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Kenya’s Opaque Procurement Deals: The Case of G4S

13 min read.

The opaqueness of public procurement may be losing Kenya much needed tax revenues that would greatly ease the tax burden on ordinary Kenyans.

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Kenya’s Opaque Procurement Deals: The Case of G4S
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In 2016, ActionAid and Tax Justice Network reported that Kenya loses an estimated KSh100 billion (Currently US$1 = KSh110) annually to tax incentives – reductions in corporate income tax, customs duties or VAT ostensibly provided to encourage investment – that often benefit foreign corporations. This amount represented 5.8 per cent of that year’s KSh1.7-trillion government budget.

That same year, former head of the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) Philip Kinisu reported that Kenya loses about KSh600 million to corruption each year. At the time, this translated to about a third of the entire national budget. Earlier this year, the president said that over KSh2 billion is stolen every day from government coffers. Granted, this sparked quite the reaction on social media, but nobody really knows how much Kenya actually loses to graft. One of the main reasons for this is the opaqueness of public procurement.

For the government to provide services to the citizens of Kenya, it is at times necessary to contract with private entities to deliver goods or services. Indeed, the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Act (Procurement Act) of 2015 provides a framework for efficient procurement by public entities. Under this framework, it is crucial that such procurement is conducted or implemented in a transparent manner. This is especially crucial when dealing with foreign-registered companies. Some may remember the story of CMC Ravenna, the Italian company that filed for bankruptcy in its own country shortly after it had received a KSh15 billion down payment by the Kenyan government for the construction of Arror, Kimwarer and Itare dams. The total value of the three contracts was KSh150 billion.

In 2013, Washington, DC-based think tank Global Financial Integrity (GFI) estimated that the Kenyan government lost potential revenues of KSh97 billion for the year to trade misinvoicing of which KSh21 billion was attributed to uncollected corporate income tax. Meanwhile, Kenya’s budget has been steadily increasing from KSh2.2 trillion for the 2015/16 financial year to KSh3 trillion for the 2019/20 financial year. And of course, most of the tax burden falls on ordinary Kenyans and is supplemented by heavy borrowing, which citizens eventually have to pay for.

So, how is it that multinational corporations are able to siphon so much money out of the country? And why is it that our government keeps dealing with them? To answer this question, I looked into one well-known multinational company with a strong base of operations here in Kenya: G4S.

Public procurement transparency and the case of G4S

Why G4S, you ask? G4S, recently acquired by Allied Universal for £3.8 billion (Currently £1 = KSh150), is a giant global multinational corporation. The world’s largest security firm, it is active in over 90 countries across six continents. In 2019 it reported annual revenues of £7.8 billion, equivalent to 40 per cent of Kenya’s budget and about 60 per cent of the government’s projected tax revenues for the same year. This figure is expected to shoot up to £13.5 billion following the acquisition. In Africa, where it is the largest private employer, the firm reported revenues of £405 million in 2018, which is roughly equal to the Kenyan government’s entire allocation to the health sector that year. Their most lucrative operations on the continent were in South Africa and Kenya.

Half the company’s global subsidiaries are registered in tax havens — a red flag for tax avoidance — and its Kenyan subsidiary is almost wholly owned by a Dutch holding company. Despite this, G4S has been awarded several contracts by public entities in Kenya such as Kenya Power, the Ministry of Energy, and the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). All this, combined with the presence of two prominent politicians on G4S Kenya’s Board of Directors, makes it the perfect case study of why we need more transparency in public procurement.

Poor track record

The company has a poor track record in several of the countries in which it operates. In the United Kingdom where it has its headquarters, G4S was in 2011 contracted to run Birmingham Prison for a period of 15 years. However, halfway into the contract period, in 2018, the British government had to take back control of the prison following a rise in violence, substance abuse, and three self-inflicted deaths within an 18-month period. The company also came under fire in 2011 after a Kenyan asylum seeker died while in their custody, just a year after an Angolan deportee died after being held down by three G4S guards on a plane, with fellow passengers hearing him cry out: “I can’t breathe”.

In Jordan, all six United Nations agencies reportedly cancelled their contracts with the firm after human rights activists highlighted the firm’s complicity in “Israel’s grave violations of Palestinian rights and international law through its partnership with Israel’s police.” A 2019 assessment of G4S’s operations in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates led to Norway’s US$1.1 trillion wealth fund, the largest in the world, excluding the company from its investments because of “unacceptable risk that the company contributes to, or is responsible, for serious or systematic human rights violations”.

The company also came under fire in 2011 after a Kenyan asylum seeker died while in its custody.

