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There is no way Kenya was going to take the AU chair

Ambassador Amina Mohammed / 02 February 2017

By Kwamchetsi Makokha

Genuine surprise has greeted news out of Addis Ababa that Kenya’s foreign minister will not occupy the chair of the African Union Commission as the continent’s foremost diplomat.

Only last November, Ms Vestine Nahimana, the Burundian ambassador to The Hague, Netherlands, was distributing Ms Amina Mohammed’s campaign materials to diplomats at the World Forum, venue of last year’s Assembly of States Parties. Burundi had just served notice of intent to withdraw from the International Criminal Court after South Africa, and quickly followed by the Gambia.

 “We have a good candidate,” Ms Nahimana enthused in Kiswahili since her French and my English constantly clashed. Burundi’s failure to support the Kenya candidacy in Addis was a curious highlight of the election.

The ASP is a wasteland in the wake of Ms Mohammed’s scorched earth diplomacy on behalf of Kenya’s efforts to extricate its President and Deputy President from charges at the ICC. It is also a living reminder of Kenya’s and Ms Mohammed’s bellicosity.

Ms Mohammed’s candidacy had seemed like a slam dunk. Her intelligence, eloquence, experience and personal charm recommended her greatly. She was just what the doctor ordered after the initial slate of former Ugandan Vice President Specioza Wandira Kazibwe and Botswana’s Dr Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, and Equatorial Guinea’s Agapito Mba Mokuy failed to command two-thirds of the continent’s 54 votes.

At the AU, Kenya has shaped relations between the ICC and the continental body, thanks in no small part to Ms Mohammed’s leadership as Cabinet Secretary for foreign affairs. Within months of assuming office, she had mobilized the AU for an extraordinary summit at which President Kenyatta lambasted the ICC for race baiting and dismissed it as a tool of declining imperial powers. Subsequently, the AU was forced to adopt a posture of grave injury towards the ICC, even establishing an open-ended ministerial committee to strategise on mass withdrawal from the court.

So poisoned were relations that efforts at formal contact through the establishment of an ICC liaison office at the AU were permanently rebuffed during the tenure of outgoing chair Nkosazana-Dlamini Zuma.

Last week, at Leiden University in the Netherlands, a leaked confidential AU strategy on mass withdrawal from the ICC was presented outlining legal, political and institutional steps to be undertaken. “The collectiveness of the action [mass withdrawal] has the potential to radically reconfigure existing forms of international cooperation,” the document says in part. AU strategists figure that withdrawal from a treaty "can give a denouncing state additional voice, either by increasing its leverage to reshape the treaty to more accurately reflect its interests or those of its domestic constituencies, or by establishing a rival legal norm or institution together with other like-minded states.”

Although President Kenyatta enjoys great personal influence in Addis Ababa, it was not enough to deliver the AU chair. Addis is the only capital where the agreeable Ms Catherine Muigai is ambassador. She is not just a diplomat waiting in line to speak to the President through the Africa desk at the Ministry Foreign Affairs but can call to chat about his children -- her nieces and nephews. A diplomat with that kind of access has great influence in a capital like Addis, which not only headquarters the AU but also the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. Mr Kenyatta is also a beneficiary of hereditary diplomacy. His father, Kenya’s first president, established personal friendships across the continent that the son continues to benefit from. But as early as last year’s summit, African diplomats were beginning to avoid their Kenyan counterparts in Addis because of a widespread belief that Nairobi had already obtained all that it could from the AU. While Kenya’s aggressive diplomacy may have delivered results, it has also engendered bitterness in countries that feel that the East African nation was getting too big for its breeches.

At the ICC, Amina Mohammed’s candidacy was not accepted as an inescapable inevitability, given what initiatives she led had bred.

Over a dinner of lamb stew and rice at an African diplomat’s house in The Hague last year, I heard for the first time how countries on the continent were working to stop her coronation. Senegal, especially, was working on a strategy that would distance critical West African and Francophone states from offering her support.

Notably, Nigeria and Senegal issued statements distancing themselves from the ICC withdrawal statement a week before this year’s summit. Ms Mohammed, the poster child of that campaign, was never going to enjoy the support of West Africa, and especially the Francophone countries. When the numbers were in, it was clear that she was never going to garner the requisite two-thirds of the vote.

