SOUTH Africa may well be regretting that instead of extending Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir a VIP airport welcome for the African Union (AU) summit last week, they should have refused him entry altogether.
BY CONWAY TUTANI
Al-Bashir didn’t reckon with an independent judiciary in South Africa where the separation of powers is largely, if not strictly, observed and respected unlike in Sudan where he rides roughshod over State institutions, where he is the lord of lords.
The Sudanese dictator did not leave South Africa in the same way he arrived — he “escaped” via the back door. It was a scramble as opposed to a dignified departure. He made a break for it.
He could not risk tempting fate by staying any longer after South African judges ordered him to remain in the country pending their ruling over whether he should be arrested on an International Criminal Court (ICC) warrant for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity back home in Sudan and be flown straight to The Hague to face the music.
Al-Bashir finally made it home and his bravado resurfaced. Despots can’t resist a show of boldness intended to impress as if nothing has happened. But that bravado was nowhere in sight when he dashed out of South Africa.
He will certainly think twice and hard about ever travelling again to countries with a modicum of the rule of law. Otherwise, it could be a one-way trip to The Hague.
But congratulations to the South African judiciary for playing its constitutional role without fear or favour. It’s no surprise really because South Africa has an illustrious record of judicial independence.
So it was really disappointing to hear ANC senior official Gwede Mantashe pusillanimously say that the ICC was “no longer useful”.
It was not the fault of the ICC, but that of the ruling ANC itself that a political hot potato like al-Bashir had landed in a country with a vibrant democracy where he would inevitably be subjected to intense scrutiny and more. But it’s a different story altogether on the other side of the Limpopo — I digress.
And those attacking the South African judges for barring al-Bashir from leaving as pandering to a foreign imperialist and racist agenda ought to be reminded that the process of globalisation is increasingly intertwining the legal systems of all nations.
In December 1998, Britain’s highest court ruled that former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet could face extradition to Spain on charges of genocide, murder and torture committed during his 17-year rule.
Amnesty International lawyer Geoffrey Bindman described it as the “most important case in human rights law this century”. The ruling stands as a landmark in international law.
World football governing body Fifa president Sepp Blatter decided not to travel from his native Switzerland to New Zealand for the Under-20 World Cup final tomorrow for fear of arrest over massive corruption at Fifa unearthed by United States investigators. Here we are talking of three different jurisdictions.
So, there is nothing imperialistic and racist behind the ICC move against al-Bashir as some would have it. There is nothing like some grand conspiracy against African heads of state per se.
Let’s debunk that conspiracy theory for what it is — a convenient and deceiving lie.
The bare fact is that al-Bashir pursues his victims at home mercilessly and relentlessly. Now it was his turn to be pursued.
The pursuer became the pursued. The tables were turned. Who could ever imagine that such an unreconstructed dictator would make himself scarce, do a disappearing act, vamoose like that?
This has to be raised because despots — not just African ones — are, by DNA, arrogant and contemptuous and think nothing will ever touch them. But when that eventually happens, they are completely caught by surprise. And if they don’t flee in time, they almost always come to an unceremonious, bloody end.
Let’s get a sense of perspective. Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his equally despotic wife Elena were summarily executed by their own people in 1989. So was Italian despot Benito Mussolini in 1945, ditto Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. The AU may protect dictators from the ICC, but can it do so from the anger of their own people?
Enraged people will dispense with diplomatic niceties that have paralysed the AU.
They will take the regime by the scruff of the neck and give it a good shaking as ineffectual bodies like the AU and Sadc watch like bewildered spectators with the same bemused look as that on Foreign Affairs minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi’s face when a Nigerian journalist doorstepped President Robert Mugabe soon after the inauguration of Muhammadu Buhari and asked him “politically incorrect” questions last month.
The AU and Sadc need to be more of facilitators than obstacles. Didn’t Sadc incubate the political and socio-economic crisis in Zimbabwe?
For too long, the AU has been tip-toeing through diplomatic niceties as people’s rights were trampled upon and they were massacred at the hands of their own leaders.
The least the AU can do is to be as much a stickler for the people’s rights as it is for diplomatic immunity for thoroughly discredited heads of state.
Despots like al-Bashir are mostly being held to account for atrocities on their own countrymen and countrywomen. Invariably, these leaders who are most vocal against the ICC are not popular at home, with many of them hated with a passion by their own people whom they regard as mere subjects.
For instance, although al-Bashir won the presidential election in April with 90% of the vote, only 46% of the electorate voted as most of the Sudanese heeded opposition calls for a boycott against the sham polls.
When his own people are that fed up with him, on what basis should outsiders come to his spirited defence?
The ICC, by its mere existence, also serves as an effective deterrent. While there will always be deviants like al-Bashir, deterrence is not a fantasy because more and more African leaders are taking the democracy route. It was one of Africa’s proudest moments when outgoing Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan stood side by side with not only his successor, but one from a rival political party, Buhari.
The AU certainly needs to change its narrative despite and in spite of the ICC. They need to put their house in order because when they point a finger at the ICC, two fingers will be pointing right back at them — including the fact that Africa currently holds the unenviable record of having half of the world’s longest-serving leaders, not to mention that those dictators, from their ill-gotten wealth, could individually write a cheque to fund the AU instead of hypocritically deploring outside funding of the bloc.
The drama in South Africa last week was worthwhile — it serves to warn tyrants worldwide that wherever they go, there will be fewer and fewer safe havens from the consequences of their crimes.
By the way, we are in the 21st Century.