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September 23, 2018

Africa must resolve its own conflicts

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto.
President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto.

A war has been raging in Syria for the last five years. During this period over 250,000 people have died, including women and children. Some 13 million people have been displaced. In the midst of the chaos, the world's most dangerous terrorist organisation has emerged — the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).  It is thriving due to the failure of the Syrian state.

The developed countries have huffed and puffed, threatened and postured, but mainly done nothing to stop the carnage in Syria. Not even the United Nations Security Council, the body that has arrogated itself the responsibility of perfecting the world, could agree on a unanimous position on what to do about Syria. The result has been that each of the leading world powers has taken a side, and is literally fueling the conflict. Meanwhile Syrians able to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe to seek asylum face the wrath of European states and their populations. Countries like Denmark have passed laws allowing the police to seize the property of refugees, who they prefer to call ‘immigrants’. Masked people are attacking these poor souls in Germany and Sweden.

The UN has now organised yet another meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, for members of the warring sides to negotiate. The meeting brings together members of the Bashar el Assad government and the main opposition bloc, the High Negotiations Committee (HNC). The talks are meant to result in an agreement on an immediate ceasefire; the formation of a transitional government; and a work-plan towards UN-supervised general elections. These talks are expected to take at least another six months.

Assuming these talks bear fruit and there is an immediate cessation of hostilities, the warring factions will form a coalition government to manage transition, and the UN will help Syria prepare for a general election. The UNSC will heave a sigh of relief, pat itself on the back, and move on with ‘policing’ the world. In all these there will be one guarantee; bygones, including all the dead and displaced, will be bygones.  Syria will be allowed to rebuild herself according to whatever agreement will have been reached in Geneva.

In Africa Burundi is in a similar conflict but of much lower intensity. It started in April 2015 after President Pierre Nkurunziza pushed through legislation allowing him to run for a third term, which he won in June. In the period since then the UN estimates at least 439 people have died, and over 250,000 have been displaced. Tanzania and Rwanda, Burundi’s direct neighbors, are estimated to be sheltering 175,000 and 75,000 refugees respectively.

In December 2007 Kenya faced a similar conflict to Syria, but again at a significantly lower magnitude. The conflict ran for less than three months and resulted in the deaths of slightly over 1,000 people and the displacement of 600,000 people. The international community intervened and negotiations led to an immediate cessation of hostilities; a coalition government; and structured engagement that led to change in the coalition. Exactly what is being sought in Syria.

But how have international justice systems dealt with these situations?

In Syria, it took over three years of conflict and close to 150,000 deaths before the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon attempted to have the UNSC intervene and refer Syria to the International Criminal Court. This failed after China and Russia vetoed the decision. I can bet the International Criminal Court (ICC) will have absolutely no role in Syria post the on-going negotiations and none of the people behind the killings will be charged, especially if the negotiations bear fruit.

In Burundi, less than two months after the strife began and with fewer than 100 deaths ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda had already stated" "...my office, in accordance with its mandate under the Rome Statute, will be closely following developments in Burundi in the weeks to come and record any instance of incitement or resort to violence...”. Today the international community wants the African Union to send troops to Burundi!

In Kenya, three years after the agreement that had been successfully negotiated by the international community and a few months after a new constitution was promulgated, the ICC opened charges against six Kenyans for the 2007-08 post-election violence. Even after Kenyans went on and voted for two of the indicted individuals as President and Deputy President in peaceful elections two years later, the ICC continues to doggedly pursue a case against the Deputy President. This is despite the fact that such prosecution undermines the negotiations agreed upon in 2008; and documented evidence shows that this prosecution is affecting Kenya’s efforts to permanently move forward past the PEV.

Africa really must chart its own path in regional conflict resolution.

 

 

 

Ngunjiri is a director of Change Associates, a political communications consultancy.

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