Africanism as a movement of ideas and emotions was remarkable. Much in this regard can be attributed to the efforts of black Pan-Africanists in diaspora. The pursuit of Pan-Africanism as a movement of liberation in the 1950s helped in promoting awareness about the essence of ‘African unity’. For example, there was broad consensus among African leaders on the need to promote the unity of African countries towards the total liberation of Africa. However, the movement towards African unity was evidently characterised by differences among African leaders.

The victory of the ‘moderates’
Although there were disagreements on such issues as the recognition of Algeria and the Congo crisis, only on the matter of the right approach to African unity were the views of African power elite irreconcilable. Radical leaders like Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and Sekou Toure of Guinea advocated for political unification of the African continent as a strategic variable, in the struggle for the cultural and social development of the African peoples. The Pan-Africanist stand of Kwame Nkrumah was largely checkmated by the equally zealous, but more moderate, African leaders, whose vision of African unity was largely influenced by functionalist assumptions and propositions; that the unity of African states could only be achieved through a gradual and functional integration of the continent which must start at sub-regional levels.

The victory of the ‘moderates’ at Addis Ababa in May 1963, when the Charter of the Organization of African unity (OAU) was signed, was seen by the ‘radicals’ as a retreat for Pan-African consciousness. Pan-Africanism thus suffered defeat and was unable to get consolidated into a formidable continental-wide mass movement. This resulted in the domination of African development discourse by pseudo-nationalist orientations with negative consequence for Pan-African cooperation and regional integration. However, recently the African Union (AU), that replaced the OAU in 2002, began to show concern for the lost ideas of Pan-Africanism in African integration process and in African development generally. While the details of the AU‘s strategy for the revival of Pan-Africanism is not very clear yet, it suffices to commend its symbolic commitment to the relevance of Pan-Africanism including the official recognition of the African diasporas as the sixth region of Africa.

Redefining African Unity
The demise of the territorial state in international relations and the increasing role of regional schemes in peace and development should necessarily provoke concerns and discussions on the status and role of Pan-Africanism in the promotion of regional approach to African development. The new thinking on African development should seek to promote Pan-African regional integration over and above pseudo- nationalist and state-centric notion of sovereignty. The establishment of the AU and to some extent the New Economic Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) reflect the new thinking in some respects.

The various efforts towards some forms of ‘African unity’ in the 1950s had their lessons for us. The Pan-African consciousness which spread across continental Africa during this period no doubt served as an integrative force, and provided the necessary background condition for the evolution of modern regional integration process in Africa. However, in spite of the initial success in the 1950s, African integration process suffered a setback in the 1960s. What brought about this set-back? Pan- Africanism suffered a decline on the continent during this period. There was a retreat from the Pan-African consciousness by many African leaders that preferred to pursue separate development plans within the confines of the artificial territorial boundaries. Noticeably, this pattern has been sustained over the years, in spite of the rhetoric by African leaders about the ideals of regional integration. In the past five decades or so most African states have pursued development as fragmented projects. Notwithstanding the unimpressive performance in African regional integration, the position advocated for here is simply that regional integration is very relevant to the needs of the peoples of Africa. In this regard, regional integration has to be redefined with serious consideration for the question of ‘African unity’ and its contemporary expressions which include the logic of “African renaissance”. Also, the new concept of ‘African unity’ must necessarily accommodate the African diaspora. Within this framework, the pursuit of ‘African Unity’ becomes the strategic variable in the process of African integration.

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