"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


come on and rock me al-Bashir

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir rocks hard, apparently. At least when it comes to travel in the exciting world of states that are not signatories to the treaty that established the International Criminal Court. Bashir wasn't content with a hop, skip, and a jump to Asmara earlier this week, nor was he happy with simply threatening to defy his country's most senior council of Islamic clerics by trekking to the Arab League summit in Doha next wek. No, no, no. This is a man who has no problem allowing shadowy, state-funded militias to wipe out large segments of his population. Why should he be afraid to go on a full-blown tour of the Middle East and North Africa? If we'd had an advance schedule, we could've printed t-shirts for the merchandise table.

Bashir's latest stop is Cairo, where he was met by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at the airport. The perspective of the Egyptian government is an interesting reflection of the view of the ICC held by many in the developing world. As their foreign minister said at a press conference, "There is an Egyptian, Arab, African position that rejects the way the court has dealt with the status of the president of Sudan."

What precisely is that Egyptian/Arab/African position? There's nothing that's well-defined (outside of Khartoum), but the general view seems to be that the ICC is becoming one more form of neocolonialist oppression of poor states by the West. That's a tired old drum to be beating and probably isn't the real truth, but the perception is somewhat fair. Developing countries rarely have much of a say in how international treaties are hammered out, and the ICC's composition and actions certainly reflect Western biases. Even though most developing states are signatories to the Rome Statute, it's pretty difficult to argue that the ICC necessarily reflects the values and norms of their societies.

And that's where things work somewhat to al-Bashir's advantage. There's a widely-held view in Africa (and, to some extent, in the Arab world) that decisions have to be made by top leaders who come to a consensus. And it's very rare to get a consensus on something as contentious as removing a leader from office. That's why we almost never see the African Union's member states pressuring corrupt dictators out of office (Cough-cough! Mugabe! Cough!) What head of state wants to go after corruption or war crimes or general unpleasantness when he's a recipient of corruption's benefits and privileges, etc.? Or even when he or she is simply governing contested land? We're unlikely to see much support for al-Bashir's removal in most of the continent's states he would choose to visit. And so the tour continues...

(BTW, if you want to learn more about the mess that is the ICC (including a great point about how Joseph Kabila and other leaders attempt to use the court for domestic political ends), check out this week's Development Drums podcast, which features the authors of Wronging Rights, one of my favorite blogs about atrocities and war crimes.)


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