Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Charles Taylor, Hosni Mubarak and Lessons for African Leaders

No evil deeds can go unpunished. Any evil done by man to man will be redressed. If not now, then certainly later; if not by man, then by God for the victory of evil over good can only be temporary – Dele Giwa.

Nigeria’s unending tragedies of the recent past have made public commentators to be quiet on lessons to be drawn from the convictions of two former African Presidents.  64 year old erstwhile Liberian president, Charles Taylor, was on May 30 handed a 50 years jail term for committing war crimes in Sierra Leone by the International Criminal Court sitting in The Hague, Netherland while an Egyptian Court also sentenced 84 year old Hosni Mubarak, Egyptian president for 30 years to life imprisonment on June 2.  According to Cable News Network and other international newswire, Charles Taylor was convicted for supplying and encouraging rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone in a campaign of terror, involving murder, rape, sexual slavery and the conscription of children younger than 15. He was also found guilty of using Sierra Leone's diamond deposits to help fuel her civil war with arms and guns while enriching himself with what have commonly come to be known as "blood diamonds." He was the first former head of state to be convicted of war crimes since World War II.

Judge Richard Lussick was quoted to have said that "The accused has been found responsible for aiding and abetting some of the most heinous crimes in human history. The crimes - which took place over five years - included cutting off the limbs of their victims and cutting open pregnant women to settle bets over the sex of their unborn children. In return for a constant flow of diamonds, Taylor provided arms and both logistical and moral support to the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels - prolonging the conflict and the suffering of the people of Sierra Leone. While Mr. Taylor never set foot in Sierra Leone, his heavy footprint is there.” Charles Taylor was not the lone convict; others include one of RUF leaders, Issa Sesay, who received a 52-year jail term and a rebel from the Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC) group, Alex Tamba Brima who was sentenced to 50 years imprisonment. Taylor had accused the prosecution of paying and threatening witnesses in his war crimes trial.

While reacting to Charles Taylor’s conviction, Korto Williams, director of ActionAid Liberia, said: "Not only is this verdict an opportunity for Sierra Leone and Liberia to move forward, it also signals the international community's clear intent that any leader who misuses their power and carries out state-sanctioned violence will be held responsible for their crimes and will be punished." I couldn’t agree with him more.

Hosni Mubarak on his part was one of the three African leaders who were ousted by popular uprising termed “Arab Spring” which swept through the continent in 2011. The first of the trio to be consumed by the revolt was Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia, followed by Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Muammer Ghaddafi of Libya. Hosni bowed to people’s power as expressed at Tahrir Square after 18 days of civil unrest. During the rebellion, an estimated 850 people were reported killed by the Egyptian security agencies.  It was for his complicity in the killing of protesters that an Egyptian court had sentenced the octogenarian ruler to life imprisonment. Habib el-Adly, Mubarak's minister of the interior, was also jailed for life but Mubarak's sons Gamal and Alaa were cleared of corruption. In sentencing, Judge Ahmed Rifaat was alleged to have called Mr. Mubarak’s tenure “30 years of intense darkness” He said further that officials had “committed the gravest sins, tyranny and corruption without accountability or oversight as their consciences died, their feelings became numb and their hearts in their chests turned blind.”


According to The Guardian of UK, “Mr. Mubarak’s conviction and court appearance — on a hospital gurney in the metal cage that holds criminal defendants in Egypt — offered the kind of vivid example of the humiliation of their once-invincible ruler that thrilled Egyptians with a feeling of liberation.” In his reaction, Joe Stork, Human Rights Watch's deputy Middle East director said "These convictions set an important precedent, since just over a year ago seeing Hosni Mubarak as a defendant in a criminal court would have been unthinkable. But the acquittal of senior ministry of interior officials for the deaths and injuries of peaceful protesters leaves police impunity intact and the victims still waiting for justice." For Mubarak, it is an unending misfortune. His once magical name has suddenly became an anathema so much so that the vestiges of his 30 years administration are now being wiped off with the latest being the defeat of his immediate past Prime Minister, Ahmed Shafik by the candidate of Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Morsi in the June 16 – 17 presidential polls whose result was officially released on June 24, 2012.

Do Nigerian leaders and indeed African Heads of State and Government have anything to learn from the adversity of Mubarak and Taylor? For me, the main lesson is that abuse of power will no longer be condoned by international community. The conviction of Hosni Mubarak as an “accessory to murder” because he failed to stop the killings of his people who were demanding for justice, fairness and equity shows that indeed Nigerian leadership could be held to account for the numerous deaths and injuries of unarmed protesters during the June 12 political crisis of 1993, several labour organized anti fuel hike protests and indeed the weeklong January 2012 anti subsidy removal revolt. 

Also, considering that Charles Taylor was convicted for aiding and abetting crime in other country, African leaders need to be careful henceforth in masterminding conflicts in other climes. Economic Community of West African States, African Union, other regional and sub-regional groupings need to impress it on their members to respect supremacy of their countries laws, equality of all citizens before the law as well as fundamental human rights as enshrined in their countries statutes and international covenants. It is most unfortunate that Africa continent has been the bastion of crises with coups and counter coups, wars, repressions, famine, droughts, endemic corruption, pandemic diseases and utter misgovernance.  African leaders owe it a duty to their citizens to run open society where civil liberties are guaranteed and rule of law obeyed in truth and indeed.