Backing the ICC: Why Botswana Stands Alone Amongst AU States

In the midst of the recent rancour and controversy in the relationship between African Union (AU) member states and the International Criminal Court (ICC), it was all too easy to forget that one state decided to take a rather valiant stand. When the African Union recently passed a resolution calling into question the conduct of the ICC and claiming that it had unfairly targeted African leaders, the sub-Saharan nation of Botswana decided it wasn’t having any of it.

If you read the AU resolution, you’ll notice that it includes a single footnote which reads: “The Reservation of the Republic of Botswana on the entire decision was entered.” But for that small footnote marring the title of the Resolution, the AU’s anti-ICC pact is otherwise pristine. For those who follow baseball, the footnote is akin to the asterisk hanging over the names of players whose records are tainted by steroid use – except that, in this case, the asterisk denotes courage not cowardice.

Sadly, it was only Botswana that decided to take a stand against the AU Resolution. It came as a disappointment that other state which had previously engaged the ICC and supported its work, including Ivory Coast and South Africa, threw their weight behind the Resolution. Even The Gambia, which reportedly considered voting against the Resolution out of support for the ICC’s Gambian Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, sided with the AU.

So why did Botswana do it?

Seretse Khama Ian Khama of Botswana sitting with ICC President Judge Song and former President of the Assembly of States Parties, Christian Wenaweser. (Photo: CICC)

Seretse Khama Ian Khama of Botswana sitting with ICC President Judge Song and former President of the Assembly of States Parties, Christian Wenaweser. (Photo: CICC)

In the above video, Botswana’s ambassador to Kenya, John Moreti states clearly that his country’s decision had nothing to do with the Botswana’s position towards Kenyan President Uhuro Kenyatta or Vice President William Ruto, both of whom face charges at the ICC stemming from Kenya’s 2007/08 post-election violence. Instead, Moreti suggested that the AU’s Resolution was an unhelpful and deleterious political move that would only antagonize the Court and pull the African hinder improved relations with the international community. He added that he thought there was “no problem with the Court” and that any dislike of the Prosecutor did not amount to dislike for the Court itself.

What is so remarkable about Botswana’s dissent is that there is no evidence that it stemmed from any realpolitik calculation. Sure, Botswana will (and has) reaped praise for its commitment to the ICC and its decision to vote against the Resolution will undoubtedly boost its reputation in human rights and international justice sectors. But how much is a high-five from Human Rights Watch worth in comparison to the potential political and economic costs of being the sole voice opposing the African Union? To be sure, Botswana surely faces some very unhappy leaders on the continent.

Of course, there is a risk in being too state-centric here. Botswana is not “alone” in its stance against the African Union. It is quite clear that millions of African citizens support the ICC and international criminal justice – even if it hasn’t always lived up to their expectations.

Still, Botswana deserves all of the praise it is receiving. It appears that their position is one of pragmatism and principle rather than merely political calculation. Bensouda’s remarks from July 2011 could easily be repeated again:

“Botswana has not been hesitant in publicly maintaining her stance on such matters being determined by the ICC.  It is one of those few countries, especially in Africa, that encourage the work of the ICC and one of the countries that take their responsibility under the ICC Statute very seriously. This has not changed over the years.”

The Kenyan news report presents Botswana as “Africa’s renegade nation”. But Botswana’s decision to stand alone in the face of the AU’s anti-ICC rhetoric shouldn’t be derided. It is remarkable and praiseworthy. If there was an ICC member-state of the year award, Botswana would be a front-runner.


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 African Union (AU), Botswana, International Criminal Court (ICC), Kenya, Kenya and the ICC. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Backing the ICC: Why Botswana Stands Alone Amongst AU States

  1. Tony Irungu says:

    It is not surprising that Botswana supports the ICC, itself a western imperialist institution for intimidation and blackmail, precisely because the west has it by the short hairs through their control of Botswana’s diamond mine industry and which contributes 50% of Botswana’s revenues – an industry controlled by just one company, Debswana, and which is a subsidiary of British multinational Anglo-American. It is not even surprising that Botswana and President Khama were willing to host AFRICOM, the US military command for Africa suspected by African nations as intended for imperialist conquest, until South Africa and even Botswanans expressed strong opposition and threatened to close the border and enforce an air blockade an action that would have effectively isolated Botswana as it is landlocked and depends for all its exports and imports on South African ports. Botswana is thus in no position to defy western institutions as they can bring down the Govt at any time. You do not bite the hand that feeds you.

  2. Dave Benger says:

    I certainly do not wish to detract from Botswana’s noble position, but it might also be worthwhile to note that the Vice President of the Court, Judge Sanji Monageng happens to be from Botswana.

    • Ngira says:

      I think Botswana’s position is consistent with their other attributes, respect for human rights and transparency.Its a shining example of good governance in Africa

  3. Ngira says:

    Im an African,but those so called presidents don’t represent my views.When rebels commit atrocities in Africa,the same African presidents are quick to refer them to ICC but when the same presidents are brought to account for war crimes ,they say that the ICC targets Africans .now are the presidents more ”African” than the rebels?Moreover,most of those Presidents are morally illegitimate because they either got into power through illegitimate means,used illegitimate means to maintain their power or like Mugabe(sic)refused to let go of power

  4. Maya says:

    I don’t know, Mark. This seems awfully one-sided “…except that, in this case, the asterisk denotes courage not cowardice.”

    One could just as easily argue that Botswana is a coward in hock to the international justice community’s money and a traitor to its African brethren. The debate on Africa and the ICC is already very emotional, so it might be better to just leave aside such charged statements (just to clarify, I don’t think Botswana is a coward or a traitor – I was just illustrating a point).

    It’s just a thought, especially since you are representing the scholarly community, which probably has more of a responsibility to objectivity and rationality than most other communities involved in the ICC-Africa debate.

  5. Zntrip says:

    I also think it’s worth pointing out that this month Botswana became the first African state to ratify both amendments to the Rome Statute.

  6. siguda says:


    So, Botswana is scared of the West? Is that so?? Before spewing more propaganda, let us get a few things straight. Botswana has one of the best run economies in Africa, their foreign debt (aka aid) is negligible and they have Foreign currency reserves in excess of $7 billion. So, as things are they are in less need of the “Western imperialists” than our own Kenya. Their stance on the ICC and the mis-ruling elite of Africa has been remarkably consistent and they are a major employment market for our own Kenyan professionals.

    The ICC conundrum currently facing Kenya was of its own making. The local mechanism to try PEV suspects was debated in Kenya’s parliament on 2 different occasions, the smart arses in parliament decided to reject the local mechanism. It is all there in the parliamentary hansard if you are at all interested in it. The current governing duo were explicitly pro ICC, I don’t have to remind you of the “Let us not be vague, let us go to the Hague” malarkey.

    So rather than wasting your time vilifying Botswana, who are a middle income country and don’t need the “Western imperialists” to support their economy as much as Kenya does (with its shameful budget deficit that will be largely funded by the “pesky West”), why don’t you tell us how we got there in the first place? Kenya was warned of all that is happening at the ICC beforehand. Kenya was not forced to adopt the Rome statute and it is not the Western imperialists who domesticated the Rome statute in the Kenyan parliament.

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  8. CV WRITER says:

    Africans are always victims – from the days of slave trade, colonialism until now. The question is why? If we answered this truthfully, we would put our relations with ICC in the right context.

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