Africa Update: Sudanese President Charged On today's Africa Update: The president of Sudan is accused of masterminding genocide and war crimes in Darfur. Plus, is East Africa the next hot bed of terrorism? For analysis, Farai talks with Roxanne Lawson, Director of Africa Policy for TransAfrica Forum.
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Africa Update: Sudanese President Charged

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Africa Update: Sudanese President Charged

Africa Update: Sudanese President Charged

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

Time now for our Africa Update. This week, Sudan's president is accused of masterminding genocide and other war crimes in Darfur. Plus, is East Africa the next hot bed of terrorism? And China and Russia veto proposed sanctions against Zimbabwe. For more, we've got Roxanne Lawson. She's director of Africa Policy for TransAfrica Forum. Hi, Roxanne.

Ms. ROXANNE LAWSON (Director of Africa Policy, TransAfrica Forum): Hi. How are you?

CHIDEYA: I'm doing great. So let's turn to Sudan. The president is accused of orchestrating a five-year reign of terror and violence in the western region of Darfur. That's the region in the Sudan where tens of thousands have been killed, some two-and-a-half million displaced. Now the International Criminal Court has filed charges against President Omar Hasan al-Bashir. That indictment follows a three-year investigation. It's going to likely include an arrest warrant for him. And the chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, explained the crimes he believed al-Bashir should be held accountable for.

Mr. LUIS MORENO-OCAMPO (Chief Prosecutor, International Criminal Court): We charge five counts of crimes against humanity, including murder, extermination, forcible transfer of the population, torture, and rapes.

CHIDEYA: What's the significance of going forward with this indictment?

Ms. LAWSON: It's actually quite startling. I mean, this is the first time that in our current environment, a sitting president is actually being put up for war crimes. I think that in the context of the global world and the necessary litmus tests that world leaders need to be able to pass in order to be considered world leaders, it's a really wonderful thing. I think within the context of Sudan and the continually deteriorating political situation there, both in Darfur but also in the North-South peace agreements, that it's incredibly troubling to know that al-Bashir, as problematic as he is, that it actually may - it may both overshadow the peace accords and then also may derail the process, which is still underway. We're still a year and a half from elections in Sudan.

CHIDEYA: So you're saying that this could create, what, a power vacuum that would prevent these negotiations?

Ms. LAWSON: Not quite a power vacuum, but it does actually take away - part of the problems with the peace agreements and the accords as they've been happening in Sudan and they actually, obviously have been signed but are now falling apart, is that all of the parties that need to be present in order to actually come to real brokering have not been present. Usually, it's opposition forces who have not been there. But now, with the president of Sudan actually getting ready to face, possibly, a trial for crimes against humanity, there will be a kind of shifting in the players that have been there since the very beginning.

And that actually can be worrisome. I think for me, sitting here in Washington, D.C., it's quite worrisome to think about what this might mean for the Sudanese people, not for individual leaders as it were. I mean, I have - I could not - I think that there probably is actually a very, very tiny community of people that actually would want to protect al-Bashir. But what it does mean is that there could be actually more uncertainty for the people of Sudan.

CHIDEYA: Now, do you think that there actually is going to be an arrest, not just an arrest warrant - and we don't know if that's going to happen yet. But if there is an arrest warrant, do you think that it'll be executed?

Ms. LAWSON: That's a good question. I mean, I think that it would be quite interesting, I mean, to see an arrest warrant executed against a sitting president. I think, you know, the list of people who need to be up for criminal charges against humanity is long, and many of them are world leaders or people in extreme positions of power. And so it'll be interesting to see the ways in which both the Sudanese government's able to respond to what's just happened, as well as the international community. I mean, the U.S. has spoken out, but again, we're not signatories to the ICC, which is the International Criminal Court. And so it's easy for us to talk from a point of view that we will never be held accountable to their laws and jurisdiction to be able to support or not support.

And so I think it's just going to be a very interesting political time. I think that it actually does, though, for sitting world leaders actually, put them on notice that the world is watching and that you will be held accountable for your crimes against your people.

