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KENYA ON TRIAL: Truth, Justice and the Supreme Court

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Confronted on his excesses, abuses and disregard of rights of the people of France, Louis XVI responded, “L etat c’est moi”, “I am the State”. That was in 1715. Louis was tried by the people and executed. Four centuries later, Zaire’s Mobutu Seseko repeated Louis’ “royal liturgy” to a French journalist. Mobutu went further; he pronounced himself God. Mobutu fled and died in exile.

Entitlement is a malaise that afflicts absolute rulers. It thrives where law is what the ruler decrees it is; not the people, through their Courts. Where the peoples’ sovereign franchise prevails, and truth, justice and the rule of law governs the affairs of man, there is tranquility.

World attention today focuses on the Supreme Court of Kenya. The Court will, for the second time in a row, hear and rule on whether President Uhuru Kenyatta was validly elected for a second term. Just as in 2013, the suitor is former Prime Minister Raila Amolo Odinga. Raila says he has “given the Court a second chance to redeem itself.”

On 13th August, Raila protested the declaration of Uhuru as winner, accusing the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) of subverting the will of the people, not once, but for the third consecutive time and substituting it with the dictate of a minority ruling elite.

Having initially vowed not to contest it in Court, but rather through other means, he claims that a crackdown on human rights organizations expected to do that necessitated the change of tact.

What is Raila’s case? How did Kenya end up here? Is there cause for concern or alarm on the Court? Will the Court decide otherwise than before and with what consequences?

Case summary

The petition claims that “the Presidential Election was so badly conducted and marred with irregularities that it does not matter who won or was declared as the winner of the Presidential Election…Instead of giving effect to the sovereign will of the Kenyan people, the IEBC delivered preconceived and predetermined computer generated leaders.”

The IEBC is accused of interfering with the Kenya Integrated Elections Management System (KIEMS) and unilaterally disbanding the Elections Technology Advisory Committee (ETAC).

Whereas people voted, the IEBC did not count and tally the results. It adopted Joseph Stalin’s principle, “It is enough that the people know there was an election. The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.”

Evidence in support of the case is contained in a voluminous record of over 25,000 pages. The evidence supports 12 main issues.

The IEBC is accused of interfering with the Kenya Integrated Elections Management System (KIEMS) and unilaterally disbanding the Elections Technology Advisory Committee (ETAC).

KIEMS is a single unit electronic platform. It was intended to ensure that voters are biometrically identified, and polling results transmitted and declared in a simple, accurate, verifiable, secure, accountable and transparent manner. These tenets of a free and fair election are anchored in the Constitution and the 2017 amendments to the Elections Act.

It is alleged that the IEBC had, through a proxy, sought to declare unconstitutional the law that requires biometric voter identification and electronic transmission of results from polling stations to the Constituency Tallying Center and the National Tallying Center. The case was filed by a third party against the IEBC but through a lawyer who is on the advisory panel of the IEBC.

Though not determined at the time of the elections, Raila believes that the case was filed with the connivance of the IEBC to sabotage the integrated, electronic electoral management system. He claims that the manipulation of the system resulted in a permanent pre-set 11% margin between him and Uhuru. It is Raila’s position that the outcome of the case would, as did the manipulation of the system, countermand the requirement for finality of results declared at 290 Constituencies established under the Constitution.

The finality of Constituency results was affirmed by the Court of Appeal. It would remove the risk of rigging at the National Tallying Center as recommended by Judge Johann Kriegler in his report following the disputed 2007 elections.

The ETAC’s function was to advise on adoption and implementation of election technology. It entailed the participation of stakeholders, in this case, candidates and political parties in the elections. In a Judgement made on 15th June, 2017, the High Court held that the requirement for a professional audit of the voter register 6 months before the election was overtaken by events. The Court further declared unconstitutional, the law establishing ETAC.

It is Raila’s complaint that being a stakeholder he ought to have been notified of the proceedings leading to the disbandment of the ETAC and that the IEBC intentionally failed to defend the case properly. As a result, the disbandment compromised the transparency of IEBC’s preparation for the elections. The IEBC then monopolized the management of the electronic voter system to the exclusion of other players. This, it is claimed, enabled manipulation in the transmission of results that could not be independently verified.

The IEBC is also accused of intentionally supplementing its server on a private cloud. The decision was made contrary to advice from the Communications Authority of Kenya. KIEMS became vulnerable to intrusion and manipulation.

Raila claims that 2 days to the elections, the IEBC designated 11,000 polling stations outside 3-4 G network coverage. There was not sufficient notice or time for Raila to appoint his agents in those stations. Results from those stations account for over 7.7 million votes and cannot be verified in the manner prescribed by law and intended by KIEMS.

The IEBC is also accused of intentionally supplementing its server on a private cloud. The decision was made contrary to advice from the Communications Authority of Kenya. KIEMS became vulnerable to intrusion and manipulation. The murder of IEBC’s ICT Manager Chris Msando a few days to the election is claimed to have been planned. His password or information obtained from him were used to infiltrate KIEMS, create and relay computer generated results.

Uhuru is accused of unduly influencing and inducing voters with 2007/2008 post-election reparation payments, hurriedly launched projects and advertisement of his administration’s achievements. He is said to have intimidated voters in his campaigns with military deployments and outright threats on public servants. A widely publicized incident in Makueni where Chiefs were threatened is cited. Uhuru is alleged to have used state resources and State Officers, in particular Cabinet Secretaries, to actively solicit for votes contrary to law.

Raila’s agents are also said to have been ejected from polling stations in Central Kenya and Rift Valley. It is claimed that they were replaced by those procured by Uhuru’s Jubilee Party. Massive manipulation of results is claimed to have ensued as a result.

KIEMS was designed to transmit results from polling stations to the Constituency and the National Tallying Centers simultaneously with electronic images of Forms 34As. It would also enable electronic transmission of final results from the Constituency level to the National Tallying Center. Form 34A is the official declaration at the polling stations whilst Form 34B is for the Constituency declaration.

However, provisional results are alleged to have been transmitted from polling stations to the National Tallying Center, bypassing the Constituency Tallying Centers. The results were not accompanied by Forms 34A and 34B. The results were said to be provisional, again, in disregard of the Court of Appeal decision. 10,000 stations with 5 million votes were affected. The complaint by Raila is that this was a precursor to the rigging of the election in favour of Uhuru.

Further, the petition claims that scrutiny of spoilt and rejected votes would reveal that nearly 400,000 votes were deducted from Raila and added to Uhuru. It is alleged that the manipulation and doctoring of Forms 34A and 34B means another 7 million votes cannot be authenticated.

Raila states that the declaration of a winner was made prematurely in the absence of 11,883 supporting Forms 34A and 187 Forms 34B. 3.5 million votes are affected. He also wants the Supreme Court to go against the precedent it set in 2013 and have rejected votes, this time numbering 477,196 or 2.6% of votes cast, considered when ascertaining whether the Constitutional threshold of 50% plus 1 has been crossed.