In Africa, the company has been implicated in the use of violence, including electrocution and beatings, to subdue prisoners in South Africa’s Mangaung prison. Here in Kenya, G4S has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Some readers may remember the string of robberies back in 2011 that earned them the moniker “Gone in 40 Seconds”. In 2019, part of the KSh72 million cash in transit stolen from G4S by police impersonators was found buried in one of the perpetrators’ father-in-law’s backyard. A former employee was awarded KSh35 million in damages after being fired for rejecting the sexual advances of her superior. The company’s workers have repeatedly gone on strike due to low pay and inhumane working conditions. G4S security personnel beat up and caused grievous harm to refugees picketing outside UNHCR offices in Nairobi, and there have been accusations of G4S security personnel demanding bribes from refugees in Daadab seeking entry into the main UNHCR compound.

Government contracts

Yet despite all the negative publicity, the Kenyan government keeps entrusting G4S with taxpayer money through contracts that are not published in accordance with public procurement and access to information laws. In many jurisdictions, the principles of public accountability demand transparency in government spending, with very few exceptions, for example, on matters of national security.

Private companies in Kenya are legally entitled to a measure of confidentiality and the Access to Information Act does not expressly impose proactive disclosure obligations on private bodies. However, according to the Commission for Administrative Justice (the Ombudsman), “the requirements [of the Act] can be extended to private bodies that receive public resources and benefits, provide public services or [are] in possession of important public information”.

In any case, both Kenya’s Access to Information Act and a 2018 Executive Order from the President require all government agencies to “maintain and continuously update and publicise . . . complete information of all tenders awarded”.

Source: Executive Order No. 2 of 2018 – Procurement of public goods, works and services by public entities

Source: Executive Order No. 2 of 2018 – Procurement of public goods, works and services by public entities

At the very least, one would expect government entities to publish their tender adverts and awards on the public procurement information portal (PPIP), which was created for exactly that purpose. However, when I went to search for contracts awarded to G4S, I only found two published contracts – one of very low value and one that did not even indicate the contract amount.

Source: https://tenders.go.ke/website/Suppliers/SupplierDetails/7173

Source: https://tenders.go.ke/website/Suppliers/SupplierDetails/7173

If the news articles and press releases on their website are anything to go by, G4S does a substantial amount of business with the government of Kenya, so a search on the PPIP should have yielded more results. This definitely heightened my curiosity even more, so I went a step further and conducted a good ‘ole google search: “Government contracts awarded to G4S” – I used different variations of the same search phrase, and while I found more results, none of them appeared on the PPIP.

For example, Kenya Power, the state corporation in charge of distributing electricity, has been consistently publishing each month’s tender awards on their website since March 2018. They published two awards to G4S in December 2019 and March 2020 worth KSh2,693,520 and KSh117,302,726 respectively. This is one example of a public entity that meets the legal threshold of publication under section 138 of the Procurement Act and section 131 of its attendant Regulations of 2020. However, it is unclear whether failure to publish on the portal would attract any penalty. The Ombudsman, which has been mandated with enforcing the Access to Information Act, did not respond to my query on this issue.

Additionally, G4S reported on its website that the Ministry of Energy awarded them the contract to secure the Lake Turkana Wind Farm Project (LTWFP), Africa’s largest wind power project. The details and value of the contract are undisclosed and unpublished. There are also several internet search results indicating various direct contract awards to G4S Kenya between 2015 and 2019, but the links are broken. None of these contracts has been published on either the Procurement Portal or the Ministry’s website, which is the minimum requirement for publication.

G4S Contracts
The two internet search results below also indicate that the Ministry of Energy may have awarded at least two contracts to G4S Kenya in 2017 and 2018. As with the above however, the links are inaccessible. They are also not on the PPIP or the Ministry’s website.

G4S Contracts
When I sent an email to the Ministry of Energy requesting copies of documents containing information on the total number of contracts awarded by the Ministry of Energy to G4S Kenya Ltd or any of its affiliates between 2014 and 2019, the Ministry’s response was, “Please note that we do not have such documents.” A follow-up request was ignored.

G4S also reported being awarded a 2-year contract worth KSh81 million to store, secure and deliver laptops to 8,600 primary schools under the digital literacy programme through which the president had promised to issue each standard one pupil with a laptop. Again, this tender award was not published by the public entities involved. However, I dug further and found that the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) had published an article on their website indicating that they would be partnering with G4S and four other institutions to implement this project.

G4S’s role in this consortium was to distribute the devices to the schools. I wanted to understand how JKUAT, a public institution, arrived at the decision to contract G4S for this public project, and so I sent an information request to the corporate email indicated on their website. To their credit, I received an instant response from one Dr Ngonyo, directing me to the “directorate concerned who will be in a position to respond” to my enquiry. The email that I was given was not functional, and so I wrote him again, requesting an alternative email. Again, he replied instantly. This time, the email he shared did go through, but I have not received a response to date, not even an acknowledgement of receipt.

