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Is the ICC Harming Africa?

NAIROBI – The International Criminal Court, after facing harsh criticism from the African Union (and threats from AU states to withdraw), finally seems to be paying attention to Africa’s concerns about its approach to trying leaders charged with crimes against humanity. But is that good or bad for Africa?

To be sure, criticism of the Hague-based ICC is not new in Africa. Initially, the complaints seemed nationalistic in nature, with some people arguing that accused African leaders should be tried by Africans in Africa. Others have asserted that the ICC unfairly targets Africa, citing the fact that, so far, most indictments and investigations have been of Africans.

Most Africans ignored the ICC’s opponents, not least because the ICC indicted the likes of Sudan’s Omar Al Bashir, who is widely reviled for his long record of engaging in – and capitalizing on – brutal civil wars. But that changed last March, when ICC-accused Uhuru Kenyatta was elected as Kenya’s president.

Kenyatta and Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto – both charged with crimes against humanity in connection with the 2007-08 post-election violence that left more than 1,000 people dead and displaced several hundred thousand – are the first suspects indicted by the ICC to be elected to lead a country. To most people outside Africa, Kenyatta’s election was proof that Africa is incapable of prosecuting war criminals.