Mugabe is a symbol of what African leaders really want: Immortality – By Patience Akumu

PatienceAkumuIt is easy to dismiss the stalwart, albeit slumping, figure of 90-year-old Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe, as a reminder of all that has gone wrong with the African continent; failed economies, dictatorships and the resigned inertia of the African people. But to the African Union, which recently elected him as its chair, Mugabe is a symbol of everything that could have gone right with the continent but never did.

The presidents who support Mugabe see, in him, every African nationalist who ever lived. With Mugabe in the picture, they can still maintain a connection to the dream of the united Africa that Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Ahmed Sekou Toure, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Mumar Gaddafi and others of this generation promulgated. By keeping Mugabe looming somewhere in the picture, they still occasionally get a whiff of the Africa they want.

When aging African leaders gather in Addis they can almost hear the chanting and marching of their younger selves; singing and dancing to nationalist songs. Down with the British. Down with the French. Down with Colonialism!

The Mugabe phenomenon is a temporary reprieve from the reality of the daily grind for Africa’s presidents. When they sit at the African Union and talk of economic reform and the continent’s vast wealth and infinite resources, the hungry, malnourished children cease to exist. The rowdy unemployed youth they left behind in the dust of their motorcades and the wailing women giving birth in hospital corridors are temporarily forgotten.

So it comes as no surprise that the first thing on the AU agenda is pulling out of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and forming an African version. Until the establishment of the ICC, African leaders could continue to pretend that they were committed to the cause of making the lives of their citizens better. After all, beyond strong-worded warnings and a few sanctions, there were no real consequences for those who perpetrated human rights and other international violations. And certainly, they, as sitting presidents, would never be caught by the law.

But the introduction of a statute that made it possible for the bull of the kraal to be held accountable, now that was another ball game – one that ultimately presented complications, because African governments have the uncanny ability of being simultaneously democratic and authoritarian. For example, the ICC was seen as being good at getting rid of rebels who caused insurgency and destabilised governments. A case in point, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni (now one of the biggest critics of the court) had no qualms about requesting that it investigate and arrest those behind the atrocities committed by the Lord’s Resistance Army in Northern Uganda.

It is a well-known fact that the nine situations that the ICC has opened investigations into are all in African countries (the DRC, Uganda, CAR, Sudan, Kenya, Libya, Cote d’Ivoire and Mali). Yet, apart from Kenya, Sudan and Libya, where sitting presidents have been indicted, the other ICC investigations have been state-supported.

When in 2003, the then ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo selected the Ituri conflict as the most urgent case for investigation, it was President Joseph Kabila who opened the doors wider and allowed the court to investigate the entire Congo situation. More recently, President Samba-Panza of the Central Africa Republic has admitted the failure of the country’s own courts and government to bring some semblance of order to the war-ravaged country and is counting on the ICC to investigate and bring perpetrators to book. The government of Mali, too, invited the ICC to investigate war crimes there, following the insurgency in Northern Mali in 2012.

African presidents find themselves in a tricky position. They would prefer it if the ICC would only concerned itself with the continent’s troublesome rebels and leave governments alone. After the ICC has dealt with the insurgents, the proposed African court can then handle the continent’s other “˜internal’ issues.

Yet, the ability of the struggling African states to maintain a continent-wide court is questionable. And so is their commitment to respecting the decisions that it makes. It is the same leaders who failed to respect the African Commission that now swear undying allegiance to the African Court on Human Rights and Justice. The same leaders who have stood by, impotent, as insurgency after insurgency ravaged the continent now think they have what it takes to not just stem them, but also to bring the perpetrators to justice. Never mind that many of these countries are failing to run their own local courts where due justice is not always guaranteed nor prisoners’ rights respected.

But the real reason for this delusion of an impartial African human rights court, run by the very same perpetrators of human rights violations, is the fact that Africa’s old guard cannot grasp that the world moves on. To them, Africa is where it was half a century ago – freshly independent and defiant to all things “˜colonial’.

Given the chance, these African leaders would not just pull out of the ICC; they would opt out of all the international conventions guaranteeing civil, economic and social liberties. If it did not come with a degree of shame, they would shun women’s rights and children’s rights as alien and un-African; just like they have done with homosexual rights.

