macroafricaintel | Sierra Leone: Bio should face reality

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

At the opening of parliament on 10 May, ahead of his inauguration ceremony two days after, President Julius Maada Bio officially announced a free primary and secondary school education policy; effective from September 2018. (Mr Bio hurriedly swore his oath of office rather unceremeniously in the lobby of one of Freetown’s few “posh” hotels in early April for security reasons. A proper ceremony is only now being organised.) The Bio government has also increased the budget allocation to education to at least 20 percent from 11 percent previously. All these are quite laudable, of course; especially as they were campaign promises. In a continent where politicians promise almost anything to get elected but largely ignore the electorate afterwards, Mr Bio deserves commendation for sure. But considering the strained finances of the government, it begs the question of whether it is wise for him to announce such a policy at this time.

Lofty ambitions, little money
The problem is always the money, of course; which Mr Bio is reported to have found little of in the treasury upon assumption of office. The authorities say the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank have indicated they would support the education programmes, at least. They also hope to get more revenue by plugging leakages in the public purse through the ongoing implementation of a single treasury account and a more aggressive tax collection culture. To the government’s credit, revenue collection is already improving. The additional challenge, of course, is how to fund the administration’s new initiatives in tandem with existing priorities that were hardly catered for by the previous administration. Victims of the floods and mudslides in the capital, Freetown, in August 2017, complain of neglect, for instance. So do those of the 2-year long ebola epidemic. And to prevent a reocurrence of the mudslide disaster, mitigation measures are urgently required. These will cost money. Bear in mind, the government did not earn as much revenue as it hoped for in the 2017 fiscal year. Donor receipts also fell short of estimates. Painfully, the little revenue collected even then is believed to have been looted by the previous administration. Of course, with an expectedly more transparent Bio government, there is hope that such pilferage is now a thing of the past. Consequently, international donors are expected to now become more forthcoming.

Aid needed
Mr Bio inherits a surprisingly resilient economy, which the IMF expects would grow at about 6-7 percent over next five years, from 5-6 percent over the past two years. The 2-year ebola epidemic from December 2013 to January 2016, the consequent stoppage of iron ore production and the collapse of the metal’s international market price in tandem, weighed so much on the economy it contracted by a staggering 20.5 percent in 2015. It recovered quite remarkably the year after, recording 6.1 percent growth in 2016. To sustain the recovery, the IMF advises fiscal discipline, accretion of foreign exchange reserves and structural reforms. Excess spending was a problem in the past. In 2016, the authorities overshot the planned budget deficit by almost 60 percent in nominal terms due to spending related to election preparations and security. Measures advised by the IMF to help balance the books like higher but market-based royalties on mineral exports which were not adhered to by the previous government are thankfully now being religiously implemented. So, the IMF is expected to resume the disbursement of its $224 million facility, after stopping it under the previous government when it appeared it was not serious about recommended economic reforms. For his government to get as much external support as it needs, however, Mr Bio may need to renege on some of his populist campaign promises. True, there is a literacy problem in Sierra Leone, with 60 percent of adults unable to read or write. And quite rightly, free education and free meal-at-school programmes would probably be needed to improve the situation. It is doubtful, however, that the government can afford these ordinarily laudable programmes at this time. International donors could help, for sure. To encourage them back, however, Mr Bio would have to tackle corruption head on. This might be a little difficult. With likely culprits in the former ruling and now opposition party, which still controls parliament, Mr Bio may inevitably have to use the rod sparingly. Perhaps then Mr Bio should use the occasion of his belated inauguration ceremony to ask for help from the many international dignitaries that have promised to attend.

