Op-Ed

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?

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Photo: Single cover art courtesy of Emerald East

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