Africans, about 625 million of them, waited in excitement for last weekend’s AU Summit, which was to complete formalities regarding the Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) – a deal that would usher the continent into a new era of meaningful economic emancipation.
The TFTA has been hailed by many as the foundation of the Continental Free Trade Area being promoted by the Africa Union (AU) Commission and its partners.
Worth an astronomical US$1.3 trillion, the proposed new regional economic bloc, involving 26 countries, would merge the East African Community (EAC), Southern African Development Community (SADC) and COMESA blocs.
It is obvious that the TFTA, when eventually realised, would give impetus to world trade and break the monopoly currently being enjoyed by some of the major economies in the world.
This therefore means while this is good news for Africa, it definitely is seen differently by particularly those who for centuries have been hell-bent on making sure that this continent remains home to poverty, hunger and disease.
The weekend’s AU Summit in Sandton, South Africa, therefore presented a huge step towards breaking the world trade monopoly and also meant more intra-Africa trade. Increased trade among African states would inevitably reduce imports of goods from overseas – and this means bad business for the outside world, especially major exporters Europe and North America.
Against this brief background, it was suspicious that the International Criminal Court (ICC), seen by many Africans as a tool to harass people of the continent, decided to disrupt a very important AU gathering with attempts to arrest Sudan president Omar al-Bashir.
Whether by default or design, the attempt to detain the Sudanese leader for alleged crimes against humanity, diverted attention from the original agenda of the AU Summit and therefore deprived Africans of a fair opportunity to deliberate on the TFTA, just after the continent made inroads towards the realisation of this deal.
Was it deliberate that despite the rules of temporary immunity for al-Bashir – as granted by South Africa as a host nation – the ICC, in cahoots with the South African Litigation Centre, went ahead to ignore that very provision and thereby disrupting what was meant to be a milestone summit?
Would the ICC, and indeed the South African Litigation Centre, have acted in the same manner if a leader wanted on these allegations was in New York attending a UN General Assembly meeting?
The UN’s Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, which deals with issues relating to the status of the United Nations, its assets, and officials, in terms of the privileges and immunities that must be granted to them by its member states, enjoyed respect since its inception in 1946.
It is because of this rule that even leaders who have been slapped with travel bans have been able to attend the annual UN General Assembly, which some even addressed without fear of arrest. This is because they are protected by the UN rules.
ICC and its cohorts knew about the existence of a decree for immunity for all those attending the Sandton summit, but perhaps because this was an immunity declared by Africans, it did not matter to the prosecutors in The Hague, the Netherlands.
We are not going to comment on the merits and demerits of allegations levelled against al-Bashir, but we certainly condemn the blatant disrespect shown by the ICC towards Africans, as intended beneficiaries of the planned TFTA, and AU as its driving force.
The AU, with its lengthy flirtation with mass withdrawal from ICC, must therefore reach a decision so that life can move on. There is no question, as stated by President Hage Geingob this week, that the ICC no longer upholds the ideals for which it was originally created and Africa has therefore no reason to fear withdrawing.