Continued Rejection of the ICC in West and East Africa

It is not new to read of African governments ignoring or rejecting the International Criminal Court (ICC)’s claims to jurisdictional authority. But two stories this week reinforce the idea that many key players on the continent are willing to cross the Court.

First is Sudanese President Omar al Bashir’s attendance at an African Union summit in Abuja, Nigeria. The ICC issued a warrant for Bashir’s arrest in March 2009, in connection with war crimes in Darfur. His travel itinerary since then charts a map of ICC rejection across Africa and beyond. While Nigeria is the first West African nation to host Bashir, it joins a trend that includes several other countries and the African Union itself. From the BBC:

Mr Bashir has visited numerous African countries since the arrest warrant was issued – including Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti.

Only Botswana and Malawi have threatened to arrest him.

In May, the AU called on the ICC to drop war crimes charges against Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta after accusing it of “hunting” Africans because of their race.

Mention of Kenya brings us to the second news item from this week: Yesterday, the ICC rejected another request from Kenyan Vice President William Ruto, who like Kenyatta faces charges at the Court, to hold his trial in Africa.

The election, in March of this year, of Kenyatta and Ruto seemed a rebuke to the Court. Both men have been under indictment since March 2011 in connection with election/post-election violence in 2007-2008. David Bosco, writing shortly before Kenya’s most recent election, spelled out some potential consequences that a Kenyatta victory might have for the Court. One of these is particularly noteworthy in light of the Court’s decision on Ruto’s request for a trial location change:

That a freshly elected African head of state will bear the burden of ICC indictment would likely worsen already poor relations between the court and African officialdom. Many African leaders have argued that the ICC, which to this point has indicted only Africans, systematically ignores crimes committed in other parts of the world. At various points, African leaders have discussed withdrawing en masse from the treaty that created the court or, more likely, empowering a regional court to investigate atrocities, thereby displacing the ICC.

The ICC’s decision to keep Ruto’s trial in The Hague may strengthen such sentiments among some African leaders.

From both Nigeria and Kenya, then, I see fresh examples of the difficulty the Court is having in achieving legitimacy and recognition in Africa.

Kenyan Elections Open Thread

Kenyans are voting today in much-anticipated presidential elections. The BBC has profiles of the eight candidates, including front-runners Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga. The BBC also has a Q&A on the elections. Reuters has an interactive timeline covering the period from the 2007 elections to February 2013. IRIN has a page for the elections as well. International Crisis Group’s report on the elections is here (.pdf). Finally, VOA is providing live updates here.

Please consider this an open thread for Kenya-related news. What are you hearing/reading/seeing? Let us know.

Roundup: Kenya’s Presidential Debate

Kenya will hold presidential (and general) elections on March 4. For background on the elections, see herehere (.pdf), here, and here. For Ken Opalo’s forecast that Uhuru Kenyatta will win the first round, though not by enough to avoid a run-off, see here.

Yesterday, eight presidential aspirants met for the country’s first-ever presidential debate. The debate garnered massive attention – as the BBC tweeted, it was the “top trending topic on Twitter”  at one point yesterday.

Here is my roundup of coverage and reactions:

  • Daily Nation has a transcript. There was a livestream of the debate on YouTube, but I was unable to find a video of the event afterwards.
  • BBC: “[Frontrunners Uhuru] Kenyatta and [Raila] Odinga in First Kenya Presidential Debate.” From the article: “It is doubtful that the two-hour debate will significantly influence many voters as most Kenyans vote along ethnic lines.”
  • Standard Media focuses on the candidates’ remarks about ethnicity.
  • The Guardian: “Kenya Tunes in as Uhuru Kenyatta and Rail Odinga Promise Peaceful Elections.”
  • Reuters: “Raila Odinga, the frontrunner in Kenya’s presidential election, taunted his rival Uhuru Kenyatta in a debate on Monday, asking how he would be able to rule from the Hague, where Kenyatta goes on trial shortly on charges of crimes against humanity.”
  • AP: “Kenyatta insisted that he will be able to manage the task. ‘If the people of Kenya do decide to vote for me as their president, I will be able to handle the issue of clearing my name while ensuring the business of government continues and our manifesto and agenda for Kenya is implemented,’ Kenyatta said.”
  • Daily Nation: “Candidates Face Off Over Education, Health and Security.”
  • Nairobi Star: “Raila Dwells on Jobs, Shies Away from Land.”

