Museveni used to be a darling of the ICC and a parrot of Western Countries voice in Africa.
What changed?
How has Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni moved
from being a top cheerleader of the International
Criminal Court (ICC) to one of its most virulent
critics? Has he got legitimate concerns or is it a
question of self-serving fear and egoism?
Listen to Museveni addressing the UN General
Assembly in September. “…the ICC in a shallow,
biased way has continued to mishandle complex
African issues. This is not acceptable. The ICC should
stop. Our advice to them is from very capable actors
who know what they are doing and saying. Kenya is
recovering. Let her recover. We know the origin of the
past mistakes. The ICC way is not the right one to
handle those mistakes.”
All right thinking people should be dismayed by the
hypocrisy of the President on the ICC. In his speech
at the UN, Mr Museveni rubbished the ICC’s
involvement in the post-election violence cases in
Kenya. Earlier, he had attended the AU summit and
was one of the key critics of the ICC, even
threatening that AU members should leave the ICC.
Yet it is Museveni who was a cheerleader of the ICC
from its inception. He became the first leader to refer
a case to the ICC when in 2004 he referred the case
of the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) to the ICC.
In 2003, a year after the ICC became operational,
President Museveni appeared jointly with then ICC
Chief Prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, to announce
that Uganda had decided to refer the crimes
committed by the LRA to the ICC.
The announcement made headlines globally. It was a
shot in the arm for the newly created court. Both
Ocampo and his ‘complainant’ beamed for the
cameras.
Fast forward to 2006 and the LRA continued to run
rings around the Ugandan army. Museveni kept
pledging that by the end of the dry season the LRA
would be history. The suffering people of northern
Uganda wondered which dry season Museveni meant
as he had been making the same promise since
1996!
Meanwhile in 2005, the Sudan peace deal was finally
signed. Even though the death of John Garang
brought some doubts about the future, the new
leader of South Sudan, Mr Salva Kiir, came to
Kampala to celebrate the 2006 NRM anniversary,
carrying a video recording of a meeting between his
then Vice President Dr Riek Machar and the LRA
leader Joseph Kony. He told Museveni that his
government could broker peace between the LRA and
the Uganda government.
To the annoyance of the ICC, Museveni announced
that his government would talk to the LRA. When
asked about the fate of the ICC indictments,
Museveni said he would ‘talk to the ICC to withdraw
the indictments’.
Awkward situation
That year I sat in a meeting where international law
expert Barney Afako gave Museveni a crash course
on the legal terrain the Juba peace process was
navigating. Museveni was told plainly that only the
UN Security Council could suspend the warrants of
arrest and allow for a domestic justice and
accountability process, which must pass the test of
being enough to make the ICC process unnecessary.
During the Juba peace talks, Museveni paid lip
service to domestic processes but never made any
move to have the warrants of arrest against the LRA
commanders withdrawn. The ICC on the other hand
kept making disruptive media statements to the
effect that the peace talks will not deter it from
pursuing the LRA indictees.
The ICC’s shadow around the Juba process also made
us to re-examine our domestic system. In cases of
mass murders of citizens by dictators or rebels,
Africa’s domestic systems are still drastically
wanting.
What has happened now that Museveni is rubbishing
a court he has previously championed? Why has he
become a defender of those wanted by the ICC?
The reasons are not difficult to find. Given the
determination of the ICC to go after sitting heads of
state, Museveni finds himself in an awkward
situation. Heads of state like Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir
and Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta enjoy immunity under
the constitutions of their respective countries but the
ICC Statutes can override even presidential
immunity.
Could it be that in mourning for Kenyatta, Museveni
is mourning for himself? If truth be told, Museveni’s
tirade against the ICC in New York is pure hypocrisy.
Unless a country is unable or unwilling to deal with
particular cases, the ICC will not come in.
In the case of Bashir, the Khartoum regime has been
adamant over war crimes in Darfur. In the Kenyatta
case, it is the Kenya parliament that voted to refer
the cases to the ICC, arguing that local courts were
not likely to guarantee fair trials.
With due respect, this time Museveni is on the wrong
side of history. Only the ICC can stand as a reminder
to all perpetrators of impunity that there will be a
day of reckoning. Museveni dreads the day of
reckoning. That is his real problem with the
International Criminal Court.

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