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As Africa seeks to reassert its independence, some forces in the West are doing all they can to stop “Africa rising.” As part of this, commentators who provide a different narrative from that of the West become a target of some western embassies in Africa. Those expressing views which seem to question western domination in Africa are particular targets


In today’s world dominated by Twitter, Blogs, Emails, Face Book, etc., we have all retreated to the comfort zone, thinking that the new Information Technology and social media holds promise for a better world in which information flows freely; a world in which informed debate and the freedom and right to express ones opinion is the norm. In the midst of this, we also forget that the ‘old world’ exemplified by old colonial attitudes is striking back at attempts to create this new world.

The reality today, is that the rise and acclaim of the social media has not stopped journalists from being executed, TV stations bombed, bloggers and journalists imprisoned, and human rights advocates abused or executed, and whistleblowers like Edward Snowden from being hounded. These indicate clearly that there are still elements out there, who would like to suppress the freedom of thought, the freedom to publish and the right to information. These freedoms are taken for granted as most of us would like to believe that we live in a world where information flow is easy and cheap, where we are free to express opinions irrespective of which powers these may displease. It is not unusual for governments, some Western envoys in Africa and individuals to try suppressing others for daring to think differently. From the Second Liberation in Africa to the Arab Spring, western puppets have been swept aside by popular rebellions in Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere. What these have in common is the opportunity offered by new technology, the push for Parliaments and Legislatures to protect the rights of citizens, particularly, the right to food, housing, health, social care, to information and thought. New information technology has opened avenues for ordinary citizens and not just media moguls to tweet, set up websites, and use the Face book to exchange information, and so on. The opportunities are limitless. So also are the risks.

Recently, I have discovered two things: Firstly, that these opportunities also carry personal risks of unimaginable proportions, mainly because of the hypocrisy surrounding the mantra that somehow, all western nations and their Ambassadors in Africa are true believers in free expression and democracy. In my experience, what they actually mean is, you can express opinions which are not contrary to those of western powers and their African puppets. If you are an African, it means, never challenging the forces of neo-colonialism; new forms of imperialism or western forms of domination in Africa today (e.g. the International Criminal Court-ICC).

Secondly, that it is not so called ‘African dictators’ who are now hounding and threatening with venom anyone who dares to speak truth to power, but ordinary Western envoys with deep pockets, who claim to be the custodians of human rights and democracy. They also have a proclivity for proclaiming their undying love for a ‘free press’. Yet, the same elements rush to deny the same rights to anyone who dares to offer a different narrative from their historically deficient and racist influenced mentality of Africa and Africans.

Thirdly, that the urge to restrict freedom of thought is not limited to African governments, but individuals acting at the behest of western nations with interests in Africa. Even the proponents of press freedom in the West, when they operate in Africa adopt a more aggressive and patronizing approach. The ‘we know what is good for you mentality’ is still rife. In Africa, some western diplomats can become anti-democratic dictators, and suppressers of freedom of speech using the huge grants and resources they control as their arsenals in their war against freedom of thought and speech.

Fourthly, African commentators can express opinions only if these do not go against the narrative of western nations in their relationship with Africa. Support the status quo, if the West supports the ICC, it must be good for Africa, so do not question their (western) motives, and finally, whatever you do, always support the false western historical narrative of Africa (it is always, “this tribe” or “that tribe”). These are lessons I learned from my experience of writing for Pambazuka, and in working with donors in Nairobi, Kenya.


In April 2012, I wrote an article for Pambazuka entitled “A Pan African Perspective on the ICC”. To me, this was nothing but a harmless wading into the ongoing debate about the relationship between the western backed International Criminal Court (ICC) and Africa. The Pambazuka article elicited a number of mixed responses, quite what you would expect. This article was also translated in several languages worldwide.

Following this article, I received a number of invitations to contribute to other publications, but I turned the down because of the time involved. One of these requests was from the BBC African Service which was organising a debate on whether the ICC was ‘targeting Africans’. I submitted a shorter version of the Pambazuka article to the BBC which was published on their website. This is when the bizarre became frivolous and deadly.

Following the BBC article an envoy from the Royal Netherlands Embassy based in Nairobi launched a campaign of threats, intimidation, vilification and blackmail bordering on raw censorship. This Embassy convened meetings in Nairobi where my article was discussed, and a written complaint made to the UN (I worked for a UN Agency). This Embassy recruited the European Union officials and other Western envoys as part of this deadly game of blackmail, and vilification. That was not all. Their next frontier was to recruit willing accomplices from leading Kenyan civil society and human rights organisations and activists, who were profiting from Western largesse into this campaign of wilful vilification. (I have got the emails to support this).