The only problem is that the young African population – who connect on Facebook and read about far off places where presidents actually come and go – knows nothing about the struggles of their forefathers, except what they have read in books. So constant recourse to this tired anticolonial rhetoric is somehow losing its power.

When African leaders flaunt Mugabe and say they want to get rid of the ICC, what they are really saying is: Can you just let us go back to the time when we were absolute kings and we lived forever and were reincarnated through our children and children’s children?

Patience Akumu is a freelance journalist. She lives in Uganda.

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22 thoughts on “Mugabe is a symbol of what African leaders really want: Immortality – By Patience Akumu

  1. Nice piece patience. Africa cannot afford to be an island in a globalized world. The world is more peaceful because of international conventions and treaties. Look at WTO, it helps a lot in negotiation tarries across the globe. Look at interpole, International environment law conventions among others…this arrangements are shaping the way the world operates.

    It will be a tragedy of gigantic proportion to have AU withdraw from ICC. African heads have no regards for accountability. They make laws they do not respect. by walking out they will be authenticating impunity.

    ICC is an important court and should be there to stay. Perhaps little things can me amended but for the interest of the majority.

  2. Great article – short and to the point. And SUCH a welcome voice – yay for young people! Except those recruited into militias etc (including Mugabe’s own violent and rapist youth followers) and denied security and education …

    The point about getting rid of structures that would provide balance against injustice, and a forum for redress, is vividly illusrated in the SADC successful ousting of the Tribunal, which was a venue in which citizens of SADC countries could bring up their issues. The leaders of SADC countries were unanimous in dismantling it, and not providing an alternative or better organ through which people could bring grievances. After that, those leaders could do what they wanted to their citizens, and they have don

  3. That’s it patience. I don’t know what happens to our Rulers, they come with a lot of good ideas, willing to go when they asked to, good governance,justice 4 all, non sectarian, etc…….. but that disease like (Immortality) that makes them loose themselves and what they stood 4. They become tyrants, unquestionable, unaccountable, sectarian ,belong 2 church, mosque ,witches etc..
    They want to demolish everything that others made 4 that country, they want to Be recognized as Omnipotent saviors While massing wealth that is placed so far away from them 4 their grand grand sons 2 come. No wonder they just have tens of Kids 4fun.

  4. Thanks Patience for this article, you couldn’t have said this any better. Some of these old African leaders have over the years exploited and held our continent hostage with their old economic theories and failed policies that has no impacted their lives of their own people.
    Withdrawing from the ICC will be the greatest mistake made by our leaders. These leaders cannot even improve the rule of law in their respective countries how can they establish a court that will serve the African continent.
    The African court will be full of injustice, biases and partiality. If we can elect an AU chairman at the age of 90 years imagine what the court prosecutors ages might be like.
    We as young people should wake up and face our leader by using every legitimate means to protect our one and only continent Mama Africa.
    We are

  5. Good article, but I have reservations on it. I dont think it fair for youto think that by pulling out of international convetions Africa will be shooting itself on the foot because United States American does not sign into some of these and nothing is said about the USA.

  6. The argument about African leaders you make is something that needs to be pondered. When African leaders reject the ICC what do they replace it with, nothing but just stubbornness. There are crimes committed in African continent that needs to be penalized but those orchestrated the crimes go free without any impunity. Africa leaders are still tied to Europe, east, and west for help of all kinds. When they are left alone to take care of their goodish they fall pray to corruptions, tribalism, and nepotism. Take the case of south Sudan, and Yoweri Museveni long finger in the conflict, and IGAD incompetent to resolve the problem. That is why leaders like Rober Mugabe still reign because African leaders see old age as gold, presidency as God given opportunity, and power as something that should not be easily abdicated.