The great trek

Kenya gained internal self-rule and political independence from the then British Empire 5 decades ago. The Union Jack quickly came down. The Kenyan flag was hoisted. Jomo Kenyatta was appointed Prime Minister by the colonial Governor-General and one year later declared President by parliament. The Lancaster Constitution did not provide a term limit for the Presidency. The leader of the dominant political party was appointed President by acclamation in periodic parliamentary elections, whose occurrence he controlled. Kenyatta being the leader of the Kenya National African National Union (KANU) party would rule for life, for 15 years. Kenyatta was succeeded by Daniel Arap Moi. Moi ruled for 24 years; 14 for life and 10 on a 5 year term.

In 2013, Raila challenged the election of Uhuru. The Supreme Court jettisoned all evidence before it. It then proceeded to dismiss the Petition, in reliance upon decisions from Nigeria, Gabon and Uganda.

The British had an elaborate law for periodic election of their Prime Minister back at home. They saw no need for the same in Kenya, or any of their former colonies which did not have established political systems in place. With the exception of India, which embraced democratic rule at inception, former British colonies suffered absolute leadership until after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the second liberation in the 1990s.

In the intervening period, a change in government in the Commonwealth was effected in two ways only; a coup or the natural or unnatural death of the President. Determinations by Courts on the legitimacy of the regimes were unheard of.

In Uganda, Judges declared unconstitutional the government of Idi Amin upon the overthrow of Milton Obote. They were killed on the same day. Whitehall often supported similar governments in the entire Commonwealth. Without periodic elections, there was no precedent for a Presidential Election Petition.

The clamor for change saw to the re-introduction of multi-party politics in 1992. Moi won the Presidential Election despite a determined opposition wave. A Petition by Kenneth Matiba was dismissed by the High Court and Court of Appeal without a hearing. The requirement for personal service upon Moi and signature of the Petition by Matiba, who could not because he was ill, were technical considerations relied upon by the Courts. A petition by Mwai Kibaki upon Moi’s re-election in 1997 suffered the same fate. The Courts had no semblance of independence. The President controlled the Courts. A Petition against his election was doomed to fail.

The 2003 election of Kibaki was not challenged in Court; it was not even disputed. Kibaki had defeated Uhuru with a landslide victory. Uhuru had largely been viewed as Moi’s project. The people had resolved to overrule Moi’s prophesy that the independence party, KANU, would rule Kenya for 100 years.

Kibaki’s re-election in 2007 was highly disputed. It is widely believed to have been stolen from Raila. Raila did not go to the Courts as they were controlled by the President. The post-election violence that ensued resulted in the unhappy marriage between Kibaki and Raila. One outstanding achievement of the Grand Coalition Government was the promulgation of the 2010 Constitution. An elaborate process for the period election of the President and determination of a dispute arising from the election was put in place. The Supreme Court was created specifically for this function, with a minimum of 5 and maximum of 7 Judges as quorum.

In the aftermath, radical changes in the Judiciary sent packing Court of Appeal Judges who presided over the Petitions by Matiba and Kibaki. This was a pointer to the Supreme Court that the issue of election of the President was not that simplistic and legalistic. It is one that must be considered on the wider public interest, to uphold the popular will of the people and the Constitution.

In 2013, Raila challenged the election of Uhuru. The Supreme Court jettisoned all evidence before it. It then proceeded to dismiss the Petition, in reliance upon decisions from Nigeria, Gabon and Uganda. These countries, unlike Kenya, had experienced the full brunt of authoritarian military rule. Their Courts could not be objective. In fact, this was the first time a Kenyan Court took refuge in decisions from such countries.

The 2013 decision set an unreasonably high standard and burden of proof. It was not different from Matiba and Kibaki earlier decisions. The legal fraternity in Kenya and worldwide has condemned, trashed and shelved it as bad law. The Supreme Court could be forgiven for arriving at the decision since the Constitution was nascent and barely 2 years old. The Court itself was only a year old. Though composed of highly learned minds, three of the Judges, including the President of the Court, were in their novitiate, having been appointed from outside of the Judiciary and with limited or no courtroom experience at all. This was their first election petition they were handling and were confounded by the magnitude of the exercise and perhaps scared of the consequences of their decision. They may have played safe and sacrificed truth, justice and the law.

This was their first election petition they were handling and were confounded by the magnitude of the exercise and perhaps scared of the consequences of their decision. They may have played safe and sacrificed truth, justice and the law.

The Supreme Court’s image has since then been dented by credibility concerns. Unconcluded investigations for bribery involving one of the Supreme Court Judges demonstrated that the Court was susceptible to manipulation and compromise. It does not better the case when two Senior Counsel who accused the Judge, as well as an Advocate who was alleged to have conveyed the bribe as well as the Judge’s Advocate, a senior counsel, will act together for some of the parties in the current Petition.

That thwarted attempts by President Kenyatta to have a final say in the appointment of the Chief Justice, who is the President of the Court, publicly played out during the retirement case for two of its Judges, both matters again involving the three Senior Counsel cannot be overlooked. In his election campaigns in Kisii, Uhuru recently stated that he had appointed their son the Chief Justice. The Judicial Service Commission quickly refuted this claim and reiterated its independence from the Presidency. It was too little too late. The damage had already been done and aspersions cast. There is therefore, profound merit in Raila’s call for redemption.

Collective success or failure of the Court

The 2017 Petition will be decided in a polarized setting. Both parties are on record, attacking the judiciary whenever a decision goes against them. Several Judges of the High Court and Court of Appeal recused themselves from pre-election cases. They did so out of fear or to escape the badge of bias.

A bench to hear the case by Raila’s coalition, seeking that the election be conducted solely on an electronic basis, the IEBC having failed to make regulations for a manual back was constituted of Judges outside the Constitutional Division of the High Court. The Presiding Judge, Odunga had been accused by Jubilee Party of being compromised to rule in favour of the opposition. The Judge and his other two colleagues in the Division would not feature in subsequent benches set up by the Chief Justice. At the Court of Appeal, three Judges recused themselves on account of their handling of previous electoral cases, real or perceived relations with some of the Advocates or the parties. The outcome is the same. It is an indicator that Courts could still be subject to accusations of manipulation from litigants.

The Supreme Court suffers a numerical disadvantage. It has 7 Judges, all of whom may sit, going by the precedent of 2013. Whereas 5 Judges constitute quorum, it is unlikely that the earlier precedent will be departed from. None can be recused on account of bias, compromise, relations or affiliations with the parties or their advocates. It is, however, troubling that most of these Judges share Advocates with the parties appearing in the petition. It is very untidy. Suspicions of possible bias and compromise cannot be dismissed. This calls for extra caution and vigilance.

There is a popular view that the Judges should declare their interests if any and possible conflict. The Judges should write their individual decisions. Indeed, that is the practice in the Commonwealth. It was the practice adopted by the Court of Appeal until recently, when it appears to have been abandoned. The only way to ensure judicial fidelity and interrogate judges’ Jurisprudential Quotient, is to test their individual decision-making abilities. They should not hide in the cocoon of collective success or failure. This conduct amounts to judicial laziness.

Repeat performance or improvement?

Approval and dismissal of merits of the petition is as varied as is the public support for Raila and Uhuru. Raila’s side perceive a strong case, better than the first one. Uhuru’s team consider the case much weaker. Viewed objectively, it is a case of desire for justice on the part of Raila and one of a sure win on the part of Uhuru. This is likely to play out in Court.

