Celeste Hicks, an excellent journalist penned a thought provoking piece; “The president is not an untouchable god” which came amid much pomp fanfare over the conviction of Hissene Habre, former President of Chad. Habre was found guilty on charges of crimes against humanity, torture, war crimes, rape and a litany of other charges. Hicks reported that the verdict took no less than an hour and half. One Souleymane Guengueng, a victim of Habre’s worst behaviour said, “I think that has really opened the minds of people in Chad – that the president is not an untouchable god. He is equal to other Chadians. You will answer for your crimes.” It is from these words that inspire an introspection of the African situation today.
Habre is a figurehead of many other African leaders who brazenly perpetrate human rights violations with absolute impunity and crush dissenting voices in a manner not even fit for insects. Habre is reported to have killed 40,000 people and fled to Senegal where he was shielded by Aboloulaye Wade, former President of Senegal. He is not the only President to have done this and like his partners in crime, he claimed his trial was an “imperialist plot”. Guengueng therefore does not speak for Chad alone, he speaks for the whole African continent; the Presidents and their governments should not be fooled, they are not untouchable gods.
Some African leaders have been known to violate the rights of their citizenry and hide behind the curtain of neo-colonialism when they are called to account. It is a sickening state of affairs when one citizen and his cronies decide to disregard the rights of other citizens and trample on their personhood. The same people that legitimatise the power vested in the leaders are the victims of the governments they give power. Disappearances, torture and killings are commonplace in some countries and expressing discontent is a treasonous crime that is given fancy names in legalese the ordinary citizen cannot understand. It seems with the format of the tribunal that tried Habre, an answer may have been found. It is a paradigm shift for international justice and Africa has set the bar very high. The “hybrid court” structure used was described by the African Union as “an example of the AU managing its own judicial affairs and it is placed to do so as it best understands them”. The argument of a biased ICC has lost relevance and all leaders who thought they would pull an Omar Al-Bashir have to go back to the drawing board.
Human Rights Violations in Africa
In Uganda, Human Rights Watch aptly explained the human rights crisis in the run up to the February election by saying, “In some ways, this is nothing new Ugandan security forces have regularly relied on bullets, teargas, preventive detention of opposition, and endless fear mongering to silence government critics.”
During that election, the government attempted to silence the cyber waves by shutting down social media but over a million people used virtual private network downloads to work their way around the order. The government is also known to have recruited and trained many thousands of “Crime Preventers” who are believed by Amnesty International to be linked to serious human rights violations across the country. Amnesty International provides the details of torture and ill-treatment of Ugandans here.
Zimbabwe makes a good subject of study for the politically motivated violations of rights with a notorious genocide in the 1980s but the pre-election violence of the 2000s stands its own among the worst atrocities an African majority government has perpetrated against its own people. Opposition leaders were arbitrarily arrested and tortured and in 2015, Itai Dzamara, an anti-Zanu PF activist disappeared in mysterious circumstances. Human Rights Watch provides detailed accounts of violations in the 2008 election season where the ruling party almost lost to the opposition. These crimes are impossible to be committed by the Presidents themselves but their orders set events in motion making them accountable for the torturous treatment of citizens. Zimbabwe and Uganda are only part of many other countries where governments kill and treat citizens like animals to be whipped into line. It almost then feels like some people are have more rights than others; essentially making them gods in their own rights. The Habre case will remind them that all citizens, including them should be equal and are indeed equal before the law.
In 2014, an Amnesty International report revealed details of torture in Ethiopia, the Gambia, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan and Zimbabwe at the hands of police. It is important to remember the police are a tentacle of the Presidium in most countries as they are a part of the Executive. Governments in some countries have become the foes of the ordinary citizens. They inspire fear and hatred making them institutions of repression, only there to consolidate their power at the expense of many lives. The woman/man who votes for these governments soon becomes the supper of the fat cats at the top. Presidents are the ultimate bosses of these cannibalistic institutions and it is high time they remembered that blood will not be shed without paying a price for it. Habre has learnt his lesson but unfortunately it is a lesson learnt 40,000 lives too late. His story should be a call for change. African on African violence should end.