Really, who will be there to defend the rights of relatives and allies of Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe soon or long after he’s dead?
Replace Mugabe with any current or former president of an African country to put into perspective the dramatic events of last weekend when South Africa helped Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir evade an indictment for murder.
It ended the way many seasoned analysts and pundits concluded it would; that the government of president Jacob Zuma would show scant regard for his country’s laws and institutions and would refuse to do something as far-reaching as arresting an errant African leader.
Al-Bashir was allowed to board his flight and evade justice for charges of ethnic cleansing, rape and other genocidal acts against black Africans in Sudan, particularly Darfur.
A lot has been said about the hyprocrisy of the international justice system, in this case the target being the International Criminal Court (ICC), which wants to prosecute Al-Bashir. The cheap point-scoring is that the ICC is targeting only African leaders but does nothing against the likes of George W Bush or Tony Blair for ordering the murderous raids on Iraq under the false charge of that country possessing “weapons of mass destruction”.
But that argument has been nullified by the hypocrisy of our own leaders who keep begging the international community to tackle their equally murderous opponents such as Joseph Kony (Uganda), Bosco Ntaganda and Jean-Pierre Bemba (DRC).
Let’s go back to “when Mugabe dies…” and replace his name with, say, Dos Santos (Angola), Gebuza (Mozambique), Pohamba, Nujoma or Geingob.
As heads of state and government demonstrated at their meeting of the African Union in South Africa against the ICC (with no less than a newcomer, our President Hage Geingob entering the fray), Mugabe has essentially managed to destroy the SADC Tribunal.
The SADC Tribunal was set up to serve as an arbiter of last resort between countries and between states on one side and individuals one the other, in the event that national institutions, such as courts, failed to function fairly and justly. Because Mugabe’s government lost a case against a white Zimbabwean farmer at the Windhoek-based tribunal, SADC leaders have since stopped the tribunal and will allow it only to tackle state-to-state issues.
How short-sighted our leaders are. Remember the injustice that the former president of Zambia Frederick Chiluba meted out to Kenneth Kaunda? Having won the election against Kaunda hands-down, Chiluba abused his powers and stripped Kaunda of Zambian citizenship, turning the former long-serving president into a stateless citizen. Chiluba also arbitrarily decided not to pay Kaunda his pension.
That’s what people do when drunk on power. They turn against laws and conventions and abuse the instruments of the state.
In the absence of continental and international institutions to keep some semblance of accountability, justice and fairness, the likes of Zuma, Dos Santos, Mugabe and our own leaders in Namibia must remember that their children, grand-children, relatives and cronies could be the target of unjust and unfair treatment because of their legacy.
Knowing very well how they and their relatives and friends amass wealth (Dos Santos’s daughter Isabel is the richest woman in Africa) our leaders must fear because they keep destroying structures and institutions meant to keep in check those in power. Or are they so selfish not to even care about their off-spring and cronies after they no longer wield power?
Without such institutions, soon or long after they have gone, overzealous successors of past and current strongmen will have nothing stopping them from taking arbitrary decisions against the offspring of the likes of Mugabe, Dos Santos and the Nujomas of this continent.
Is that what our leaders want, really?