The digital literacy project ultimately fell short of expectations, with problems such as fewer devices being delivered than had been promised, lack of complementary infrastructure such as electricity, and inadequate ICT training of teachers. In the wake of COVID-19, the entire 2020 school year was cancelled, and public school pupils lacked the resources, or devices, to proceed with e-learning.

I also had the advantage of accessing a data leak from the Integrated Financial Management System (IFMIS), a financial management system that was rolled out by the government to enhance transparency and accountability in public procurement. The data showed that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) made payments of KSh5,548,930 to G4S between 2014 and 2017. These contracts have neither been published on the procurement portal nor in the IEBC’s reports. For instance, the IEBC’s annual report for the 2014/15 financial year included, on page 67, a list of all contracts fully executed between June 2014 and June 2015. There is no mention of contracts for the provision of security services, yet the IFMIS data shows that a total of KSh3,260,280 was paid to G4S between 28th October 2014 and 31st March 2015.

So what’s their secret?

As part of my research, I interviewed the operations manager of another established private security company operating in Kenya. Wishing to remain anonymous to protect the company’s business, my contact said that it is difficult to get government contracts, which are mostly awarded based on political connections. The manager indicated that many private security companies in Kenya are owned by ex-police officers and MPs, which gives them an advantage when bidding for government contracts.

I was unable to verify this information given that beneficial ownership disclosure was not legally required at the time of this investigation. This has recently changed, and companies had until 31st January 2021 to update their beneficial ownership information with the Registrar of Companies. However, by the time of this publication, it is not yet possible for citizens to submit beneficial ownership requests through the eCitizen platform. Companies have now been granted a grace period up to 31st July 2021 before the Registrar starts enforcing for non-compliance.

However, through the PPIP and the official companies search available on the eCitizen platform, I was able to determine that at least two politicians sit on G4S Kenya Limited’s board.

The first is Moody Awori, a 92-year old veteran politician who once served as Vice President under President Kibaki. He also served as MP for Funyala Constituency and as Minister of Home Affairs. He is credited with introducing prison reforms that improved conditions for inmates, but he was also implicated in the Anglo Leasing corruption scandal. According to his autobiography, Riding on a Tiger, Awori was appointed to the board of G4S, then Securicor Services, soon after it was registered in Kenya in 1963. In June 2021 he was still listed by the PPIP as one of the company’s directors.

1 Accessed from https://tenders.go.ke/SupplierDisplay on 24.06.2021

1. Accessed from https://tenders.go.ke/SupplierDisplay on 24.06.2021

According to former Permanent Secretary for Governance and Ethics John Githongo’s Anglo-Leasing report, the department of immigration was directly under Awori’s purview. He authorised a contract for printing of passports that was allegedly inflated to three times the cost. Even after a due diligence check by Mr Githongo and then Minister of Energy Hon. Kiraitu Murungi revealed that the contracted company did not exist, he authorised payments anyway. Awori still insisted he did no wrong and refused to resign from his position. At the time of this publication, the contents of the Anglo-Leasing report are the subject of a court dispute.

2. Excerpt from the Anglo Leasing Report

2. Excerpt from the Anglo Leasing Report

The second G4S Kenya director is John Matere Keriri, who was an active politician from the late 80s up until 2007. He was voted in as MP for Kirinyaga Central Constituency, formerly known as Kerugoya/Kutus Constituency in 1997, and was appointed as State House Comptroller by President Kibaki in 2002. Just before his dismissal from State House in 2004, he was approached by Dutch businessman Carlo van Wagenigen to assist with getting government approval for feasibility studies and government guarantees against financial risk for a business idea that would later become the Lake Turkana Wind Farm Project (LTWFP). According to Wagenigen’s account, his “good friend” Keriri set up a meeting with then Permanent Secretary for Energy Patrick Nyoike, who gave the green light for the project.

There is no mention of contracts for the provision of security services, yet the IFMIS data shows that a total of KSh3,260,280 was paid to G4S.

Upon his dismissal from State House in 2004, Keriri was appointed the Executive Chair of the Electricity Regulatory Board (ERB), which was succeeded by the Energy Regulatory Commission, and subsequently by the current Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority. The ERB was established to regulate the generation, transmission, and distribution of electric power in Kenya. This included setting, reviewing, and adjusting tariffs, as well as approving electric power purchase contracts between and among electric power producers and public electricity suppliers.

Incidentally, the power purchase agreement between LTWFP and the Kenyan government included a take-or-pay clause that saw taxpayers foot the bill for a KSh1 billion fine when the government delayed in building a transmission line to connect the wind farm to the national grid. The World Bank had earlier expressed concern over this clause that would burden consumers, and withdrew its support in 2012. According to Biashara Energy Solutions Ltd, a renewable energy SME where Keriri was a director, he was “one of the Chief Financial Advisors for Turkana Wind Power project who is attributed for structuring new financing model after the announcement of the World Bank to pull out of the project financing.”

