What if Ocampo Indicts Bashir? 5
Chidi Odinkalu’s article makes a fundamental point that can escape no-one’s notice, that the prosecution of high state officials is inevitably and necessarily a political act.
The normal pattern for transitional justice is transition first, justice later. Now the Chief Prosecutor of the ICC is reversing the order: justice first, transition later. He is pursuing a revolutionary agenda: regime change by criminal indictment. Regime change by invasion has gotten a bad name recently. Maybe this approach will fare better, but I doubt it.
I cannot say that the Sudanese government and people will do if Ocampo indicts Bashir. Maybe they will throw him out. Or maybe the southern Sudanese will say, the ICC has declared that the Khartoum regime is criminal, so let us withdraw from it and have our independent government in Juba. Or maybe they will vote for Bashir in the elections just to stick it in the face of the Americans. (I doubt if the average Sudanese knows that the USA doesn’t support the ICC.)
But I can say with confidence that rulers in the rest of Africa will shudder. There is hardly a head of state across the continent who does not have a closet full of skeletons waiting for some diligent prosecutor to prize open the door. Some of our leaders have command responsibility for grave abuses of human rights committed by their armed forces. Most have been party to conspiracy to defraud the national treasury at best or do away with their political rivals at worst. Instinctively they will stick together and cover each others’ backs.
Maybe they will set up some kangaroo court-in-reverse called the African Criminal Court to try one another and get acquittals so that they can fend off the unwanted attention of the ICC.
The arrest of Jean-Pierre Bemba has already given African leaders cause for alarm. The accused man had no idea there was a sealed arrest warrant against him to be served by a Belgian magistrate at the drop of a hat as soon as ICC officials in The Hague got wind of his presence in the neighboring country. How many of these secret warrants does Mr. Ocampo have up his sleeve? Which is the next African leader who goes to visit his children in college in Paris or Toronto, or attends an international conference in Tokyo or London for that matter, who will step off the airplane and find himself whisked away in handcuffs?
In our younger, revolutionary days, many of us dreamed of sweeping away all the corrupt and cruel despots and stooges of neo-imperialism who passed for national leaders in one great pan-African whirlwind. Perhaps this is Mr. Ocampo’s vision: judicial activism as world revolution. Today, some of us who lived through those revolutions have grown older and wiser and content ourselves with finding ways of easing criminals out of power at least risk to the rest of the rest of us. I reflect upon our unlamented Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam, who chose oblivion in Zimbabwe and a trial in absentia (guilty of genocide!) rather than fight to the bitter end in our capital city. To adapt William Shakespeare, nothing in his rule became him like the leaving of it.
From the rumors overheard in the diplomatic capital of Africa, Ocampo seems set to follow the course of indicting not only Bashir but a whole roll-call of our leaders. Africa will look bad, one way or the other. It seems that our continent is run by a bunch of crooks and our salvation is that Interpol or European magistrates snatch them one by one to face trial in The Hague. Or we are run by a bigger bunch of crooks who conspire together to protect themselves. This is a sad time for Africa.
Beshir Gedda is an Ethiopian writer.