A close friend likes to enthral his pals with anecdotes of his experiences as a General Service Unit officer. One popular story regards a recruit in training school who lost his temper and raised his rifle at the drill sergeant. The sergeant fell to his knees and joined the other trainers and recruits in beseeching the inflamed recruit to drop his weapon. The recruit eventually did. The recruit was beaten like a dog and expelled from training school. His worst crime was not to have shot after he had cocked his gun. That hesitation, the trainers explained, would have cost the life of anyone they were protecting.
I remembered this tale last week when the African Union failed, yet again, to pass a resolution for the mass withdrawal of African states from the International Criminal Court. This issue started way back in 2008 when the court issued arrest warrants against the President of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir.
In May this year, during the 21st Heads of States summit, Kenya circulated a draft memorandum for consideration calling on the ICC to refer the cases back to Kenya. Every one expected that the Extraordinary Session of the Assembly held on October 12, 2013 would pass the resolution. It didn’t.
While the African Union dilly-dallied, former Secretary-General to the United Nations Kofi Annan, and now one of Africa’s most eminent persons, joined hands with Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, now commonly accepted as “the conscience of South Africa”, to condemn the attempts by African Presidents to sink the ICC.
These two voices may be very influential in the considerations the rest of the world takes regarding the ICC cases. Similar sentiments were given by human rights organisations from all over the world led by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, two of the world’s most powerful voices in this field.
Continentally, a group of 130 civil society organisations from 34 African countries issued a joint statement calling on African members of the International Criminal Court to affirm their support for the court. And further, while the AU procrastinated, French President Francois Hollande travelled to South Africa, signed off deals worth 8 billion dollars, and gave indications that France might veto the intended petition to the United Nations Security Council. This raised the possibility that South Africa might change tune, or reduce passion, in the way it has previously supported Kenya on this issue.
In the meantime, the AU remains unable to finance itself and still relies on foreign donors, mostly the European Union, USA and China, to meet its budget. According to the 2014 budget, African Union needs donors to inject 170 million dollars to finance its programmes. This amount makes up 96 per cent of the total programmes budget. These programmes include the much hyped African Court of Justice and Human Rights which is being touted by the union to take up cases from ICC.
The union’s operational costs are met by members’ contributions but most of the members don’t pay. At least, not in time. Even Kenya, which is relying on the union to save its leadership from the claws of the ICC, is a defaulter in paying annual subscriptions, according to the statement issued in May this year by H.E. Mr Erastus Mwencha, Deputy Chairperson of the African Union Commission.
The overall result is that in the year 2013, the African Union ran a budgetary deficit of 75 per cent. To compound the failings, more than half of the membership of the union dominates the list of the world’s poorest countries.
They may huff, they may puff, but both the union and most of its members have to take the begging bowl and go to Western countries in order to survive. Little wonder the The Economist in its issue of January27, 2011 described the African Union as “short of cash and teeth” and said it “still exudes a lot of hot air”.
Whatever the outcome of the petition for the deferral of the Kenyan cases at the United Nations Security Council, I doubt anyone will be feeling particularly pressured by the threats being issued by the African Union.