My Take: Africa & the ICC

The African Union had a special session this weekend to discuss Africa’s stance on the ICC, with a possible withdrawal on the table. Although the withdrawal wasn’t agreed upon by all parties, the resolution that emerged stated that 1) Uhuru should not honor his appointment at the ICC and that 2) Sitting heads of state and those in acting capacities should be immune from any indictment amongst other points. Although this resolution is not legally binding, it does have political implications.

The argument for the second point is that Europe has provisions for immunity of its sitting heads of state – so why not the same in Africa? When are we going to stop comparing ourselves to others? If others have backward policies, must we adopt the same? Why do we continue to set the bar low for ourselves? Do we not, as Africans deserve better? Do we not deserve the highest standards possible? Do African citizens not deserve not just rulers but leaders who not only preach but practice integrity? Leaders who truly lead and are transparent and accountable to their people? Not simply because it is a donor requirement, or isn’t but just because that’s the least we deserve?

I hear the complaints that most of the cases being investigated by the ICC are from Africa. Yes, I understand that the US and others should also be held accountable for their crimes and pressured to sign on to the treaty. However, I am very disappointed with the African Union. First of all, why waste money convening a special session to discuss this? Second, while the African Union protects and pushes for the interests of the heads of state – who may or may not deserve to occupy their seats, who stands for the interests of the African citizenry??

We must also remember that at least 20 African signed on to the Rome Statute which brought the ICC into existence. Additionally, we have Africans at the highest level of judges and the Chief Prosecutor is an African woman.

If Uhuru and co are innocent, then why are they worried? Why not prove their innocence in court? Second, the argument that is being shared by the Uhuru government, that there is no other country who’s sitting president is being tried is nonsense. The ICC indictment happened before Uhuru was elected to presidency. As a leader of integrity, he should’ve sat this election out (whether or not he was innocent), cleared his name (if he is) and then come back to run at the next opportunity. Kenyans should not have voted in someone who is wanted on the international scale. Although he claimed ‘it was a personal challenge’ it is no longer personal when public funds are used to fund trips for him and his entourage to the Hague.

Plus, I don’t know if anyone can explain to me why we excuse our sitting presidents? Why is that if a ‘leader’ has abused his or her power that we don’t have the power to hold them accountable – while they’re in power and not wait until they no longer sit on their thrones?! Why do we want immunity for individuals who commit grave and war crimes?? Why would we still want those kind of individuals ‘leading’ our people? I ask again –  do we not deserve better?

If we are to move forward, we must think paradigm shift. We must think revolutionary. We must think transformative. Isn’t that what Pan-Africanism and the African Renaissance and Agenda 2063 are meant to be about? Are all of these delusions? Can the next generation not expect anything different? Will we continue on the trajectory that we have been on for the past 50 years?

I feel this is a ploy by our ‘leaders’ to once again not be held accountable for their actions. Yes, I do agree – ICC should be a last resort. That doesn’t excuse us from pulling out. We must strengthen our indigenous, internal, national, sub-regional and regional courts – such as the African Court – which has only been ratified by less than 10 of our nations, limiting its effectiveness. So the message that we’re getting is that our heads of state don’t want to be held accountable – at any level – either at the international, the regional or national levels.

Well, true leadership is about scrutinizing yourself – making sure that you adhere to and listen to the calls of your people, you don’t flaunt your power and you don’t break your commitments, that you respect and uphold the rights of others. If this is not the case, then you shouldn’t be leading.

Gado’s cartoons on the ICC say much more than I can. In any case,  either step up or step down.

The Professional and the Personal: Reflecting on 5 years since my introduction to the African Union

By Semiha Abdulmelik

It is an interesting time for Africa and African institutions, from a changing international and regional socio-political and economic landscape to internal changes within the continent. Institutionally speaking, the 50th anniversary of the Organization for African Unity is fast approaching and the 10th anniversary of its successor, the African Union has just passed. The analysis, stocktaking, and assessments of the AU from its entirety to specific organs and programs started early-from the polemic to the scholarly, the optimistic to the dismissive, from insiders to the distant observer. The theme for 2013’s bi-annual AU Summits, Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance, holds potential for timely and interesting deliberations, however challenging it may be to make any serious, decisive, and concrete decisions on the basis of those deliberations. From the writer’s perspective, 2013 also marks approximately 5 years since I was introduced to, and started engaging and exploring the African Union space (although not continuously, and mostly from an INGO and LNGO perspective). Although most of my work has been policy oriented, I wanted to focus rather on some of my general personal-professional reflections (some or most of which are framed in the form of questions and do not present themselves as necessarily discrete or mutually exclusive).

