From Mali to Central African Republic: Is the Colonial Cop Back?


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The recent decision by France to send over 800 soldiers to help stabilize the failed state of Central African Republic (CAR) and stop a transnational conflict is a laudable one. This decision reinforces a growing pattern in France foreign policy in Africa. In Cote d’Ivoire, France’s right-wing President Nicholas Sarkozy spearheaded the UN efforts to oust Laurent Gbagbo and instate Alasane Dramane Ouattara, the alleged winner of the presidential elections. Then followed the military campaign against Muammar Khadafi in Libya. But while these two campaigns were controversial among Africans, the recent interventions led by Socialist President Francois Hollande to save Mali and now to restore hope and stability in CAR were greeted with praise. Previously infamous for using force to defend authoritarian regimes in French-speaking African countries, today’s France seems to be using force to restore stability and the rule of law.

No other African country better captures the changing paradigm of French interventions than Central African Republic. On September 20th, 1979 the French launched operation Caban to support the coup d’état against Emperor Bokassa and to put in place President David Dacko (who himself had been deposed in a coup led by Bokassa in 1966). The operation Caban was then followed by “operation Barracuda” to secure the newly instated president Dacko.

That was a peculiar time in the history of CAR and the region, when French politicians prided themselves that nothing could happen in their “African backyard” without their knowledge or influence. African politicians were likewise convinced of the omnipotence of this “former” colonial power. This conviction fueled the notoriously named “suitcase diplomacy”– African leaders using “carriers” to deliver suitcases full of cash or diamonds to some French political elite. Many things have changed since then — the end of Cold War, the emergence of powerful state actors competing with France in the region, internal political dynamics in both France and Africa, etc. — and France’s policy in the region is adapting to this new reality.

The decision to send 800 French soldiers to CAR to complement the 400 already present aims primarily at supporting the African mission to stop the cycle of violence, facilitate the return of humanitarian organizations, and create a secure environment until the full deployment of the UN mission to CAR. With this intervention following the one in Mali, France is gradually sketching a template of intervention in African conflicts. This nascent strategy follows four major steps:

  1. A concerted diplomatic effort to rally the international community, the UN Security Council and countries on the frontline of a given conflict, with the goal of building legitimacy and legality.
  2. Deployment of a military force acting as a transitional force to stop violence, protect civilians and create a secure space for humanitarian interventions.
  3. Collaboration with regional forces, generally supported by the African Union (AU), to prepare the transition to and deployment of the joint AU/UN peacekeeping force.
  4. Continued presence of a residual force, depending on the theater of operations, to deter hostile groups, fights terrorist activities and/or train the national army.

We have seen this holistic strategy played out in Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, and now CAR. As coherent as the strategy may appear, it is however not without its flaws. As seen in Mali, although the concerted diplomatic efforts yielded some form of legitimacy and the military intervention prevented Islamist groups to seize Bamako, the collaboration with the AU/UN forces and the continued presence of a residual French force are raising hard questions and generating adverse consequences: notably the resurgence of nationalistic and anti-French sentiments and local alliances with terrorists groups. In other words, the gains generated in Mali by steps 1 and 2 of the French intervention strategy are threatened by the challenges posed by steps 3 and 4.

In CAR, while it is still too early to discuss steps 3 and 4 of the French intervention strategy, we can already estimate the price tag of steps 1 and 2. While the international community negotiated ways to intervene, thousands of people were slaughtered and the country descended into chaos. Today, intervention may already be too late for the hundreds of thousands of victims of the conflict, such as state prosecutor Modeste Martineau, who was killed on November 16, 2013.