One western envoy argued that since the ICC is based on their territory, views that are not supportive of the ICC should neither be expressed, nor tolerated. I later on learned that the European Union contributes about 60 percent of the total ICC budget. I was accused by a western envoy of having ‘a political agenda.’ I must add that some progressive and open minded Western Embassies did not share these opinions. The question is if these pro-ICC western envoys believed in the rightness of their cause, why would they react like wounded tigers to a simple intellectual debate about the role of the ICC in Africa?

My arguments in the Pambazuka article were three fold, that (a) most indictees of the ICC were Africans and African leaders; (b) that the ICC has not demonstrated that it is interested in the victims of the post-election violence in Kenya or victims of conflict anywhere else in Africa, but has become a weapon in the arsenal of western nations to enforce their neo-colonial interests; and (c) that the Kenyan case against the then presidential aspirants, His Excellency, Uhuru Kenyatta, and his now Deputy, Hon William Ruto were aimed at influencing the impending March 2013 elections in Kenya; i.e., to pave the way for a particular candidate the West had in mind.


In a radio interview in March 2014, with Radio Netherlands Worldwide (RNW), Luis Moreno Ocampo (LMO), former ICC Prosecutor, revealed that “the Kenyan ICC cases were trumped up charges by Western foreign envoys.” These Envoys unashamedly asked him (LMO) “to bloc Kenyatta and Ruto from contesting the Kenyan Presidency”. In his own words: “There were some Diplomats asking me to do something more to prevent Kenyatta or Uhuru from running in the elections” (See New African, March 2014; Daily Nation, February 8, 2014). At the time of my first article for Pambazuka, I had no way of knowing this then. What is most amusing, but also paradoxical is that the civil society led pro-ICC lobby in Kenya has retreated to shameful silence since Ocampo’s explosive ‘bombshell.’ Before this bombshell, the African Union had also taken a responsible pro-African position on the ICC and exposed the ICC’s ‘Africa hunting’ agenda.

In my case, things took a most dangerously sinister turn when the ICC duo (His Excellency Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, Hon William Ruto) won the March 2013 elections in Kenya. Firstly, some Western Embassies provided direct financial support to their Kenyan proxies in civil society to launch a judicial challenge against the results released by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) in Kenya. When this challenge failed woefully as expected, and therefore did not lead to the outcome they anticipated and expected, they became even more desperately belligerent. Threats of sanctions were made against institutions which they considered supportive of the new Uhuru-led administration, and individuals like myself who could see through their neo-colonial agenda in Kenya.

To some of these Western Embassies and their African proxies, the ‘we know what is good for Africa’ mentality is the driving force behind their actions. It became even clearer to me that contrary to claims that the ICC is out to ‘fight impunity’, it has been hijacked by the west, and as a result, is nothing less than a neocolonial instrument of manipulation, to sabotage African leaders who refuse to become agents of western interest in Africa, i.e., African leaders who out of patriotism, refuse to do the bidding of former colonial powers. To put it mildly, the ICC as currently constituted, is the stick for African leaders who refuse to become willing tools, poodles of western imperialist interest, and in this game, no one should stand in their way.

This ICC ploy is also inter-twinned with Western interventionist approach in African elections and the regime change agenda where they must support their proxies to win, or help create tensions in these countries when their proxies are rejected by the electorates: Zimbabwe, Kenya in 2007 and in March 2013, Ghana in 2012 exemplifies this approach. A writer for New African noted that in the case of Kenya, “it was obvious that that the EU-US partnership was using civil societies and the ICC process to bolster the political fortunes of (Hon) Raila Odinga” (New African, March 2014).


This long winded story has two lessons. Firstly that racism is rife in the international community and its dealings with Africa, and racism at the heart of multi-lateral agencies, and the way grants are dispensed. Colonialism was founded on racist principles. Neocolonialism, ‘the last stage of imperialism’ as Kwame Nkrumah noted, is similarly founded on racism. While some Africans are fighting this tendency, it is too deep rooted. Some so-called ‘Development Partners’ do not think Africans should manage their multi-million dollar programmes or funds, even if those Africans are skilled men or women of integrity. In this, they find common cause with willing African accomplices in multilateral agencies and civil society sector with a ‘yes sir’ mentality to do their bidding. In the case of Kenya, the desire for donor funds is an impediment to critical thinking. However, racism will not last forever.