macroafricaintel | Salone decides again

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

Just after polls closed in Sierra Leone’s 7 March elections, heavily armed security operatives surrounded the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) headquarters in Freetown. With the benefit of hindsight, the powers that be likely got wind of former army general and SLPP presidential flagbearer Julius Maada Bio’s lead in the polls and imminent victory. Mr Bio won alright. But he did not secure enough votes to be declared the next president. He garnered 43.3 percent of votes cast, while the other leading contender, foreign minister Samura Kamara of the ruling All People’s Congress (APC) party secured 42.7 percent. Technocratic candidate and former United Nations’ under-secretary general Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella of the National Grand Coalition (NGC) had a surprisingly poor showing. It was a little astonishing that he was not able to secure up to 10 percent of the votes. Incidentally, while most of the other opposition parties have told their supporters to pitch their tents with Mr Bio, Mr Yumkella’s NGC decided it would allow its supporters choose for themselves. It is not unlikely that NGC supporters might still decide to vote for Mr Bio. Should that be the case, and assuming he is able to retain the 43 percent that voted for him in the first round, Mr Bio could easily coast to victory. It may not be that easy, though. There has been much drama since the first round election results were released. Sporadic violence since have barely been contained. Hopefully, the peace-building efforts of the international community and those of former African presidents from Nigeria, South Africa, and Ghana would bear fruit. But without a doubt, the atmosphere is reportedly tense.

Hold-ups
There have been legal fireworks as well. After setting a date for the run-off vote for this Tuesday past, a High Court ruled that the National Electoral Commission (NEC) stop preparations, until an application by an APC member asking that the 27 March runoff poll be suspended due to irregularities in the one three weeks earlier, was dealt with. Before the order, the NEC had decided to proceed with preparations just in case. Afterwards, it had no choice but to put everything on hold. Not a tad think the ruling party desired that in the event it was not able to suspend the runoff vote, it could at least delay it. It succeeded. Because even as the High Court eventually ruled on 26 March that the polls could go ahead as planned the next day, it was the NEC that now had to crave the Supreme Court’s indulgence to be allowed a few more days to prepare. (The vote is now scheduled for 31 March.) Thus, it is not unlikely that the additional time might prove beneficial for the party in government. Understandably, the SLPP is antsy. There is no guarantee that Mr Bio would be able to secure as much votes as the last time, for instance. Besides, with the additional time and data on turnout and voting patterns, there is a lot the ruling APC could do via the authorities to weigh on turnout and indeed voting choices in opposition strongholds.

Battle royal
Incidentally, neighbouring Liberia had to conduct a runoff presidential poll in elections held some months ago as well. The ruling Unity Party (UP) candidate, Joseph Boakai, who was vice-president at the time, tried to similarly cause delays via the courts; albeit the legal move did not originally emanate from him. Unfortunately for him, he did not have the support of then President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Thus, there was no way state might could plausibly be brought to bear to influence the outcome in his favour. Not only did Ms Sirleaf not hide her aversion to Mr Boakai’s candidacy, she also did not hide her support for George Weah of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) and winner of the first round poll. This is not the situation in the Sierra Leonean case. Mr Kamara is President Ernest Bai Koroma’s hand-picked successor. That is even as it is widely believed he did not choose to leave office of his own volition. In other words, if it is possible for Mr Koroma to influence the polls in favour of Mr Kamara, it is not improbable that he might attempt to do so. There is clearly widespread disillusionement with the Koroma administration, however; in the capital Freetown, at least. But considering the small margin by which Mr Bio won the first round, and the almost 10 percent of the voting population still open to persuasion, a potential Bio victory would likely be hard-won.

macroafricaintel | Salone decides in likely tight polls

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

(Ahead of the run-off poll, my column this week republishes the article I wrote about the presidential election in Sierra Leone for the March 2018 issue of African Business magazine.)

Sierra Leoneans go to the polls on 7 March. Thankfully, President Ernest Bai Koroma would not be on the ballot. This is no mean feat, it is believed. Had there be no opposition, Mr Koroma could have contested, some say. The “more time” campaign started as early as 2012 under various guises. A review of the constitution, which started in July 2013, and would take another four years to complete, was controversial in part because of speculations Mr Koroma might be desirous of staying longer in office. More recently, about a year ago, there were reports of plans by the ruling All People’s Congress (APC) party to tamper with the electoral calendar. About the same time, Mr Koroma was endorsed by the youth wing of his party as “chairman for life”, further fuelling speculations he still planned to hold on to the reins of power; in one form or another. The budgeting of just about half of the $48 million estimated cost of the polls by his administration, supposedly because of strained finances, and a seemingly less than enthusiastic pace of disbursement to the National Electoral Commission (NEC), have been viewed with suspicion by some as well. Mr Koroma’s officials dismiss such insinuations, of course, averring instead that the outgoing president never aspired to staying beyond the constitutionally mandated two 5-year terms.