What about military deployment in CAR? The day after France announced its troop deployment, the former Seleka forces responsible for terrorizing the population began pulling out of Bangui for an unknown destination; the hope is that even the pro-Bozizé (deposed president) groups, the anti-balakas will follow that example. If this retreat can be seen as a good sign for the local population who will not have to endure more terror, it is a bad sign for the stability of the region. The dense forest and uncontrolled borders of the region offer plenty of hideouts for these dangerous thugs. These armed groups will most likely roam forests and nearby towns and villages, wreaking havoc and selling their skills to the highest bidder, as was the case during conflicts in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Cote d’Ivoire. The short-term relief that will be brought by the French intervention may be a precursor of the middle- or longer-term instability to come. There are chances of seeing in months to come, intensification of criminal activities in border town and cities of the region.

Of course, no strategy is flawless, particularly given the complexity of armed conflicts. While it may be too early to draw conclusions, the situations in Mali and CAR are yielding valuable lessons that could help improve this nascent French intervention strategy on the continent.

Genuine collaboration with local stakeholders. If there is a genuine collaboration between French forces, regional forces, and the legitimate political authorities emerging from some sort of consultation or election process, this strategy will go a long way. This collaboration must be based on mutual respect and learning, recognizing the added value of each partner.  The example of the recent hostage crisis management in Mali, during which local authorities were kept out of the loop, is not the way to go. There is indeed the temptation for the French forces to take for granted the loyalty and gratitude of local authorities and populations. It will be a mistake. France should remember that their mere presence reminds local authorities and countries in the region of their own failure, so no need to add insult to injury by ignoring their help and refusing to involve them in operations taken place in their own country.

All actors think regional and act local. This sounds like an old cliche, but it could not be more relevant in this case.  Most situations these interventions are supposed to address require a regional approach that goes beyond the original theater of operations. These conflicts are part of conflict systems that engulf not only the ground zero of the crisis but also countries in the front-line. Therefore any intervention should take into consideration factors such as regional political alliances, transnational ethnic dynamics, religion and cross border issues.

Africans to increase regional military and diplomatic cooperation. As unfortunate as these crises maybe, French interventions offer African armies the opportunity to work together, harmonize their operations and develop joint strategies and operations to deal with increasingly complex and transnational crises that affect several countries in the region. They will have to learn work together on both military and diplomatic fronts to mitigate the adverse effects of these French interventions while at the same time leveraging them to strengthen their own capabilities, such as the long overdue African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises (ACIRC)  and the African Stand by Force.

It is worth mentioning that, if France is adapting its intervention strategy, it does not mean that it has tempered or changed its perception on Africa.  Many in the business and political community in France still consider French speaking Africa as” France’s backyard.” The history of relations between France and French speaking Africa teaches us that interventions are not altruistic or cost free for Africans. In the past, these interventions have helped France’s interests in the region; there are no reasons to believe the contrary today. This fact is confirmed by a series of report funded by the French government, all of which argue for the key role Africa will play in the prosperity of France;” this is clearly illustrated by the title of the recent French Senate report: “Africa is our future.”

Therefore, African countries cannot cheer-lead their way out of the crises facing the region, they should do more to actively engage and assist.  These French interventions may not mark the return of the colonial cop; however, they are signs of a turning point in the relations between France and Francophone Africa. Will African states and the African Union seize the moment and bend the arc of these relations toward cooperation, peace and security as claimed by France or towards neo-colonialism as suspected by skeptics? Qui vivra, verra!

Somali Compact: Building a state to save a nation?


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Brussels, September 16, 2013, the government of Somalia and European Union (EU) co-hosted the Somalia New Deal Conference during which the international community endorsed the Somali Compact and pledged support to its implementation. This New Deal for Somalia has been the most comprehensive and participative state-building undertaking supported by the international community in Somalia to date. Designed based on the principles of aid effectiveness as learned by the international aid community throughout the years, the Somali Compact has the ambitious goal to lay in three years (2014-2016) the basis of “a sovereign, secure, democratic, united and federal Somalia at peace with itself and the world, and for the benefit of its people.”