The second lesson is that the case of Kenya has demonstrated that the ICC has its owners and they will do all they can to keep this charade of a justice system going even if they have to lie, vilify, corrupt anybody who stands in their way, to achieve this. Saddam Hussein and his non-existent ‘weapons of mass destruction’ come to mind. Claims of the ICC’s independence are a hogwash, and simplistic. It is western funded, western directed, western-led and manipulated institution. Africans will also play a second fiddle. For daring to question the motive of the ICC and the role of the West in the “African hunting” agenda, I was targeted for abuse and vilification.

Thirdly, in the last thirty years, Africans have been regaled with stories of how achieving human rights will lead to a western type utopia when human rights, democracy, free speech, and all the terms used these days, will be the norm. ‘Development partners’ will stand shoulder to shoulder with African civil society against their ‘wicked’ rulers. These are questionable. Some western nations will not support the principles enshrined in the UN Charter and the African Charter of Human and Peoples Rights if they contradict in the slightest way possible, some undefined Western financial and geo-political interests. As Africans, we have to find our own way out of the malaise of human rights abuses, and ways of dealing with impunity. The ICC is NOT the instrument, will never be and is incapable of dealing with issues of impunity in Africa.

The usual response of the pro-ICC brigade in Africa is so weak that sometimes, they ought to be ignored. On the question of the role of the ICC, one of the Judges, Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji accused the prosecutor, Ms Bensouda of “not taking extreme care to avoid the impression that the ICC is not being used to block the political ambitions of Ruto” (The Star, 28 August, 2013). The Judge went on to say that the ICC should avoid the “hollow pretensions of attempting to divorce the court from the reality of the world.”

In his book, “Things that could not be said: From Aids to Zimbabwe”, Dr. Frank Chikane, a former Chief of Staff in Thabo Mbeki’s office revealed that during the discussions leading to the formation of the ICC: “we (South Africa) were made to pay a heavy price: a grant amounting to several millions of dollars was immediately withheld” because South Africa dared to raise some procedural and ideological issues about the ICC (page 122, Picador publications, 2013). The reaction of some western nations to criticism of the ICC, as in my case, means that some western nations will continue to try and salvage some scrap metal from the wreckage of a failed neo-colonial project called the ICC.


Impunity is a global problem. I have no doubt that impunity is rife. Like tuberculosis, impunity is also a global phenomenon. It mutates and takes different forms. Yet, some sections of African civil society confuse the impunity of the 1980s with the impunities of the present era. It is like corruption, so let us stop putting the “Made in Africa” tag on impunity. But like any misused term, it is also subject to misuse by civil society activists and for opportunistic reasons. So, how should Africa confront impunity? Is it through internationally-led institutions on their own, or should the fight against impunity in Africa be African-led?

I have my doubts when some African intellectuals claim that the ICC is the first and final frontier in the fight against impunity. Citizens of all countries should identify the causes of impunity at both the national and international level, and defend their rights, defeat impunity. Africa has a history of this struggle. From the 1970s through to the 1980s, African political activists and political parties fought against impunity with popular and mass democratic mobilisation and non-violent struggles without some aberrations called an ‘international court’.

At any rate, contrary to claims, the ICC route to justice has not prevented the rise of Boko Haram in Nigeria, nor Al-Shabaab in Somalia, nor the carnage in the Central Africa Republic. There is the sorry state of Kenya today in which citizens are under attack from Al-Shabaab, in spite of the fact that some Kenyan leaders are facing indictment at the ICC. What does this say about the ICC and its influence on the mind-det of armed groups? This means that the existence of the ICC has had little impact on current developments in Africa.

The struggle against impunity in Africa is not simply a judicial process. Like corruption, citizens must lead the fight against impunity, and not turn it into a donor-led debate. This is part of the fight for democratic space. But history has taught us that some of our so-called ‘partners’ have their own agenda. As Issa Shivji pointed out in a 2003 article:

“Democratic reforms, let it be said for the umpteenth time, is the prerogative of the people. It is the exercise of their sovereignty and their right to self-determination. That is what the struggle for independence and liberation was all about. It was the struggle of the African people to reclaim their humanity and dignity and the right to think for themselves and to chart their destiny. This was, and is, precisely the essence of anti-imperialist struggles. It follows, therefore, that economic and political conditionalities, including those on good governance, are an expression of the reassertion of imperial domination, however it may be labelled” (Issa Shivji, 2003).