There is a precedence for the “third-term” phenomenon in West Africa. Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo was believed to have desired a third term as well; if the ample media coverage of the speculation back then is anything to by, at least. There are interesting parallels. Just like in the Sierra Leonean case years later, there were indicators to suggest Mr Obasanjo might have “tried his luck” if there had not been much resistance. Similarly, Mr Koroma was perenially at loggerheads with his former deputy, Samuel Sam-Sumana, who desired to succeed him; and seemed a little hasty to do so. Accusing him of formenting violence and anti-party activities, Mr Koroma fired him in March 2015. To this day, Mr Sam-Sumana insists it was because he opposed his former principal’s third term agenda. By and large, however, West African countries are proving to be excellent democratic exemplars. Neighbouring Liberia, which had its first successful civilian-to-civilian transition in January, is a sterling example of how better things are becoming, for instance. The trail Liberia just blazed, however, was long trod by Sierra Leone in 2007, when former president, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, passed the baton to the incumbent. Thus, what the Sierra Leonean case proves is that even a powerful president would struggle to usurp the will of the people or flout the law.

New blood tightens race
The ruling APC chose foreign minister Samura Kamara as its presidential flagbearer in October. The other main candidate in the presidential race is Julius Maada Bio of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), who Mr Koroma beat in 2012. Mr Bio could prove formidable for Mr Kamara. Even so, what could potentially make the upcoming polls very interesting is how perhaps none of the two establishment candidates would be able to secure a firm win. Increasingly popular technocratic candidate and former United Nations Under-Secretary-General, Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella, could eat into the support of the SLPP, his former party; under the auspices of the National Grand Coalition, the political party he set up after his defection. Perhaps in recognition of his potential, Mr Yumkella’s candidacy is being challenged in court for allegedly having dual citizenship; which if proven, would disqualify him from running. Alliance Democratic Party’s Mohamed Kamarainba, who was once an APC stalwart, is a potential threat to the ruling party in the north. The trio of Kamara, Bio, and Yumkella are believed to be the real contenders in an expected close vote, though. Some Sierra Leoneans want a full departure from the Koroma era. Thus, the president’s avid support for Mr Kamara may prove to be a disadvantage. The Chinese, who hold great sway in the country, back the ruling party’s candidate, though, freely campaigning for him – much to the discomfort of some locals. For SLPP’s Bio, there is little evidence his popularity has increased since his last attempt at the presidency five years ago. As defectors from the two leading parties, Yumkella and Kamarainba make the poll the tighter; raising the likelihood of rigging and violence.

Economy needs a boost
International prices for iron ore, the country’s key export has been ascendant lately. With one of the two major iron ore mines remaining closed, however – the Marampa mine was a casaulty of London Mining’s troubles – the improved price outlook has not had as much revenue impact as it could have. To shore up its finances, the Koroma administration secured $224.2 million funding from the IMF in July 2017. As part of the conditions, the authorities were forced to cut fuel subsidies; with the effects more painfully felt by the masses as oil prices rose. Never mind that the awful experiences from the Ebola epidemic and more recently, a massive mudslide in the capital, have been greatly dampening for the economy. Together with the mining sector slump, the central bank estimates economic growth likely slowed to 5.6 percent in 2017, from 6.1 percent the year before. Annual consumer inflation rose significantly in 2017; at an average of 18.6 percent (Jan-Nov), from 10.8 percent in 2016. A 25 percent depreciation in the Leone was one reason why. So, “economic conditions heading into the elections leave a largely sour reading”, says Wale Okunrinboye, a fixed income and currency specialist at Ecobank, a pan-African bank. “Set against an uninspiring economic scorecard, amid fractures within the ruling APC, the March 2018 elections look set to be a keenly contested affair”, Mr Okunrinboye adds.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper column (Tuesdays).