Some analysts have been quick to highlight some of the shortcomings of the Compact, especially the lack of capacity of the Federal Somali Government (FSG) to implement this state building milestone. In addition, the lack of clarity as to the role of the Federal Government, who is at time put at the same level as many of the disparate factions in Somalia, the short timeframe (three years) and the low level of trust enjoyed by FSG among key stakeholders within the country. These set of challenges are real and constitute major obstacles on the way of the Somali Compact. In this post however, I would like to focus on “two elephants” in the room but who are ignored or were not sufficiently paid attention by members of this conference: Somalia’s insecurity state and nationhood.

One of the key assumptions of the Compact was that the security gains achieved by the peacekeepers of the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM), Kenyan, Ethiopian and Somali forces will be sustained. The current resurgence of Al-Shabaab and the degradation of the security situation highlight the depth and gravity of instability in Somali. The recent letter dated in October 14, 2013, by the UN Secretary General to the Security Council served as a dire warning to the international community of the worsening security states of the country. From the words of Ban Ki-Moon: “Yet, it is my responsibility to stress to the Council that, without the additional support recommended in this letter, our joint investment is at risk of being derailed by the indefensible actions of the Al-Shabaab insurgency. I appeal to the Council to support the foregoing recommendations, which should ultimately pave the way for the exit of all international forces.”

The Somali Compact framework recognizes the need for reconciliation and political inclusiveness, a hint to the necessity of going beyond the divisive and violent past and moving towards a shared vision where all Somalis can live in peace in a secure country. While the Compact constitutes a credible pathway (if implemented) to a viable state, there is no clear pathway to nationhood in Somalia. The Somali Compact does not discuss the root causes of the disintegration of the social fabric nor does it address them. There is a focus on the rule of law and respects of human rights as a way to prevent and address the symptoms of injustice, abuse and violence; however, this does not erase nor mitigate deep seated distrust, hatred and feelings of deprivation resulting from decades of dictatorship and civil war. Let’s remember that, the fall of Siad Barre’s regime opened the Pandora box of tribal conflicts, clans’ rivalry and violence that resulted in chaos and anarchy and served as a magnet to current terrorist groups and pirates in the Horn of Africa.

Clans constitute a crucial socio-political units in Somalia and one is really surprised to realize that the reality of clan politics, inter clan interaction has not been clearly recognized in this important reconstruction framework. Not recognizing or learning sufficiently from the grievances, suspicions, and blood claims that contributed to the collapse of the country and are contributing to the instability today, means missing a crucial step in the nation-building project. Not seriously addressing this issue will make even state-building an elusive goal as it has been in the recent history of international aid from donor countries to Somalia.

The Compact provides a framework for a well-coordinated bilateral and multilateral assistance and support to Somalia. The Somali Development and Reconstruction Facility (SDRF) and the Special Financing Facility will provide more needed efficiency and resources to the reconstruction project. If implemented as intended, these institutions will provide momentum and some credibility to the government. However, these institutions are only elements of the vision of an efficient government of Somalia and what it is expected from it than the reality upon which it is based. In order words, every planner has to deal with the creative tension between an expected vision or outcome, and the reality. In this case, it seems the New Deal tilted more on where the Somali state should be without paying more attention on the origin of the country’s instability. It seems as though in the case of the Compact, the eagerness to achieve the vision, which is understandable, has obstructed the reality. While expected, this process of state building should in no way ignore the reality that a state without a nation is doomed to fail. The risk in the case of Somalia is that the Compact may raise expectations that will not be met leading to a vicious circle of frustration, relative deprivation, violence and further instability.

It is a fact that the Compact is a necessary step to the stability of Somalia; it will generate donors support (financing and expertise), will provide more efficiency and effectiveness in the delivery of public services and the physical reconstruction but it should not obscure the crucial and painstaking work of nation-building. That is, the forging of the Somali identity, a national consensus on the foundational values and principles of the society Somalis wish to live in. For that, equal attention if not priority should be given to an endogenous process of nation-building; through the use of traditional processes of reconciliation, local ownership by clans, traditional leaders, community and religious influencers of the reconstruction process. I will paraphrase Hal Saunders by arguing here that, institutions sign treaties and frameworks but only people make peace. The Somali Compact and the fragile success of African Union Mission in Somalia can create short term security spaces both physical and economical, but only the people of Somalia can build a functional state and a cohesive nation that owns and holds this state together.