The 2017 Petition will be decided in a polarized setting. Both parties are on record, attacking the judiciary whenever a decision goes against them.

The only difference between a Presidential Election Petition and a National Assembly Election Petition is the volume. A Presidential Election is held in all 290 Constituencies. Intriguingly, the Petition must be heard and determined in 14 days. The other Petitions are heard and determined within 6 months.

The Supreme Court does not have the luxury of the High Court. It cannot recount, scrutinize and audit results from all 290 Constituencies. A decision must be based on pillars of “a free and a fair election”. International and national public policy must play a role also. The Supreme Court is empowered to depart from its previous decisions depending on the circumstances of the case or change in public policy. It is a delicate balance, but one that can be attained with a National Assembly Election Petition as a simulator.

Interference with KIEMS to transmit and project provisional results or to generate results contravened the Constitution. Such action would have gone against the decision of the Court of Appeal, in respect to the finality of results declared at the Constituency Tally Center. Publication of achievements, use of state resources and threats by a party to an election are election offences. Some of the State Officers are being investigated for possible prosecution. Uhuru’s election could be nullified on account of the election offences by his administration.

Massive inconsistencies and discrepancies of results in Forms 34A and 34B and in the IEBC portal could be indicative of manipulation towards a flawed electoral process. The 5 to 7 million votes claimed to have been affected is such a huge number that cannot be ignored. This limb of the case may be very strong on the fidelity of the electoral process. The demanded forensic examination of IEBC’s server and portal would establish whether there is a case. It remains to be seen how the Court will undertake a detailed examination of evidence within 14 days and order scrutiny and recount of votes to verify the numbers. If it does, the truth or falsity of Raila’s claim will unfold. The hasty announcement of the winner without the benefit of Forms 34B and before the completion of the tally, affecting over 3.5 million votes is a grave violation. The case seems to be strong on this limb.

The Supreme Court is not handicapped on precedent in the decision to be made. Resort to decisions from other countries alone is unnecessary. There are many locally decided cases that may be of guidance to the Court. Being a Court of law as well as public policy, numerous cases, not necessarily in respect to Presidential Election Petitions are available internationally and locally.

For example, the election of the Member of Parliament for Juja Constituency was challenged in the disputed 2007 General Election. The declared winner was the Chief Government whip for Kibaki’s wing in the Grand Coalition Government. Malpractices in the election mirrored those leveled against the election of Kibaki. The then Electoral Commission of Kenya was accused of subverting the popular will of the people and replacing it with a pre-determined choice of the ruling elite. The inconsistencies and manipulation of the declaration of results was so monumental that the election could not be sanitized by either a scrutiny or recount of the votes. The entire process was flawed. The election was therefore annulled.

The High Court pronounced itself thus; “One may ask why courts should hold an electoral body to a high standard in the performance of its duties. I think if there is any statutory body whose actions should be considered to be above the board and which should perform its duties to the required standard of integrity and probity, it should be the electoral commission. The electoral commission has a duty to inculcate and imbue confidence in the electorate that its process is transparent, free and fair.” Raila’s claim of manipulation of the entire electoral process would be based on principles set out in this decision. If the process is flawed, numbers or margin of difference between two candidates does not matter. The election may be invalidated without the need for scrutiny or recount of the votes.

 Of the election petitions subsequent to the 2013 elections that of Mathare Constituency attained distinction, in electoral law. The winner was from Raila’s Orange Democratic Movement. The loser, from Uhuru’s The National Alliance had been awarded the certificate. The High Court dismissed the petition. It held that results declared at the Constituency are not final and may be altered by the Chairman of the IEBC.

When called upon to review the issue, the Court of Appeal affirmed the finality of the declaration at the Constituency as the will of the people. The Court of Appeal held that it could not declare the claimant winner and directed that fresh election be held.

The dispute found its way to the Supreme Court. The decision by the Court came fast, crisp and sharp; “Apart from the priority attaching to the political and constitutional scheme for the election of representatives in governance agencies, the weight of the people’s franchise-interest is far too substantial to permit one official, or a couple of them, including the Returning Officer, unilaterally to undo the voters’ verdict, without having the matter resolved according to law, by the judicial organ of State.” The case supports Raila’s plea on finality of results declared at the Constituency level and fidelity of the process attendant to the declaration. It also buttresses the position in law that the IEBC cannot subvert the popular will of the people and replace it with that of a ruling elite.

That the petitioners in the two cases referred to won the by-elections that followed goes a long way to demonstrate how the electoral process can be subverted to defeat justice.

The complaint of use of State Officers and resources for campaign is one that Uhuru will be hard put to defend. It is well documented and publicly known. There is evidence in the Petition that the entire Government machinery from top bottom was deployed to campaign for Uhuru with threats to those perceived to rally behind the opposition. These events were concentrated within the campaign period and cannot be said to have been part and parcel of normal Government administrative duties.

The Public Officer Ethics Act and the Election Offences Act prohibit State Officers from engaging in politics, yet these Officers actively campaigned for Uhuru and defended their actions as part of Government business. Prohibited also is the advertisement of achievements for political gain. Raila has a strong case on this ground, supported by precedent.

The election of Moses Wetang’ula as Senator for Bungoma in 2013 was invalidated by the High Court. The decision was upheld by the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. The Courts found that the offences of bribery and voter treating had been proved and were sufficient to warrant the annulment of the election. In the words of the Supreme Court, “Moreover, we take judicial notice of the centrality of elections in the functioning of established governance bodies, as signaled by the Constitution in both general and specific terms. On that principle alone, a party found on fact to have befouled the electoral process, cannot maintain an argument that his or her offence may not be declared, save alongside that of other parties.” If Raila convinces the Court that Uhuru breached the law on the campaign trail, the Court could invalidate the election on the basis of this decision.

If Raila convinces the Court that Uhuru breached the law on the campaign trail, the Court could invalidate the election on the basis of this decision.

The case by Raila will have to be examined on the basis of these principles. If established, the Supreme Court would order a fresh election. The case could be dismissed if the evidence does not support the complaints before the Court.

The Austrian Court overturned results of election in which Alexander Van der Bellen narrowly beat far-right candidate Norbert Hofer for electoral malpractice. A South Korean court removed the President from office for abuse of office. The Brazilian senate impeached Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff for illegally manipulating government accounts. The Pakistan Supreme Court stripped the Prime Minister of his office, for corruption. Here in Kenya, former Deputy Chief Justice Nancy Baraza was removed from office for misbehaviour for merely pinching the nose of a security guard. The bar on integrity has been set high locally and internationally. The Court may be persuaded to use these out of court processes in arriving at a decision.

A majority of Kenyans feel that a minority ruling elite has since independence, acting through unlawful means, denied other regional and ethnic communities the legitimate opportunity to rule. That feeling may prevail, irrespective of whatever legally acceptable or meritorious outcome is to be made by the Court. It may be high time that a rotational presidency, on the basis of the 8 main regions or provinces Kenya was demarcated and administered from independence, is considered, if the law of winner takes it all will forever be used or abused.

The Supreme Court has many references for direction in determining whether the popular will of the people of Kenya was ousted. Its decision must be based, not only upon evidence and the law, but international and national public policy. “Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws”, said Plato. The Court must ensure that leaders act responsibly, without circumventing the law.

