John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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In Africa, It’s About Governance

by John Campbell
October 15, 2013

Combination picture shows Kenya's then-finance minister Uhuru Kenyatta and Kenya's former Higher Education Minister William Ruto at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague in these April 8, 2011 (L) and September 1, 2011 file photos. (Pool New/Courtesy Reuters)


Many friends and observers of Africa, including myself, see shortcomings in governance as key to the slow rate of economic, social, and political development in some African countries. The converse is also true. Where governance is better, development can be rapid. The Mo Ibrahim Foundation has published its annual ranking of African states. The top five in descending order are Mauritius, Cape Verde, Botswana, Seychelles, South Africa, and Namibia while the bottom five, going from bad to worse, are Zimbabwe, the Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, and Somalia. For a second consecutive year, the Foundation has announced that there is no winner of the Ibrahim Prize for outstanding leadership by a chief of state. Established in 2006, the prize’s independent and highly distinguished judges have awarded the prize only three times, to the former chiefs of state of Botswana, Cape Verde, and Mozambique. They have also recognized the work of Nelson Mandela, out of office long before the prize was established, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, both of South Africa. Subsequently, I will be blogging on the Ibrahim Index and the Ibrahim Prize. Here I cite them to support the point about the relationship between good governance and social and economic progress, and to point out that poor governance remains a significant challenge for Africa.

Essential to good governance is accountability, and the International Criminal Court (ICC) promotes it. In an interview with Radio Netherlands, retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu, an icon of South Africa’s liberation movement, said, “The ICC has been a powerful force for justice, peace and accountability not just in Africa but around the world. Far from targeting Africa, it has served and protected Africa.”

Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta and deputy president William Ruto have been indicted by the ICC for crimes against humanity in the aftermath of Kenya’s 2007 elections. Though they are cooperating with the court, they are seeking to avoid standing trial, either until their time in office ends, or forever. Accordingly, at a special summit of the African Union (AU), Kenyatta argued that the Western countries, especially the UK and the United States, had turned the court into a neocolonialist tool. He called for a mass walkout from the Treaty of Rome that established the court and which thirty four African countries have ratified. He argued that the ICC was contemptuous of the African Union, and the African Union accordingly resolved that the two should not appear before the ICC.

London’s Daily Telegraph is reporting that “European diplomats” are seeking to have the UN Security Council direct the ICC to put the Kenyatta and Ruto trials on hold. A British Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesman, however, says that there has been no change in the government’s support for the ICC.

It remains to be seen whether African states will follow the AU resolution. Adherence to the Treaty of Rome is a matter for individual sovereign states. Kenya’s parliament has already called for Kenya to withdraw, and I believe there is a good chance this will happen. If so, it is difficult to see how the trials of Kenyatta and Ruto can proceed. Legally, their indictments still stand and their trials should go forward. It also remains to be seen whether the efforts by “European diplomats” to seek the trial’s postponement by the UN Security Council will be serious.

Post a Comment 7 Comments

  • Posted by Chike

    I think we are mixing up things here – it is an insult to the Kenyan nation to have its two most important leaders facing a trial in The Hague, given that they are dealing with the consequence of a terrorist attack.

    That is also an insult to the office of African leaders, not the occupants.

    This is happening in a World where Bush & Blair face absolutely no sanctions for starting an illegal war that killed hundreds of thousands.

    So spare us the sermons on “accountability”.

    There is nothing wrong in putting these trials on hold until Ruto & Kenyatta serve out their terms – in fact, that’s the only thing that will save the ICC’s credibility in Africa.

    True, Tutu has credibility, but how much clout does he really have outside South Africa? In other parts of Sub-Saharan Africa? Very little.

    So the European diplomats (if the reports are true) are being very realistic about events on the ground.

  • Posted by June Radicchi

    I was rather hoping Mr. Campbell would address the governance in West Africa as well.

  • Posted by Chike

    Okay, assume both Messrs Kenyatta & Ruto are “tried” & “convicted” by the ICC, what then? Are they supposed to be removed from office or what?

    The more you look at the ICC summons, the more silly it looks. If the ICC can’t wait until these men serve out their terms, then it should rightly been consigned to irrelevance.

  • Posted by Biko

    Chike, I assume that you are not Kenyan I am. Kenyans can argue among themselves on this issue. But it is beyond annoying when other Africans with no proper knowledge about the country pontificate like you. The idea that the trials be postponed until the two leaders leave office is a non-starter as it ignores the victims. Next time comment on what you know more about

  • Posted by Franklin Nnebe

    Yes Africa’s problem is governance and institutions like the ICC are helpful to hold African leaders to accountability based on international standards of human rights.

    But I would also hope that in addition to the ICC that an international body would push to create a complete financial embargo on countries deemed to be heavily corrupt that all the western nations, international financial centers and offshore locations will all signatories to.

    Such an embargo will allow heavily corrupt countries to be able to trade with the external world in goods and services but block any outflow of money from these countries. This would force the corrupt elites of these countries to keep stolen money at home and either force them to create an environment suitable for investment or lead to such grotesque selfish consumption that change will become inevitable in those countries.

  • Posted by jubril adesola

    In Africa the issue of governance has always been controversial, leadership should be given who deserves it not on the basis of bias.

  • Posted by George Michuki

    The Kenyan cases at the International Criminal Court that initially comprised of the “Ocampo Six”; may have helped reduce loose talk among politicians in the period leading to the 2013 general elections. Given the experience of the Kenyan’s that faced the pre-trial judges, few politicians -if any- would have wished to end up at the Hague for their suspected involvement on crimes against humanity. This caution, together with the promise of the new constitution may have helped keep peace in Kenya after the 2013 general elections.

    However, I believe if a person wins in an open contest that is perceived as being fair and transparent, it is important to rethink the cases.

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