Ironically, the experience of the irredentist Somaliland as witnessed prior, during and after the Burao, Borana and Sanaag (all located in Somaliland) conferences respectively in 1991 and 1993 could provide a sketch of a template of a nation and state building process for a federal or unified Somalia. In that experience, ‘localization’ and local ownership were crucial, Somalis drove the process away from external actors (who were very discrete in their support); the peace building and state-building processes were indigenous; also one important incentive was the situation of corruption and instability in the Southern part of the country, people in Somaliland witnessed the outcomes of a failed state and did not like it. Maybe it is time for Somalis in the South to look up North at Somaliland and learn from its history.
In any case, it will take a miracle for a Somali state to survive without a nation.

Vulnerable youth in fragile states: Are we reaching the intended target?


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Many policy-makers consider the African youth population an asset, a “demographic dividend;” but as with any asset, it only yields dividend if one invests properly and creates the optimum conditions. These conditions are far from being the reality in many countries in Africa, in particularly “fragile states.” According to the African Development Bank (AFDB), 20 out of 36 fragile states are in Africa with a total population of 200 million people. In other words, millions of African youth live in countries or communities experiencing a set of systemic disturbances (conflict, ‘bad neighborhood’, economic crisis, sociopolitical and environmental shocks) that negatively affect their state’s decision-making process, its ability to ensure security and provide expected basic services to its populations.

More than any other segments of the population, youth take the brunt of the state fragility and systemic dysfunctions, due in part to the fact that they are still in a life stage focused on the development of core human assets, such as: skills on literacy and numeracy, critical thinking and problem solving abilities; the building up of social assets consisting of networks of supportive adults, community spaces and structures, peer groups and life partners; along with the creation of financial assets (wages, access to both savings and credit services). Drivers of state fragility also impact youth supportive structures and institutions, such as family, community, and associations. As a result, some young people find themselves in situation of vulnerability, where they lack access to supportive services (health, education), institutions (school, workplace, family, etc.) and resources (land, finance, information and knowledge). This vulnerability reinforces the sense of exclusion and marginalization.

Therefore, the challenge for African states, particularly fragile states is to harness the potential of their youth population and reap the promised “demographic dividends.” One of the difficulties in investing on youth development has been targeting the most appropriate segment, particularly the most vulnerable and the hard to reach groups, those youth who may feel excluded or those who are already at the limit of engaging in destructive behaviors. Failing to include them in youth development interventions risk undermine the stability of a country and jeopardize its future.

Anatomy of vulnerable youth

The United Nations defines ‘youth,’ as those between the ages of 15 and 24 years. Yet the African Youth Charter refers to youth as a person between the ages of 15-35. Approximately 65% of the total 1 billion people living in Africa represent those below the age of 35 years, and in most countries of the region, over 35% of the population is between the ages of 15 and 35 years – making Africa the most youthful continent. However, the sociocultural reality goes beyond the age marker. In African countries, just as in many states around the world, the definition of youth is grounded in local realities and perceptions. In some cultures, there are several rites of passage an individual has to go through before graduating to adulthood. In many places in the region, youth is associated with marital status (being single), a student or at age of being in school (which can reach up to 35 years for university undergraduates) and not yet financially autonomous (that is still relaying on family or other individuals). The overall perception of youth is associated with some level of vulnerability; this perception of vulnerability reinforces the sense of dependency and in some cases exclusion in decision making, particularly for young girls.

