What does ‘African solutions to African problems’ mean?

The Government of Kenya has embarked on yet another push to lead African states away from the International Criminal Court (ICC). The rallying call is that Africa needs to pursue African solutions to African problems. In other words the ICC is perceived as being insensitive in how it approaches the so called African problems. But the question is what exactly are these African problems? To answer this question this blog post looks at the deliberations around the formation of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights that has the capacity to adjudicate on international criminal matters.

A proposal to establish an African Court of Justice and Human Rights (ACJHR) that has the competence to determine international criminal matters was tabled at the just concluded African Union (AU) Heads of States meeting. The proposal is contained in a document called the Malabo Protocol. Therein, the details of what would constitute international crimes are spelled out. Other the infamous crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, 11 other crimes have been added to the list of international crimes that the court would deal with. Among these are Terrorism, Trafficking in Persons, Piracy among others.

Another proposal that was tabled at the meeting relates to the immunity of heads of states and other ‘senior government officials’ from prosecution of international crimes. This point is particularly contentious in view of the Kenyan cases involving the Kenyan Deputy President currently going on at the Hague. The African Heads of States appeared to agree that the immunity from such prosecution was imperative for peace and security in the region. They went further to suggest that the ICC would not work in the interest of African states if it ignored peace agreements settled between warring factions if it arrested and prosecuted the leaders of these factions for international crimes during hostilities. As an example of this logic, should President Salva Kirr or Riek Machar were to be arrested and prosecuted for international crimes then it would scuttle the peace process in the country.

Funding of the ICC and the referral mechanism were also faulted as being bias. A linkage was made between funding the ICC and the cases that usually end up at the court; that those countries that fund it seldom find their citizens being prosecuted at the Hague. Further to this, there was the claim that the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) referral mechanism is unfair as 3/5 permanent members are not signatories to the Rome Statute. Further to this the composition of the UNSC is deemed not to be representative enough to include an African state as a permanent member.

All this observations are accurate but in my view they miss the point completely. First to say that the ICC is on a mission to undermine the independence of African states is spurious at best. The ICC is established by the Rome Statute which all states are welcome to sign and ratify, which is what all these African states did. In addition to this, 50% of the cases handled by the ICC were referred there by African states. Further the ICC mechanism is complementary in nature which means that states have the primary responsibility to set up courts and try international crimes in their jurisdictions. It should not be forgotten that Kenya was given such an opportunity to set up such a tribunal but failed and that is how the accused found themselves in their current situation.

Secondly, I do not think that crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes are ‘African problems that need African solutions.’ If anything, these are serious crimes of international concern that are abhorred universally and that threaten peace and security in the world. In other words save for the elongated list of other crimes listed as international crimes and which are covered by other international treaties as transnational crimes, the Malabo Protocol does not list any new exclusively African problem that it seeks to tackle.

Thirdly, the fact that the issue of immunity was unanimously agreed on by the Heads of States is likely to do more harm to accountability in African politics than solve the so called African problems. The ACJHR is more likely to be used as hammer for opposition politicians now that the ‘Crime of Unconstitutional Change of Government’ is listed as an international crime. This line of argument is especially poignant when you interrogate the ease with which African Governments refer cases of their opponents to the ICC e.g. the Ugandan case.

In reality there no African problems here unless we would agree with our leaders that certain heinous crimes are African problems. Further, if we accept the so called African solutions, it will further aggravate impunity in Africa in name of harmony and stability. There can never be stability without accountability!

Obama’s Strategy against I.S. in Syria likely to Fail

Over the recent months, the threat of the Islamic State has thrived. This has led many governments, mostly western, to come together and discuss on how to respond to it. No tangible results have so far come out of these meetings but the recent beheading of an American journalist, Steven Sotloff appears to have been the proverbial final straw. A plan led by the American government appears to be under way.

On 10th of September, a day before the commemoration of the most blatant terrorist attack on American soil, President Obama presented his plan on defeating the Islamic State.The plan had four points: air strikes, non combat support to Iraqi Government and Syrian opposition forces on the ground, counter-terrorism strategies and humanitarian assistance. In essence, Obama’s plan is to have people of Iraq and Syria fight I.S. forces themselves as the Americans provide sustained air power.

This plan is in line with Obama’s overall foreign policy on American troops fighting on foreign soil. This is the corner stone of his pledges in 2008 and 2012 along with the spectacular claim that he would close Guantanamo Bay base within 100 days. The US has already began the draw back from Iraq and it is highly unlikely that they would risk the lives of more American troops in protracted combat situations such as the one currently going on in Syria.

Obama’s plan, however, may work in Iraq but meet limited success in Syria. This is because of the current conflict between forces loyal to the Government of Bashar al Assad and those loyal to the various opposition factions. Obama’s plan is to arm the opposition fighters to equip them to meet the objective of eliminating the I.S. threat in Syria and perhaps in the long term meet the opposition’s objective of dethroning Assad. However a critical assessment must be drawn up on the capability of these opposition forces to fight on two fronts.

It is a well known fact that political and military objectives can work cross purposely and the Syrian situation is a good example. Whereas it is politically understandable for Obama to snub the Assad regime, is it militarily sound? The opposition forces fighting Assad’s Government, in my opinion, appear not to have the strength to fight a war on two fronts. In the past three years they have been unable to dislodge Assad’s regime. How feasible is it for them to now be equipped to fight both I.S. and Assad’s regime?

