Kenya could be punished for welcoming Sudan's leader

Kenya allowed Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is facing war crime charges, to visit. The move was smart for domestic and regional politics, although it brought international criticism.

By , Guest blogger

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    Sudan's President Omar Hassan al- Bashir (r.) and his counterpart Paul Kagame of Rwanda leave the Uhuru Park grounds after attending the promulgation of Kenya's new constitution in Nairobi August 27.
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The fallout from Sudan's al-Bashir's trip to Kenya to celebrate the constitution may be more serious than the Kenyans themselves probably anticipated. A Kenyan Capital FM report says that the ICC has reported Kenya to the UN Security Council and may face economic and travel sanctions, while this report at Kenya's Daily Nation makes it seems as though Kenya might just get away with a slap on the wrist. For more on what the ICC may or may not do, complete with legalese, read Making Sense of Sudan's take.

In his defense of the invitation to the notorious Sudanese president, Foreign minister Moses Wetang’ula made the case that the invitation was necessary to straighten out some issues with Sudan's upcoming referendum. This strikes me as good regional politics -- the less isolated Sudan is and the more greviances between Salva Kiir and Omar al-Bashir are out in the open, the more likely the referendum gets carried out with as little bloodshed as possible. Kenya and Sudan share a southern border, let us not forget. The less bloodshed, the less likely that Sudan's 2011 referendum will result in a refugee crisis for Kenya, who is already in for it Somali refugees. The impression that one gets from UN is that Kenya is supposed to consider the UN's issues with Sudan over issues of regional importance.

I find it curious that the ICC thinks African leaders will go ahead with their plan of persecuting al-Bashir when the AU countries have a resolution pledging to take no action on the arrest warrant. The logic for the AU resolution seems to be the belief that the UN had no grounds to pass any judgment since some AU members had not ratified the Rome Statute which established the ICC. I haven't checked to see how many AU member states have ratified the Rome statute, but every leader, African or otherwise, has their own domestic politics to worry about, and nowhere on the African continent would it look good for them to get too friendly outside of an economic context with international organizations. This, taken together with the AU making their own resolution, should show that Jean Ping et al are sensitive to questions of their autonomy from Western organizations. The UN Security Council that signed off on the arrest warrant does not have many African countries in it, and I have not seen anything indicating that the ICC reached out to the AU to ensure its full cooperation following the AU's resolution. If they had done that, perhaps they would have been spared this situation. Knowing what we know of the AU's stance on Sudan, it was ill-considered of the UN to make announcements of arrest warrants without first checking with the individual countries and the AU that they will be respected and adhered to.

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Going forward, the likelihood of the an ICC warrant carrying any weight has never meant less than it does now. If Western countries show a distaste for shaking your hand in public, the logic goes, you could always go to East and deal with China or India, and maybe even Brazil. Rwanda's current problems with the UN report showing the extent of their dealings in the DRC shows that you can house all the refugees asked of you in good conditions, do trade with EU and the U.S., be useful in UN peacekeeping operations, and still be called out in a report. A leader would want to be immune from such scrutiny as much as possible. It is true that the report was leaked and was never intended for release in its leaked form, but if I was an African leader with a few skeletons in my closet I would sleep far easier if I thought that such a report did not even exist.

The UN's soapbox status does not absolve it of the responsibility to not -- I'm paraphrasing from Bombastic Element's headline here -- mouth off checks it can't cash. The body should really only make threats that it can carry out. The sooner they learn that, they better for their credibility.

-- Saratu Abiola blogs on African issues at Method to the Madness here.

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