Six years can, after all, be eternity in politics.
In 2009 the International Criminal Court (ICC) indicted then Sudanese dictator Omar Bashir for crimes against humanity and war crimes in the country’s western region of Darfur.
Bashir, then deeply entrenched in power in Khartoum, didn’t lose much sleep. In Africa, most of the other leaders rallied around him. Except for a brief inconvenience in June 2015, when he had to leave by a backdoor after an audacious South African judge ruled that he must remain in the country to face an ICC arrest warrant, his travels around Africa and the Middle East were free of such irritations. He hopped around, attending presidential inaugurations, and independence days, often to cheers from crowds and officials all too eager to stick it to “western imperialists”, whom they saw as the real powers using ICC to torment mostly Africans, while other genocidaires went untroubled.
The lowest moment for the ICC in Africa must have been between 2013 and early 2016 over its cases against Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta, and his deputy William Ruto.
The ICC brought cases against the two leaders, arising from their alleged role in the post-election atrocities of 2008 that left more than 1,000 people dead and 600,000 displaced from their homes. The charges against Uhuru were dropped in December 2014, and the case against Ruto terminated in April 2016.
Their cases though, galvanised mobilisation and denunciation in very dramatic ways. A fairly broad and complex alliance of pan-Africanists, nativists, Africanists, nationalists, radical intellectuals, and leftist and extreme conservative anti-globalists in Europe and North America, banded together and beat the ICC into a coma.
Yet, we are where we are today.
In Bashir’s case, his “mistake” was to lose power last April, in the face of unrelenting protests by street revolutionaries, and a military and Establishment that cut him loose, in order not to lose everything.
He’s been in jail since, now serving two years after being found guilty of corruption, receiving illegal gifts and possessing foreign currency.
Bashir’s political currency has been so devalued, it is worthless, and the Khartoum government, still battling an economic crisis and sanction, calculates — correctly — that it would be a very good deal trading him off for sanctions relief, a return of foreign investment, and donor goodwill. Still, it will still take many more months before Bashir is handed over — it at all.
However, the fact that Khartoum has even considered it, and that Africa has not broken out in massive howl of protest, indicates just how dramatically the ground has shifted.
There are many reasons, among them the fact that violence against unarmed civilians by extreme violent groups, unhinged militias, and state actors — as in South Sudan — have increased, along with displacement, and African states individually and collectively have been unable to stop or reverse the mayhem. There is now a little more acceptance for some international actors to fill the void and help halt the impunity.
Secondly, the Africa rising triumphalism that partly girded anti-ICC sentiment has dissipated. And, equally significant, the big tent anti-ICC coalition has fractured.
It was discredited by the failure of continental leadership to either create or beef up our own “African thing” with teeth to try our mass murderers.
Bashir would make for a good sacrificial lamb.
Charles Onyango-Obbo is curator of the “Wall of Great Africans” and publisher of explainer site Roguechiefs.com. [email protected]