On Thursday, January 28, former president of Ivory Coast Laurent Gbagbo made history when he appeared for trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity. Mr Gbagbo is the first head of state to be tried by the ICC since its inception in 2002.
It is a big shame for the African Union (AU) that an African leader sunk so low into abomination that the long arm of the law dragged him to face justice at The Hague.
The tragic story of the 70-year-old Gbagbo is not an isolated case. It is the story of callous, greedy and shameless men who have got drunk with power which they use to plunder the poor countries they misrule!
They exploit, oppress and suppress Africans with impunity and have generally shamed the continent before the international community. Most of them behave like 19th Century African paramount chiefs instead of 21st Century heads of state!
Gbagbo's embarrassing and disgusting story is also the story of Yahya Jammeh of the Gambia, Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi and many other African leaders.
The only difference being that the cases of many African leaders who should be on trial at the ICC like Gbagbo for crimes against humanity are awaiting an appropriate time. As the author of Ecclesiastes wrote, there is a time for everything under the sun. Make no mistake, the day of reckoning for the rest will come in the fullness of time.
Background to the case
In November 2010, the second round of Ivory Coast's presidential elections took place and the two candidates who faced off were Laurent Gbagbo and former Ivorian prime minister Alassane Ouattara who emerged victorious, but the incumbent president Gbagbo refused to accept defeat and hand over power to the winner. This split the country into two, north and south, and led to a bitter civil war.
On April 11, 2011, Gbagbo was defeated and arrested in Abidjan with his wife Simone. Then US secretary of state Hilary Clinton observed on the very day that dictators should take notice, "they may not disregard the voice of their own people in free and fair elections" and added that "there will be consequences for those who cling to power." Alas, too many African leaders have ignored this sober and wise counsel.
The African Union weighs in
On January 31, the 26th African Union summit held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, accepted a controversial proposal made by Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta, which is essentially geared to undermine and weaken the universal authority of the ICC.
According to the ridiculous and self-serving proposal, which the AU adopted by a large majority, African countries would, as a bloc, pull out of the ICC in the near future.
The AU decision is definitely not in the best interests of almost one billion ordinary Africans across the continent, but only serves the selfish interests of African leaders who are determined to continue with their callous exploitation and oppression of Africans with impunity! The Rome Statute is not dysfunctional as president Kenyatta alleges.
All men and women of goodwill everywhere in the world must rise and challenge this illegitimate, selfish and shameless act which will only heighten and promote the culture of impunity practised by most African leaders.
If the Rome Statute which established the ICC was applied strictly, many more African presidents and leaders at lower levels, past and present, would in fact be languishing with Gbagbo at The Hague. One hopes that more will sooner or later follow and face justice which they have denied millions of Africans on the continent.
Some lessons for Africa
Gbagbo is paying the price for abusing the honour and privilege which peace-loving and law-abiding citizens accord a man or woman to lead them. Leadership is about serving wananchi, not about lording it over the people.
A good leader is, first and foremost, a servant of the people, not a master of the people like most African leaders! A typical African leader who is invariably a dictator portrays himself as an all-knowing, powerful and fabulously rich man who has a monopoly of vision and ideas, and hence does not heed advice from anybody!
Good leadership which Nelson Mandela exemplified in Africa is about values such as humility, justice, fair play, integrity, truth and respect for the rule of law. Above all a good leader, however popular he or she may be, does not overstay his mandate and welcome.
Mandela served the people of South Africa for only one term, i.e. five years and retired with dignity. He could have done what comrade Bob Mugabe is shamelessly doing in Zimbabwe, namely stay in power forever, but he wisely rejected "popular demand" to enjoy what former president Geoffrey Binaisa famously dubbed entebe ewooma (power is sweet).
Gbagbo lost in free and fair elections in 2010, but rejected the verdict of the Ivorian people and attempted to impose himself on the people of the Ivory Coast by force and expected to get away with it, like Pierre Nkurunziza and many others! No way, said the gallant and patriotic wananchi of Ivory Coast. He richly deserves what has befallen him. I hope others will learn a lesson or two from Monsieur Gbagbo.
Mr Acemah is a political scientist, consultant and a retired career diplomat.