South Africa’s highest court spoke truth to power, while the ICC made a fool of itself as South Sudan declared a frosty peace.
As Africa sits astride the equator, the seasons offer the end of April as a time to reflect. In many parts of Africa, the harvest is starting to come in and a new planting season is about to begin. Political, social and economic developments this month provide excellent material for much reflection and are of much significance for the future.
Zuma’s Woes Continue
In March, South African President Jacob Zuma was the focus of attention because of Guptagate. This month, he has been hit by a new political storm. On March 31, the Constitutional Court of South Africa ruled that Zuma breached the constitution by ignoring a state order to repay some of the $16 million plus government funds used to spruce up his private residence. Apparently, a pool and an amphitheater were part of security features to protect the president.
Public Protector Thuli Madonsela did not quite agree and rapped Zuma on his knuckles. Mandonsela’s brilliant 52-page statement is a credit to her and to South Africa’s young democracy. She courageously asked Zuma to cough up costs “that do not relate to security, and which include Visitors’ Centre, the amphitheater, the cattle kraal and chicken run, the swimming pool.”
Zuma ignored Mandonsela’s order and all 11 of South Africa’s highest justices have held that he showed a “substantial disregard” for the constitutional power of the public protector. The court has held Mandonsela’s order to be legally binding and chided Zuma for not taking remedial action as directed. Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng caustically remarked: “In failing to comply with the remedial action, the president thus failed to uphold, comply and respect the constitution.”
This judgment sets another major precedent. It squashed the parliament’s resolution absolving Zuma and nullifying the findings of the public prosecutor. The court held that parliament had not only failed in its duty to hold the president to account, but also that its resolution was unconstitutional. Lawyers who love Latin would term this section of the judgment the locus classicus or the authoritative passage on the doctrines of separation of powers and rule of law.
The highest court in South Africa has made history. Rarely do courts in Africa or indeed anywhere in erstwhile colonies pass such bold judgments. There is a higher chance of getting struck by lightning six times while riding on a unicorn than of seeing an African head of state held to account by the judiciary of his country. As the justices declared, “constitutionalism‚ accountability and the rule of law constitute the sharp and mighty sword that stands ready to chop the ugly head of impunity off its stiffened neck.”
The ruling fired up South Africa’s opposition. Like sharks, they smelt blood. They had long seen Zuma perform Houdini acts, escaping the jaws of justice one scandal after another. Therefore, they launched impeachment proceedings against Zuma. Again, the president survived the impeachment vote. Zuma’s charm still works and the African National Congress (ANC) still supports him blindly. Yet he has been greatly damaged and it is unlikely he will wield the same power going forward.
Julius Malema, the firebrand boss of the Economic Freedom Fighters Party, has declared that his party is running out of patience and planning to remove the ANC from power with the “barrel of a gun.” Zuma’s government has promptly charged Malema with treason. This angry nation with anxieties of the past is on a knife’s edge, and it appears that things will get worse in South Africa before they get better.
Kenya and the International Criminal Court
Kenya’s stormy marriage with the International Criminal Court (ICC) seems to be over. In a landmark majority ruling, the ICC has thrown out the cases against Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto and journalist Joshua Sang. The court ruled there was insufficient evidence but refused to acquit them. If new evidence comes up, the accused may face trial again. This is unlikely and, therefore, Ruto’s supporters celebrated wildly.
On March 13, 2015, the prosecutor dropped similar charges and terminated proceedings against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta. While giving the notice to withdraw charges, the prosecutor’s office accused Kenyatta’s government of refusing to hand over vital evidence. It claimed that witnesses had been “bribed and intimidated.” Kenyatta rallied nationalist support by claiming that the ICC was interfering in Kenya’s internal affairs.
The collapse of all cases against the accused after the disputed Kenyan elections of 2007 ends international efforts to pursue justice for victims of violence. Around 1,200 people were killed and more than half a million fled for their lives when a naked pursuit of power led rivals to ignite inter-ethnic clashes that spiraled out of control. Kenyatta and Ruto who are now united in government and against the ICC were rivals then.
