Al Bashir and Pseudo pan Africanism
One of the most controversial foreign policy decisions taken by the government of Malawi in recent times is the barring of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir from entry into Malawi to attend a planned summit of the African Union.
Since Malawi is a signatory to the Rome Treaty, the government has a legal obligation to arrest president al-Bashir if he comes to Malawi. As a sovereign state, Malawi undertook the obligations under the Rome Treaty voluntarily. It is disingenuous to suggest that Malawi is free to choose which legal obligations it should honour. Imagine if such a view was taken with respect to all laws, including national criminal law.
Beyond the legal questions surrounding the al-Bashir case, however, are political questions that continue to fuel public controversy. Top of the questions has been that of the international imbalance of power that leads to disproportionate targeting of African political leaders alleged to have perpetrated international crimes.
There is some merit in this argument although it has to be balanced against the observation that Africa has had a disproportionate share of crimes against humanity.
It should not be particularly surprising that a continent with a recent history of civil wars, child soldiers, use of rape as a weapon of war and genocide should yield a relatively long list of suspects sought by international justice tribunals, including the International Criminal Court.
At the same time, however, the question still remains. Why, despite the crimes against humanity that have occurred elsewhere such as Iraq and Afghanistan, has no European or American Head of Government or military leader has been brought to face international justice? This is what suggests that the detractors of the International Criminal Court have some merit in their argument.
Having said that, there is an aspect of the argument advanced by those who oppose the Malawi government’s decision on al-Bashir that needs to be interrogated vehemently before it masquerades as gospel truth. The argument suggests that, by threatening to arrest al-Bashir, the Malawi government has acted against the notion of Pan-African unity that the African Union stands for.
The essence of the argument is that African unity requires that African states stand together. Other proponents of this argument say that to arrest al-Bashir is to pander to imperialist interests disguised as international justice. Despite its apparent appeal, this view cannot go unchallenged.
My starting point is to note that genuine pan-Africanism is that which seeks to unite the people of Africa for their common benefit. This is not the same as the unity of African political elites for the benefit of their own narrow class interests.
The view of pan-Africanism which is based on the interests of the political and capitalist elites- such as presidents, ministers, business magnates etc- is based on a perverted notion of pan-Africanism that is essentially anti-African.
When African political leaders turn on their own (African) citizens and subject them to oppression, violence and plunder what should be the response of the genuine pan-Africanist? Surely, it cannot be to jump to the defence of those leaders in the name of pan-Africanism.
It is the continent’s political class and its capitalist fellow travelers that have betrayed African workers, peasants and others as well as the very dream of pan-African unity that was fashioned at the dawn of independence. Through years of dictatorship, corruption and primitive accumulation, this class has been the enemy of the continent.
It takes a lot of nerve for this class to turn for support to the very people it was exploiting when it finds itself pursued by international justice. Equally, it takes a strange definition of pan-Africanism to rationalize the protection of forces that undermine the interests of ordinary Africans.
Is it enough for one to clothe oneself in the African Union flag in order to claim to be an advocate of African Unity?
All critical Africans should avoid being hoodwinked into providing a knee-jerk defence of all classes of Africans or being stampeded into pseudo pan-Africanism.