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Macron’s Victory: 3 Lessons for the Young African

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Photo Credit: Reuters

“More and more are coming from the third world, taking advantage of our benefits. It’s a choice of civilization. I will be the president of those French who want to continue living in France as the French do.”

— Ms. Le Pen, at the rally in Marseille

Madame Joscelyne

I first came across the name “Le Pen” a decade and a half ago when I was an Advanced Level French student at Arundel School. My life then was one of complicated simplicity, one of pink, arched walls and well manicured lawns. Flap jacks and Sun Jam were a somehow a tea time treat. A typical day was punctuated by bells that chimed at 45-minute intervals and regimented by rules that mostly made little sense but were designed to teach us how to submit to authority – not unique training for the young African girl and the threshold of ‘adulthood’ – I use that term generously.

The woman who taught us French, Madame Joscelyne, was an icon of the institution – herself an old girl. To call her a teacher is to minimise her contribution to our view of the world. She didn’t teach. She influenced. She typified the school’s delicious contradictions well – an obsession with the rules and an equal obsession with rebelling against them. I loved this about her. Her trademark look was a sophisticated, foxy, silver bob – strands all perfectly in place) and khaki chinos – relaxed but uptight. She often regaled us with tales of how she used to play strip tennis as a boarder – bad. But she insisted on discipline, hard work and made us watch France 5  – good. She’d tell us that we would never marry the loves of our lives and that they’d somehow always get away – uncertain. Whenever she walked into the classroom, the scent of what I guess must have been Ermenegildo Zegna fell over the room like an unexpected shower of cold rain on an October afternoon – intoxicating and beautiful.

I chose to speak about “Le Racisme” in my final French oral exam. This was pursuant to a French class led by Madame Joscelyne where we explored the rise of the Front National in France and with it, the phenomenon that was Jean-Marie Le Pen. We talked about Le Pen’s desire to restrict immigration to France, his euroscepticism and his emphasis on traditional culture and values. We also looked at unrest on the part of the “banlieue” youths, mostly immigrants from Africa, who saw the French state as the enemy. We learnt that France has all kinds of suburbs, but the word for them, banlieues, had become pejorative, meaning slums dominated by immigrants. We tore the issue and its complexities apart and ruminated on possible solutions.

The school had a way of making us believe we were or could be the next leaders of the free world. Mrs Lutalo brought the French revolution to life and Killer Miller opened us up to a world of critiquing revisionist world history. Mrs Gould taught us to write English using the pens of our souls.

It was the best of times and it was the best of times.

The 2017 French Election

Fast forward to 2017. A lot has changed but nothing has changed.

In various parts of the world, including the United States and the United Kingdom, there has been a rise in far right politics characterised by nationalism, an anti-immigration sentiment and an attempt to halt the perceived “left wing” globalization project.

France, paradoxically, was not to be spared.

The 2017 French presidential election was held on 23 April and 7 May 2017. As no candidate won a majority in the first round on 23 April, a run-off was held between the top two candidates, Emmanuel Macron of En Marche! and Marine Le Pen of the Front National. Marion Anne Perrine “Marine” Le Pen is a French politician and lawyer. In addition to being the former president of the Front National, she is the youngest daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen. Marine Le Pen expelled her father from the party on the 20th of August 2015 after new controversial statements and found him marginalized in the French political landscape.

Macron won the 2017 French election by a decisive margin on 7 May 2017.

As the world is changing before our eyes and as young Africa, are we striving towards an ideal that is in crisis? Is it time to stop and take stock without any external prompting? Are we stuck between the rock of colonialism and the hard place of autocratic, corrupt, aged, post-colonial leadership? What are we to do?

What lessons can the young African who is curious about where Africa fits on the global stage draw from all this?

Lesson number 1: Youth is good – but it’s not enough to be young

One of the features of Macron’s presidential bid that has fascinated many is his youth. At 39, he will become the youngest President in French history and the youngest French head of state since Napoleon. From an African standpoint, this is a phenomenon to behold. As observed by David E Kiwuwa, an Associate Professor of International Studies at Princeton University, there is something unmistakably common in Africa: the continent’s ageing and long-serving presidents. Africa’s five longest presidencies stretch between 29 and 37 years, adding to a cumulative 169 years. Their longevity in office is matched by their old age, ranging from 71 to 93 years, and a combined 390 years.

Hastings Banda, Malawi’s self-proclaimed president for life, was in his late 90s when he was ousted from office in 1994. Gabon’s Omar Bongo had been president for a record 41 years in 2011 when he died in office at the age of 73. Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe is 93, making him the oldest leader in the world. As at 2015, Africa’s five longest presidencies were cumulatively 169 years. The average age of the 10 oldest presidents is 78.5, compared to 52 in the most developed countries.

Sitting next to these statistics are figures that show a clear youth bulge in Africa. According to a 2015 CNN report, 85% percent of Angolans were not born when Dos Santos came into power in 1979. 83% of Zimbabweans were born after Mugabe first came into power as prime minister in 1980, while 79% percent of Ugandans were born after Museveni took over power in 1986. On average, only between 15% to 21% of their citizens were alive when these presidents took the reins.

