Desmond Tutu cackles loudly, his distinctive laugh filling the room, words of wisdom at the tip of his tongue. Just recently, I feel Tutu has less to laugh about than usual. He has been the driving force behind condemnation regarding Africa’s appeal to either leave the ICC or to insist that African leaders who are in office do not need to appear before the court while leading their country.
He has said candidly and simply, “The ICC has been a powerful force for justice, peace and accountability not just in Africa, but around the world. Far from targeting Africa, it has served and protected Africa”. He argues the ICC is far from the ‘white man’s witch hunt’ as disgruntled African leaders are insisting.
The situation has arisen – driven strongly by Kenya – out of a desire for newly elected Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, to avoid appearing at the Hague while they are serving their time as heads of state.
The main argument has been ‘how can a head of state be expected to appear before the ICC? This has never happened before’. What everyone is potentially – or conveniently – forgetting under the haze of their rage is the pure absurdity that Kenyatta was elected in the first place.
Being sworn in as president is not a ‘get out of jail free card’. If anything, a trial by fire – or by ICC – is necessary at this time. Surely you wouldn’t want a potentially convicted criminal, responsible for mass deaths and inciting tribal violence, to be the man who sits in office and makes key decisions that will affect your country for years to come? Many have argued Kenyatta and Uhuru’s campaign to avoid the ICC is childish and, more importantly, a slap in the face of those who died during the post-election tribal violence in 2007. I must say, I wholeheartedly agree.
Tutu knows what he’s talking about when he speaks about operating with impunity and the need for some kind of accountability. He was a driving force behind the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) which sought to either punish or grant amnesty to those who had committed unspeakable hate crimes under the apartheid-era. While some remain critical of the TRC’s success or methodology, it can strongly be argued the TRC tirelessly negotiated a potentially explosive situation with the utmost tact and care. A true ‘African solution’ for an ‘African problem’.
But, times have changed, and the TRC model will not work for every country. It requires buy-in and support from a nation’s leadership. If a nation is lead by a tyrannical maniac, a process like the TRC will not be allowed to take place. Therefore, tyrannical maniacs need some kind of force – external to their country – that can intervene and point out their wayward ways and hand down warranted punishment. Hence, the argument in favor of the ICC.