 

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JOIN US


By Terry Jeff Odhiambo

Gambia stands as a testament to the glacial progress Africa is making in the sphere of human rights. With the country on the mend and efforts under way to bring former President Yahya Jammeh to justice, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights could scarcely have found a better host country to hold its 30th anniversary.

The celebrations in Banjul, between November 1 and 4, 2017, come at a time of hope and restoration for the Gambia after the end of Jammeh’s 22-year dictatorial regime. Jammeh’s government was notorious for its disregard of international human rights norms despite ironically hosting the ACHPR. Arbitrary arrests, threats, enforced disappearances and torture were commonplace. There is still plenty of room for improvement. Attorney General Abubacarr Tambadou, who is also Justice Minister, told the opening of the 35th Forum on the Participation of NGOs in the 61st Ordinary Session of the ACHPR that notwithstanding the various strides made by nations in the application of human rights instruments, the full enjoyment of basic rights and freedoms since the adoption of the African Charter, continues to face challenges. The Justice minister reiterated that the new government of Gambia had reaffirmed its commitment to protecting human rights and to living up to its position as the human rights capital of Africa. As recently as September 2017 the Gambia, signed five international treaties on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly, including the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which seeks to abolish abolition the death penalty. In the coming months, Gambia is committed to ratifying more human rights treaties, including the Convention against Torture, and adopting a new republican constitution within the shortest time possible and developing a system of justice that can look into past atrocities and sustain its democracy. The NGOs Forum, which is usually held on the margins of the ACHPR Ordinary Sessions, is a platform for fostering collaboration between civil society organisations on the one hand and the ACHPR on the other, with the aim of promoting and protecting human rights in Africa.

Human rights abuses in Africa are a sad reality. The tableau of human suffering on the continent is scar on humanity’s conscience. From South Sudan[1], to the Central African Republic[2] to Egypt[3] and Ethiopia[4], abuses are increasingly being witnessed more than ever before. As one of the bulwarks against this depressing trend, the work of the ACHPR since its inception calls for evaluation. The promise by states and governments to guarantee human dignity and rights – through almost universal endorsement of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and ever-increasing ratification of international human rights treaties – seems to have had little impact on the daily lives of millions of people in the region.

The sad reality is that the human rights situation in various African countries continues to deteriorate on the ACHPR’s watch. There has been an escalation of threats to the enjoyment of human rights on the continent, ranging from arbitrary arrests, infringement of freedom of association and assembly, police brutality and threats to human rights defenders. 

Since the inception of the ACHPR, seven states have never reported on the situation of human rights to the commission. The states -- Comoros, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Guinea Bissau, Sao Tome and Principe, Somalia and South Sudan -- continue to witness some of gravest human rights violations on the continent. Twenty other states have three or more pending state reports -- including Gambia, while 16 other states have one or two pending state reports. Only nine states, namely Kenya, Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Mauritius, Namibia, Niger and South Africa are up to date with their state reporting obligations. The Democratic Republic of Congo[5], Rwanda[6] and Niger[7] are set to report during the 61st Ordinary Session of the ACHPR. State reporting procedure is a stock taking that serves as a forum for constructive dialogue and enables the Commission to monitor implementation of the African Charter and identify challenges impeding the realisation of the objects of the African Charter.

Some of the critiques that the Commission has received over time include the failure to implement its findings, such as decisions on: individual communications, concluding observations on State reports, country and thematic resolutions, and recommendations made in relation to missions to countries. 

The 61st Ordinary Session of the ACHPR will see the swearing in of new commissioners and the exit of those whose terms have ended. The ACHPR is composed of 11 Commissioners, who are “chosen from amongst African personalities of the highest reputation, known for their high morality, integrity, impartiality and competence in matters of human and peoples’ rights; particular consideration being given to persons having legal experience” (African Charter, Article 31).[8] They are elected by the African Union Assembly from experts nominated by States parties to the Charter. The Commissioners serve in their personal capacity and are elected for a six-year renewable term.

The upcoming 30th Anniversary celebrations are an opportunity to reaffirm the values and enduring principles enshrined in the African Charter mobilize people around the continent, and take stock of human rights today in Africa. 

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