It is no surprise therefore, that most young people feel disconnected from their leaders who mostly hail from an era long past. The ageing face of African governance has led to spirited calls for the young to take over – somehow. This is valid. And hard to contest. However, being young alone is not enough to go the distance as the example of Macron shows. A former civil servant and investment banker, he studied philosophy at Paris Nanterre University, completed a Master’s of Public Affairs at Sciences Po, and graduated from the Ecole Nationale d’Administration in 2004. He worked as an Inspector of Finances in the Inspectorate General of Finances and then became an investment banker at Rothschild & Cie Banque. He joined active politics at 29 as a member of the Socialist Party. Macron was appointed as deputy secretary-general under Hollande’s first government in 2012. He was appointed Minister of Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs in 2014.

It is evident that Macron is not an ordinary 39 year old. If the young of Africa are to lead, we must be qualified to do so. We must join formal politics. We must acquire public service experience. We must learn that it’s important to start small – to be a councillor or Minister before we can aspire to be the President. We must study public affairs and attain a firm knowledge of the states that succeed and establish why they succeed. We must study philosophy so that when confronted with the hard questions on where Africa stands in a post-colonial world, we have a firm ideology that ensures we do not return to slavery – economic or political in the global arena. We must remember at all times that the ageing leaders we have currently were once young – we must not be a replication of young leadership that has no clear trajectory or plan for progress. We must learn from the mistakes of generations ahead of us, consolidate their gains and move decisively forward.

Youth is good but it is not enough to be young.

Lesson number 2: We cannot run away from Africa forever

A young African woman once said of her African country: dreams die here. The experience of the young person in Africa makes it easy to draw that conclusion. Unemployment, failing economies, hunger, broken public health systems, underdevelopment, disease, political violence, corruption, war, rigged elections and the absence of freedom, fairness and opportunity make the outside world an attractive prospect. African states are often in a position to give the young African just enough to enter and possibly succeed in the first world – a good command of English or French, sound secondary education and a dream for a better life. Leaving Africa to seek ‘greener pastures’ has become the African young person’s coping mechanism to deal with the lack of opportunity back home. But we must be honest with ourselves here: one man’s dream for a better life is another man’s immigration problem.

Immigration has become a strong election theme, the world over. Unrest and armed conflict in the Middle East have contributed to this but so has rising African emigration. We celebrate that Macron won the 2017 election but we must remember that the far right garnered approximately 35% of the vote. We cannot forget that Jean-Marie Le Pen’s goal was to build a vehicle for far-right politics in the post-Nazi era. Zack Beauchamp observes that the essential theory underpinning Le Pen was that while language about white racial superiority had been discredited, fear of difference in general had not. He capitalized on fears about immigration, which had been growing at an unprecedented rate after the war, particularly immigration from nonwhite, primarily Muslim countries like Algeria. In 1984, Le Pen famously warned that “Tomorrow the immigrants will move in with you, eat your soup, and they will sleep with your wife, your daughter, or your son.” Marine Le Pen in the 2017 Presidential debate for her part said “Just watch the interlopers from the world come and install themselves in our home. They want to transform France into a giant squat. But it’s up to the owner to decide who can come in. So, our first act will be to restore France’s frontiers.”

We may not agree with the rise of the far right agenda. However, we must not refuse to engage with it. Plainly put and this is difficult to swallow – the space or opportunity for young people to move abroad is becoming smaller and smaller. It may not be said outrightly – for to do so may be viewed as politically incorrect and possibly racist – but the reality is that a rising number of those who are nationals in the states in which we seek better lives feel we are unduly constraining their resources. The question that they surely ask is – why can’t these people fix their own countries instead of flooding ours? The answers are complex – ranging as they do from the warped legacy of colonialism to the impossible task of removing despotic leaders. We must choose to engage with the complexity and not run away from it.

For now, Macron has stalled the anti-immigration agenda to a degree. However, as the next generation that will govern African and hopefully take it into the future, we must budget for the day that we are openly told we are not welcome in countries that are not ours.

At some point, Africa’s young must stop giving excuses and accept that running away from the intricate problems is like chasing our shadows. The problems will follow us wherever we go – in one form or shape or the other. The African diaspora has an important role to play in rebuilding Africa. But we must always remember that Africa can only be built from the inside out and not from the outside in.

We cannot run away from Africa forever.

Lesson number 3: We must now think continent not just country

It is often said that we can go further together than alone. An interesting feature of Africa is how poorly integrated we are as a continent. There is a large intersection between our respective histories,  issues and problems as individual states but not enough unity of purpose on trade policy, conflict resolution, cultural exchange and general movement towards a rewarding and inspirational African project. This is not to say an African Union does not exist. It does. As the successor to the Organisation of African Unity, which was created in 1963 to eliminate the last vestiges of colonialism in Africa, the African Union came into existence in July 2002 at the Durban heads of state summit with the more focused goal of propelling African states towards peace and prosperity as the basis for achieving the ultimate goal of political and economic integration of its member states. The AU was modelled on the European Union with structures that included an Assembly of heads of state/government, an Executive in which countries were represented by their foreign ministers and the AU Commission which is the administrative branch made up of 10 commissioners and headed by a President.