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Big Pharma and the Problem of Vaccine Apartheid

In this report on the TWN-Africa and ROAPE webinar on vaccine imperialism held last month, Cassandra Azumah writes that the unfolding vaccine apartheid which has left Africa with the lowest vaccination rates in the world is another depressing example of the profit and greed of Big Pharma facilitated by imperialist power.

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Big Pharma and the Problem of Vaccine Apartheid
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The webinar on ‘Vaccine Imperialism: Scientific Knowledge, Capacity and Production in Africa’ which took place on 5 August 5, 2021, was organized by the Review of African Political Economy (ROAPE) in partnership with the Third World Network-Africa (TWN-Africa). It explored the connections and interplay of Africa’s weak public health systems, the profit and greed of Big Pharma enabled by the governments of the industrialized Global North, and the Covid-19 pandemic from a political economy perspective. This report summarizes the main discussions held during the conference, including an overview of each of the main points discussed. The webinar was the first in a three-part series of webinars scheduled by the two organizations under the theme Africa, Climate Change and the Pandemic: interrelated crises and radical alternatives.

The format of the event involved keynote presentations from three speakers, a five-minute activist update on the COVID-19 situation from two African countries, and an interactive discussion with participants. Chaired by Farai Chipato, a Trebek Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Ottawa and ROAPE editor, the session included presentations from Rob Wallace, an evolutionary epidemiologist and public health geography expert at the Agroecology and Rural Economics Research Corps; Tetteh Hormeku, Head of Programmes at Third World Network-Africa (TWN-Africa) and Marlise Richter, a senior researcher at the Health Justice Initiative in South Africa.

The current state of the pandemic – Rob Wallace

Rob Wallace began the session by providing a global perspective on the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic. He presented data showing that though the total number of vaccinations are increasing, the percentage of people fully vaccinated is concentrated in the West. We are currently experiencing a third wave of the pandemic, which is being driven by the delta variant. Though the cases in Africa are relatively lower than in other parts of the world, it is still a marked increase from the first and second waves which were less severe. This is not the trajectory that was predicted for COVID-19 on the continent in the early days of the pandemic. Marius Gilbert et al had speculated that Africa would be vulnerable to the virus due to a lower public health capacity and underlying co-morbidities that might increase the spread and damage of the virus. However, the incidence of the virus has played out in a different way, Africa’s cases are not as high as that of other continents. The possible reasons that have been given for this are: demographics (a younger population), open housing (which allows greater ventilation), and an ongoing circulation of other types of coronaviruses which have induced a natural, partial immunity in the population.

Wallace also commented on herd immunity, stating that it is not a panacea for defeating the virus. He referenced a paper by Lewis Buss et al on COVID-19 herd immunity in the Brazilian Amazon which found that although 76% of the population had been infected with the virus by October 2020, they had not achieved herd immunity (which is usually estimated at 70-75%), and proliferation of the virus was ongoing. He pointed out that the key lesson from this study is that there is no magical threshold for herd immunity; it may be different for different populations or there may be no threshold at all.

Likewise, he contended that defeating COVID-19 has little to do with vaccination as a silver bullet, but much to do with governance and the wellbeing of the population being at the crux of any public health decisions a government would take. A multi-pronged approach should be taken to defeat the virus, one that includes vaccinations, wearing of masks, social distancing, and testing and tracing. He argued however, that in the neoliberal regimes of the industrialised North, dealing with COVID-19 is organized around profit.

This was not the case in the early days of the outbreak. Initially, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the US were in favour of having open medicine and making sure any pharmaceutical products produced to fight the virus were free to all. To this end, WHO developed the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP). However, the lobbying of Big Pharma and the likes of Bill Gates worked to centre the COVID-19 response around the model of intellectual property rights. This has had a considerable impact on the evolution of the virus, allowing it enough room to evolve such that pharmaceutical companies can make profits by selling booster shots of the vaccine. According to Wallace, this speaks to the “sociopathic nature” of the neoliberal regimes in the Global North who are willing to put the profits of Big Pharma over the lives of people. He opined that we need to act in solidarity to create a system in which disparities between the Global South and Global North are removed.

Health justice and the pandemic in South Africa – Marlise Richter

Marlise Richter’s presentation shed light on the work of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and the lessons that can be learnt from their struggles for access to medicines (in particular ARVs). She pointed out that the TRIPS agreement (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights – TRIPS – is a legal agreement between member states of the World Trade Organisation) had a big impact on how the HIV/AIDS epidemic was addressed, resulting in a limited number of ARVs reaching the Global South.

The HIV epidemic was particularly acute in South Africa, the number of people living with the virus ballooned from 160,000 in 1992 to over 4.2 million people by 2000. At this time, ARV’s had been developed but were unaffordable in Africa, costing up to US$10,000 a year in 1998.

The TAC used multiple strategies such as skilled legal advocacy, high quality research, social mobilization, demonstrations, and public education to fight the pharmaceutical industry and their abuse of intellectual property rights protections. It joined the case brought by the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association (PMA) against the South African government for allowing parallel importation of drugs in order to bring down prices of medicines. Its intervention contributed to pressuring the PMA to withdraw its claims in 2001. In addition, it applied pressure at the 13th International AIDS Conference in Durban in 2000 by staging a march to highlight the danger of President Mbeki’s AIDS denialism and demanded access to ARVs in Africa.

From 1999 onwards, the TAC also campaigned for a national prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. This case was won at the high court and precipitated a national ARV roll-out plan in April 2004. Finally, in 2002, TAC and the AIDS Law Project filed a complaint with the Competition Commission against GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Boehringer Ingelheim arguing that they violated the competition law by abusing their dominance in the market and charging excessive prices for ARVs. This forced the companies to reach a settlement in 2003 leading to a drastic cut in ARV prices. By employing these tactics, the TAC and other activists were able to transform both the national and global conversation on drug pricing, eventually leading to South Africa having the largest HIV treatment program globally and pharmaceutical companies reducing the prices of ARVs.

Following the success of the campaigns to provide access to ARVs in Africa, activists in the Global South fought for the Doha Declaration. The Doha Declaration waived some of the provisions in TRIPS in order to prevent public health crises and promote access to medicines for all. However, Richter commented that not many of these flexibilities have been used. She posits that this is due to immense political pressure from the West. The US in particular has singled out governments that seek to use the TRIPS flexibilities and placed them on the US Special 301 Watch List.

Returning to the present, Richter presented data that showed that on 3 August, there have been just under 200 million confirmed cases and over 4.2 million deaths of COVID-19. 28.6% of the world’s population has received at least one dose of the vaccine with 14.8% fully vaccinated. But to give a sense of the disparity in vaccine administration across the world, she indicated that 4.21 billion doses have been administered globally with 38.67 million administered daily, but in low-income countries only 1.1% of people have received at least one dose. Narrowing it down to Africa, only 1.58% of the population has been fully vaccinated. This variance in administered vaccines is also present across the continent. In July 2021, Morocco had 28.9% of its population fully vaccinated, Botswana and South Africa had 5.3% and 5% of their populations fully vaccinated, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo had 0%. These incongruities are also evident when we assess the number of vaccines promised against vaccines delivered, with South Africa receiving only 26% of the vaccines promised. Continuing at the current pace, it would take South Africa two years and three months just to vaccinate 67% of its population.