While most youth in fragile states are vulnerable, those who have links or access to one or more support structures and institutions (family, schools, workplace/apprenticeship, youth centers / associations) seem to be more resilient. Therefore, the profile of vulnerable youth takes different shapes:

Unemployed out-of-school –This is a very broad category of youth, which may include many of the categories discussed below. These are out-of-school youth who have completed either primary, secondary education, vocational schools, universities, or some types of formal education. These youth have no access to appropriate work or income generating activities in the formal sector. Educated youth and those who have never attended formal education struggle to look for alternative livelihood pathways. In most fragile states where there are no legal protection frameworks for these youth, they face harassment, abuse, and extortion by the police and local authorities, as they go about building their livelihoods. This treatment reinforces their sense of exclusion and marginalization.

However, this is still a broad category, which in most cases hides critical groups of vulnerable youth who run the risk to be left out if not purposefully targeted:

Orphans and youth affected by HIV/AIDS – There are 48.3 million orphans in Africa (UNECA). The three main contributing factors are diseases (HIV/AIDS, malaria, etc.), poverty, and an increasing number of youth runaways.
Orphans as head of household including young single mothers–This group of youth faces particular difficulties as they have entered parenthood abruptly, generally without the necessary preparation and support (psychological and social). They struggle with their own internal transformation as they mature from youth to adulthood and at the same time take care of family members and children. The pressure is sometimes higher for single mother, particularly those who reside in the rural areas. For example, in Burundi approximately 30,346 orphans are the breadwinner of their households (UNICEF).
Former gangs and militia members of different conflicts – These profiles of youth are generally those who fall in the cracks of Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR.) processes. They are left out of many civilian assistance programs, on the assumption that they have received the DDR reinsertion package. As a result of this exclusion, most of them end up roaming the streets of major cities at best or worst they join gangs or militia groups selling their services to the highest bidders. Countries of the Mano River Union (MRU) are well too familiar to the rage of these groups.
Youth with disabilities and victims of human trafficking – There are no reliable statistics on youth living with disabilities, but given the economic and social factors, it is safe to argue that this category of youth faces stiff challenges that can only aggravate their vulnerabilities.

The world’s youth population is very diverse. The most vulnerable youth are left out from development programs and interventions because of broad categorization during the design of these programs. In fragile states, most youth are vulnerable, but not all vulnerable youth are reached by youth development and livelihood programs. When vulnerable youth are not purposefully targeted by a program, they generally do not take advantage of it. In some cases, they are “pushed out” by other youth who are more equipped with advanced skills, education and have access to supportive structures and institutions.

The Uncertainties in Mali: Is the honeymoon over?


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After a successful military campaign against terrorist groups, free and fair democratic elections and promising negotiations with most armed groups, it appears that Mali’s demons are resurfacing after last month’s events. On Saturday, September 26, 2013, Al-Qaeda affiliated groups claimed a terrorist attack in Timbuktu. Furthermore, the town of Foita experienced a series of gun battles between elements of the regular army and those of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA),the Tuareg irredentist group; in the same week, military officers attacked a military base in Kati, headquarters of the former leader of the junta, now general Sanogo. These various incidents forced short the visit of the newly elected president Ibrahim Boubabcar Keita (IBK) in France; as he rushed back to Bamako to address the situation. This leaves one wonder: Is Mali back to square one, three months after the Ouagadougou Accord that led to successful democratic elections?

Square One – March 22, 2012, a group of soldiers led by then Captain Amadou Sanogo (now a four-star General) stormed the presidential palace in Koulouba and toppled the democratically elected president Amadou Toumani Touré. The coup constituted a key milestone in the path to instability in Mali. However, it was only an unintended consequence of the protracted irredentist conflict in the North between the central government and the Tuareg groups. Prior to the coup, Tuaregs groups dominated by the MNLA have seized important cities and towns in the Northern region of the country and declared independence. However, their power control was short lasted as they were overpowered by Al-Qaeda affiliated groups; who were in turn driven out by the French led coalition with neighboring countries forces, particularly from Chad. Following intense pressure by countries of the ECOWAS, then Captain Amadou Sanogo ceded power to Dioncounda Traoré as the interim president, through a deal brokered in Burkina Faso by President Blaise Compaoré.