However, the organization remains a white elephant and has not managed to quench the young African’s dream for progress on the continent – economically, politically, socially and culturally.

The example of Macron shows us that it is the responsibility of the young to reform the African Union project and to correct its weaknesses and ensure it works for everyone.

Macron discussed his plans for Europe at a private dinner party in March at the home of a French TV celebrity, attended by Belgium’s 41-year-old Prime Minister Charles Michel and Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, 44. “It was a moment for sharing our commitments on Europe,” Michel told Reuters of the dinner, which was kept secret until word leaked out in April. “In the coming months, we’re going to have to relaunch the European project … and for that we will need partners.”

By the same token, young Africans need to relaunch the African Union project. We need to see more and cheaper inter-Africa flights. We need to bridge the divide between Anglophone and Francophone Africa. We need to tear down our borders and ease migration. We need to optimize our trade model and be genuine about creating economies that work for more than just the political class. We must reconsider our relationship with international financial institutions. We must be wary of nouveau economic colonisers who may be glue in the short term but will turn out to be quicksand in the future. We need to build an African justice mechanism that is genuine about fighting impunity, crimes against humanity and war crimes on the continent. We need to ensure that our leaders hold each other to account – openly and honestly: the African way of silence has not served us well. We need to build the political will that will form the legs upon which all the high sounding declarations and treaties, conventions and protocols can finally stand and yield results. We need to move towards an economic culture of trade not aid – in the dire instances where aid is required, it must not be stolen and corruptly dealt with by the political class. We must stop ignoring and start confronting armed conflict on the continent starting with the DRC and South Sudan. We must invest in infrastructure and build for ourselves the lives we desperately seek when we travel abroad.

When young people move to seek political leadership of their nations, the African project must be high on the list of manifesto priorities.

The next generation of African leaders must think continent, not just country

Anything is possible

And so anything is possible.

As Africans, all too often we deny ourselves the luxury of dreaming. Macron, set up a political party one year ago. His wife was his teacher when he was a teenager and she’s 24 years his senior. Africa must be ready to defy convention and forge its own path if it is to succeed.

It may just be time for the young to to rebel against the authority of the old – clinging fast to African tradition and its lessons but also freeing ourselves from it where it no longer serves us.

Africa’s future is bright and it is young.

 

Of success and stigma: The dilemma of the African alpha female

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Thirty years ago, the notion of an African alpha female might have been unfathomable. Africa had generally done very little to overcome the traditional view of a woman’s role in society. In many African states, women were regarded as chattels to be inherited. They were given no formal education as their primary purpose in life was to be given out in marriage. Women, despite their age were considered to be forever under the control of either their husband or male relatives. Women and girls could not inherit or own property nor could they participate fully in public life or any decision-making within their immediate community. They had no right over the children they bore and were commonly the victims of domestic violence.

Today, with varying degrees of success, African countries have overcome the notion that a woman is a perpetual minor, with no capacity to make any decisions of her own. A number of superficial attempts have been made to project an image of gender equality through, for instance, forced quotas for female representation in Parliament, an appearance of access to education and the promulgation of anti-domestic violence legislation. More African women have made it to Oxbridge and Ivy League universities. More women are becoming law, medicine, architecture, engineering and accounting professionals. More women are employed in all sectors of the economy. We even have the odd African female president. Notwithstanding these apparent gains, huge remnants of Africa’s discriminatory past continue to haunt the modern African woman, worse so if she is an alpha female.

To illustrate the point, I take the example of the modern, black, Zimbabwean alpha female. She is well-educated, financially secure and intelligent. The usual charge of a gold-digger waiting to be rescued by an upwardly mobile man simply does not apply to her. She is more than able to fund her taste for the finer things in life. Due to her fierce work ethic ingrained in her from a very early age, she is fairly accomplished. Rising steadily through the ranks of her career ladder, she has all the hallmarks of a success story waiting to happen. She is the kick-ass female who gets things done.

However, she, at twenty-seven, is unmarried. [Insert loud gasps, looks of disdain and feelings of societal pity here.]

One of the biggest dilemmas that confronts her is that her parents will not let her move out of home. Apparently, for a woman to live alone is ‘taboo’ and emblematic of loose morals – “hazina hunhu”, so they say. The real explanation for the reluctance of Zimbabweans to allow a right-thinking, financially independent, adult woman to move out of home lies in the hangover from traditional African culture highlighted above: according to the precepts of African tradition, an African woman is a perpetual minor. Throughout her life, she is required to fall under the guardianship of her father until she is married. Upon marriage, her husband takes up the role of guardian. Curiously, African culture does not appear to accommodate that middle-of-the-road situation where a woman is no longer dependent on her father for her livelihood but has not found an appropriate suitor (should she be minded to do so). Society frowns upon her for being alone.