Richter quoted the WHO Director-General saying, “The world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure – and the price of this failure will be paid with lives and livelihoods in the world’s poorest countries.” Following from this, she believes that it makes ethical sense and public health sense for vaccines to be distributed equitably amongst the world’s population. In a bid to fight for vaccine equity, South Africa and India co-sponsored the TRIPS waiver in October 2020. If successful, this waiver will bring about flexibilities in the TRIPS agreement which would have an immense impact on the manufactured supplies of vaccines and other medical goods. For the waiver to be passed, a consensus amongst all member states of the WTO needs to be reached. While the waiver is supported by over 100 countries (predominantly in the Global South), it has been blocked most notably by the EU, Australia, Norway and Japan, countries which have enough vaccines to vaccinate their population many times over. Putting this into perspective, in January 2021 the EU had 3.5 vaccines per person and Canada had 9.6 vaccines per person, as compared to 0.2 vaccines per person in the African Union. By blocking this waiver, the industrialised North is further entrenching the extreme inequalities currently faced by the Global South.

Richter concluded her presentation by speaking on a recent development in South Africa, where Pfizer-BioNtech has recently signed a ‘fill and finish’ contract with the Biovac Institute. She claimed that while this is a first step in developing manufacturing capacity, it is not enough to achieve vaccine independence because it does not include the sharing of Pfizer-BioNtech’s technology or know-how. In addition, the ‘fill and finish’ approach does not address issues of security of supply, nor does it allow local manufacturers the freedom to make their own pricing decisions. She believes that if we start from the premise that health is a human right, as the TAC does, we will regard health equity and especially vaccine equity as essential in the struggle against the pandemic.

The political economy of the continuing fight against intellectual property rights negatively affecting public health goods in Africa – Tetteh Hormeku

Tetteh Hormeku’s presentation was centred around the challenges that African countries have confronted in the process of trying to develop their own pharmaceutical capacity. These challenges go beyond the struggles for the TRIPS waiver and include the impact of some of the choices governments have made. He focused on two interrelated points that frame the predicament of African countries in relation to the current vaccine situation:

1) The vaccine process is dominated by pharmaceutical Multinational Corporations (MNCs) based in the advanced industrial countries and supported by their governments. The controversy around the TRIPS waiver is a clear example of the extent to which advanced countries and their MNCs would like to hold on to their place in the international order.

2) On the non-existent domestic pharmaceutical capacity in African countries, Tetteh explained that he uses the phrase “domestic pharmaceutical capacity” because:

  • It does not include a subsidiary of an MNC signing a production agreement with a local African company.
  • The word ‘domestic’ combines both the local character of production and the fact that it is embedded within the nation, its challenges, people, drives and imperatives.
  • It does not refer to nations alone, but also to regional and continental initiatives.
  • It captures pharmaceutical capacity beyond the production of vaccines.

Tetteh provided the following case-study to show how these two points are interrelated. 24 February marked the first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines to Ghana, and there was an optimism that it would be the beginning of a steady supply of vaccines to the country – six months later, less than 2% of the population has been vaccinated. Around the time Ghana received this first shipment, it was in talks with the Cuban government for support on the transfer of technology to improve its pharmaceutical capacity.

This date in February also marked the anniversary of the overthrow of Kwame Nkrumah in 1966. Six months before the coup Nkrumah’s government had established a state pharmaceutical enterprise. After the coup, the military government tried to hand it over to Abbott Laboratories, an American pharmaceutical company, under such outrageous terms that the resulting backlash from the populace led to the abandonment of this plan.

The creation of a state-owned pharmaceutical enterprise in Ghana and in other African countries in the post-independence era was a reaction to colonial policies which deliberately curtailed the production of knowledge and science across the continent. The aim of developing a pharmaceutical industry domestically was to intervene on three levels:

  • Creating an industry with the technical know-how and the machinery to be able to participate in the production of pharmaceutical products.
  • Creating an industry which is linked to the process of developing and building knowledge and being at the frontiers of knowledge. This involved creating linkages with universities and scholars.
  • Making use of traditional sources of medical knowledge. The state pharmaceutical enterprise was in operation until the 1980s when due to the Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) it was privatized and unable to compete in the free market.

Tetteh pointed out that two lessons can be taken from this anecdote:

  • The government strongly intervened to ensure pharmaceutical production was linked to public procurement and public policy. The market for the product was guaranteed (army, public hospitals etc.).
  • The government intervened to ensure that certain medical products could not be imported into the country. These interventions were crucial in creating the legal and scientific conditions within which the state-owned enterprise thrived until the SAP period.

A key success of the state pharmaceutical enterprise was that it was able to bargain with Big Pharma on its own terms. At the time, Big Pharma needed to negotiate with the state pharmaceutical enterprise to produce their products locally since they had no access to the Ghanaian market. Although Ghana’s intellectual property rights regime replicated and mimicked some of the standards in the Global North, it was an indication of the amount of space countries in the Global South had to develop their own legislation with respect to intellectual property for public health. However, this option is no longer available to these countries. According to Tetteh, TRIPS inaugurated the monopoly that Big Pharma has over technical know-how for medical products. It has also enabled bio-piracy which allows Big Pharma to appropriate African traditional knowledge and patent it for themselves. In the 1990s, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) tried to create an African model law to enable a fight against bio-piracy but was unsuccessful.

The creation of a state-owned pharmaceutical enterprise in Ghana and in other African countries in the post-independence era was a reaction to colonial policies, which deliberately curtailed the production of knowledge and science across the continent

Tetteh noted that the current situation highlights the importance of getting the TRIPS waiver, as it is a starting point for building domestic pharmaceutical capacity. The waiver goes beyond just patents and encompasses a host of other intellectual property rights such as copyrights, and industrial design. It covers all the important bases for making medicines in a modern context. Looking back to the Doha Declaration, very few countries were able to make real changes to their laws in order to make use of the flexibilities. This was due in part to the entrenchment of TRIPS in other agreements such as AGOA (the African Growth and Opportunity Act) and the EPAs (Economic Partnership Agreements). However, importantly, there was no real commitment by African leaders to making these changes.

Tetteh argued that African leaders are not making the strategic choices that would eventually lead them to developing independent pharmaceutical industries. Suggesting that South-South cooperation is an avenue to address the current issues the continent faces, he argued that instead of using all their funds to buy vaccines, African countries could have allocated some funds to support phase three of Cuba’s vaccine trials. By doing this, they would have been able to negotiate for a consistent relationship in terms of knowledge exchange and the transfer of technology.

Updates on COVID-19 in Senegal and Kenya

Cheikh Tidiane Dieye provided an update on the COVID-19 situation in Senegal. The country recorded its first case of the virus in March 2020. Since then, the government has put in place measures such as curfews, travel restrictions and the banning of public gatherings to contain the spread of the disease. The Senegalese government did not enforce a lockdown because the country has a large informal sector which would have been negatively impacted by a lockdown.