In June 18, 2013, the Malian transitional authorities signed an accord with the armed groups of MNLA, High Council of the Unity of Azawad (HCUA), United Forces of Patriotic Resistance and the Arab Movement of Azawad under the auspices of ECOWAS. On July 1st 2013, 6,000 soldiers from the expected 12,600 UN peacekeeping troops officially took over responsibility for patrolling the country’s Northern region from France and the ECOWAS’ International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA); with France agreeing to reduce it forces in the country from 2000 to 1000 soldiers to support the fight against terrorist groups. Following the accord, elections were held on July 28, 2013, (first round) followed by a second round on August 11. President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita witnessed a victory of 77.6% votes.

During the 18 months of instability, Mali experienced an occupation by Al-Qaeda affiliated groups who implemented the Sharia law in the North along with stringent practices. The rest of the country dwelled with instability and uncertainties (increased poverty, crimes, lack of public services, etc.). But above all, there was a sense of humiliation among the population and some elite in the region. This feeling of humiliation was compelled by the fact that, the country had to rely on the former colonial power (France) to save it from the Islamist grip. So the president’s campaign slogan: “For Mali’s Honor” could not have been timely and relevant. But will the president, also referred by his supporters as “Kankeletegui,” which means “a man of his word” in the Bambara language, succeed to restore Mali’s honor, dignity and unity, as he promised during the campaign?

It is possible, if President IBK and his government succeed to:

Resist to extremists of all parties and focus on reconciliation – As it stands, there are “hawks” in the government who believe that the government should exercise its authority over the entire country immediately. Hence the September 15, visit by a governmental delegation in Kidal, which remains a key MNLA “controlled” city. Some members of MNLA witnessed this inopportune visit as a provocation. There are equally some extremist among Tuareg groups who use the current stalemate to strengthen their military capabilities by making deals with Al-Qaeda affiliated groups. While these agendas constitute a threat to stability, the Government should not spare any effort to revive and implement the Ouagadougou Accord. The Accord may not be perfect, but it provides a framework to explore long term solutions to the root causes of the problems that have plagued Mali for decades. The president has made reconciliation one of his priorities. The Ouagadougou Accord gives him a sketch of a roadmap.

Build a competent and legitimate military force – For decades, the army has been the orphan and the soft belly of Mali. There has been a climate of suspicion between the executive branch and the army. The first opting for a strategy of divide and rule; hence the tension between the Bérets rouges (the presidential guard) and Bérets verts (supporters of Captain Sanogo and authors of the March 2012 coup). The recent incidents in Kati are symptoms of frustrations and divisions within the Malian army. And the ease with which the jihadists were able to conquer the North exposed the lack of skills and capabilities of the Malian army. Restoring a stable and disciplined chain of command is an outmost priority. The recent move by the President to dissolve the Army Reform Panel headed by General Sanogo should not be the end of the story, rather an important element of a comprehensive approach to more effective army and security sector reforms. In addition, the government should work with international partners to strengthen competencies and capabilities. Also, while efforts are made to strengthen the capacities of the Malian army to defend the country and its institutions, equal efforts should be made to strengthen their capacities to win peace. The Malian army will cooperate with the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission (MINUSMA) to win the peace in the country; this new mission will require a different set of skills, notably the ability to engage with and protect civilian populations. The ability to win peace will more likely reconnect the Malian army with its population and help build its legitimacy.

Stimulate economic development and share peace dividends – The new government should take advantage of the positive momentum inside and within the international community to define clear reconstruction priorities, as well as effective public policies that ensure every Malian feels included and benefits from peace dividends. Consider investment in infrastructures, health and education and agribusiness, particularly in promising value chains such as onions, dairy, meat (beef and mutton). Then work with partners and friends of Mali to leverage funds to support these national priorities.