The difficulties surrounding such an approach are myriad. At twenty-seven, an African woman has the maturity of a mother who can run an entire household. Focusing on one’s career often means subordinating the need to get married for a time – either to find the right kind of African man (the type which is self-assured but won’t feel threatened by female success) or to ensure all career objectives are met by the appointed time the alpha female has set for herself. Constantly and from a young age, the African girl is told – by her parents, mentors and society – how boys are bad and that she should focus instead on school. Even upon completing high school, she is told that having a boyfriend is somewhat shameful. Yet upon reaching twenty-five, there is an inexplicable, unspoken 180 degree shift in attitude. She has to get married – and NOW. Today, if possible but by the end of this year will also do. [Insert  all manner of expletives here.]

To the African alpha female, such a proposition is contradictory and patently nonsensical: her career has taken off, she wants to travel and see the world, world domination has become her focus in life and she realizes that there is more to life than becoming little more than a domestic appendage to a man’s life. Her bucket list now includes getting a book published, giving a speech to over 10,000 people, parasailing, swimming under a waterfall, learning to play a musical instrument and touring Prague and Paris.

And all society can do is ask  – why are you not married? [Snore.]

Her dilemma does not end there.

Feminism is a dirty word in Africa: it conjures up notions of women who disrespect the patriarchy. You know, the type of woman who will report her husband to the police for domestic violence instead of apologizing for what ‘she did’ to prompt the abuse and undertaking to be more submissive in the future. [Sigh] As a general principle, the traditional African male prefers to be treated as a demi-god, does not like to be questioned and views a woman as part of his accumulated wealth – after all, he paid a healthy quantum of lobola (bride price) for this acquisition. For reasons that are self-evident, this mindset is illogical and unacceptable to the African alpha female. She is not a domestic servant, though she may love to cook and clean on her own terms. She knows better than to take instructions on how to live her life. She chooses not to act without first interrogating the merits of such action. In short, she is looking for a partner who edifies and complements her not a master to dominate her. She has no hang ups about a man taking the lead but he must be competent to do so. Unfortunately for the African alpha female, the man described here is an endangered species in Africa.

Too old to be unmarried but not old enough to move out of home, she faces the grand dilemma – should she give in to the pressure to get married or should she suffer the stigma of remaining the sad, unattached woman for whom African society has no respect?

Sadly, many African women do give in to the pressure to get married – all at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons – on everyone else’s terms but their own. They sacrifice their dreams and ambitions to appease society. Outmoded African attitudes towards women condition the alpha female out of the African professional woman, steering her instead to a strictly nurturing role rather than world domination.

Surely the time has come however to accept that marriage, in and of itself, is not an achievement or the route every woman must be forced to take? A woman deserves respect in her own right – and this should never depend on whether or not lobola (itself a sexist practice) has been paid for her.

“If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s. And guess what they might have planned for you? Not much.” Jim Rohn

Zuma, whites and being African: Has our culture gone to the dogs?

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The American dream is often described as the upwardly mobile ideal of having a good home in suburbia with a white picket fence and a dog playing in the garden. The African dream, on the other hand, has evaded any precise description. The reason for this is that Africa is complex. The continent’s uniformity cannot be exaggerated. It is best defined as a fusion of different experiences and diverse peoples. Colonialism, for its own part, threw a spanner into the works of what was originally, authentic African culture.

It is against this background that Jacob Zuma’s remarks, to the effect that Africans are corrupting their culture by copying ‘white’ behaviour, must be considered.

Speaking at a traditional event in the province of Kwazulu-Natal in his first public appearance since being re-elected the president of the African National Congress a week ago, Jacob Zuma controversially asserted that having a pet dog is not African. He further opined that black South Africans who buy a dog, take it for walks and to the vet are “copying” white culture. Mr Zuma’s office attempted to defend the remarks on the grounds that the message of his speech ‘was the need to decolonise the African mind post-liberation’.

The flaws in the South African president’s reasoning ought to be immediately evident: Were dogs brought to Africa by the colonialists? Do black people need to learn from white people that dogs require feeding? And exercise? Or to go to the vet? More importantly, what is African culture? Is it language? Surely not – if you put a Zimbabwean, an Egyptian and a Kenyan in the same room, chances are they will not speak the same language, unless they resort to the colonial fallback, English. Is African culture to do with food? That cannot be: most Zimbabweans would consider a Cameroonian dish consisting of yams and ‘pepe’ tortuous to eat. Likewise, most East Africans would find Zimbabwean food, say sadza nenyama, extremely bland for its lack of their usual oriental melange of spices. One cannot seriously contend that it has to do with dressing…just strolling through Sandton or the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront reveals that the clothes typically sold in South Africa are anything but ‘African’ in any perceived cultural sense. There is no such thing as a homogenous African traditional dress. The same Africans that reject mini-skirts as not being ‘African’ flock to the traditional reed dance in Swaziland to gawk at scantily dressed, topless Swazi girls in the name of – you guessed it – culture! Is polygamy African – let’s not even get started on that one.

