Fatou Bensouda and the Uncle Tom syndrome

The returning hero: Kenyatta arriving to Nairobi from The Hague

The returning hero: Kenyatta arriving to Nairobi from The Hague

On October 8, Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta appeared before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, becoming the first sitting president to appear before the tribunal on charges of crimes against humanity.

At first I thought that being forced to appear in the docks (and make no mistake, he was forced) would leave him looking less presidential and more like a common criminal but I was mistaken. By the time he returned to Kenya he was even more popular in Kenya and in the rest of Africa, in my opinion, than the day he left.

His motorcade was mobbed by thousand of jubilant Kenyans, singing his name and waving placards. He resembled a conquering hero, returned from war. He was hailed in his country and hailed across the region.

Kenyatta is an astute politician and in trying him, the ICC has brought this to the fore. He has able to make his indictment not about the killings and mayhem that occurred in the aftermath of the 2007 presidential election but rather about neocolonialism and double standards in international justice. And in doing so, he was able to garner support against the ICC.

The ICC, as an institution, has garnered a bad rap in many parts of Africa, and especially in the intelligentsia, simply because of its record. Since its inception, it has tried or indicted only Africans despite the fact that human rights violations weren’t an African monopoly. African leaders have thus been able to say to their citizens ‘this court ignores the stronger nations and bullies us, the weaker one’. Whether this is true or not, these leaders have won the war for hearts and minds.

However, the ICC doesn’t have to take this lying down. First of all, it has to

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda

engage better with African opinion leaders, especially the young ones. I, for one, have barely heard a coherent argument for the ICC and certainly not on any platforms that I actually use, such as social media. Until the ICC can speak to Africans in a manner that they understand and in platforms they utilize, it will always be perceived as the big, bad wolf finishing the work that colonialists begun.

And truth be told, it wont hurt the ICC’s rep if Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda indicted someone with pale skin. Yes, its nice to see an African at the ICC’s helm, but until she sinks her teeth in someone who isn’t from this continent she will always be treated like an Uncle Tom, doing her masters will.


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