Last weekend, the defense counsel for former president Charles Taylor put his case to a gathering of South African law professionals, professors and students. It is a case he is attempting to try in the court of public opinion, having twice lost it in a court of law.
Barrister Courtenay Griffiths told the gathering that the International Criminal Court(ICC) is a farce, intended to target only African leaders. Equating the ICC to neocolonialism, his argument was that African nations should be able to try their own high-profile criminal cases internally and independently.
Obviously,this case is weak and crêpe paper thin. Given the insurmountable evidence to the atrocities for which Taylor was responsible, one would have thought that Griffiths defended the former warlord only because every defendant is entitled to representation under international human rights law -- not because Griffiths actually believed in Taylor’s course. Unless, of course, having twice lost his case in court, Taylor is trying a different strategy: the race card, disguised as pan-Africanism, hence the crusade to African nations.
The message: You and I are both victims of Western neocolonialism. Why this message? Because the enemy of my worst enemy is my friend, even if we were enemies before.
Obviously,this court is not in fact intended to try the George Bush’s of the world. Why not? Because the American democratic system is strong enough to handle its own high profile criminal cases. The decisions of the US high court are respected as final; freedom of speech laws allow people to protest those decisions(peacefully), balancing out the level of passionate debate for or against. Case in point, the Trayvon Martin verdict. Although it revealed serious flaws in the justice system,blacks did not break out their rifles in retaliation.
Obviously, this is absolutely NOT the case in Africa.When a leader loses an election, his loyalists take to the streets and disrupt the public peace. Case in point, Laurent Gbagbo of Ivory Coast. Even in a country as developed as Kenya, civil unrest is always lurking just below the surface. InAfrica, tribal loyalties run very deep, as do historical enmities. Every political move is primarily viewed through these prisms, and the enemy of one’s worst enemy becomes one’s friend. In Taylor’s case, having no constituency or tribal affiliation, (in fact being a member of the ruling elite resented by the indigenous majority), his strategy was to manipulate said tribal divisions and hand out money and power very generously while at the same time building a fearsome image by maintaining martial law. Particularly because of his ‘generosity,’ he bought a lifetime of loyalty among high and low, especially among his fighting forces. Affectionately called ‘the Papay,’ Taylor is still revered by many in Liberia today.
As such, had he been tried in Liberia, unrest would undoubtedly have broken out in the country once again. The result would have been the same had Gbagbo been tried in Ivory Coast. Where does it end? Some ethnic and religious groups are historically war-faring; but the majority ofAfricans across the continent are war-weary. They want to move on. More than that, even, seeds of hope are sprouting. African economies are growing fast. Said economic growth will be undermined,however, by the presence of trouble makers on the continent.
Why are we so hard to please, though? When African nations were left to grapple with their own justice deficits, the West was accused of allowing genocide to occur unabated. Remember Rwanda? Obviously, the most sensible thing todo is to move these ethnically and politically charged cases out of their hotspots.
We Africans must not allow ourselves to be manipulated into moving backward. Those touting the neocolonialism view have their own agendas, knowing full well that it hardly holds water, let alone logic. We should not attempt to defend dictators and warlords responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths and human rights atrocities, even in the court of public opinion. In fact, those African leaders running from the ICC, having seen what just happened to Taylor, are making themselves look suspicious. Why run if you have no criminal intent?
WeAfricans have to be careful how we play that “neocolonialism” card, as it has a tendency to make us look hypocritical, stupid and downright ungrateful.
Do we remember the nefarious Capt. Amadou Sanogo, who March 2012, staged a coup inMali, overthrowing the democratically elected president? That coup led to total destabilization of the country, giving the Tuareg rebels a grand opportunity to take advantage of the confusion in Bamako. Soon they seized northern Mali and history-rich Timbuktu and immediately started destroying some of its sacred relics. They soon instituted Sharia law. Then, in the collaboration with al-Qaeda, the Tuareg started swiftly moving southward toward Bamako. The Mali government became desperate and ran to their former colonial master, France, begging their intervention. Thanks to France’s financial and military might, the rebel-al-Qaeda advance was halted and Timbuktu and the north retaken. We heard no cry of neocolonialism then. How hypocritical can we get?
We hope the African Union knows what it is doing.ECOMOG troops died here fighting against Charles Taylor’s guerillas. Let their governments not now turn around and say that Taylor was falsely accused. That would be a slap in the faces of the valiant dead.