4 February 2016

Africa: Kenya Wants You to Believe Africa Is Divorcing the ICC. It's Not True

opinion

In this week's press round up, why it wasn't a week to be proud of for news outlets' reporting on Africa's relationship with the ICC.

Taking their cue from President Uhuru Kenyatta's twitter feed, several prominent local news outlets last Monday reported that the African Union (AU) - at Kenya's urging - had voted to withdraw from the ICC as a block.

The AU has adopted my proposal for the AU to develop a road map for the withdrawal of African nations from the Rome Statute.

-- Uhuru Kenyatta (@UKenyatta) January 31, 2016

Exiting the ICC: AU voted overwhelmingly to withdraw from the Hague court #NTVTonight @SmritiVidyarthi @MarkMasai pic.twitter.com/0SUtJLcjPg

-- NTV Kenya (@ntvkenya) February 2, 2016

AU adopts Uhuru's proposal for withdrawal from ICC https://t.co/vx3G18Bb6p pic.twitter.com/we33zTFiuX

-- Citizen TV Kenya (@citizentvkenya) February 1, 2016

It wasn't just tweets either. All of Kenya's leading dailies - The Daily Nation, The Standard and The Star - published write-ups to the effect that African Union now had one foot out the door in its fractious union with the ICC. Even The Guardian - in all its augustness - picked up the story.

African Union members back Kenyan plan to leave ICC https://t.co/WaoW3GjOdu

-- Guardian Africa (@GuardianAfrica) February 1, 2016

The twittersphere was not pleased.

In 2013, you said the ICC case was was 'a personal challenge'. What changed? pic.twitter.com/DjmvHYihMO

-- Francis Waithaka (@waithash) February 1, 2016

AU rushing to pull out of ICC yet Burundi is being swept by one of their own and they're yet to give a solution to stop. This a signal guys

-- Kenya West© (@KinyanBoy) February 1, 2016

The theme of AU summit was human rights, but Kenyatta pushed through a resolution to pull out of ICC. AU did zilch on Burundi as it burns.

-- Prof Makau Mutua (@makaumutua) January 31, 2016

Just when you thought Africa would learn from her own violent past, then comes AU with a master stroke (Blame it all on ICC)!

-- Fred Obachi Machoka (@fredomachoka) January 28, 2016

Amidst the veritable tsunami of disapproving reactions, The Star newspaper's editorial cartoonist Victor Ndula's take on what had reportedly transpired in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia last Sunday took the cake.

Impunity just handed Carte Blanche, Rome Statute #ICC cartoon for @TheStarKenya @HagueTrialsKEN pic.twitter.com/zfY59sLknC

-- VICTOR NDULA (@ndula_victor) February 1, 2016

This is where it gets interesting though. It turns out - in their rush to publish - everybody had gotten the story wrong. The African Union had not voted in support of a Kenyan-backed withdrawal from the ICC. As the Human Right Watch's Elise Keppler wrote on the NGO's blog, the reality was less sexier than was earlier reported.

"What the AU actually did was to endorse having its Open-Ended Committee of African Ministers on the ICC consider a roadmap on possible withdrawal, among other activities."

Both Keppler and Daily Nation columnist Macharia Gaitho lay the blame for how the story was misreported on President Uhuru Kenyatta and his media team:

"As the African Union summit closed on January 31, 2016, Kenyan media ignited with reports that the African Union endorsed mass withdrawal of African countries from the International Criminal Court. But the reality is a lot less newsworthy than the main source - Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta, himself a former ICC suspect - suggested.

"The proposals by President Uhuru Kenyatta were given a misleading spin by his press service to suggest that they had been unanimously adopted, but closer examination reveals there was no such resolution."

Keppler and Gaitho are wrong to put the blame sorely on President Kenyatta and his press team. The press - both local and international - should have known better.

This is hardly the first time the Kenyan government's media machine has tried to put a positive spin on events after getting less than satisfactory results from a summit, in which it once again unsuccessfully took on the ICC.

The last time this happened was at last November's Assembly of States Parties (ASP) meeting. Kenya came away with one paragraph restating that Rule 68 wasn't to be used retroactively but tried to spin it in the press that it had dealt the ICC a mortal wound.

This is what Kenya does. So maybe the next time the media is looking for a reliable source on what happened after Kenya takes another stab at the ICC, it should look further than the Kenyan government. Just a thought.

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