Between the personal and the professional
We hold a multitude of identities today (even if we stick closer to ‘home’): as Africans, citizens of our respective states and regions, employees, practioners of a particular field or profession, etc. Perhaps one of the biggest tensions or balancing acts for some of us working in the more ‘formalized’ Pan-African space and institutions is the degree to which we bring our personal identities to bear on our professional ones. For instance, how do we move beyond the dangerous and misleading dichotomy between activist and technocrat/expert? How can we (and do we) work outside the confines, constrictions, and organizational priorities that we face as professionals? How do we conversely push the boundaries within our organizational spaces to make them more progressive? As Pan-Africa(n) practioners, what responsibilities do we have beyond the merely professional? This is certainly not a new challenge, and many have managed this tension in various ways. However, this is trickier for the newer generation of professionals who did not, like some of their older counterparts, start out as activists who have now moved on to mainstream organizations, but are trying to find their own path. The use of social media (not just in an organizational capacity, but in a personal one) is one example of how this medium is allowing us to take our work further and deeper.

Whose dream was deferred?
Earlier in the year, T. Mbeki cleverly invoked the profound question-what happens to a dream deferred?-from L. Hughes’s poem, Dream Deferred, as the opening to his assessment of the AU on its 10th anniversary. However, the bigger question may have been whose dream was deferred? The creation and development of the AU was and continues to arguably be an elite exercise-without disregard to some of its progressive principles. Is the AU then an institution for the people (at least in principle), created and maintained without the people? How are we to take seriously a new branding campaign by the AU which proclaims: I am African, I am the African Union? What efforts are being made at the national/local level and through its various liaison offices and special representatives to engage more meaningfully and in a sustained manner with African citizens? As members of formal civil society (African or international NGOs), how are we using our relatively privileged engagement and access to the AU to do outreach to ordinary citizens? And while we may have this advantage, we are certainly not the real source of accountability pressure. Indeed if we are really looking at some of the most powerful movements for change across the continent, such as Occupy Nigeria, NGOs had a very limited role to play, particularly initially. We must then remember that this Task does not (just) rest on our heads; those that carry this Project that is a better Africa for all, either consciously or unconsciously, are many, and do not need or deserve our patronizing attitudes and support. There is then a need to understand and value the different forms of organization and engagement at the various levels, as well as understanding the role and limitations of each. Even within the NGO sector, the diversity of thematic/policy engagements and targets (from the AU Commission to the ACtHPR to the RECs), means that we are working on various pieces of this puzzle. We must continue (start?) to engage better across these different communities, and in a spirit of solidarity and dialogue, understand and work towards the totality. Given this diversity, the task then becomes how do we define our collective dream-albeit amidst the current and evolving realities?

Interrogating the intended and unintended consequences of our engagement
While there is clearly more momentum currently around NGO engagement with the AU (both in terms of sheer numbers and range/depth) and its various organs and programs, there is a rich history of NGO involvement in its various aspects. As a collective community, we need to flesh out the progress and learning over the past couple of years. How have we engaged to strengthen or otherwise the institution? How have we created and occupied space? Which communities have we engaged, and which ones have we ignored or alienated with our discourse and ways of working? In which ways have we engaged with both decision-makers and policy-makers that have built bridges, coherence, and normative progress? Has our need for immediate wins and gains translated into long-term change-and if not, how do we change our approaches and attitudes? Just as we turn the critical gaze towards the AU, should too should the gaze follow us. A self-reflexive and Do No Harm approach should inform our engagement.