Did you watch? What was your take?

Kenya: Police Crack Down on the Mombasa Republican Council

The Mombasa Republican Council (MRC), a secessionist group in Kenya’s Coast Province, has made headlines several times in recent months for their tense relations with Kenyan authorities and what some see as their potential to disrupt the country’s presidential elections, scheduled for March 2013. In the spring of this year, the Council staged several protest actions in Mombasa, drawing condemnation from President Mwai Kibaki and other senior politicians. In July, the High Court of Mombasa (the capital of the province) overturned a ban on the organization that had been in place since 2010 – see Lesley Anne Warner for more on that story, as well as an explanation of the Council’s grievances against the government, which the MRC accuses of marginalizing the Coast.

This month, the Council is back in the news as police crack down on its leaders. Authorities have accused the MRC of organizing a recent assassination attempt on Fisheries Minister Amason Kingi on October 4. On October 8, authorities arrested MRC spokesman Rashid Mraja, apparently on charges of using hate speech. On October 15, police raided the home of the MRC’s chairman:

Kenyan police arrested the leader of the separatist Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) and shot dead two supporters in a house raid on Monday, intensifying a crackdown on the movement seeking independence for the country’s coastal region.

Dozens of youths, some armed with machetes and clubs, who tried to prevent officers from detaining Omar Mwamnuadzi were also detained and a number of crude weapons seized, Coast province police chief Aggrey Adoli said.

The MRC is campaigning for the secession of the Indian Ocean coastal strip – a tourist hotspot and trade hub – and threatens to disrupt next March’s general election if its demand is not met, raising fears of violence.

The raid occurred in Kwale, near Mombasa. A photograph of Mwamnuadzi shows him badly beaten. VOA writes that “tension is high” in Mombasa.

Some politicians have come to the MRC’s defense, such as Sheikh Dor, a nominated member of parliament. Presidential candidate William Ruto, without offering any support to the movement, has promised to address the grievances that underlie it. If elected, he says, he will create a special economic development fund for the Coast.

Finally, other politicians are working to create new political vehicles for residents of the Coast. The Nairobi Star reports that “Muslim clerics” launched the Unity Party of Kenya this weekend in Mombasa. Sheikh Dor (the same as above) “said the party will liberate the Coast people from the chains of marginalisation and oppression.” The Kenya Muslim National Advisory Council warned in June against the creation of this party, fearing it would cause political division among the country’s Muslims.

Kenya’s presidential elections are still some five months away. It seems a lot may happen in the interval.

For more background on the MRC, see here and here.

Guinea-Bissau Admits It Needs Help Fighting Drug Trafficking

I almost never write about Guinea-Bissau, the West African country so often referred to as a “narco-state” – see some different perspectives on that label here, here, and here. As the epithet implies, Guinea-Bissau has become a transit point for cocaine from South America to Europe. Guinea-Bissau made headlines this year for a military coup this spring, the latest in a long line of political upheavals in the country. Despite the installation of a transitional government, drug activity has reportedly increased.

West Africa as a whole, including Sahelian countries like Senegal and Mali, has “emerged as a hub for cocaine trafficking.” Events and trends in Guinea-Bissau, then, are relevant to the entire region. That’s why a headline yesterday caught my eye: “Guinea-Bissau Asks for Help.” From the article:

“Guinea-Bissau cannot face drug trafficking by itself,” said Manuel Serifo Nhamadjo, the country’s leader under a transition process negotiated after an April 12 coup.