Senegal is currently experiencing its third wave – driven by the delta variant. The total number of cases has increased significantly over the last year, moving from 9,805 cases and 195 deaths in July 2020 to 63,560 cases with 1,365 deaths as of July 2021. This increase in cases has taken a toll on the country as it does not have the healthcare infrastructure to deal with the virus caseload. The vaccination campaign was launched in February this year, with about 1.2 million doses received, 1.8% of the population fully vaccinated and 3% receiving their first dose.

He stated that Senegal is currently facing two issues:

  1. Lack of access to the vaccines. This is because the country does not have the means to purchase enough vaccines for its population and is currently relying on donations from COVAX. This has resulted in protracted waiting times for the vaccine. These waiting times can cause complications for vaccine administration, since there are people who have received the first dose but must wait for longer than the recommended time of eight weeks to receive their second dose.
  2. A significant part of the population is reluctant to receive vaccines and sensitization campaigns are proving ineffective.

He remarked on one key development in Senegal – the creation of a vaccine manufacturing plant funded by the World Bank, the US, and a few European countries. The plant is expected to produce 300 million doses a year, first of COVID-19 vaccines and then other types of vaccines against endemic diseases. This project will be implemented by the Institut Pasteur de Dakar which already produces yellow fever vaccines.

ROAPE’s Njuki Githethwa provided an update on the COVID-19 situation in Kenya. He mentioned that the delta variant has caused a surge in cases and deaths. There have been currently over 200,000 cases since the pandemic began with the total number of deaths at 4,000 at the end of July. He pointed out that this third wave is affecting the lower classes which were spared in the initial stages of the pandemic. Kenya has received 1.8 million doses of the vaccine, with about 1.7% of Kenyans vaccinated. He noted that if vaccinations continue at this pace, it will take over two years for Kenyans to be fully vaccinated.

A key success of the state pharmaceutical enterprise was that it was able to bargain with Big Pharma on its own terms. At the time, Big Pharma needed to negotiate with the state pharmaceutical enterprise to produce their products locally since they had no access to the Ghanaian market

According to Njuki, the disbursement of vaccines from the West is being portrayed as a symbol of charity, solidarity, and sympathy. This portrayal is underlain by the West positioning themselves as saints while vilifying other countries like India and China. He also mentioned that there is a class dynamic at play in Kenya regarding the distribution of vaccines. People in affluent areas have ease of access whereas the less privileged wait in long queues to get vaccinated. As a result, most of the population, including frontline workers, are yet to be vaccinated. Schools in the country reopened at the end of July, and only about 60% of teachers have been vaccinated. Njuki touched on the fact that there is an optimism that more vaccines are coming, however the government is not doing enough to sensitise the population. There is still a lot of misinformation and superstition surrounding the vaccines.

Moving beyond the state?

The discussion was further enriched by contributions from the participants. Gyekye Tanoh, for example, noted that in the past the presence of state pharmaceutical enterprises around the continent constituted an active and embodied interest. This influenced the way transnational pharmaceutical companies were able to negotiate, severely limiting their power. However, such a thing is not present today on the continent. In fact, a study from the McKinsey Institute pointed to the fact that the pharmaceutical industry has the highest markups in Africa, meaning that while the continent is not the biggest market, it is the most profitable region in the world. Currently, the interests of Big Pharma dominate, he asked, how do we begin to shift this? Is it time to look beyond the state as a leading agent for change? What can progressives do in this situation?

Senegal is currently experiencing its third wave – driven by the delta variant. The total number of cases has increased significantly over the last year, moving from 9,805 cases and 195 deaths in July 2020 to 63,560 cases with 1,365 deaths as of July 2021

In response to Gyekye’s question, Tetteh argued that he does not believe that it is time to look beyond the government. In the case of the pharmaceutical industry, the market is created by production and government procurement of pharmaceutical products. Real change cannot be realised without the involvement of the government and well thought out policies. But there is still a role for progressives. Activists need to mobilise and organize around broad paradigmatic changes and clear concrete policy choices that can be implemented in the immediate, medium, and long term.

Wallace added that the objectives of activists in the Global North should be to support the efforts of those in the Global South. This is especially important because COVID-19 is not the only virus that can cause real damage. We need to make structural changes that ensure the Global South is not at the mercy of the Global North whose economic model has contributed to the current situation.

Farai Chipato ended the session by thanking the speakers and participants for their contributions to the fruitful and important discussion. Chipato urged participants to join ROAPE and TWN-Africa for their two upcoming webinars: ‘Popular public health in Africa: lessons from history and Cuba’ and ‘Alternative strategies and politics for the Global South: climate-change and industrialisation.’

This article was originally published in the Review of African Political Economy (ROAPE) Journal. 

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Omissions of Inquiry: Kenya and the Limitations of Truth Commissions

Gabrielle Lynch provides a radical analysis of the mechanisms of transitional justice. Looking at the case of Kenya, Lynch argues that truth commissions which hope to achieve truth, justice and reconciliation also require ongoing political struggles, and substantive socio-economic and political change. While reconciliation and justice may be goals which truth commission can recommend, and sometimes contribute to, they cannot be expected to achieve them.

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In today’s world, it is almost expected that a truth commission will be introduced in the wake of conflict or a period of authoritarianism to try and consolidate a transition to democracy and peace. A truth commission generally understood – as per Priscilla Hayner – as a temporary state-sanctioned body that investigates a pattern of past abuse, engages ‘directly and broadly with the affected population, gathering information on their experiences’ and which aims to conclude with a public report.

The underlying idea is that societies need to confront and deal with unjust histories if they are to establish a qualitative break with that past. Proponents of modern truth commissions thus ‘look backwards’, not as interested historians, but as a way to ‘reach forwards.’ As Archbishop Desmond Tutu explained in his foreword to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report:

The other reason amnesia simply will not do is that the past refuses to lie down quietly. It has an uncanny habit of returning to haunt one … However painful the experience, the wounds of the past must not be allowed to fester. They must be opened. They must be cleansed. And balm must be poured on them, so they can heal. This is not to be obsessed with the past. It is to take care that the past is properly dealt with for the sake of the future.

Motivated by this desire to render the past ‘passed’ in the substantial sense of being ‘dead’ or ‘over and done with’, modern truth commissions dedicate most of their time to two activities: the holding of public hearings and production of a final report.

This is a relatively recent development. Early truth commissions did not hold public hearings and were largely fact-finding bodies. However, ever since the South African TRC of the 1990s, truth commissions have held hearings as a stage for various actors – victims, perpetrators, political parties, state institutions and so forth – to present their account of past wrongs. The underlying idea is that people will have a chance to speak and be heard, and thus regain their humanity; that a wider (and engaged) audience will bear witness to a new human rights-conscious regime; and the overview provided will feed into, and help legitimise, a final report. The latter in turn intended to record and acknowledge past wrongs and provide recommendations that can help to promote truth, justice and reconciliation.

However, while much hope is often placed, and much time and money expended, on truth commissions and their hearings and final reports, it is evident that these processes generally fall far short of ambitious goals and high expectations. But what explains this gap between aspiration and reality?

This is one of the questions that I address in a new book – Performances of Injustice: The politics of truth, justice and reconciliation in Kenya – which analyses several transitional justice mechanisms introduced following Kenya’s post-election violence of 2007/8 when over 1,000 people were killed and almost 700,000 were displaced.

