The ICC Is Not Biased Against Africans, It Is Biased Against African War Criminals

In this op-ed, Siyanda Mohutsiwa examines why she's not offended by the ICC’s targeting of African war criminals.

With Burundi withdrawing from the ICC and South Africa announcing plans to do the same this week, we have to start examining our thinking.

I will not challenge the idea that Hague-based ICC has gone after more Africans than any other group of war criminals. I will not challenge the injustice in the fact of Tony Blair getting off for his role in the Iraq War. I will not challenge these things because I am not a fan of unfairness. But luckily for me, I don’t relate very much to war criminals.

I don’t have very much in common with war criminals, and so I find it hard to pity them. To feel any kind of way about how fairly or unfairly they feel they are being treated. I particularly don’t know how to relate to war criminals who destroy the lives of ordinary Africans mercilessly and without thought.

So please forgive me, if I am not personally offended by the ICC’s targeting of African war criminals.

Now, you know I have ubuntu. So I am not blind to the humanity and Africanness of war criminals. But the thing is, I am not entirely sure that if the roles were reversed they would spend too much time thinking about how unfairly the ordinary African citizen is being treated. I think they really wouldn’t care.

And as for those who claim that allowing the ICC to police African leaders is akin to Africa submitting its sense of justice to the West, I hear you. But here’s my thing. I can’t really relate to African leaders who have a huge problem with Western courts but none at all with Western corporatocracy (and Western funding and Western AIDS organizations dictating policy and Western pharmaceutical companies testing drugs on poor Africans and Western mining companies sucking communities dry). I cannot relate to that kind of luxury—the luxury to pick and choose which parts of Western influence one is willing to take part in. I really wish I did. But I don’t. So I can’t relate.

But here’s something I can relate to: social panafricanism. Not this fake ghost of black power that African leaders invoke whenever they need an excuse to protect each other’s hides. I’m not talking about this fake ghost of panafricanism that only comes up when it’s time for dictators to chest-bump each other in conference rooms. I can’t relate to political panafricanism.

But I can relate to empathy. I can relate to Africans who know that by virtue of our ordinariness we have more in common at any given moment with the students beaten on the streets of South Africa, with the young Burundians killed for wanting democracy, with the people of Sudan who woke up to a fresh hell, with the women of Congo who suffered unimaginable torture, than we do with the men running away from claiming responsibility for these atrocities.

And so dear Africans, I ask you—what do you think your president will relate to?

Photo by KOLA SULAIMON/AFP via Getty Image

#EndSARS: 1 Year Later And It's Business As Usual For The Nigerian Government

Thousands filled the streets of Nigeria to remember those slain in The #LekkiTollGateMassacre...while the government insists it didn't happen.

This week marks 1 year since Nigerians began protests against police brutality and demanded an end to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). The #EndSARS protests took the world by storm as we witnessed Nigerian forces abuse, harass and murder those fighting for a free nation. Reports of illegal detention, profiling, extortion, and extrajudicial killings followed the special task force's existence, forcing the government to demolish the unit on October 11th, 2020. However, protestors remained angered and desperate to be heard. It wasn't until October 20th, when soldiers opened fire on demonstrators at Lekki tollgate in the country's capital, Lagos, that the protests came to a fatal end. More than 56 deaths from across the country were reported, while hundreds more were traumatized as the Nigerian government continued to rule by force. The incident sparked global outrage as the Nigerian army refused to acknowledge or admit to firing shots at unarmed protesters in the dead of night.

It's a year later, and nothing has changed.

Young Nigerians claim to still face unnecessary and violent interactions with the police and none of the demands towards systemic changes have been met. Fisayo Soyombo the founder of the Foundation for Investigative Journalism, told Al Jazeera, "Yes, there has not been any reform. Police brutality exists till today," while maintaining that his organization has reported "scores" of cases of police brutality over this past year.

During October 2020's protests, Nigerian authorities turned a blind eye and insisted that the youth-led movement was anti-government and intended to overthrow the administration of current President Muhammadu Buhari. During a press conference on Wednesday, in an attempt to discredit the protests, Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed hailed the Nigerian army and police forces for the role they played in the #EndSARS protests, going as far as to say that the Lekki Toll Massacre was a "phantom massacre with no bodies." These brazen claims came while protesters continued to gather in several major cities across the country. The minister even went on to shame CNN, Nigerian favorite DJ Switch as well as Amnesty International, for reporting deaths at Lekki. Mohammed pushed even further by saying, "The six soldiers and 37 policemen who died during the EndSARS protests are human beings with families, even though the human rights organizations and CNN simply ignored their deaths, choosing instead to trumpet a phantom massacre."

With the reports of abuse still coming out of the West African nation, an end to the struggle is not in sight. During Wednesday's protest, a journalist for the Daily Post was detained by Nigerian forces while covering the demonstrations.

According to the BBC, additional police units have been set up in the place of SARS, though some resurfacing SARS officers and allies claim to still be around.

Young Nigerians relied heavily on social media during the protests and returned this year to voice their opinions around the first anniversary of an experience that few will be lucky enough to forget.

get okayafrica in your inbox


How CKay's 'Love Nwantiti' Became the World's Song

Nigerian singer and producer CKay talks to OkayAfrica about the rise of his international chart-topping single "Love Nwantiti," his genre-defying sound and the reasons behind this era of afrobeats dominance.