Impunity in Africa: From Al-Bashir to Zuma

Rhoda Kadalie says continent's leaders are past masters at shielding each other while blaming all their sins on colonialism

President Jacob Zuma has just created another national key point – Waterkloof Air Force Base – a port for criminal departures.

Visitor to the African Union Summit in Sandton, President Omar Al-Bashir, sought for arrest by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for years on allegations of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, fled SA through the front door in defiance of a warrant for his arrest. As a guest of the AU Summit, both he and Zuma might have forgotten that our government is a signatory to the ICC treaty.

Since 2002, this treaty obliges the State to bring “persons who commit such atrocities to justice, either in a court of law of the Republic in terms of its domestic laws where possible, pursuant to its international obligations to do so when the Republic became party to the Rome Statute...or in the event of the national prosecuting authority of the Republic declining or being unable to do so, in line with the principle of complementarity as contemplated in the Statute, in the [ICC]”.

But since racial and African loyalty trumps all else, the government let him slip out through Waterkloof – our new get-away pad for international war criminals. Lest we forget, Bashir was directly responsible for the War in Darfur in 2003, for mass scale genocide, ethnic cleansing, mass rape and the pillaging of villages in the South of Sudan. The war was particularly vicious not least because of ethnic rivalries.

The concentration of oil wells in the South made the conflict particularly brutal and the subsequent humanitarian crises deeply tragic. Images still remain deeply etched in our minds as we witnessed the displacement of more than 1.4 million people since then, and starving mothers and children emblazoned across our television screens.

Propped up by the Chinese government and his allies in Africa, Bashir has become brazen and acts with impunity, knowing that he can travel around the world with enough protection from some world leaders who have become equally immune to accountability. Many know that SA is a safe haven for them.

Remember dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam from Ethiopia, who killed between half a million to 2 million people, fled to Zimbabwe after having been found guilty of genocide. Haitian president Jean-Betrand Aristide received refuge from President Thabo Mbeki, despite ruling his country with an iron fist. He unashamedly lived the high life in exile, on South African taxpayers’ money. While the Dalai Lama is not welcome here, dictators are.

Zuma’s brazen defiance of the Constitution and the Pretoria High Court ruling obliged SA to arrest the Sudanese president. Failure to do so was just another example of his absolute disregard for the rule of law.

A signatory of the Rome Statute and the ICC Act of 2000, SA, nevertheless, granted Bashir diplomatic immunity, in effect undermining its own constitution and showing the international community ‘the finger.’ This statute, incorporated into South African law, obliges the police and security establishment of enforcing it. But our compliant police was obviously told at a very high level to ignore the court order, and true to form, allowed Bashir free passage back to Sudan.

Accustomed to flouting the rule of law and our constitutional order, Zuma allowed his brother in arms to escape. We are now told, “an investigation is underway to find out how Bashir was allowed to leave.” Our government really thinks we are stupid. As part of the charade, they now claim that they have appointed the honourable Minister of Security and Minister in the President’s office to investigate how the ‘escape’ happened.

Some AU spokesman had the cheek to claim that SA’s defiance of the ICC, is “Africa raising the bar” and fighting for a “fair court without an agenda to constipate the system.” Choice words. Accusing Europe and USA of more serious crimes, according to him and some members of the AU, the ICC has “ceased to be a just system” unless “crimes of aggression” are also defined as “international crimes under jurisdiction of ICC”. He also naively suggested that the “ICC should be the last court of resort” implying that other internal measures of justice be tried first.

African leaders are expert at shielding each other given that their stock in trade is to blame all their sins on colonialism. Their collective refusal to act accountably is forged by a deep sense of continental and cultural solidarity and entitlement for “having liberated” their ‘subjects’. While FIFA and SA, by implication, have been in the public eye for its involvement in corruption and bribery at a global level, one would have thought our government would at least come clean on Bashir. Not Zuma. The more corrupt, the deeper the respect.

Being in contempt of the Pretoria High Court Ruling and the ICC, is just another of the president’s transgressions. He collects them, like military medals. Such violation deserves arrest. Go ahead, I say.

Rhoda Kadalie