Mali is moving forward, but it is not yet off the hook. Institutions are still fragile; the next November-December 2013 legislative elections are a critical milestone. The country is at the heart of an arc of terror that stretches from Tunisia, Libya, Niger and ends in Mauritania. Despite these challenges, the successful presidential elections, the positive momentum of support expressed by ECOWAS countries and the rest of the international community provides motives for hope. The honeymoon may be over, but IBK and Malian may succeed to rebuild their household after all. That’s my hope!

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International Criminal Court (ICC) and Africans: “Race-hunting” or Quest for Justice?

The International Criminal Court is the first permanent international court to try international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. But in an unprecedented move, the African Union (AU) is threatening to encourage its members to withdraw from the Rome Statute upon which the ICC is built. This threat comes as the AU is spearheading a campaign to pressure the ICC to drop charges or transfer to Kenya, the cases against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Vice-president William Ruto. Both men are accused of crimes against humanity following the 2007- 2008 elections in Kenya.

In September 10, 2013, Mr. Hailemariam Desalegn, Prime Minister of Ethiopia and Chairman of the African Union wrote a letter to the ICC copying the UN Security Council (UNSC) formally demanding that the charges against both statesmen be dropped. On October 13, 2013, the African Union will hold an extraordinary summit in Addis Ababa to determine its political relationship with the ICC; African leaders are threatening a mass withdrawal from the Rome Status. If the withdrawal is materialized, the ICC will be seriously crippled; it will not disappear, since it can continue to try cases referred to it by the UNSC; but its political legitimacy will be seriously undermined given that the Court legitimacy derived from the consent of countries parties of the Rome Statute, of which Africa countries represent more than 1/3 of the total, 43 out of 122 countries.

There is no secret to the fact that, since the indictment of President Al-Bashir of Sudan on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity, African leaders have been suspicious of the ICC. In 2009 from the African Union summit held in Syrte, Libya, African leaders requested without success that the case against Omar Al-Bashir be dropped to give peace a chance in Sudan. While criticisms of the ICC by African leaders have been mounting, the latest threat of complete withdrawal from the Rome Status is the boldest move so far. Two main criticisms are leveled against the ICC by African leaders:

Selective prosecution or “race-hunting” – All the current eight situations before the ICC are exclusively from Africa (Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Central African Republic, Kenya, Libya, Cote d’Ivoire and Mali) and the thirty people indicted are all Africans, proceedings against twenty three of whom are ongoing. The profile of people indicted ranges from current and former heads of states to leaders of militia groups. These statistics have prompted Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, Chairman of the African Union, to lament in front of reporters on May 27, 2013, that “The intention [of the ICC] was to avoid any kind of impunity…but now the process has degenerated into some kind of race-hunting.” It has to be noted however that four situations (Uganda, Mali, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Mali) were referred to the ICC by governments of these states.

Lack of legitimacy and Politicization of the ICC – This criticism is based on the complex relationship that exists between the ICC and the UNSC. The UNSC has the ability to refer to the Court situations over which the Court would not otherwise have jurisdiction; and the UNSC also has the ability to suspend investigations and prosecution at the ICC. The ICC therefore it is argued, is inherently influenced by the political processes and interests of the UNSC members; and the fact that three of the permanent members of the Council (Russia, USA, and China) are not even members to the Rome Statute, poses serious questions of legitimacy, to the extent that this legitimacy derived from the consent of the members.

While these criticisms hold some truth, it is worth noting that the last wave of outrage against the ICC by African leaders is in part due to the profile of the people indicted and not by the nature of the alleged crimes neither the profile of the victims. None of the arguments behind the AU campaign is framed around the plea of the families of the 1300 people killed during the 2007 and 2008 post electoral massacres in Kenya, or the more than 400 000 deaths of innocent lives in Darfur, neither the thousands of child soldiers whose dreams have been drawn in the blood of victims of the war in Eastern Congo.

With this frame of mind, how can a withdrawal from the Rome Statute help address the impunity and the injustice, the ICC was set to address in the first place?