Secondly with direct military engagement being ruled out, Obama has to rely on opposition forces. However there is the issue of command and control over the opposition forces. Americans need to be certain that they are not walking into another Libyan situation in the Middle East. The Syrian opposition does not appear to be as united to inspire confidence that arms provided to them would not end up in the hands of the I.S. fighters. We should all remember that fighters are being recruited by I.S. and it not unimaginable that some opposition fighters disgruntled by the divisions apparent in the Syrian opposition may defect to I.S. with the weapons provided by the American Government.

With this in mind, the American Government ought to be cautious on how to approach I.S. in Syria. The dilemma for Obama is how to ensure that the objectives of destroying I.S. do not lead to the strengthening of I.S. He also needs to think about whether limited association with Assad for the purposes of defeating I.S. may be militarily prudent over the political objective of having him removed. All in all, it would be difficult for Obama to implement his plan in Syria without the support of the Syrian Government.

Was American Foreign Policy ever Isolationist? I Do Not Think So!

Students of American foreign policy and International Affairs in general have been regaled with tales of isolationism in American foreign policy. The story goes that the founding fathers of the new nation chose to adopt a different path from what was at play in Europe. In 1796 George Washington implored the nation in his farewell address not to adopt the policies of European international relations; that their ‘distant and detached situation’ provided them with an opportunity to ‘pursue a different course.’ But how different was this course and did America actually choose a different path?

This post argues that American foreign policy was never isolationist. It refers to some of the policies that were made during the 18th and 19th century to demonstrate this. It further argues that isolationism in American foreign policy was more in the minds of the policy makers than it was a reality in international relations.

America won her freedom from the British empire and as Henry Kissinger explains in his book Diplomacy (1994) the new nation rebelled against all that was European. He calls it American exceptionalism: the belief that America was a pure and noble nation and that it could not be entangled in the mess that was international politics then. At this time (late 18th century) it should be remembered France had pretensions for global domination and would have succeeded had Waterloo not happened to Napoleon.

The fight for American independence was a moral fight, at least in the eyes of the freedom fighters, rather than a political one. In their view there was no separate morality between man and state. With victory at hand, the new nation thought that its ideals had been vindicated and that these ideals were the solution to end wars prevalent in the international system. This system, based on the amoral nature of politics, had been wracked by wars of national interest and balance of power from the 1600s with the rise of France as the most powerful state in Europe and arguably the world. 

With the international system contradicting their belief system, early American leaders interpreted George Washington’s farewell address as a call to completely dissociate from European affairs. However, did this mean that America did not participate in international affairs? The answer is no, America did participate in international affairs but labelled such participation as domestic rather than foreign policy.

The first issue about labelling American foreign policy as isolationist is the insular notion that international relations only applied to European affairs. Focus is often given to what the Americans refused to do for the European balance of power system than to what it did in its own western hemisphere. This often leads to the conclusion that leaders of the time conflated international relations with European relations.

Secondly, the labelling also serves to exclude the Manifest Destiny and the 1823 Monroe Doctrine from the realm of foreign policy. The Manifest Destiny is the lofty idea that the American nation was given the divine right to expand westwards to the Pacific Ocean. It was a mission statement that guided a series of purchases (e.g. Louisiana in 1803 & Alaska in 1868) and conquests which have been immortalized in Holy Wood film with stories of brave cowboys pitched against atavistic (as often portrayed) red ‘Indians’. This is the policy that validated American expansionism into a glorious mission that was not in the least bit foreign in as much as it was the same foreign policy goal of France in Europe at the time.

The Monroe Doctrine is still more evidence that American foreign policy was not that isolationist as we are meant to believe. President James Monroe was convinced by John Quincy Adams (Secretary of State) to take a unilateral stance on the Spanish revolution wars in the 1820s. Britain had shown interest through foreign secretary George Canning of collaborating with the Americans to keep the Holy Alliance (Austria, Prussia and Russia) out of South America. However the war between the Brits and Americans that culminated in the 1812 occupation of Washington DC made Americans wary of the deal. This led to the push to make a unilateral declaration that America would not interfere in European affairs and European states should not interfere with not only North American affairs but the entire western hemisphere.

What were the results of this policy? America was no free to set the tone of international relations of the entire western hemisphere. It did this by first ridding European influence from Latin American states such as the 1902 forcing of Haiti to clear up its debts with European banks and the 1905 creation of a financial protectorate over the Dominican republic.

The Monroe Doctrine was used as a springboard to a further interventionist American foreign policy called the Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine of 1904. This was initiated by President Theodore Roosevelt who firmly believed in the use of might than morals to influence international outcomes in favour of American national interests. He finally gave way to Woodrow Wilson and his idealism after a split in the Republican camp between Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. However it was not until after the second world war that some pundits opine that American isolationism officially ended.

Bearing all these in mind, it is difficult conclude that America was indeed isolationist. It used the very elements of expansionism it stated that it eschewed to become a powerful state. The only difference between this means and that of the European system was that the Americans believed that they were a divine instrument set to make things right with the world whereas the European system was predicated on survival. In as much as the American public and its leaders thought and stated that they were not engaging in international affairs, their actions were purely of a foreign policy nature.