And now for the saddest part:

Inherent in Zuma’s comment is the view that white people are not African. And that African culture is completely inconsistent with anything remotely linked to colonialism. Of course, this offends common sense in view of the numerous vestiges of “white culture” that dominate African life, especially in South Africa – the German cars, the Italian suits, the Irish whiskey, Swiss watches and the English language.

And so, to reduce African culture to a discussion on dog ownership is irreverent; and to allege that black people ‘copy’ white culture is desperate. Our culture is so much bigger than that. The mere fact that there is no agreement amongst African people as to whether they like to own dogs or not demonstrates that this aspect of human life (as is the case with most other things people carelessly define as ‘culture’) is too subjective to form the proper basis for what defines African culture. Accordingly, to define culture merely on racial grounds is misplaced. Black Americans and white Americans share the same culture – they are American. The same can be said, to a large extent, about black British people and white British people. This should apply with the same force to being African. A black Zimbabwean may have more in common, from a cultural perspective, with a white Zimbabwean than with a black Nigerian. It’s not to do with kinky hair or straight hair, light skin or dark skin. It is about identity – that unique factor that unites people, and not what divides them.

And so no, you will not be more African if you kick your dog.

Zuma is definitely in the dog house for this one.

Does Zuma’s Spear need protection? What is its main thrust? Should it stay up?

If you live in a country where to insult the President is a criminal offence, you cannot but stand in awe when you wake up one morning to images on the internet of Jacob Zuma, the President from across the pond, depicted in Lenin’s striking heroic pose with his genitals exposed. Humorous, shocking and offensive, the painting does precisely what its creator intended it to do – it provokes.

The painting by Brett Murray is entitled The Spear. This ‘work of art’ is a happy victim of the Streisand effect – it has been obscure since 2010 when Murray painted it but shot to stardom just a few days ago when the ANC’s public condemnation of the painting unwittingly brought widespread local, regional and international attention to it.

Sundry digs have been taken at the painting, from references to it hanging limply to questions about the piece’s main thrust. When analyzed carefully, however, the painting may actually be more than a trivial abuse of artistic licence. Curiously, there is no spear in the painting. A somewhat simplistic view might suggest that this is a phallic reference but a more convincing interpretation advanced by some critics is that the work’s title can be read as a knowing reach-back to the ANC’s armed wing during the apartheid era, Umkonto weSizwe, The Spear of the Nation. One could go further and suggest that the absence of a spear is an attempt to contend that the ANC as led by Zuma is no longer the spear of the nation. What might also come to mind is the famous illustration of Barack Obama in the Hope portrait, painted by Shepard Fairey in 2008 – is there any hope for Zuma’s South Africa or has his presidency been overshadowed by his ill-conceived domestic policy and sexual indiscretions in his personal life? Most noticeably, the painting draws from historical images of the late Soviet ruler, Vladimir Lenin – an apparent reference by Murray to Zuma’s socialism-in-miniature policies.

Trvial? Distasteful? A crude stereotype of African male sexuality? Culturally chauvinistic?

The painting may be all or none of these things yet one thing is certain: it calls for African men to carry out some serious introspection about their sexuality and the manner in which they treat women. While polygamy is acceptable in various African cultures, it is not a licence for men to treat women as they please. Zuma has treated women as disposable and replaceable. He has four wives, two exes and 22 children by ten different women. Zuma was also charged in 2005 with raping a struggle comrade’s daughter, but was later acquitted. He is hardly a role-model for young African men in a country and continent where HIV and AIDS are endemic. Zuma should not cry foul when society, whether through art, satire or in general conversation, point this out.

“As usual, the spear had no protection”, one satirical commentator jabbed.

What requires the most protection, is the right of citizens to express themselves freely, through art or otherwise,  in criticism of conduct they find demeaning or unacceptable and policies they feel should be changed.

If for this reason alone, The Spear should stay up.

The Charles Taylor verdict: A victory for karma, a loss for international criminal law?

I met Courtenay Griffiths QC in July 2009 when I was stationed at the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. My office so happened to be adjacent to that of the Charles Taylor defence team. Although not being tried by the International Criminal Court, the trial of the former Liberian President and warlord was being hosted in The Hague as opposed to the usual seat of the Special Court for Sierra Leone in Freetown due to security concerns.

