Plus Ça Change: Museveni and the ICC

(Photo: Andrew Winning / Reuters)

(Photo: Andrew Winning / Reuters)

Judging by his recent statements, Yoweri Museveni has had it with the International Criminal Court (ICC). In the midst of ongoing acrimony between the African Union and the ICC, the Ugandan President has led the charge with a vocal and belligerent barrage of criticism.

Following the victory of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto in Kenya’s recent Presidential elections, Museveni exclaimed:

“I want to salute the Kenyan voters on…the rejection of the blackmail by the International Criminal Court (ICC) and those who seek to abuse this institution for their own agenda… I was one of those that supported the ICC because I abhor impunity. However the usual opiniated and arrogant actors using their careless and shallow analysis have now distorted the purpose of that institution. They are now using it to install leaders of their choice in Africa and eliminate the ones they do not like.”

A few weeks later, Museveni asserted that there was a conspiracy afoot to kidnap Kenyatta if he travelled to The Hague:

“ICC should tell us if they plan to detain (Kenyan President Uhuru) Kenyatta. They should give us an explanation if he is going to come back to Kenya because the information we are receiving is different.

We will not agree to have him attend if the intention is to detain him. If we don’t have a clear picture of the plans by the International Court, then it means our relations with them will be soured. They should treat us with dignity.”

For proponents of the ICC, Museveni’s remarks might seem like a slap in the face. After all, it was only a few short years ago that Museveni lobbied hard – and successfully – to ensure that the the ICC’s Review Conference was held near Kampala. Of course, Uganda also issued the the first-ever self-referral to the Court in December 2003. At the time, Museveni and then-ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo famously stood together in a London hotel to announce their cooperation in the hunt for Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

In 2005, when the ICC intervened and issued arrest warrants against the LRA’s senior command, it helped legitimize Museveni’s government as well as its commitment to a military solution against Kony and the LRA. It painted Museveni the leader of a good government fighting against a satanic rebel group and its psychotic leader. Uganda reaped the rewards of military aid and international legitimacy. It was increasingly rare to hear criticisms of the government of Uganda. After all, they were crusading in the name of international criminal justice!

(Photo: Mahmud Turkia/AFP/Getty Images)

(Photo: Mahmud Turkia/AFP/Getty Images)

The ICC’s intervention also had the effect of vindicating Uganda’s military. By refusing to prosecute the atrocities the Ugandan People’s Defence Force (UPDF) committed (and they committed many), the Court sent the message that the UPDF was not complicit or responsible for crimes against civilians in northern Uganda or the Great Lakes region.

Thus, you would think that Museveni was thrilled with the ICC. Clearly he isn’t. So what happened?

The fact is that Museveni has never demonstrated anything more than schizophrenic support for the ICC. As suggested above, Museveni has only been interested in the Court insofar as he can use it as a tool to legitimize his government and lend credibility to a military solution to the ongoing war with Kony and the LRA. As Sarah Nouwen and Wouter Werner write, the ICC was used as a political “weapon” by Museveni and the Government of Uganda.

Museveni has always viewed the Court as a tool that he could use and abuse however he saw fit. During the Juba Peace Negotiations between the LRA and the Government of Uganda, for example, the Government played games with the Court’s indictments, stating that it could never negotiate with Kony because of the arrest warrant against him but subsequently declaring that it could only negotiate with Kony since only he represented the true authority of the LRA. The Government similarly maintained that Kony and the LRA high command had to be prosecuted but also that he could receive amnesty in return for signing a peace agreement.

In short, if the ICC could be useful in demonizing the LRA beyond the pale and lending support for a military solution to the conflict, then Museveni was all for it. But if it became a hindrance to his political agenda, he was often the first to suggest the Court could be ignored. Unfortunately, the ICC itself was largely soft on Museveni, too often letting him have his way, confirming his belief that the Court was a tool at his behest. When the ICC finally became firm and defended itself against Museveni’s ploys, the injured President became increasingly petulant with regards to international criminal justice.

But proponents of the ICC need not despair. Museveni’s views shouldn’t be read to reflect those of Ugandans. As one Ugandan MP asked:

“On whose behalf does President Museveni make such pronouncements and who sent him? Did this proposal come to Parliament and who did he consult?”

The answer is simple: probably no one.


About Mark Kersten

Mark Kersten is a consultant at the Wayamo Foundation, a Senior Researcher at the Munk School of Global Affairs, and a law student at McGill University Law School. He is also author of the book, 'Justice in Conflict - The Effects of the International Criminal Court's Interventions on Ending Wars and Building Peace' (Oxford University Press, 2016).
This entry was posted in International Criminal Court (ICC), Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), Uganda and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Plus Ça Change: Museveni and the ICC

  1. Pingback: Africa at LSE – The Lesson the ICC Shouldn’t Learn in the Wake of Kenyatta

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