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.

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.

Ethiopia: Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s Illness and Potential Political Changes in the Greater Horn

When Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi missed an African Union summit this past weekend, rumors spread that he was ill. News agencies reported yesterday that Meles was in “critical condition” in Brussels. By late in the day the Ethiopian government had announced that Meles was “in good condition.” Under Article 75 of the 1994 Ethiopian constitution (.pdf), Deputy Prime Minister (and Minister of Foreign Affairs) Haile-Mariam Desalegne will act on the Prime Minister’s behalf in his absence.

Meles, a former rebel leader who took power in 1991, has previously stated his desire to step down when his current term ends in 2015. If Meles leaves office, the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front will almost certainly retain power, but Meles’ absence would represent a significant political change for Ethiopia.

Indeed, Meles’ illness potentially foreshadows a coming period of political change (specifically the installation of new heads of state) for several countries in the greater Horn of Africa. Change could occur in several ways.

First, there is retirement. Meles is not the only leader in the region who has said he will step down in 2015 – Sudanese President Omar al Bashir made the same promise during a small wave of protests in early 2011, and Djibouti’s President Ismael Guellah has stated that he will step down in 2016. Some observers have doubted the sincerity of these pledges, but Meles in particular sometimes seems fatigued and ready to give up the job, an appearance that this illness underscores.

Elections will bring changes in leadership elsewhere in the region. Many observers expect Somalia’s ongoing political transition, which includes presidential elections next month, to produce a government fairly similar in personnel to the current Transitional Federal Government. But in Kenya, presidential elections set to take place in 2013 must produce a new head of state. President Mwai Kibaki, who has reached the limit of two five-year terms, cannot run again, leaving the field open to a number of major politicians, including current Prime Minister Raila Odinga and current Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta.

Other transitions, as Meles’ case reminds us, could come about because of sudden illness or death, a grim possibility but one that must be mentioned. These leaders are not old: indeed, all of them (not counting Kibaki) are short of seventy – Meles was born in 1955, Bashir in 1944, South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir in 1951, Somalia’s President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed in 1964, Eritrea’s President Isaias Afewerki in 1946, Djibouti’s President Ismail Guellah in 1947, and Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni around 1944. Yet four of them have been in power for over nineteen years (Museveni came to power in 1986, Bashir in 1989, Meles in 1991, and Isaias in 1993). The high stress of being head of state seems to accelerate aging in some leaders. There remain only six African leaders who have been in office longer than Museveni.

Finally, no leader in the region has faced a monumental threat from mass protests, but significant anti-regime protests have occurred in the last two years in Sudan, Uganda, and Djibouti. If nothing else, such protests add to the pressures these heads of state face in other areas.

It is possible, of course, that in three or four years only Kenya, out of all the countries in the greater Horn, will have new leadership. But a combination of factors could produce transitions in Ethiopia, Sudan, Djibouti, and elsewhere, potentially shaking up, within a relatively short period of time, what has long been a fairly stable roster of leaders.

Kenya: Amid Terrorist Attacks, Offensive Against al Shabab Will Continue

On Sunday, “masked assailants launched simultaneous gun and grenade raids on two churches in…Garissa, the north Kenya town which has been used as a base for operations against al Qaeda-linked insurgents in Somalia.”

IRIN, meanwhile, reports on how Mombasa, Kenya is grappling with a recent spate of terrorist attacks:

Following three grenade attacks in recent months and a US “terror” alert, residents of the coastal Kenyan city of Mombasa are bracing themselves for the possibility of yet more violence; local leaders are working towards better disaster preparedness and improvements in the emergency services.

Three people lost their lives after a grenade attack on a bar in the Mshomoroni area of Mombasa on the night of 24 June, a day after the US issued a warning of an imminent attack. One person was killed and several injured in a suspected grenade attack on 15 May at a Mombasa sports bar; two grenade attacks in the city on 31 March left at least 15 injured. There have also been a spate of attacks in the capital, Nairobi, and northeastern areas of the country since Kenya crossed into southern Somalia in October 2011 to help stamp out the radical Islamist group, Al Shabab.

Kenyan leaders, however, say that the offensive in Somalia will continue. Speaking in Garissa,

Prime Minister Raila Odinga…ruled out pulling Kenyan troops from Somalia, saying it will be tantamount to surrendering to terrorism.
He made it clear that Kenyan troops will not leave Somalia until the country is liberated and pacified, noting Kenya will not be at peace until Somalia which has not known peace for two decades realizes peace.
“We want Somalia to be peaceful so that the 500,000 Somali refugees being hosted in Dadaab refugee camp can go back to their country to relieve Kenya of the burden of hosting them,” he said.
“Surrender is therefore not an option for us because if we leave Somalia, anarchy will set in which will spill over the borders.”

Kenyan forces’ next target in Somalia is the port city and al Shabab stronghold Kismayo, which they hope to take by August.