In 2013, during the 50th anniversary of the Organization of African Unity (now known as the African Union), African leaders solemnly declared their aim to “silence the guns” in Africa by the end of 2020. Consequently, silencing the guns—ending armed conflict—is the African Union’s theme for 2020, with high-level discussions on how to implement this goal throughout the year.
Mediation Perspectives is a periodic blog entry provided by the CSS’ Mediation Support Team and occasional guest authors. Each entry is designed to highlight the utility of mediation approaches in dealing with violent political conflicts.
Governments, researchers, and peacebuilders are constantly looking for ways to translate a renewed focus on and heightened awareness of grassroots knowledge into violence prevention and conflict transformation. At present, particular interest has returned to honing and implementing effective Early Warning/Early Response (EWER) mechanisms, but this quest raises a complex question: Should these mechanisms be community-based and originate at the grassroots level or should they be top-down and established as parts of larger structures? Advocates of the grassroots approach, for example, argue that it strengthens and supports the ability of local communities to anticipate and prevent violent conflict, while advocates of large centralized structures acknowledge the benefits of institutional support and broad mandates. The purpose of this blog is to compare these two approaches and ultimately identify the necessity for balance – both approaches have strengths and limitations.
Current trends in the development field suggest that a bottom-up approach, with its emphasis on local initiative and ownership, might be preferable to other options. After all, violence prevention and conflict transformation efforts at the local level can be highly contextual, which is a good thing. Such efforts can more confidently secure a community’s cooperation and support, and they typically identify more nuanced responses, including those that are sensitive to and incorporate traditional practices as well as involving key actors who are positioned to directly intervene in tense situations.
On 4 April, the International Criminal Court (ICC) suffered the most significant setback in its nearly 14 years of existence.
In a majority decision, judges terminated the case against Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto and Nairobi radio executive Joshua arap Sang.
This brought to an ignominious end the court’s attempt to administer justice for the crimes committed during the post-election violence in Kenya in 2007/2008, during which over 1 300 people were killed and more than 600 000 displaced.
‘On the basis of the evidence and arguments submitted to the chamber, Presiding Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji and Judge Robert Fremr, as the majority, agreed that the charges are to be vacated and the accused are to be discharged,’ said a statement issued by the ICC. In a subsequent statement, the ICC’s prosecution team blamed a lack of cooperation from Kenya and widespread witness intimidation for its difficulty in obtaining evidence.
It didn’t help, of course, that Kenyatta and Ruto became president and deputy president only after the charges against them were lodged, greatly complicating the politics around the case. Against overwhelming opposition from Kenya, it was never going to be easy to make the charges stick.
As the 26th ordinary summit of the African Union (AU) ended in Addis Ababa on Sunday, Kenyan media led with reports that ‘the African Union has adopted, without amendments, a proposal by President Uhuru Kenyatta to develop a roadmap for withdrawal from the Rome Statute’ – as the Daily Nation put it.
What had actually unfolded was a little more nuanced. The AU heads of state did not decide to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC) en masse – yet. Nor even did Kenyatta ask for that. In his speech to the AU Assembly, he asked the summit to give the Open-Ended Committee of African Ministers on the ICC ‘a new mandate to develop a roadmap for withdrawal from the Rome Statute as necessary.’
The key phrase here is ‘as necessary.’ The rest of his speech makes clear that withdrawal from the ICC would be conditional on the court failing to meet the AU’s demands. As Kenyatta said earlier in his speech: ‘It is my sincere hope that our ICC reform agenda will succeed so that we can return to the instrument we signed up for. If it does not, I believe its utility for this continent at this moment of global turmoil will be extremely limited. In that eventuality, we will be failing in our duty if we continue to shore up a dysfunction(-al) instrument.’