AU chair debate flounders on ICC

2016-12-11 06:02
Politicians attend a meeting of the African Union's economic development programme New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad) at the Kigali Convention Centre during the 27th AU Summit. (Cyril Ndegeya, AFP)

Politicians attend a meeting of the African Union's economic development programme New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad) at the Kigali Convention Centre during the 27th AU Summit. (Cyril Ndegeya, AFP)

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Africa’s membership of the International Criminal Court (ICC) threatened to disrupt the first public debate by the African Union (AU) for the top position of commission chairperson this weekend.

Kenya’s foreign minister, Amina Mohamed Jibril, one of five candidates seeking to succeed AU Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, threatened to walk out of Friday night’s debate should the question of withdrawal from the ICC arise.

One of the contracted moderators for the debate, South African journalist Karima Brown, said she was abruptly and without explanation removed as moderator and replaced by “a journalist who works for CCTV [China Central Television]”.

The replacement was this station’s Addis Ababa reporter, Girum Chala.

“All I know is that our questions on human rights, particularly those of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, and our intention to ask questions on the ICC, raised eyebrows.

"Clearly professional journalism wasn’t sought for this debate. Instead, a carefully sanitised series of questions were sought,” Brown reported.

Kenya had been lobbying hard for withdrawal since its president Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto were summoned to appear before the court in relation to the country’s post-election violence in 2007 and 2008.

The charges have since been withdrawn due to lack of evidence.

South Africa, for one, has supported Kenya’s stance, especially following international pressure to arrest Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir last year, when he came to Johannesburg to attend an AU summit.

There were, however, no new applications for withdrawals since the move by Burundi, South Africa and the Gambia – an indication that the fervour to withdraw from the tribunal was not universal in Africa.

South Africa’s intended withdrawal is also the subject of a court case brought by the country’s opposition.

Botswana, for one, is in principle opposed to a mass withdrawal. Botswana has fielded its foreign minister, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, for the AU Commission position.

South Africa is officially obliged to support the Southern African Development Community candidate, who is Venson-Moitoi.

But a South African official with knowledge of the lobbying said President Jacob Zuma might ultimately cast the country’s secret ballot in favour of Jibril – partly out of solidarity with Kenya’s stance on the ICC – or even vote for the Senegalese candidate, Abdoulaye Bathily.

South Africa is, however, uneasy that Senegal might support the readmission of Morocco to the AU, while South Africa strongly supports Western Sahara’s independence from Moroccan rule.

The first round of voting – at the July summit in Rwanda – failed to produce a new chairperson because too many states abstained, with many saying none of the candidates was qualified enough.

The other two present candidates are Agapito Mba Mokuy, foreign minister of Equatorial Guinea, and Moussa Faki Mahamat, foreign minister of Chad.

Even though the debate has attracted much popular interest, something the AU was hoping for with its #MjadalaAfrica trending on Twitter, many observers doubted this would have an effect on voting.

According to November’s Peace and Security Council Report, published by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), many factors play a role in the secret ballots, including the personal connections and networks of the heads of state, regional solidarity, regional alliances, linguistic and historical links between countries, and the personal stature of the candidates, the ISS said in its report.

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