A perpetual debate Courtenay and I would have, which we continue to discuss to this day, is whether international criminal justice is a genuine pursuit to end impunity in respect of the most heinous crimes that shock the conscience of humanity – or whether it is an instrument in the hands of western states to execute justice ‘a la carte’ against the enemies of powerful states, particularly those in Africa. It is often asked why the only defendants before the International Criminal Court are African and why war crimes committed in Iraq, Syria, Venezuela and the Middle East are never the subject of international criminal law – the major exception of course being those charged with international crimes committed in the early nineties in the former Yugoslavia by the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

Those, like Courtenay, who are generally opposed to the motives underlying international criminal justice take the view that the International Criminal Court and other UN-assisted international criminal tribunals have become a tool that western liberal democracies impose on developing country leaders with whom they have fallen out of political favour – in other words, a backdoor by which powerful states target their political enemies. The statistics would suggest that this is an attractive position to adopt – 100 per cent of the cases at the International Criminal Court relate to conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa.

But, let’s take the case of Charles Taylor.

After training as a guerilla fighter in Libya, he led the National Patriotic Front of Liberia which intiated the First Liberian Civil War. He gained control of a large portion of the country and became one of the most prominent warlords in Africa. He was elected president of Liberia in 1997. Opposition to his regime grew, culminating in the outbreak of the Second Liberian Civil War. Over a thousand civilians were killed during the conflict and thousands more were displaced from their homes. It is almost undisputed that Taylor commanded militia that were responsible for the atrocities and horrific acts of violence committed in Liberia. For these atrocities, one can argue with relative ease, that he was directly responsible and ought to have been found accountable. It is on this basis that most people have little difficulty with the prospect of Taylor facing a custodial sentence in the United Kingdom – but are these the offences for which Taylor was charged in the proceedings conducted in The Hague?

The short answer is no.

The charges Taylor faced before the Special Court for Sierra Leone had nothing to do with his conduct in Liberia. Rather, the charges were based on the assistance he provided to the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in their attempt to overthrow the Jospeh Momoh government. The resulting civil war lasted 11 years and left over 50,000 people dead. Crucially, Taylor never set foot in Sierra Leone. It is his participation in this conflict that resulted in his prosecution and conviction in The Hague.

Being an African and an international criminal lawyer – I am a staunch supporter of the international criminal justice project. However, international criminal law remains law and prosecutions of this nature need to be true to matters of principle. The difficulties that the prosecution faced in the Taylor trial were myriad:

1. The judgment rejects the overdrawn prosecution argument that Taylor and Forday Sankoh, the leader of the RUF “made common cause” in Libya to wage wars in West Africa.

2. The prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Sankoh took orders from Taylor or that Taylor participated in the planning of the invasion of Sierra Leone. In any event, the Special Court for Sierra Leone had no jurisdiction over the crime of aggression. The indictment period did not cover the origins of the war – the temporal jurisdiction of the court is from November 1996 to the end of the war in 2002.

3. The witnesses used by the prosecution, the majority of which adduced hearsay evidence, did not constitute the best evidence in respect of Taylor’s conduct. The person who could have most usefully testified that Sankoh took orders from Taylor would have been Sankoh himself but he died before the trial commenced. The court’s conclusion that the prosecution succeeded in proving that Taylor “aided and abetted” the crimes in Sierra Leone is controversial since Taylor had effectively eliminated key witnesses to that crime. It is alleged that Taylor caused the murder of Sam Bockarie, his key link to Sankoh and the RUF during the period of the indictment, in Liberia shortly after Bockarie was indicted. Johnny Paul Koroma, a notorious Sierra Leonean coup maker who also dealt intimately with Taylor, curiously disappeared. He was also allegedly murdered either in Liberia or Ivory Coast on Taylor’s orders after his indictment.

4. The prosecution’s reliance on the concept of joint criminal enterprise was ill-advised, given that the court had rejected the argument in successive judgments by the court. The prosecution argued that Taylor was in common purpose  with Sankoh to invade Sierra Leone and loot is diamond reserves, and that the RUF’s terror campaign was a direct result of this blood pact. Taylor’s Defence made no effort to deny Taylor’s support for the RUF, but it stated that “diamonds only financed the procurement of arms and ammunition” for the RUF between 1998 and 2001. The Defence contends that there was a “purely political motive” for Taylor’s support of the RUF war, which may be immoral but certainly not illegal in international law (since the law of aggression was not at issue).

Given these gaping holes in the case, should Charles Taylor have been convicted? This is obviously not an easy question to answer and the jury is still out on the matter.

Undoubtedly, few will be sorry to see Taylor locked up – if only for reasons of karmic retribution. He committed atrocities in Liberia and his case set an important precedent as far as ensuring heads of state are brought to account for war crimes and crimes against humanity. This is especially important in Africa where, too often, leaders are seen as being above the law and get away with murder – and much worse.

Having said that, to ensure that the legitimacy of international criminal law is not lost, we must remain cognisant of the danger of the political expediency factor and the degree to which international criminal law can be exploited for the benefit of the powerful. Some would go as far as to suggest that countries such as the US, China, and India who worry about the politicisation of the Office of the Prosecutor, and, by extension, the politicisation of the ICC are justified in so thinking. In some ways, the Taylor case lends credence to this view.

