As the year 2011 closed, December 7 marked a historic day in international justice. The first former head of state Luarent Gbagbo appeared before the International Criminal Criminal for crimes allegedly committed during the Dec 2010-April 2011 post election violence in his country Cote d’ivoire. Gbagbo had take over and retain power by force and trickery. Over 3000 people died in Cote d’Iviore.
He faces four charges of crimes against humanity, including murder and rape. Throughout the conflict I had kept in close touch with friends in the country and their distress was beyond what I could imagine. Everyday Africa was treated to the drama of two people claiming to have won an election. Many thought Ivory Coast could head in the direction of Kenya and Zimbabwe, where compromise had to be reached because Africa’s old men didn’t wish to leave.
Coming from Uganda where we have never had a free and fair election in my adult life, the circus was very familiar. The influence that a sitting president has on those announcing the results is enormous. In 2008 I had watched, with my jaw dropping, as the president of Kenya made a mockery of the bible swearing as the legitimate leader. His sticking to power and the subsequent violence had taken lives of about 1200 Kenyans while many took refuge in my country Uganda. In Kenya too, the ICC had come and it was a few months before that we had watched the prosecutor submit his case to Pre-Trial Chamber seeking to bring the 6 men of Kenya to trial. The ruling on whether they will be tried or not is due next week.
On December 05 2011, when I had gone to the ICC to attend the first appearance of Gbagbo as part of my trainging with the Asser Institute and RNTC. It was out of luck that my training in international justice took place at the same time as Gbagbo was appearing. I watched the proceedings from the public gallery.
The photo of Gbagbo I had last seen was when he was captured by what he told would that day tell court were French troops. It was almost unbelievable to watch a man that months earlier had appeared on television with his authoritative speeches and lack of compromise even to the barking African Union. Seeing him standing with a guard next to him was what some Ivorians wanted and what many in countries in Africa with dictators would love to see. It may not be the ICC but the trail of a powerful man that never listens or respect his people.
There was a section of Ivorians in gallery, at first it was difficult to tell which side they were on but as the Judge announced a date for Gbagbo’s next appearance 18 June 2012, his supporters rose up and sang the Ivorian national anthem.
Gbagbo looked up and with a half smile and waved to them. The 66-year-old former president, his supporters yelled was not the person to be standing trail. Later this year in June, the court will decide if will stand trial or not. This was a historic event, for 25 minutes I watched international justice take another step. Whether to right direction or not depends on which prism one is viewing it. Of course many call this victor’s justice and that Alassane Outtara should also be answerable yet in that court I saw a man who could have saved his nation from destruction and ethnic hatred. I saw one of the old men from my continent that stubbornly refuse to accept that they are not the nation.
Four days later, an hour and half flight, I was out of The Hague to Oslo to witness another milestone this time on positive note. On Saturday 10, December, the world turned to Oslo as three great women received a Nobel Peace Prize. I had interviewed President Elen Johnson Sirleaf twice, had met inspirational Leymah Gbowee in 2010 at the ManUp summit on violence against women that took place alongside the World Cup in South Africa. Though I have some great Yemeni friends – activists- I had somehow missed the great courage of Tawakkol Karman.
Although Sirleaf’s prize had come with controversy, it is not the first one. She may have her faults in her struggle bring a country from almost nothing but I have always found her such an intelligent grandma president. In a country torn by civil wars, it is always difficult to find anyone clean even if we were to go by the claims of those who opposed the prize. She used her experience and last positions to elevate Liberia. She represents what the rest of Africa will take time to get- a female president well respected for what she can bring to the table.
Leymah’s story is well documented in Pray the Devil Back to Hell, which makes me cry every time I try to re-watch it. So I only watched it once. On that day, I posted that “Today, it feels good to be African.” Four days ago, I had watched Gbagbo and his supporters claim his arrest is totally unfair, trivializing the death of hundreds. In Oslo, I was in a bus with Julius Mucungunzi, a Ugandan journalist I respect a lot , a bus full of proud Liberian women. Many Africans residing in Scandinavian countries came over to catch this historic moment.
At Grand Hotel where the Laureates stayed was jammed but nothing like fussy security. I took a moment to congratulate Leymah and took a photo. At the ceremony when I was asked whose speech I thought had been best, I couldn’t choose. How could I choose from President Sirleaf’s calmness and tribute on the people of African descent that have Nobel prizes before and talk of where she wants to take her nation, Leymah’s unwavering passion for the role of African women in security and Tawakkol’s energy fresh from the Arab Spring and deposing a dictator. That was history there, recognizing women in an area where many are quick to portray women’s victimhood and not celebrate their resilience. That was epic moment of the year 2011 for me.