In the case of Kenya, in 2007 and 2013, some Western countries had invested financial and moral resources towards a particular result during the elections. Before the March 2013 elections, western leaders tried to blackmail the people of Kenya to vote in a particular way by declaring that “choices have consequences”. This, they proclaimed without a hint of shame or concern for the dignity of Africans. When the people of Kenya voted in the March 2013 elections and refused to be ‘blackmailed’ (the words of His Excellency, Yoweri Museveni) and elected HE Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy, Hon. William Ruto, it sent a chilling message to these Western Embassies and their Kenyan proxies.

The west felt defeated and did not take this lightly. They needed fall guys and institutions; they needed someone or some people to blame for their abject lack of understanding of the African electorate, their weak understanding of new structural changes and formations in Africa, and how the continent is changing. This Uhuru-Ruto victory in 2013 also exposed the lack of a structural understanding of social formations and what influences the African electorate. Western embassies or groups representing western interests believe that cash hand-outs to their urban based ‘friends’ in civil society and some political parties will guarantee victory at elections. The masses in Africa no longer do the bidding of western colonial masters and their African proxies. Trying to expose this fallacy is a dangerous game.

Following the defeat of western proxies in the Kenyan elections, the West had to justify the utter waste of their taxpayers’ money on a futile exercise. The question I ask myself is what would be the reaction of western Embassies and their governments if the Chinese or Iranian embassies in Nairobi had acted similarly? Just imagine the furore it would have created. What then is democracy? In a democracy, the will of the majority as expressed at the ballot box should be respected. Yet when some sections of the ruling elite lose elections, they resort to all manner of empty rhetoric and mass manipulations, to get their supporters energised, thus using violence to enforce their will. This tendency is what some referred to as “a combination of contempt for public opinion and an addiction to personal gain.”

The West will continue to make the mistake time and time again. It is also impossible to resist the feeling that some African elites have once cone again fallen for a false sense of fulfilment from people who preach democracy but practice dictatorships and commit the most sinister, unapologetic unspeakable atrocities against other people if only to lay their hands on their resources (e.g. Libya). It is worth repeating that the principle of ‘we know what is good for the natives’ is very much alive. The new lie is that ‘we are all against impunity’. However, the living reality is that African resources are for grabs at a time when western nations now facing eye ball to eye ball with China. The desperation of the West has become palpable. Some sections of the new emerging African elite (middle classes) will make deals with imperialist interest to deny the people their birthright and this should be said time and again. Once again, let us turn to Issa Shivji who said:

“The post-cold war renewal of imperialism is even more ferocious than classical colonialism. It is led by a dangerous and unrestrained super-power undermining the very basis of democracy, the right of the peoples to self-determination, that is, their right to think for themselves. It is playing God by deciding for the rest of the world, what is good and what is evil, who is a friend and who is a foe, who are people and who are non-people” (2003).


In recent years, Africa has been making rapid progress both at the political and economic level. This is not without challenges. This has led to the use of a new term “Africa Rising” which is often sneered at by some western and African commentators. Is Africa rising? The new relationship between the European Union and the United States on one hand, and Africa on the other is worth examining in great detail, but not in this article. However, suffice it to say that this relationship is changing; Africa is beginning to reassert its authority over its resources. “Developmentalism” in this age is real. This is contextualised by comrade Motsoko Pheko who puts it this way:
“The Africa Union (AU) has given some hope that it can defend and protect African interests without fear from the intimidation of imperialist countries…. For far too long the AU has bowed to the neo-colonial machinations and arrogance of the European Union regarding the interest of African people. History shows that when Africans fight for their rights, Pan Africanly as a family, they always win” (Pambazuka, 2014-02-20, Issues 66).

For this reason, he said the AU must be ‘congratulated’ for standing up to the bullying antics of the EU. I share the view that the “Africa Union must be congratulated” for its stance on the International Criminal Court (ICC) and other issues. As individuals however, Africans will need to continue to show courage and resilience in the face of the new neo-colonialist onslaught against the continent. The urge to contribute to creating a better Africa for tomorrow’s generation, for protecting the dignity of the African person and nation, and for saying no to interest that are anti-African and to neocolonialism, is also alive and thriving in African capitals like Nairobi.

As one Pambazuka article concludes, there are people with an “irrepressible impulse to create a better world, a more just, equal, and compassionate society ... (people who are) outraged and disgusted by injustice, abuse of power and arbitrariness because it offends their basic sense of morality”. Africa is not lacking in such heroes. But as President Julius Nyerere once admonished us: “Africa must refuse to be humiliated, exploited, and pushed around. And with the same determination we must refuse to humiliate, exploit, or push others around. We must act, not just say words” (Nyerere 1973, 371).

* Zaya Yeebo is an author and Director of the Pan African Institute for Development based in Accra, Ghana.



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