Saturday, October 24, 2020

Will Botswana spurn Kenya on ICC?

Kenya, who are strongly tipped for the coveted African Union chair, seem to be hoping for Botswana’s support against the International Criminal Court (ICC), which is becoming increasingly unpopular on the continent.

Kenya’s candidate for the AU chair Amina Mohamed enjoys the support of COMESA ÔÇô an economic block of 19 African States and is currently trying to win over SADC countries which share Kenya’s position against the ICC.

The East African country recently played on the conflicting positions between Botswana and South Africa: President Uhuru Kenyatta lobbied South Africa’s Jacob Zuma to support Amina Mohamed during the latter’s state visit to Kenya last month. 

Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto have been subjected to an ICC probe on charges of atrocities relating to post-election massacres in 2008 in which some 1 200 people were killed – charges which were later dropped due to insufficient evidence against them. 

South Africa has issued a notice of withdrawal from the ICC and more African countries are widely expected to follow suit. Botswana, on the other hand, has broken ranks with the continent and publicly attacked South Africa for withdrawing from the international court. This sparked a diplomatic spat between the two countries and the tension is expected to push South Africa towards Kenya.

South Africa argues that provisions of the Hague-based court are in conflict with their laws on immunity granted to visiting heads of state and diplomats.  South Africa last year, despite being a signatory to the Rome Statute on the ICC, declined to arrest Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir wanted by the ICC for alleged war crimes. Al Bashir was attending an AU summit in Johannesburg when a Pretoria High Court issued an order to ground him. The South African government violated the court order and sneaked Al Bashir out of the country insisting that the Sudanese President enjoyed immunity granted to Heads of State attending the summit.

Coast Week, a Kenyan publication reported last week that South Africa had thrown its weight behind Mohamed, while on the other hand has reiterated its support for Botswana’s candidate, Pelonomi Venson Moitoi.

Venson-Moitoi told news agency Reuters recently that African countries need to work to reform the ICC rather than quit following South Africa, Namibia, Burundi and Gambia’s intentions to quit the ICC.

“The good thing is that a few more members now, within the AU, agree that pulling out is not the solution. We should be working towards fixing.” Venson-Moitoi was quoted by Reuters as having said. The agency further quoted Venson-Moitoi as saying that should she be elected the AU chairperson she would push for more robust and rigorous AU monitoring of regional elections as an antidote to the controversy, disputes and violence that habitually follow polls in many African countries.

“There is nothing wrong with being outspoken if you are outspoken for the right reasons. If you are outspoken in the interests of Africa, I don’t see anything wrong with that,” Reuters quoted Venson Moitoi.

Kenya this week lobbied Namibia which has also indicated that it will resign from the ICC.

The Kenyan government called on Namibia to support its candidate for the position of chairperson of the AU. This is despite the Namibian Cabinet having earlier this year endorsed Venson-Moitoi.

Kenyan High Commissioner to Namibia Isaac Njenga says this does not mean that his country is undermining Venson-Moitoi’s candidature, as the decision to support the candidacy of Mohamed was informed by a resolution taken at the last AU meeting in Kigali, Rwanda.

“At the Kigali meeting, none of the candidates could get a two-thirds majority of the votes, as required for them to be elected as chairperson of the AUC,” Njenga told New Era a Namibian state-owned publication.

“Our leaders in their great wisdom then decided that the process should be opened to any individual member to nominate their candidates for election. Some of the previous candidates fell out, while some remained like in our case.”

Interestingly, the New Era, which is a Namibian government mouthpiece did not state the government position on the issue except to say: “Namibian International Relations Minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah could not be reached for comment yesterday and questions sent to her were not answered at the time of going to print.”

Botswana also seems to be alienating Zimbabwe which supported Venson Moitoi’s bid during the last election for the AU chair earlier this year. A recent spat between President Ian Khama and Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe is expected to push Zimbabwe away from Venson-Moitoi. 

Zimbabwe, however, maintained last week that it was still supporting Venson Moitoi, but the ground seems to be shaking under the feet of Botswana’s candidate.

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