Oscillating between optimism and pessimism
Anyone engaging with the African Union, either in an academic, practioner, or other capacity, will undoubtedly at one time or another fall into the optimist, pessimist, or even indifferent camps about the continental institution. We need to accept that as an institution, the AU will always be teetering between change and continuity-although it is perhaps realistic to assume that we are unlikely to see a sharp break from the past-especially in the short to medium term. However, we need to keep our attention on where the actual and potential shifts are across the Union-particularly with regards to practice and agenda setting. Which organs are ‘performing’? Why? Can these high (er) performers set into motion a kind of isomorphism across the Union? Under what conditions? We also need to be open but cautious in the much-touted sharing/exchanging of experiences with other supra-national bodies like the EU and ASEAN. While there are many lessons to be learnt, we need to devote greater energies on understanding our own realities and context – and how wider international dynamics affect these and our attempts at bringing about change. While African solutions to African problems can hardly be said to be problem-free, there is enough practice to interrogate and build on. From a different perspective, there is some danger and lack of realism in expecting the AU to be everything and nothing simultaneously-perhaps where some of the criticism is stemming from. The AU is merely one formal manifestation of the Pan-Africa (n)(ism) project. Where is the AU best placed in this process-where is its distinctive advantage? Regardless of the range of analysis and sentiment around the AU, it is clear that there is need for continued constructive criticism and engagement. This should not deter us from questioning some of the assumptions that sometimes appear to be fixed realities. We should be brave enough to talk honestly about what should be salvaged, what discarded, and what reformulated. How large or compact should (an effective) AU be? Can we interrogate the ideal form and function for an evolving AU? Does the strategic planning process underway at the moment for the AU provide opportunities for this?

Reviving, redefining, or revamping Pan-Africanism?
There are three related issues, in my mind, to explore as we move to 2013, with its stated theme of Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance for the two AU Summits. Firstly, what does Pan-Africanism mean for the younger generation of Africans who were not part of the ‘liberation generation’? How do we ensure relevance and ownership? What does it mean in light of Africa’s current realities and position globally? Pan-Africanism cannot and shouldn’t be a static concept-it should be open to a constant process of definition and redefinition-particularly by those who have the greatest stake in it. Secondly, like the ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ division in Politics and International Relations, we need to ensure that the discussion on Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance is not relegated to side meetings and divorced from concrete applications. Discussions need to further interrogate how the ‘softer’ identity and cultural aspects of African unity can be brought to bear or inform the more technical programs and applications of the AU. For example, the African Solidarity Initiative, a technical assistance program around post-conflict reconstruction and rehabilitation is grounded in the notion of ‘Africans Helping Africans’ and Pan-African solidarity. Lastly, I hope and believe that this conversation should centre not on finding clear defined similarities, or fixating on creating lists of values and principles, but understanding the multiple and complicated ways in which like network theory would suggest, we are connected and interdependent in a complex web of cultural, economic, and socio-political ties, whether located near or far.



First time experiences often have sharp learning curves. My first time at the AU Summit was no different. January 2012 marks the 18th Ordinary Session of the AU Summit held in Addis. AU Summits are held twice a year, in January & July (at least the ordinary ones). The January session is always held in Addis, the home of the AU. That is one of the first things you notice-nothing is simple at the AU. Sessions can be both ordinary and extraordinary. Protocol can mean either an instrument, such as the AU Protocol on the Rights of Women which we were lobbying for, or it can mean the team which provides both security and logistical support to local Ministers which I learned the hard way upon insisting to one of the Ethiopian Minister of Foreign Affairs Protocol Officers that we wanted to speak with the Minister regarding the Protocol.

When lobbying and looking out for certain ministers whose countries have not ratified or not signed onto the AU Protocol on the Rights of Women, you realize how important it is to have a quick eye to scan badges. How helpful color coding is, regardless of how discriminating it is. How frustrating it is when a badge is turned around, preventing you from trying to decipher someone from the AU Commission to an observer, to press to a delegate who is often, but not always part of the delegation that arrived with the Minister of Foreign Affairs who we were targeting.

You also realize how important it is to be proactive, to approach individuals and in doing introductions, to scan their badges trying your best to read their countries inconspicuously to assess whether they are someone who you need to lobby. To not dismiss anyone-press can connect you to Ministers-which is how we were able to access the Minister of Somalia-through a Somali journalist who had their numbers on hand. How important it is to know your flags…because sometimes that’s all you see. Patriotic pins with the flag of the delegations’ country. To understand the nuances of accent, dress and mannerisms to place people in certain regions and countries. The importance of timing-being at the right place at the right time. Making sure to be ready to act as soon as the door opens. To be diplomatic and assertive all at the same time. To be confident and humble simultaneously. To be brazen but also understand your limits.

Lobbying is a true hustle. It is not easy to shove your agenda into someone’s face and expect a positive impact. You should be well-prepared for any response and any interrogation. Prepared to be persistent yet respectful. Prepared to be prepared.

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