Ethiopia’s AU chairmanship fails the Union, the host finding comfort in a few hardheaded ICC opponents

12 Oct

by Keffyalew Gebremedhin – Posted by The Ethiopia Observatory

As an Ethiopian, the name International Criminal Court (ICC) now automatically brings to my mind how disastrous these past five years have been to Ethiopia’s diplomacy. Perhaps because of the vanity of pure politics, lack of vision, or on account of the leaders’ personality traits, Ethiopian officials seem to ignore that our country has been occupying a unique position in Africa’s regional political and diplomatic history of the past half century.

The nearly four-decade history of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), which came into existence in 1963 and its marvellous achievements especially in the struggle against colonialism, was a living testimony to that. Thanks to the vision and indefatigable work of Emperor Haileselassie and his team that Ethiopia could be at the forefront in the OAU’s founding. Chief of this, its ability to bring to the table rival parties and interests from the different corners of Africa and the consequent agreement it forged that gave birth to the organization.

This outcome, i.e., Ethiopia’s untiring efforts and decisive role it played extremely pleased Africa. In recognizing that, in the final analysis and, without any hesitation, among others, Africa rewarded Ethiopia’s bridge-building efforts by proffering on Addis Abeba the honor and privilege of becoming OAU’s headquarters. With this, Ethiopia is also made custodian of the organization’s charter.

In the years ever since, often Ethiopian diplomacy took prudent positions within the OAU that helped advance the interests of Africa and, under difficult conditions, ensuring the regional organization’s continuity. Over time, this has created symbiotic relations between Ethiopia and the OAU and now the African Union (AU).

As a dividend this has brought respect and influence for our country and its diplomacy. It is on account of these achievements that today Addis Abeba has reportedly become the third city in the world, after New York and Geneva, by the size of resident foreign embassies, representation missions of international organizations and major non-governmental organizations, not to speak of those that have initiated diplomatic relations with Ethiopia through accreditation from neighboring countries.

Ethiopia’s self-defeating ICC diplomacy

For two reasons, I doubt if history could look back favorably at Ethiopia’s ICC policy of the past five years. More worrying is what adverse impact this would have on the AU itself going forward, as a regional organization.

Not that the AU would be perturbed by this, but this may in particular further weaken on one hand the relations between the region’s civil societies and the AU, and on the other the individual states and the their respective incipient civil societies – on account of the retreat of the already weak confidence. Recall that, when the Al-Bashir case came forth and seeing how the AU was handling this, in 2011 over 120 African civil society organizations disapproved in writing the position the AU took.

Firstly, the crisis began with Africa’s blind and irrational defense of Omar Al-Bashir, accused of, according to Court document, “as an indirect perpetrator, or as an indirect co-perpetrator, under article 25(3)(a) of the Statute. This artilce is applicable to a person, who “Commits such a crime [Individual criminal responsibility], whether as an individual, jointly with another or through another person, regardless of whether that other person is criminally responsible.” Recall that on Bahir’s s head hang two ICC indictments now and he is a fugitive from justice.

At the back of this quasi-Africa decision stand not more than five vocal leaders, manipulating this non-issue to protect themselves, since almost all of them have background as guerrilla movement leaders (Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia and Eritrea, Burundi). Their position, therefore, is self-serving and bogus.

In the case of Ethiopia, for instance, the TPLF – Ethiopia’s dominant ruling party – seized this as an opportunity to strengthen its ties with the sudanese leader by continually paying its gratitude to the to him for hosting the Front during its several years of the fight against Ethiopian government.

Already earlier than this has come the 2005 election, in which the TPLF has stolen the results and remained in power using guns and massacring about 200 protesters. Therefore, the TPLF leaders have long sorted out that they would court the Sudan as closest friend and their security buffer to ensure that Khartoum would not allow its territory to be used by armed Ethiopian opposition forces against the TPLF regime.