This includes the establishment of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC). Significantly, the Commission’s mandate recognised that, while the 2007/8 post-election violence was triggered by a disputed election, it was fuelled by more deep-rooted problems.  In turn, the Commission was tasked with investigating a wide array of injustices – from state repression and causes of political violence to perceptions of economic marginalisation and irregular land acquisition – between Kenya’s independence in 1963 and the end of the post-election violence in February 2008.

Established through an Act of Parliament in 2008, and operational from 2009 to 2013, the TJRC sought to meet its mandate, in large part, by collecting statements (with over 40,000 collected in total), holding public and women’s hearings in 35 locations across the country and adversely mentioned person (AMP) hearings in western and Nairobi, and publishing a substantial final report that runs to over 2,000 pages.

Despite such achievements, the Commission was soon mired in controversy with calls for the chairman – who was soon linked to three injustices that the Commission was meant to investigate – to resign, while the public hearings attracted little media attention, and the final report is yet to be discussed in parliament let alone implemented.

The Kenyan experience highlights a range of lessons and insights. This includes the fact – as recently outlined in a piece for The Conversation – that transitional justice mechanisms are not ‘tools’ that can be introduced in different contexts with the same effect. Instead, their success (or failure) rests on their design, approach and personnel – all of which are incredibly difficult to get right – but also on their evaluation and reception, and thus on their broader contexts, which commissions have little or no control over.

However, the lessons that can be drawn go beyond reception and context and extend to the inherent shortcomings of such an approach.

First, while victims appreciate a chance to speak and be heard, the majority clearly submitted statements or memoranda or provided testimony in the hope that they would be heard and that some action would be taken to redress the injustices described. As one woman explained after a women’s hearing in Nakuru, she was glad that she had spoken and how, having told her story, the Commission would ‘come in and help.’

To be fair, the TJRC’s founders were aware of the inadequacies of speaking, which is why they included ‘justice’ in the title and gave the Commission powers to recommend further investigations, prosecutions, lustration (or a ban from holding public office), reparations and institutional and constitutional reforms.

However, on the question of whether recommendations would be implemented, the Commission rather naively relied on the TJRC Act (2008), which stipulated that ‘recommendations shall be implemented.’ However, such legal provisions proved insufficient. Amidst general scepticism about the Commission’s work, parliament amended the TJRC Act in December 2013 to ensure that the report needed to be considered by the National Assembly – something that is yet to happen.

Moreover, to document and acknowledge the truth requires that one hears from both victims and perpetrators. However, the latter often have little motivation, and much to lose, from telling the truth. This was evident in Kenya where, during the AMP hearings I attended, where I heard little that was new and not a single admission of personal responsibility or guilt. Instead, testimonies were characterised by five discursive strands of responsibility denied: denial through a transfer of responsibility, denial through a questioning of sources, denial through amnesia, denial through a reinterpretation of events and an assertion of victimhood, and denial that events constituted a wrongdoing. However, while AMPs denied responsibility, none denied that injustices had occurred. As a result, while the hearings provided little clarity on how and why a series of reported events may have occurred, they simultaneously drew attention to, and recognised, past injustice. In this way, they provided a public enactment of impunity: Kenya’s history was replete with injustice, but AMPs were unwilling to shoulder any responsibility for it.

This ongoing culture of impunity points to another issue, which is that – for most victims – injustices clearly do not belong to the past but to the present and future. The loss of a person or income, for example, often constitutes a course that now seems beyond reach – from the hardship that accompanies the loss of a wage earner to the diminished opportunities that stem from a child’s extended absence from school. However, the past also persists in other ways, from the injustices that never ended, such as gross inequalities or corruption, to fears of repetition and experiences of new injustice.

Unfortunately, the idea that one can ‘look backwards to reach forwards’ downplays the complex ways in which the past actually persists, and possible futures infringe on the present. This is problematic since it can encourage a situation where small changes dampen demands for more substantive reform. At the same time, it can facilitate a politicised assertion of closure that excludes those who do not buy into the absence of the past, the newness of the present, or the desirability of imagined futures and provides a resource to those who seek to present such ‘difficult people’ as untrusting, unreasonable and unpatriotic.

This is not to say that truth commissions are useless and should never be considered. On the contrary, many view speaking as better than silence, while the commission’s report provides a historical overview of injustice in Kenya and a range of recommendations that activists and politicians are using to lobby for justice and reform.

However, when introduced, truth commissions should be more aware of the importance of persuasive performances and how their initial reception and longer-term impact is shaped by broader socio-economic, political and historic contexts. Truth commissions also need to adopt a more complex understanding of the ways in which the past persists, and possible futures infringe on the present and avoid easy assertions of closure.

Ultimately, such ambitious goals as truth, justice and reconciliation require not Freudian ‘talk therapy’, although catharsis and psycho-social support are often appreciated, but an ongoing political struggle, and substantive socio-economic and political change, which something like a truth commission can recommend, and sometimes contribute to, but cannot be expected to achieve.

This article was first published in the Review of African political Economy (ROAPE).

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The African Union and the ICC: One Rule for Kings, another for the Plebs

The African Union complains that the International Criminal Court is biased only when an African head of state stands accused.

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During the five-year-long proceedings at the International Criminal Court (ICC) against former Ugandan rebel commander Dominic Ongwen, there was not a peep from the Ugandan government about the ICC’s bias against Africans.

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni did not show any such restraint towards the ICC when he was the chief guest at the April 2013 inauguration of then newly elected Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.

“I was one of those that supported the ICC because I abhor impunity. However, the usual opinionated and arrogant actors using their careless analysis have distorted the purpose of that institution,” Museveni said in his 9 April 2013 speech. The actors he made indirect reference to were unnamed Western countries.

Museveni accused those actors of using the ICC, “to install leaders of their choice in Africa and eliminate the ones they do not like.”

At the time Museveni spoke, Kenyatta and his deputy William Samoei Ruto were due to face trial at the ICC. The case against Kenyatta was terminated in March 2015 before trial hearings began. Ruto’s case was terminated in April 2016 after the prosecution had called its witnesses. In a majority decision, the judges said the case against Ruto and former journalist Joshua arap Sang had deteriorated so much that they could not determine Ruto’s and Sang’s innocence or guilt. The judges said the case deteriorated because of a campaign to intimidate and bribe witnesses.

No sense of irony

During the April 2013 inauguration of Kenyatta, Museveni exhibited no sense of irony when he accused unnamed actors of using the ICC to eliminate leaders they did not like. By the time Museveni was making his speech, his government had already debated and agreed to use the ICC as one way of “eliminating” its problems with the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel group in northern Uganda. In December 2003 Uganda formally asked the ICC to investigate the atrocities committed in northern Uganda.

Following that formal request, Uganda shared with the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) several years’ worth of recordings of the government’s intercepts of LRA radio communications. Together with those recordings, the government also gave the OTP the contemporaneous notes made of the intercepts. On top of that, the government also gave the OTP a list of 15 LRA leaders it believed were responsible for the atrocities committed in northern Uganda.

All this emerged during the course of Ongwen’s trial at the ICC for his role in atrocities committed between 2002 and 2005 in northern Uganda. Ongwen, a former LRA commander, was convicted of 61 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity in February this year and was sentenced to 25 years in prison in May. Ongwen is in the process of appealing against his conviction and sentence.

