9 May 2017

Africa: There Could Be Truth in ICC Unfairness Claim, Says Mogae

Photo: Phoebe Okall/The Nation
Former Botswana President Festus Mogae at the Fairmont The Norfolk hotel in Nairobi on February 28, 2013.

Former Botswana President Festus Mogae and winner of the 2008 Ibrahim Prize Festus Mogae talks with the Nation's Charles Omondi about the International Criminal Court, this year's Kenyan General Election, his leadership, his life and the award.

CHARLES OMONDI: African leaders have often complained that the International Criminal Court (ICC) targets the continent's leaders unfairly. What is your take?

Festus Mogae: There could be some truth in that school of thought because Western leaders often instigate wars away from home that end up claiming many lives yet they get away with it. African leaders on the other hand kill their own and are easily nailed for the crimes. Whatever the case, there can be no justification in killing people and anyone culpable should be punished.

Do you back the threat of mass withdrawal from the Rome Statute by African states?

It would be regrettable if that happened. African leaders have nothing to fear because the ICC only comes after the guilty. If you are innocent, the court will absolve you in the event of a false accusation.

Kenya is headed to an epic election in three months' time. What is your advice to Kenyans?

They should conduct themselves as peacefully as they did in 2013. That is my hope.

You quit leadership at a time your peers were engaging in machinations to cling to power. What was your motivation?

Before my predecessor (Ketumile) Masire left power, Botswana enacted a law limiting any individual president's reign to a maximum of 10 years. I had to be faithful to the law of the land. I must say there is nothing sacrosanct about 10 years, but it is most desirable that any leader should not cling to power. Leadership too should be viewed like sports where one generation gives way to another from time to time. It is best that one leaves the scene when still loved. It is a pity and very regrettable that some leaders change the law to extend their stay in power.

So what keeps you busy and active?

I am involved in a lot of charity work, like being a member of the African Wildlife Foundation which has two headquarters in Washington and Nairobi. I am also involved with the Master Card Foundation that administers the Wings to Fly scholarships through the Equity Bank in Kenya. The Master Card Foundation is also active in Uganda and Rwanda and, to a lesser extent, Tanzania and Ghana. I am serving my final three-year term. I am also a member of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation leadership prize committee. Of course you are aware of my role in the South Sudan peace negotiations. Back at home, I am actively involved in the anti-HIV/Aids campaign.

Those roles obviously have a huge travel component, meaning you spend a lot of time away from home and family.

I am lucky that all my children are grown and they are leading their lives. The youngest is 28-years-old. Oftentimes, I travel with my wife, like on this occasion (in Marrakech) we are together. She does a lot of charity work especially in the Catholic Church of which she is staunch member. But I am not Catholic (chuckles).

You won a lot of money ($5 million over 10 years and $200,000 annually for life thereafter) from the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. What have you used it for?

I drank it (with a chuckle). Money is easy to finish. I have been president and know so many people and vice versa, hence a lot of then demand my support. I finance higher education of many needy Botswana students and I am involved in a lot of other charities. Also remember that I am an African and not exempt from the spirit of the extended family. There are many people who have sought my help.

Your plans for the future?

I intend to cut down particularly my international engagements. My earnest prayer is that the South Sudan crisis should have been resolved.


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