See link to original article published by African Business magazine. http://africanbusinessmagazine.com/region/west-africa/sierra-leone-faces-close-election-result/

 

 

macroafricaintel | Post-crisis transitions: Liberia and Sierra Leone

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

A number of African countries remain insecure. And no African country could be said to be totally secure. It is a matter of degree. A sudden change in circumstance has been known to spur protests that sometime get out of hand. These crises are sometimes occasioned by opportunists long searching for just the right moment to open old wounds, settle a score or achieve a political objective; with terrorism increasingly becoming the means of choice. (The current precarious security situation in Nigeria is a pertinent example.) Some crises or protests have been spurred by simpler things, however; like higher cost of living, in Tunisia and Sudan, for instance. A few years ago, it was the same reason that led to protests in Egypt and indeed Tunisia; which eventually toppled incumbent governments and replaced them with new ones. There was not so much of a revolution in Egypt, though. After electing an Islamist-oriented leadership, the Egyptian military stepped in. Now, the army chief who led the charge is president and up for “re-election”. Better progress was recorded in Tunisia. But judging from recent agitations, a more representative government has not been enough to assuage the angst of Tunisians about the hard times they face. Much earlier, countries like Sierra Leone, Liberia, Angola, Mozambique, and Ivory Coast suffered bouts of war and unrest of varying length and degree. Now they are mostly stable countries with elected or acceptable governments.

Good progress
Liberia had its first peaceful transfer of power from one democratically elected president to another in January 2018. Sierra Leoneans go to the polls on 7 March to elect a new president, as incumbent leader Ernest Bai Koroma completes his maximum two terms in office. Angola has a new head of state, Joao Lourenco, after a four-decade rule by Jose Eduardo dos Santos. Mr Lourenco has proved to be his own man less than a year into his rule. He removed erstwhile powerful scions of the dos Santos family from influential positions at the state oil company and sovereign wealth fund. Initial fears that an assertive Lourenco would meet with resistance from entrenched beneficiaries of the dos Santos era have proved to be misplaced. The response to the ongoing reforms in Angola have been positive within and outside the country. In Ivory Coast, another transition looms as President Alassane Ouattara concludes his final term in office. Last time there was a transition, it ended in civil war; as former president, Laurent Ggagbo, refused to accept his election defeat. The costs of that civil war remain. Rebels loyal to Mr Ouattara that were inducted into the military have been incorrigibly mutinous, for instance.

Peacekeeping, justice and democracy
Clearly, some post-crisis transitions have been better than others. Two stand out, though: Sierra Leone and Liberia. There was a time when the stability that currently prevails in these two countries was thought unthinkable. So how and why did they succeed? Sustained international support, a diminished male population from past civil wars and health epidemics, and memories of the negative consequences of conflict are some of the reasons why. Interventions by the international community in Liberia and Sierra Leone endured due to circumstances; albeit unfortunately so. The United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) lasted for six years; from 1999 to 2006. That for Liberia, the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), is scheduled to withdraw by end-March this year; about fifteen years after it was established in September 2003. The UN missions were presaged by West African peacekeeping efforts. In 1990, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) established the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) to restore peace in then war-ravaged Liberia. Seven years after, ECOMOG was similarly deployed to Sierra Leone to quell another civil war. These international efforts, which were not devoid of controversy, contributed a great deal to the relatively successful democratic dispensations in both countries thus far. Removing former Liberian president, Charles Taylor – a key antagonist in both wars – from the scene has certainly been beneficial; albeit more relevant for the Liberian case than that for Sierra Leone. A substantially reduced male population on the back of these murderous civil wars meant either democracy or autocracy prevailed depending on the post-conflict dynamics. When the key players in the civil wars were prosecuted, the reduced testosterone count allowed democracy to thrive. When the “victors” of these wars were left to their own devices, autocracy prevailed; like in Rwanda and Angola.

Salone decides
And in Liberia and Sierra Leone, just when the peace seemed to have endured irrevocably, disaster struck again. The ebola epidemic between December 2013 and January 2016 took more than eleven thousand lives; mostly in the two countries but also in Guinea and a few in Nigeria, Mali and Senegal. Despite these troubles, Liberia conducted a successful poll in late 2017 and made its first civilian-to-civilian transition in early 2018. Sierra Leone, which would be conducting its first post-Ebola presidential election in early March, may prove similarly successful; largely a 3-way race between Julius Maada Bio of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), former UN under-secretary-general Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella of the National Grand Coalition and foreign minister Samura Kamara of the ruling All People’s Congress (APC) party candidate. Despite the not too stellar record of outgoing President Koroma, Mr Kamara, who has the overt backing of the main foreign benefactor of the state (China), is still expected to win; albeit likely by a slim margin. Mr Yumkella is one to watch, though. (I wrote a piece on the Sierra Leone polls for the March 2018 edition of African Business magazine; available at newsstands.)

