Courting Democracy and Justice in Africa

On an early Monday Morning in March 2013, Bosco Ntaganda, a Congolese rebel general accused of massacring civilians and building an army of child soldiers, walked into the American Embassy in Rwanda and turned himself in.  Theory has it that Ntaganda, one of the world’s most wanted man, was more afraid of the Rwandese than he was of the Hague.- That in itself is a telling sign of what the International Criminal Court-where Ntaganda will face charges- means to Africa.

In such fashion- it is worth exploring and revisiting the dialogue on the International Criminal Court.

Transparency and accountability of crimes must be the basis of political reform and democratic governance; for tyranny begins where the rule of law ends. This is why progressive justice has to take a central part in the political dialogue on African democratic process.  Recently, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has been a source of great debate in Africa. The general consensus is that the ICC has been purposely targeting Africa. While proponents of this argument have some valid points, the International Criminal Court has an important role in making the connection between justice, political reform and democracy in Africa.   The ICC can be the tool that demonstrates that no government sector is above the law. Therefore, the prosecution of state crimes committed against citizens can serve to foster a respect and a development for democratic governments.

History has taught us that Africa needs organic self-centered democracies (Adam 1993). The struggle for democratic governance has been slow and hard in the continent. Presently, the continued conflicts in many African nations serve to endanger the continued struggle for democratization.  Historically, African democracy has been left in the hands of leaders who embody prebendalism, and patrimonial systems that are predatory, kleptocratic and autocratic in nature (Ekeh, 1975). As of yet, there has not been a correlation between autocratic and dictatorship rule and development (Anyang’Nyong’o, 2000, Ungar 1978, Martin, 1993). If there is one lesson to be learned from these past fifty years, it is that the democratic process has to involve the participation of the peoples of Africa. Therefore, for true democratization of the African states to occur, the people and their governments have to be in constant communication. (Harris, 2005, Adam, 1993, Lyman and Dorff, 2007, Fanon, 1965).

Africa needs the International Criminal Court (ICC) as a tool of improving democratic judicial institutions (Du Plessis, 2010, Burke-William, 2008). With cases in Uganda, Sudan, Kenya and the Democratic of Congo, the International Criminal Court’s role in Africa has to be integrated, and not ignored. It would be negligent to do otherwise. The Principle of Complementarity, which forms the basis of the International Criminal Court (Rome Statute, 2002), will serve an important role in developing stronger domestic judicial systems and raising the level of discourse on justice in Africa. There cannot be democratic governance in Africa, if there is no justice, and/or judicial systems that can prosecute crimes that have been committed against the civilian population.

The prospect of strong democratic states is highly favorable for Africa and its people.  Therefore there has to be a new dimension to the dialogue on developing democratic governance in African states that includes participatory, socio-political justice and the process of democratization. With the help of the International Criminal Court, African states can build domestic judicial systems that are capable to prosecute those who commit heinous crimes against civilians.  For trials, or the threat to prosecute those who commit crimes can serve as a deterrent for future crimes and help advance a state’s progress towards democracy.

Works cited

Adam, H. (1993, October). Frantz Fanon as a Democratic Theorist. African Affairs, 92,

Burke-White, William (2008). Proactive Complementarity: The International Criminal Court and national courts in the Rome System of international justice. Harvard International Law Journal 49(1).

du Plessis, Max (2008). The International Criminal Court and its work in Africa: Confronting the myths. ISS Paper 173.

Du Plessis, Max (2010). The International Criminal Court that Africa wants. Monograph 172,

Fanon, F. (1965). The Wretched Of The Earth. New York: Grove Press.

Harris, K. (2005, September). Still Relevant: Claude Ake’s Challenge To Mainstream

Discourse On African Politics And Development. Journal of Third World Studies, 22,

Nyong’o, P.A. (1992, July). Democratization Processes in Africa. Review of African Political Economy, 54, pp.97-101.

Schabas, William (2007). An Introduction to the International Criminal Court, 3rd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ungar, S.J. (1978). Africa: The People and Politics of an Emerging Continent. New York: Simon & Schuster, INC.


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