In his April 2013 speech, Museveni acknowledged that his government had cooperated with the ICC. “We only referred Joseph Kony of LRA to the ICC because he was operating outside Uganda. Otherwise, we would have handled him ourselves,” said Museveni. This statement is only partly true.

When in December 2003 Uganda formally requested the ICC to investigate the atrocities committed in northern Uganda, Kony was based in what is today South Sudan. But he was there with a small group of senior LRA commanders and other LRA members. During Ongwen’s trial, the court heard that by the time Uganda made its referral to the ICC, most of the LRA’s commanders and members had left the group’s rear bases in then southern Sudan and crossed the border back into northern Uganda. This is because Uganda had reached a deal with Sudan that allowed it to cross the border and attack the LRA’s rear bases. Uganda called this military offensive Operation Iron Fist.

African leaders protecting each other

The Ugandan government’s actions may seem contradictory but they fall well within the pattern African leaders have adopted when it comes to the ICC. Whenever there has been a case against an African president or deputy president at the ICC, this has been discussed at the African Union. As for ICC cases against other Africans, the African Union has not discussed them or passed resolutions on them, even if those cases involved former presidents or vice presidents. Despite its contradictory approach towards ICC matters, the African Union has not shied away from accusing the ICC of having an Africa bias.

Ever since, in July 2008, the OTP applied for an arrest warrant against then Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in connection with the atrocities committed in Sudan’s western region of Darfur, the ICC has been on the agenda of the regular African Union meetings of presidents and prime ministers. ICC pre-trial judges eventually issued two arrest warrants against al-Bashir in March 2009 and July 2010.

African heads of state and government usually meet twice a year as the summit of the AU. Between 2009 and 2020, at each of those summits, they passed resolutions on the ICC or they reaffirmed past resolutions on the matter and directed a ministerial committee to follow up on those resolutions. The resolutions African leaders have passed at these summits have called for the termination or deferral of cases at the ICC implicating serving heads of state or their deputies.

Despite its contradictory approach towards ICC matters, the African Union has not shied away from accusing the ICC of having an Africa bias.

None of the resolutions has mentioned any of the other cases that have come before the ICC such as the one against Laurent Gbagbo, Ivory Coast’s former president, or the one against Jean-Pierre Bemba, a former vice-president and senator of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The ICC has concluded the cases against Gbagbo and Bemba, acquitting both of them.

The African Union has not been the only critic of the Africa-bias in case selection at the ICC. Academics, lawyers and members of civil society have all criticised or highlighted this bias. But the African Union has been the loudest critic. And what the African Union has said on the issue has often been summarised to mean Africa is against the ICC.

Presidents have immunity, ok?

But this paring-down a complicated issue has blurred the African Union’s two-track approach in its relationship with the ICC. Whenever a head of state such as Sudan’s Omar al Bashir is the target of an arrest warrant, the African Union is strident in its criticism of the court. After al-Bashir was toppled from power in April 2019, his arrest warrants ceased to be the subject of AU resolutions.

Instead, the AU has now turned its focus on the issue of the immunity of heads of state and other senior government officials. Under the Rome Statute, head of state does not have immunity if that person is charged with a crime under that Statute. What’s more, the ICC regularly communicates with member states when the court has been informed that a person for whom there is an outstanding arrest warrant is traveling to those member states.

This was the case with al-Bashir when he was Sudan’s president. Some countries chose to ignore the ICC’s communication. Others advised al-Bashir not to travel to their country and risk arrest. And some have argued they could not arrest al-Bashir because he was in their country to attend an international meeting they were hosting and that, under international customary law, al-Bashir enjoyed immunity for the purpose of the meeting. This is what South Africa and Jordan argued when the issue of immunity for heads of state was litigated before the ICC.

The most recent AU summit resolution on the ICC was issued in February 2020. In it, AU member states are called on to “oppose” the ICC Appeals Chamber judgement in a case Jordan had filed. The resolution said the decision by the ICC Appeals Chamber was, “at variance with the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, customary international law and the AU Common Position.”

The judgement referred to in the AU resolution dealt with the question of whether Jordan, as an ICC member, should have arrested al-Bashir when he went to Jordan in March 2017 to attend a regular summit of the League of Arab States. The ICC Appeals Chambers was unanimous that Jordan should have arrested al-Bashir when he visited that country.

After al-Bashir was toppled from power in April 2019, his arrest warrants ceased to be the subject of AU resolutions.

The five-judge panel also agreed that customary international law gave heads of state immunity in certain circumstances such as immunity from another country’s jurisdiction. But the Appeals Chamber concluded that such immunity did not extend to executing ICC arrest warrants.

The AU’s call to oppose the ICC Appeals Chamber’s May 2019 judgement on Jordan ignores one thing: the AU made submissions to the Appeals Chamber before it reached its judgement. The AU made its submissions at the invitation of the Appeals Chamber. The AU’s chief lawyer, Namira Negm, led the team that argued its submission during the hearings on the Jordan case that were held between 10 and 14 September 2018.

In the February 2020 resolution, the AU also asked African members of the ICC to raise before the court’s membership issues that concern African states such as “the rights of the accused and the immunities of Heads of State and Government and other senior officials.” The resolution further asked African members to “propose necessary amendments to the Rome Statute within the ambit of the ongoing discussions on the reform of the ICC,” by its membership.

Making peace without al Bashir

One reason the AU gave against effecting the arrest warrants against al Bashir was that he was key to bringing peace to Sudan’s western region of Darfur. The AU was involved in negotiations for peace in Darfur, a process that has been on and off over the years. Ironically, once al-Bashir was removed from power in April 2019, the transitional authorities who replaced him were able to initiate and conclude peace deals on the Darfur conflict last year.

In August this year, the Cabinet in Sudan resolved to hand over al Bashir to the ICC in execution of the two arrest warrants against him. This is a significant step since the transitional government took office in 2019 and indicated that Sudanese authorities were considering reversing the previous position that al Bashir would not be handed over to the ICC. The next step is for the overall transitional authority in Sudan, the Sovereignty Council, to discuss the Cabinet decision and decide whether to endorse it.

Ignoring victims

The criticism levelled at the ICC that it is biased against Africa often ignores a key issue: the victims of conflict on the continent. When a conflict is at its peak, victims will receive emergency aid. The more prolonged a conflict becomes, the less aid victims receive. Rarely will such aid be from the victims’ government. And often that foreign-donated aid is all that victims of conflict can expect.

The perpetrators of the conflict that made them victims are rarely held to account for the atrocities they committed. Yet, victims live with the consequences of those atrocities for the rest of their lives. This was the constant refrain of the victims of the northern Uganda conflict who testified during the Ongwen trial.

The criticism levelled at the ICC that it is biased against Africa often ignores a key issue: the victims of conflict on the continent.

Women testified about their families rejecting them because they returned home with children they gave birth to while with the LRA. One person testified about having to change schools several times because teachers and students abused him when they found out he had been in the LRA. Another person testified about wanting to resume his education that was interrupted when he was abducted by the LRA but he did not earn enough to do that and also educate his children. So he has focused on educating his children.

These and other victim stories are rarely spoken about whenever the ICC is criticised of having an African bias.

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