Two years later, after almost a decade of feasibility studies and investment negotiations, project construction started and G4S announced that they had been awarded a contract by the Ministry of Energy to secure the wind farm on a three-year rolling basis for a period of 15 years. Available records show that Matere Keriri joined the board of G4S Kenya Ltd a year later, sitting from 2015 to 2017, though a search at the Company Registry conducted in May 2020 indicated that Keriri was still on the board. G4S has won tenders from the Ministry of Energy, under which the ERC falls, during Keriri’s tenure on its board. The details of these contracts, including the monetary value, are only visible as internet search results whose links are broken. They have not been published on the PPIP or the Ministry’s website as per the public procurement transparency requirements.

This should matter. The lack of information on contracts awarded to G4S and their monetary value obscures a high risk of conflicts of interest or, worse, may indicate that collusion, cronyism, kickbacks, or some other form of corruption was instrumental in G4S’s financial success. The Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Act tries to prevent this by prohibiting public officers from taking part in any procurement process in which they have an interest, and also expressly forbids inappropriate influence in procurement decisions.

Under section 176 of the Act, any person found guilty of violating this law faces up to 10 years of imprisonment or a fine of up to KSh4 million, or both. Should the offending party be a body corporate, then a fine of KSh10 million will apply. The Act also requires procuring entities to publish tender notices and awards. This means that any public entity that has failed to publish contracts awarded to G4S and other public entities is in breach of the law. However, the Act is unclear on whether this is a punishable offence.

Source: Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Act, No. 33 of 2015

Source: Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Act, No. 33 of 2015

Given the lack of publicly available information, Kenyan citizens have no way of checking whether they are getting the best value for their money with regard to these contracts.

G4S’s questionable corporate structure

According to records filed with the Company Registrar, G4S Kenya Ltd is 82 per cent owned by a Dutch holding company. In the world of financial crime and illicit financial flows, “Dutch holding company” is a red flag for tax avoidance. The snapshot below shows that the G4S structure comprises of a series of subsidiaries and holding companies ultimately owned by G4S plc based in the United Kingdom.

Source: G4S Company Scan by The Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO)

Source: G4S Company Scan by The Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO)

This should concern Kenyan taxpayers. This company structure raises questions of tax planning and tax avoidance, especially since Oxfam ranked the Netherlands third out of fifteen countries that “facilitate the most extreme forms of corporate tax avoidance”. The European Parliament has also labelled it a tax haven. Corporate tax havens have been known to help big business cheat countries out of billions of dollars every year and in fact, a 2016 study by Oxfam Kenya shows how companies in the extractives industry use conduit companies in the Netherlands for tax avoidance.

If public procurement continues to be shrouded in secrecy, then citizens will have no way of finding out whether G4S and other multinationals are indeed cheating the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) out of much-needed taxes, or whether they are relying on political patronage to win government contracts paid for by taxpayer money.

The need to strengthen the access to information regime in Kenya

When I reached out to G4S to clarify some of the points raised in this article, they told me that I had no written authority to write about G4S, and should I attempt to publish anything without their written authority, it would “cost me”. When private companies have dealings with the government, when they have prominent politicians sitting on their board of directors, and when they play critical public roles such as the provision of security, then citizens and especially journalists should have the right to look into their affairs, and the veil of secrecy ought to be lifted.

There is a need to demand increased accountability for companies that conduct business with government agencies. Without full disclosure, there is a potential risk that Kenya may be losing much needed tax revenues that would greatly ease the tax burden on ordinary Kenyans.

In the world of financial crime and illicit financial flows, “Dutch holding company” is a red flag for tax avoidance.

I also contacted the Commission on Administrative Justice, otherwise known as the Ombudsman, the agency in charge of enforcing the Access to Information Act of 2016. After my requests for information to JKUAT and the Ministry of Energy were denied, I asked the Ombudsman whether they could offer any redress mechanisms to citizens who are denied their right to information, or if government agencies faced any penalty for failure to disclose information. Ironically, I was informed that I had to write a formal letter on the letterhead of the organisation that I represented, which would then go through their internal processes before eventually landing on the relevant officer’s desk. As of the writing of this article, my request is still pending. Nonetheless, the Ombudsman indicated through their official twitter account that requests for information are valid as long as they provide sufficient details of the information sought. Furthermore, such requests do not have to be in writing.

Unless the government starts respecting the constitutional right of access to information, we shall continue to lose billions that could have gone towards the public good, such as for example, providing social services in education, healthcare, or social welfare cushions for small business owners that have been hit hard by the COVID-19 control measures.

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Jacqueline Wahome is a freelance writer and journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya.

Politics

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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