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper column (Tuesdays). See link viz. http://www.businessdayonline.com/post-crisis-transitions-Liberia-Sierra-leone/

macroafricaintel | Can Africa win Trump over?

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

In mid-May, at the Africa Finance Corporation’s 10th year anniversary infrastructure summit (“AFC Live 2017”) held in Abuja, I asked Jay Ireland, the president and chief executive of GE Africa – the subsidiary of the American industrial giant on the continent – about his thoughts on whether Donald Trump, the American president, would be good or bad for Africa. Specifically, I wanted to know if President Trump would be worth the trouble of winning over. As Mr Trump does not know much about Africa, if the little mention the continent got during his election campaign is anything to go by, engaging with him early on might spring pleasant surprises, some pundits argue. Despite such assurances, I remained a little sceptical. So the opportunity to ask Mr Ireland, who incidentally is also the chair of former President Barack Obama’s Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa and co-chair of the US Africa Business Centre, which leads the American business community’s engagement activities on the continent, was huge. In a sign of the times and the peculiar style of the current American president, Mr Ireland demurred, humorously wondering if his answer might not become the “subject of a tweet.” More importantly, he said a strong case was being made to the Trump administration to continue ongoing initiatives. I was particulary interested in the “Power Africa” programme initiated during the Obama administration; especially since even during Mr Obama’s tenure, it was floundering, talk less that of Mr Trump. The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), is not as vulnerable to a Trump rethink, albeit the administration could still exercise certain prerogatives over the choice of beneficiary countries and so on. My interpretation of Mr Ireland’s comments are as follows: Should Africa indeed not be a priority for Mr Trump, ongoing African initiatives may simply continue under the aegis of able and experienced technocrats at the American State department. And in the event Mr Trump suddenly develops a keen interest on African issues, proactive engagement with the administration like his and the business people he represents may be hugely differential. It has also been argued that African heads of state should do likewise.

Focus on first-order issues
In light of the recent exit from the Paris climate accord by Mr Trump, however, some are now beginning to think whether there is a need to even try. I would not be too quick to give up. True, with African countries already beginning to see the negative effects of climate change via droughts and so on, the recent American action is a setback. And of course, African countries initially had their own reservations about the accord. Not a few wondered why they should have to be environment-friendly at the expense of their development; especially as currently developed countries were not similarly cautious. But with research showing a nexus between climate change and increasing incidents of conflict in a number of African countries, there is a growing consensus about the need to be more caring of the Earth we live in. Still, to do this, African countries would require financial and technological support. To this end, the Paris agreement makes substantial provisions. With the American exit, however, also goes its financial commitments. It is also evidence that a Trump presidency would (at least for now) have second-order negative effects for Africa when the issues relate to broader international and multilateral arrangements that Mr Trump is averse to. So it is on the more specific African initiatives that African leaders should hope to influence him on.

Show respect
At the recent G7 summit in Italy, it was all too clear Mr Trump was not enjoying himself. He was particularly irritated by Emmanuel Macron’s (the French president) “macho-diplomacy”: Mr Macron’s overly firm and lingering handshake with Mr Trump at their very first meeting since the former’s inauguration was well-reported. As if determined to rattle the American president or put him to size, Mr Macron also made sure to refer to the incident afterwards as deliberate. That and another, where Mr Macron seem to be moving towards Mr Trump to shake hands, as the G7 leaders and invited guests did their traditional group-walk in front of the press, but at almost the last minute swerved to shake that of Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, must have been a little unnerving for a man known for his fragile ego. Thus, it is very likely that unpleasant experience was at least a secondary motivation for his action on the Paris accord. In his speech announcing the decision, Mr Trump was almost certainly taking aim at Mr Macron when he said: “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.” (The Washington Post did a very insightful article on the dynamics leading to Mr Trump’s decision.) At the G7 summit it turns out, one of few instances where Mr Trump seemed to be enjoying himself was when he ran into some of the African delegates: Yemi Osinbajo (Nigeria), Alpha Conde (Guinea), Uhuru Kenyatta (Kenya), Hailemariam Desalegn (Ethiopia) and Akinwumi Adesina (African Development Bank). With deft handling, Mr Trump could become an ally.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper column (Tuesdays). See link viz. http://www.businessdayonline.com/can-africa-win-trump/