For the rest of us, however, the trial and conviction of Charles Taylor is an important step in the fight against impunity in Africa, particularly in respect of heads of state who often too large to fall within the grasp of domestic criminal law.

Occupy Africa? The AU in the ICU as US Special Forces hunt down the ‘spokesperson of God’

The death of Gaddafi in many ways showed the African Union (AU) to be weak and impotent. When the Libyan leader started shooting Libyan civilians, the regional body was silent. When NATO intervened to protect civilians and civilian protected areas following a mandate from the UN Security Council, the neocolonialism mantra went into overdrive. When he was shot dead in Libya, the AU’s silence was louder. The Libyan episode is deeply ironic because Gaddafi, during his tenure as Libya’s leader, called for the creation of an African military to defend Africa. Gaddafi’s vision was far-reaching, calling as it did for the establishment of a United States of Africa to rival the United States and the European Union. “We want a single currency. We want one African passport,” he declared. In theory, many Africans share this vision. Indeed, many of Africa’s statesmen and leaders paid lip service to it. The truth of the matter is that, in a continent ravaged by war, poverty and corruption, these ideals would prove impossible to achieve as more of Africa’s leaders sought to entrench their positions using violence and appropriating national resources for their personal use. The natural result has been war, war and more war.

Unsurprisingly therefore, all of the cases before the International Criminal Court (ICC) are from Africa, an unfortunate reality that has created tension between the Court and the AU. A notable case that the Court has attempted to prosecute relates to one Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Kony proclaims himself to be the “spokesperson of God” and a spirit medium, primarily of the Holy Spirit which the group believes can represent itself in many manifestations. Combining local religious beliefs, mysticism, traditional religion and Christianity, the LRA claims to be creating a theocratic state. It is accused of widespread human rights violations and breaches of international criminal law, including murder, abduction, enlisting child soldiers and sexual enslavement. The group operates in northern Uganda, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Central Africa. The AU neglects or refuses to condemn, prosecute, wage war against or otherwise censure the LRA. Innocent civilians die daily, women are raped every minute and children give up their innocence as armed conflict consumes their existence. Fellow Africans continue to go about their usual business as if nothing is going on.

American foreign policy chimes against this bleak background. At the early stages of his presidency, the Obama doctrine had been difficult to articulate. George Bush had made Obama’s job easier with his pugnacious approach to global politics. Calls for peace and a need to end the war in Iraq were a strong feature of Obama’s first campaign, leading many to believe erroneously that he would be anti-war. Various of his National Security Strategy documents abandoned the aggressive tone of a ‘war on terror’ and focused instead on a ‘network of hatred and evil.’ Obama, it was thought, heralded a new era, characterized by making peace with the world. Over the last year, Obama has learnt the art of war. He has overseen the US military play a key role in the killing of Osama Bin Laden and more recently regime change in Libya through the killing of Muammar Gaddafi. Most recently, he has stretched his tentacles over to Africa in a hundred-strong Special Forces mission designed to disband the LRA. Obama’s motives are unclear. Yet STILL, the AU is silent.

Admittedly, the LRA has committed atrocities and must definitely be disbanded, if not destroyed. But for how long will Africa’s leaders and its people look on as foreign missions carry out the all important task of peace building in Africa’s own backyard?

Gaddafi was bad, but his idea of an African military was not bad at all. Africa needs to protect itself against itself. Gaddafi is now dead while the AU languishes in the intensive care unit.

It’s not every generation that an African woman wins a Nobel Peace Prize ~ RIP Wangari Maathai

Maathai was a true force of nature – an environmentalist, feminist, politician, professor, rabble-rouser, human rights advocate and head of the Green Belt Movement. She will be fondly remembered for her contribution to sustainable development and human rights on the African continent. May her soul rest in eternal peace.

*  *  *

“African women in general need to know that it’s OK for them to be the way they are – to see the way they are as a strength, and to be liberated from fear and from silence.”

Wangari Maathai

Dear Zambia…A Thank-you note

Dear Zambia

Thank you for reminding the world that not all elections in Africa are accompanied by war, torture, vote-rigging, tribal violence and corruption.

No rebels, no drones, no mass violence, no sexual violence, no forced displacement, no repression, no media blackout, no military intervention, – ah, you’re such an inspiration.

That is all.

* * *

“Stand and sing of Zambia, proud and free,
Land of work and joy in unity,
Victors in the struggle for the right,
We have won freedom’s fight.
All one, strong and free.”

Why are we killing Brand Zimbabwe?

Zimbabwe used to have one of the strongest economies in Africa. However, foreign investors, multilateral institutions and states have become wary of investing in Zimbabwe which is in its third year of recovery from a decade-long recession sparked by the takeover of white-owned farms. While it is accepted that the land reform programme produced some of the effects it was intended for such as a handful of black-owned successful farms and the increase in small grain production by 163%, for the most part, the initiative was less than successful. Vast tracts of land remain derelict and the production of crops for export such as tobacco, coffee and tea have suffered. Tobacco production decreased by 43% from 2000 to 2009. The main every-day food for Zimbabweans, maize, has been reduced by 31%. The overall effect has been a cut in agricultural productivity which has led to the country’s negative GDP.