“I call once more on the international community to come to the rescue, to stop this evil,” said Nhamadjo, in an address to mark the 38th anniversary of the country’s independence from Portugal.

The remarks, as quoted, are short on details. But it will be worth watching whether and how the transitional government and its successors attempt to translate this sentiment into concrete partnerships with outside governments and agencies. Some regional anti-drug partnerships already exist. Yet Nhamadjo’s statement is, while laudable for its honesty, disheartening: if the government freely admits it cannot control the problem,  and existing organizations have not slowed its growth, then the problem has become severe indeed.

Update on Cholera Outbreaks in West Africa

Cholera is a recurring problem in parts of West Africa, but this year it has caused even more alarm than usual. An outbreak in Gao, northern Mali, along with elevated numbers of cases in other parts of the region, has drawn major concern. More background here.

One zone of concern is Niger, which has recently suffered a one-two punch of floods and cholera:

Floods in Niger have killed 81 people since July, the UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs announced Thursday, adding cholera outbreaks have killed a further 81 people.

[...]

Cholera is spreading fast in at least four places, making 3,854 people sick and notably affecting the Tillaberi regions lying by the Niger river and close to the border with Mali, OCHA said.

In the provinces and in the capital, where the Niger river level is rising significantly, most of the people stricken by flooding are being housed mainly in schools, as well as mosques and public buildings.

OCHA’s Niger page is available in French here.

Some worry that the cholera epidemic in Niger could spread to neighboring Burkina Faso (French).

Meanwhile, some coastal West Africa countries are experiencing major cholera outbreaks. By late August, some 12,500 people had contracted cholera in Sierra Leone, and the disease had killed 224. The Financial Timeswrote, “The World Health Organisation estimates the number of cases could reach 32,000, with the outbreak peaking towards the end of September. The mortality rate of 1.8 per cent is almost double the emergency threshold.” This is Sierra Leone’s worst outbreak since 1994. Cholera has also struck in Guinea, with nearly 6,000 cases and over 100 deaths, in the worst outbreak since 2007.

The World Health Organization, Doctors Without Borders, and the Red Cross/Red Crescent are working to vaccinate people in affected countries and treat victims. But the epidemic, it seems, is still growing, adding to the tragedies West Africa is facing this year.

Kenya Prepares for March 2013 Elections

Kenyan officials have recently made two significant statements regarding the security and integrity of presidential elections next March. Kenya’s last presidential elections, in 2007, were marred by violence.

On the security of the March 2013 elections:

Kenya has been hit by several explosions since it sent troops into Somalia to crush al Shabaab militants in October.

A separatist group [the Mombasa Republican Council] has threatened to boycott and disrupt voting if the government does not give in to their demand for secession for Kenya’s Indian Ocean coastal strip, centred on the tourist centre and port city of Mombasa.

President Mwai Kibaki has rejected their demand.

“Voting centres are naturally crowded and could be an easy target if our security is not alert. That already is a scare factor to anyone wishing to leave their house to vote,” said Ahmed Isaack Hassan, chairman of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), which will oversee the vote.

View the IEBC’s website here.

On the integrity (and security) of the elections:

The chairman of Kenya’s National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) said a two-day nationwide discussion on ensuring next year’s elections are free, fair and transparent begins Monday.
Mzalendo Kibunja said there is also need to bolster security ahead of the vote following recent attacks often blamed on the Somali-based Islamist group al-Shabab.
“One of the things that is going to happen to those forums today and tomorrow is where members of each of the counties will come together and say these are the requirements to make sure there is [a] free and fair and peaceful general election,” continued Mzalendo.”
“Those resolutions will then come to the national conference on [the] 30th and 31st in [the capital] Nairobi and from there we would now develop a national strategy to make sure that we have free, fair and peaceful general election.”

View the NCIC’s website here.