In this regard, as if Ethiopia were a mercenary state, the TPLF, in collusion with a few others, engaged in undercutting the ICC activities and its mandate in Africa. The argument in defense of Al-Bashir was constructed by Meles Zenawi, his top defender in the region – whose argument has Africa has just swallowed without properly digesting it to this day.

Of this, among other things, in an article entitled A diplomatic offensive in Sudanese president’s behalfThe Los Angeles Times on July 28, 2008 wrote that Meles Zenawi warned against a “single-minded pursuit of justice” that might hurt efforts to achieve peace in Darfur…Concern for justice should not trump concern for peace.”

In that regard, Meles used the example of Joseph Kony, the butcher of Uganda why he refused to sign peace accord. This he said was because of the ICC’s arrest warrant.

We have heard from Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn regurgitating the same argument, rather out of a sense of loyalty to his mentor – Meles, but not out of reasoning and the protection of the causes of justice or promotion of Ethiopia’s interests.

The fallacy of Meles’s logic is that Al-bashir has been responsible for the destruction in Darfur of an estimated 300,000 Sudanese lives. At the same time, while he has signed peace agreements a couple of times he still has not shown full commitment to honor them, were it not for the presence of the AU/UN peacekeeping forces. Therefore, while the world has been raising its voices against Al-Bashir, accusing him of genocide, Ethiopia has chosen to stake its reputation in defense of a person responsible for horrendous crimes against humanity.

In the case of Kenya, it is appreciated that they are trying to sort out how they could work with the Court. However, encouraged by Africa’s vacuous verbal attacks against the ICC, Kenyan leaders are now creating obstacles to the proceedings going forward. For instance, a day after Kenyatta requested the ICC to establish video link with his office for purposes of his trial, the next day he demanded that the ICC scrap the cases against him altogether. This is an insult to the victims’ memory and civilized humanity around the world.

The fact of the matter is that the case against Kenya’s leaders is referred to the ICC by Kenya’s inquiry commission. The people expect to see justice done on behalf of the over 1,400 who had lost their lives. It is cokeyed and an utter disregad of justice for the people of Kenya, when other African leaders demand on their behalf the charges against them to be dropped or transferred to Nairobi, where the victims would hardly find justice.

Secondly, this TPLF position on ICC is hardly in consonance with Ethiopia’s interests – especially the promotion of peace, development and justice, as professed in the country’s foreign policy. Its aim, the document states, is to promote good neighborly relations in the Horn region. With regard specifically to the Sudan, the policy document points out:

    The Sudan needs to attain durable peace and a development that would contribute importantly to the prevalence of peace and security in the Horn of Africa. If strong ties are built between Ethiopia and The Sudan, they will make a significant contribution to the stabilization and peaceful interdependence in the Horn of Africa.”

The question is peace at what price? How could the peace the TPLF foresees and tries to justify in the Sudan could be durable and stable, while it is taking the side of one party against the many others that have lost everything because of Al-Bashir’s policies? One could only be assured that this would not have realistic outcome, as we see it from the situation in that country and South Sudan, with whom Al-Bashir has reached numerous agreements and respected none of them.

All said and done, this lends credibility to the argument that the TPLF ICC position is fashioned in defense of its own leaders, who have committed many crimes in Ethiopia. Observers and Gambellan activists claim that in the crimes committed in early 2003 by TPLF forces, under shoot to kill order by Meles Zenawi, 424 Anuaks were massacred in Gambella. Is the TPLF telling the world that the victims’ families who are awaiting for justice would not deserve or do not exist?

AU’s headquarters country on the wrong gear

Although the problem between Africa and ICC started in 2008 and not under Ethiopian chairmanship, the policy attitude Addis Abeba has held is in total contradiction to its historical role and responsibility to the regional organization, as discussed above as the original driver in its foundation, its headquarters and custodian of the charter.

In the circumstances, what the TPLF has chosen to do is build self-serving arguments, as those Hailemariam has been carrying around. Frankly speaking, these have only caused a lot of embarrassments for Africa. The worst part of this situation is the use by others who are indicted by the ICC employing the argument Meles had provided them.