macroafricaintel | Africans can judge themselves

By Rafiq Raji, PhD 

Unfair system makes easy prey of Africans
At least three African countries have announced plans to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC). South Africa and Burundi would almost certainly be out by October next year. Many are likely to follow. Their reason? The ICC unfairly targets Africans. Established in 2002 to prosecute genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, the ICC could as well relocate to Africa instead of its current wintry abode in the Netherlands. All but one – relates to allegations of war crimes in the 2008 Georgian armed conflict – of the ten cases currently being investigated by the ICC are related to African states. For a United Nations (UN) body, it is almost ludicrous that two permanent members of the UN Security Council do not subscribe to the court. China never ratified the Rome Statute, the treaty which established the ICC. The United States decided not to ratify the treaty in 2002, after having signed it two years earlier. The case of America, that supposed bastion of democracy and justice, is particularly shameful. Even as it has not subjected itself to the jurisdiction of the court, America, or any of the other three members of the Security Council, can block any case from being referred to the ICC. The United States would almost certainly stop any attempt to prosecute Israeli officials for alleged war crimes in Palestine. And under the current geopolitical order, it is very unlikely that Russia would allow the prosecution of the Syrian Assad regime, under whose watch that country has been virtually decimated. Not that that couldn’t change if the Russian regime suddenly rearranged its priorities, like its ever-scheming leader, Vladimir Putin, is wont to do.

Justice for all
If the ICC is to become legitimate, all members of the UN must be subject to its jurisdiction. Else, no African country has any business being a party to it. The ICC’s African tilt thus far certainly feeds the derogatory notion that Africans could not be trusted to dispense justice for themselves. Worse still, western exceptionalists are able to point to Africans’ longstanding mistrust of their ‘big men.’ And there might be some merit to that supposition, when you look at how justice is perpetually subverted in a lot of African countries. Ironically, the judiciary is probably the most credible institution left standing in most of them. Relatively, that is. For even as it was well known that judicial officers were similarly engaged in a myriad of corrupt activities, they at least went about their indiscretions with some sense of shame. And most of the corrupt ones tried to avoid ostentation. Not all of them it turns out. Considering how they had been largely left alone, the seeming impunity made some of them careless: Nigerian judges currently have a credibility problem, after raids on the homes of some very senior ones amongst them revealed they may have been living above their means. About a year ago, Ghanaian judges were actually caught on video by an investigative journalist demanding for bribe and sex, leading to the dismissal of at least twenty judges and magistrates. Still, judicial corruption is not peculiar to African countries, albeit it is more rampant. The South African system is probably as robust as it can get though. Regardless, Africans have demonstrated they can rise up to the cause of justice when needed: in May 2016, with support from the African Union, former Chadian dictator, Hissene Habre, was successfully prosecuted in Senegal for crimes ranging from torture to slavery during his almost a decade rule.

Empower the African court
At the core of the flawed state of the ICC is equity and equality. Is it a coincidence that most cases at the ICC are on African countries? Surely it is not the only continent where such atrocities have been committed. I am still personally distraught watching how Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta, a sitting African head of state, was made to go through the indignity of a trial on live international television. If that is not reminiscent of colonialism, I don’t know what is. Although the charges against him were eventually dropped, Mr Kenyatta has the unenviable record of being the first head of state to be so tried. I agree that victims of the violence during the elections that heralded his emergence deserve justice. But still, heads of states are treated with respect not because of who they are but because they embody the sovereignty of a people. Yes, most leave much to be desired. Even so, some pretensions matter: everyone deserves a certain level of dignity. I have heard arguments about the motive of the Zuma-led South African government in seeking to exit the ICC at this time. Critics of the South African move have suggested that given the country’s stature, it may have unwittingly provided cover for some not so well-regarded African leaders – ‘elected dictators’ – to now make similar moves. The Gambia proved the point all too quickly, announcing its withdrawal shortly after. No matter. There is an opportunity in the growing anti-ICC sentiment: the mandate of the AU’s African Court of Justice and Human Rights should be expanded.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper back-page column (Tuesdays); http://www.businessdayonline.com/category/analysis/columnist/rafiq-raji/

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