The land reform programme is now more or less complete with about 300 farmers remaining in the country. The indigenization agenda has since shifted to the mining sector. The first casualty of the new affirmative action policy is the platinum mining industry. Zimbabwe is the second biggest platinum-producing country in the world. Platinum group metals are mined mainly off the Great Dyke which runs through the centre of Zimbabwe. The biggest platinum-producing mining company in Zimbabwe is Zimplats which is a company incorporated in Guernsey (located in the British Isles) and as such, the main laws governing the corporate operations of the company are the laws of Guernsey. Zimplats is registered as a foreign company in Australia and is listed on the Australian Stock Exchange.

All these foreign dimensions to a critical mineral resource held by the country are enough to make any lay Zimbabwean a little uneasy. However, the recent government directive that all public companies must cede a 51 per cent stake to black Zimbabweans is equally unsettling.

Zimplats is owned by a South African company, Implats which first invested in Zimbabwe in 2001 when it bought 30 per cent of Zimbabwe Platinum Mines Ltd for the equivalent of $47 million and later took control of the company. It is now the biggest investor in Zimbabwean mining. The government is yet unclear as to how it intends to finance the shares it intends to appropriate. “It’s a very big risk for Zimplats and by extension Impala,” Piet Viljoen, chairman of RE:CM, which manages about 18 billion rand ($2.5 billion) of assets, said in an interview from Cape Town “If the government takes up to 50 percent of the company for no consideration it’s like giving away 50 percent of a valuable asset. It’s entirely possible.” To be fair, no sound corporate governance strategy would hand over shares for no consideration. The request offends common sense yet this may be the fate of many a foreign company.

In order to remain a viable economy, Zimbabwe needs foreign investment. Current development thinking criticises mere aid as a vehicle for economic growth. Why then are we chasing away much needed capital investors? While it is accepted that the ownership of resources needs to be equitable, the process adopted to achieve that result is just as important as the result itself. Why deprive 4000 black mineworkers of their jobs in the name of empowering them? Why chase a 10 billion dollar investor away when the economy needs us to court as much investment as possible? Why should such a rich country be so poor?

But most important of all, why are we killing Brand Zimbabwe?

Oh South Africa, please hold it together…

Most people silently hope that South Africa will not go the way of Zimbabwe. It is probably less likely that it will. However, recent events in the Southern African country are enough to make one a little nervous.

Earlier this week, police in South Africa used water cannons and stun grenades to quell supporters of the leader of the youth wing of the African National Congress, Julius Malema, who may face expulsion from the party in a power struggle with the country’s president, Jacob Zuma. Riot police closed streets near the ANC headquarters in central Johannesburg as vuvuzela-blowing Malema supporters tried to stop traffic. The burning of ANC flags, T-shirts and posters bearing the face of the president accompanied the violence. There has also been talk of possible land grabs and the seizure of mines for the benefit of ‘indigenous’ South Africans.

With the escalation of the Libyan conflict, the political and economic stagnation in Zimbabwe, instability in Nigeria and similar disquiet in various regions of Africa, South Africa is one of the few remaining beacons of hope.

Africa needs it to remain stable.

South Africa has the largest economy in Africa. The country is a member of the Group of 77 and chaired the organisation in 2006. It is also a member of the World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund, the G20 and the G8 + 5. In April 2011, South Africa formally joined the Brazil-Russia-India-China (BRICS) grouping of countries, identified by President Zuma as the country’s largest trading partners, and also the largest trading partners with Africa. All five BRICS member countries are on the UN Security Council; Brazil, India and South Africa as non-permanent members. Zuma asserted that BRICS member countries would also work with each other through the UN, the Group of Twenty (G20) and the India, Brazil South Africa (IBSA) forum.

In addition to being the largest economy, South Africa is also one of the most strategic countries in shaping foreign policy in Africa. It is one of the founding members of the African Union and has played a key role as a mediator in African conflicts over the last decade such as in Libya, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Comoros and Zimbabwe. Jacob Zuma was one of the only leaders who openly criticised Muammar Gaddafi’s attack on civilians at the start of the Libyan conflict this year and voted in favour of a no-fly zone over the North African country intended to protect civilians.

Although it has its own fair share of domestic problems, not least high unemployment, poverty, xenophobia and crime, South Africa remains an important power broker for Africa in a post-colonial world. Its demise would spell unmatched disaster for the entire region and fuel the Afro-pessimistic discourse.

One hopes the recent riots and political instability will pass and go down as isolated incidents in the growth and development of this young but vibrant democracy.

Morena boloka setjhaba sa heso,
O fedise dintwa le matshwenyeho,
O se boloke, O se boloke setjhaba sa heso,
Setjhaba sa, South Afrika — South Afrika.