Accordingly, on the eve of the summit Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister and current chairman of the Executive Council of the African Union (AU) Tedros Adhanom opened on Friday October 11 AU foreign ministers’ meeting reading from a nine-page statement. It is supposed to be part of AU’s preparations for Saturday’s summit by the leaders. Unfortunately, his statement had nothing other than what his boss Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn told the 68th session of the UN General Assembly on September 25, 2013.

Most unfortunately, his statement comes a week after 300 Africans perished in the Italian shores around Lampedusa. Again Friday, there came news report that another boat with 250 Africans has capsized and already many deaths have occurred. All of the victims are Africans, mainly from Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia.

There is no other explanation for these deaths and the desperation that has caused them. These Africans are fleeing well-founded fears of persecution, dangers to their lives and hardships that bad politics, bad governance and total absence of accountability have been the underlying causes.

I had thought, as an intelligent person, the Ethiopian foreign minister would seek to respond to the many questions of national justice Africans have been denied of for long by African governments. Since Hailemariam’s “race hunting” accusation of the ICC, the last few months have witnessed lots of debates in different fora about the poisoned relations between a few African leaders as the main reason.

I had also expected that he would rightly identify all issues surrounding these troubled relations, seeing it as more of difficulty between the leaders and not the peoples of Africa. That he has not done, although Africa, in accordance with the AU Constitutive Act, especially its Article 4, has established common principles with the ICC’s statute.

Ethiopia, as a driving spirit behind the founding of the organization and as its current chairman, it should have played a more constructive role. That is the tradition of its diplomacy. It means that the AU was supposed to take the side of those that strive to eliminate those crimes and dangers to the peoples and the states of the region.

This situation, for which the leaders are now gathered in a summit meeting at Addis Abeba would not have been necessary, if Ethiopia had put itself in its usual position of facilitating the search for reasonable and concrete solutions, instead of under its chairmanship the AU finding itself as the sickest regional organization.

Following the conclusion of the foreign minister’s meeting in Addis Abeba Friday, we learn that African cooler heads have prevailed and the much-talked about mass withdrawal is not going to happen. Instead, those who were digging their noses for blood have been spared with facing compromises.


International media reports show that African leaders would tonight adopt the foreign ministers’ recommendation, requesting the ICC to postpone cases against the sitting heads of state.

It is a sorry story that shows that our leaders cannot think of better than disasters and tragedies. What would happen now is that these two leaders, Kenyatta and Al-Beshir, must ensure that they linger in power as long as they could, even employing corrupt and dangerous means. This is not justice to Africa and Africans.

The ICC must recognize that it is an institution that must see to it that the law is fully implemented. Along with the African masses, I implore the Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to remain steadfast and true to her own words. I recall that on October 12, 2012, shortly after she assumed her post, she told journalist Simon Alison, “Our mandate is to ensure accountability for those who bear the greatest responsibility for serious mass offences.”

By so doing, she would ensure justice to the victims. More importantly, she and her colleagues at the ICC would prevent this from occurring again, because these leaders would not seek to perpetuate themselves in office by any means.

Lest, Joseph Kony should see that all he needs to do is somehow seize power. When he does that, African leaders would turn around and ask the ICC and the international community to postpone the charges against him because the butcher is a sitting head of state.

One Response to “Ethiopia’s AU chairmanship fails the Union, the host finding comfort in a few hardheaded ICC opponents”

  1. Dessalegn Asfaw at 23:46 #

    You make the correct moral argument – no doubt about that.

    But leaving aside morality, African politicians have on the whole little incentive to subject themselves to the ICC or for that matter to any other third party entity or jurisdiction. In fact, the only reason they haven’t outright rejected the ICC until today is because of their difficulties in putting up a solid united front.

    Anyway, as you say, Africa faces the ICC too often, and that’s because its own justice systems don’t work. I’m afraid the ICC cannot replace them. And really, it should not. The change, in order to be genuine and permanent, needs to happen within Africa. An external policeman can help a small bit, but not fundamentally.


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