Now, victims of violence and their families have no recourse to justice. They will never know the definitive truth or get any compensation. The collapse of cases has revealed the ICC to be weak and ineffective. Its credibility is in question. Louis Moreno Ocampo, the former prosecutor of the ICC, huffed, puffed and thumped his chest but was found wanting when Kenyan politicians called his bluff. His cross-examination of Kenyatta on September 29, 2011, revealed that he was clueless about the sociopolitical dynamics of Kenya. The ICC’s investigations were shoddy and it has proved itself to be an outfit of amateurs. It is in dire need of reform to salvage the little credibility it has left.
To add insult to injury, Kenyatta has already declared that no Kenyan would ever be hauled up in front of the ICC. He claimed that the court unfairly targets Africa and, apart from Georgia, the other eight nations facing trial are African states. Idriss Déby, the chairman of the African Union, agrees. He declared: “Elsewhere in the world, many things happen, many flagrant violations of human rights, but nobody cares.” Unsurprisingly, the African Union is backing the Kenyan proposal to revoke the Rome Statute and leave the ICC.
Most countries that have ratified the statute hail from Africa. As the US State Department website clearly says, “the US is not a party to the ICC’s statute.” Neither are China and Russia. The ICC increasingly reminds us of the ill-fated League of Nations that collapsed after World War I because most powers cared two hoots for it. If African states leave then the ICC might lose its raison d’être and implode.
Yet the ICC seems to serve a purpose for many. The idea of international criminal justice might hark back to colonial times, but it also has a draw for victims of violence in conflict-ridden or war-ravaged areas. In the words of Kenya’s Daily Nation, “Leaving the ICC with no credible mechanism for justice for mass crimes in sight would be an error of colossal proportions.”
Peace in South Sudan?
This month, the world’s youngest country, gained much needed good news. After two years of civil war, a peace agreement has been concluded. Riek Machar, the rebel leader, has returned to the capital, Juba. He has even been sworn in as vice-president in President Salva Kiir’s new unity government.
There is much irony in South Sudan’s peace deal. Machar has taken up the very same position he held before the civil war, which broke out when Kiir fired him. In the ensuing conflict, tens of thousands have been killed and about 2 million people have lost their homes. The economy has hit rock bottom. Kiir and Machar are now referring to each other as brothers. Unsurprisingly, their relations continue to be frosty.
In the midst of relief at some sort of peace dawning over the land, inconvenient questions keep nagging away. Was this bloodshed and wanton destruction necessary? Who is responsible for the tragedies that the people have suffered since the sacking of Machar in July 2013? Will this peace last or is it just a truce before conflict breaks out again?
Despite these questions, people of South Sudan can breathe a sigh of relief for now as the fighting, killing, raping and looting comes to a long awaited end.
As the Atlantic Council points out, African economies are being hit by a “perfect storm” of declining commodity prices and downturns in emerging economies. In particular, the economies of Angola, Nigeria and Zambia are suffering because of plummeting oil, copper, iron ore and platinum prices. Terms of trade for Sub-Saharan Africa have declined by 16%. Moody’s has downgraded Nigeria’s sovereign debt rating. Other African countries are at risk too.
Even Ghana’s economy is under stress. In 2015, the economy grew at its slowest pace in 20 years. Falling oil and gold prices are hobbling this African star. Last year, cocoa production dropped to its lowest in five years and continues to slump more this year. Government revenues are limited and inflation is rising.
Anthony Akoto Osei, a ranking member of the parliament’s finance committee, has declared that Ghana’s economic situation is similar to Greece but, unlike the Hellenic nation, it is unlikely to get a bailout. The Ghanaian government has resorted to heavy domestic borrowing, which is pushing up interest rates preposterously. Only Malawi has higher rates. The bank lending rate of 26% and microfinancing rates as high as 70% are killing local businesses and the general population. The International Monetary Fund is offering Ghana $1 billion of loans on the condition that it will reduce its budget deficit from 7.3% to 5.3%.
Even the Chinese who have long been investing heavily in Africa are not riding to the rescue. The dragon is no longer breathing fire and its economic model has run its course. The Middle Kingdom has scaled back its investment in Africa. It is also importing less than before. The fall in both price and quantity of exports is hurting African economies. Consequently, they are facing budget shortfalls, weakening currencies and falling economic growth. Clearly, much pain is in store ahead.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.