There are talks of creation of an African Criminal Court to try crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes committed in Africa by Africans or non Africans; a sort of ICC for Africa. This solution may be very attractive, as it espouses the slogan “African solutions for African problems” but it is costly as well. According to an article by Mbougeng in, the average cost of a trial at the ICC is 20 million USD, which represents 14% of the operating budget of the AU; the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda had a budget of 130 million USD in 2010. These numbers should help African leaders put things into perspectives and think of more realistic alternatives as they ponder their next move.

Maybe instead of opting for a massive withdrawal, African countries should use their leverage as the majority bloc in the Rome Statute to improve the functioning of the ICC, help it put more emphasis on principles of peace and reconciliation rather than just retributive justice; which does not necessarily recognize the pains and suffering of the victims. As African head of states gather on October 13, in Addis Ababa to consider the withdrawal from the Rome Statutes, I will encourage them to also consider ways of improving national courts, the rule of law and good governance in their respective countries, so to lessen the reliance on an International or African Criminal Tribunal in the first place. Only then can justice, peace and reconciliation be served!

Central African Republic: Descent into Chaos

Since the March 24, 2013, coup d’état that toppled President François Bozizé  of the Central African Republic (CAR), the country has  fallen on a downward spiral of lawlessness and chaos largely unnoticed by the international community and the media. Looting, extra-judicial killings, displacement and frequent outbreak of diseases have become the daily norm for this landlocked African country of 4.6 million inhabitants. According to UN agencies, since the coup, 206 000 people have been internally displaced (about 20% of the population), including 100 000 children. Furthermore, food insecurity affects 10% of the population.  

Last week in the Northeast part of the country in Bossangoa, clashes between forces loyal to the deposed President François Bozizé and the Seleka coalition of rebels killed more than 100 people. These violent confrontations accompanied with constant attacks on Muslim communities add another level of communal tension in an already unstable and volatile environment. As casualties amount and the country descend into political and civil unrest, neighboring African states in the frontline (Cameroon, Chad, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sudan) hope the international community will “help” by  increasing the 2000 strong peacekeepers  of the Multinational Force of Central Africa (FOMAC) into a UN peacekeeping force of 3 600 peacekeepers. These numbers are a drop in the bucket, given the size of CAR (622 884 sq Km, bigger than France) and the extent of the chaos.

Michel Am-Nondokro Djotodia the new “homme fort” (strong man) with the Seleka coalition that brought him to power fails to secure the country.  Instead, the Seleka coalition presents itself as a disparate group of bandits, mercenaries and thugs responsible for massive abuses and crimes on innocent civilians. Disarming Seleka and bringing a sense of security has been a tough order for Djotodia, who is becoming  more marginalized by neighboring countries, including Chad and Sudan who have  supported  the Seleka coalition during the coup d’état. After been ridiculed in past sub regional  summits in N’djamena and Libreville; Michel Djotodia has recently learned that he will not be welcomed in the United Nations General Assembly this September; an event which he hoped would have given him the legitimacy and stature of head of state.

As the world is painfully learning in Syria, Libya, and Somalia, failed states are magnets to all sorts of ill intentioned groups, who seize ungoverned spaces, surf on legitimate grievances and fears to spread their radical views.  These radical groups further establish organized networks and bases to conduct both violent activities and illegal trafficking. Minerals and timber from the dense forest of CAR are certainly up for grab!

As the African Union remains indecisive and countries in the frontline continue to wait for France and the UN Security Council to provide financial and military assistance; the Lord Resistance Army (LRA) is charting its paths in the forest of CAR. Bokom Haram from Nigeria is assessing potential rear bases and other Al Qaeda affiliated groups chased out of Mali are also planning their next safe havens in the country. Not to forget merchants of death who are invested in the lucrative barter trade of minerals versus weapons.

Central African Republic is geographically located at the center of the African continent.  It’s not too late for African leaders to remove the dagger that is transpiercing the heart of the continent; and by so doing, give a real meaning to the slogan: “African solutions to African problems.”