  7. A nice read indeed. That a country like Kenya has already pledged one million US dollars in the face of drought and starvation of its people is shameful. The African presidents are a a bunch of queer creatures who get drunk on power so fast that they become allergic to human rights, justice and the strange word called accountability.
    There is a misconception the African presidents and all their sycophants hold that the ICC targets only African leaders. Were Milosevic and other European suspects African?
    Furthermore, most of Europe and United States have mechanisms in place to deal with excesses of their leaders; and anyone for that matter including ministers, CEOs of private companies and directors. That fundamental mechanism lacks in Africa, or if the mechanisms exist, there is zero adherence to it.
    Lastly if as a president, you have no intention to harm your good citizen, why do you fear ICC? Are these despotic presidents trying to tell us that they want a license to get away with murder, rape, displacement and genocide without anyone raising a finger?
    Africa is faced with serious problems such as terrorism, hunger and disease. I expect the presidents to address such issues instead of ganging up around and empty word called sovereignty. It is shameful to shout about sovereignty when you have rampant insecurity, hunger, maternal and infant deaths ravaging your people.
    About Mugabe as the AU chairman, it is a confirmation that African leaders mean no good for their people. What leadership does he have to offer if not perpetuating impunity? He has ruined his own country, what example can he set for the rest of Africa?
    It is time for African people to demand accountability and play an active role in shaping the future of this continent.

  8. I really agree with the article prepared individual that Mugabe is the symbol of African leaders, he is the hero, he is the only one opposes against the west and feel like all African black people to live in opulent in the upcoming future, i like him.

  9. you have to accept that the problem of african leaders are not africans…. leasders just contibute to a smaller extend… may be as u clearly propose…. can we measure the major contributer…. justice delayed is justice denied…. common villagers pay the heavy price

  10. clear, lucid and on the point. man, i would like to invite this lady for an afternoon coffee. we are still waiting to see what has changed from OAU to AU, other than the droping of the O.

  11. Saka kuita asiri wemuAfrica wagona and wangwara? being out of the ICC doesn`t mean we losing our touch. Is crime only committed in Africa were only our leaders are prosecuted. How is it justice when only we as Africa are regarded as continent of retardants. After all Africa is what it is because of the very people who created that ICC you so don`t want your leaders to pull out of. Lets be realistic what ever we Africans think and propose to do that is far from the views of the europeans and americans is deemed rubbish and violation of human rights. My african leaders know whats best

  12. A nice article Akumu. The problem is not the leaders but we the people who elect them. We just love them as our buffoons and thieving elders, basically they are a reflection of who we are, morally bankrupt fellows.

  13. Surprisingly the talk of leaving the ICC and starting one of their own version, but the African Court of Human & People’s Rights which was established in the 80s in Ouagadougou to deal with issues of Human Rights violations by state parties, and to which many of African states signed as signatories and members has never successfully heard a single case nor implemented its provisions around the continent. What a waste of space and disgrace to African people these demagogues are! They are the very wrong reasons why the continent is lagging behind and facing all these apocalyptic diseases that are killing away African people. Something has to give way for change to happen. Thank you Patience for your piece

  14. Great article
    Mugabe? head and symbol of African union? i say yes, head of Africa’s united oppressors who think and act like a 14th century leader in the 21st century.

  15. l really love your piece and some of the historical facts about Africa but i disagreed with you in the sense that,Africa is of age therefore we HAVE to start doing our own things now ,no one is willing to see us progress,otherwise Africa with more than half of the world resources but yet majority of people to struggle to survive due to bad governance influence largely by both west and the east .Mogabee is true African who will not bow down to any vampires.

  16. You could not be more right dear Patience. The current African leadership has failed the people of Africa. We are yet to see the likes of Nyerere and Nkrumah who not only wanted but also worked out plans to change African lives through political unity and economic development for all. Why do the present leaders tolerate autocrats and outright dictators among themselves? Their support for such leaders can only be interpreted as tacit approval for violation of human rights, undemocratic governance, self aggrandisement, and similar vices we have seen across the continent. If they were serious with peoples’ development then Africa, particularly Sub-Saharan Africa, would not be so poor five decades after independence given the availability of abundant resources. They have failed to provide solutions to our poverty and yet their obsession is to cling to power ad infinitum. It is time for them to go so as to give way to a young and more progressive leadership.

  17. good writing! Peices written by Africans about their part of the world give the best insite. Ik hope and pray you and many others will have the strength and courage to go on until the eyes of the people open for righteousness and respect for life and freedom for the country and their children. It is not about who you are, it is about what you leave behind as a resulkt of your life! I pray people will chose to pass on life instead of dead.! Bless you!!

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