CHIDEYA: Let's stay in the east of Africa. We're talking about countries like Sudan, Djibouti, Eritrea, Somalia. They've been identified by the U.S. as sponsors or supporters of terrorism, and U.S. intelligence officials say the number of East Africans caught trying to enter the U.S. illegally has more than tripled since the Homeland Security Department was formed in 2003. Explain a little bit more. What do you think is behind the influx of people, and is it linked to terrorism?

Ms. LAWSON: I think the influx of people actually is not linked to terrorism. I think the horn of Africa is incredible destabilized, some of which a direct result of U.S. foreign policy, our invasion and now occupation of Somalia. And the destabilization that it has for Ethiopia, for Eritrea, for Djibouti etc. I think that people are migrating to the United States because the regions that they live in, in Africa are extremely unstable because of the role of the U.S. And so it's much easier if you're in Djibouti to try to smuggle yourself aboard the mini-airlines that come back and forth from that region because of the way - the U.S. presence in that region.

I don't think it has anything really to do with terrorism. No doubt, there are terrorists across the globe, but to say the horn of Africa is actually a hotbed for terrorism I think is - is really just kind of speaking to the really reactionary foreign policy of the current government.

CHIDEYA: I want to turn to the south of Africa, to Zimbabwe. And we have been covering Zimbabwe a lot. The whole drama over the elections and the aftermath continue. And now, Russia and China have vetoed a proposed United Nations Security Council resolution that would've imposed sanctions against Zimbabwe. And the U.S.-sponsored resolution called for financial and travel restrictions against President Robert Mugabe and 13 others for the violence leading up to last month's presidential vote. And so Robert Mugabe told leaders at the G8 summit last week that sanctions would lead to civil war. What do you think of that threat, first of all?

Ms. LAWSON: I think that actually might be true. I think that sanctions in their history of use across the globe have actually never really delivered the political and economic realities that the people who impose sanctions want to see. Only one case, the case of the U.S. sanctions and the Suez Canal actually resulted in a possible positive outcome. I think in the case of Zimbabwe, where we have, you know, just unimaginable inflation, really where people are living in the most dire straits, in a very industrialized country, so it's a very rich exposition, that sanctions would actually just exasperate the problems.

Sanctions by the West. I think that if the SADC region wanted to actually impose some kind of sanctions, that the Southern African Development Community wanted to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe, that actually might make some kind of difference politically for the leaders. I also think that list of, I think it's that you named 14, should be widened a little bit to about 15 or 16 people who I think are part of the Zanu-PF machinery that's keeping any kind of peaceful resolution from being able to happen in Zimbabwe. But I don't think that sanctions from the United States would actually - or from Western powers would actually deliver anything. If you remember in the past in Zimbabwean and Rhodesian history, sanctions have only strengthened the economy of Zimbabwe.

And so I think that it's just - it's something that we as the West want to invoke to make sure that we're doing something. And I think the something that we should be doing is supporting the SADC process, supporting the AU process, supporting financially the need for both a SADC and AU envoy and really strengthening that process.

CHIDEYA: So an African-based solution?

Ms. LAWSON: Yeah, I completely believe in that. And I know that people from the outside are looking at what's going on, on the continent and saying, well not enough is happening. But I think that really we're not actually seeing the kind of great victories. The AU when they met was able to with Mugabe in the room issue not a scathing report, but a strong report about what they thought was wrong with what was going in Zimbabwe and condemning the elections that just happened in June. I think that's in and of itself a step forward. I think that SADC negotiations with Thabo Mbeki before the March elections actually were able to hit all of their marks, deliberate and was successful.

It's now just a need now to refocus and retool negotiations. I think also before the elections, especially before these June elections, SADC underestimated the role of the military and of, you know, securicrats for lack of a better word, in Zimbabwe. And in this process they were not adequately a part of the negotiations. I think that we also need to remember that, although Zanu-PF and MDC have not entered into formal negotiations, that they are actually meeting and discussing the rules of engagement for formal negotiations. Those are all really hopeful.

And I think that the West needs to really recognize the role that they played in actually destabilizing Zimbabwe. The hypocrisy with which most Zimbabweans and peoples of Southern Africa see our intervention is actually right politically on point. And so we need to play a very small role.

CHIDEYA: Roxanne, very briefly. Russia and China have been linked to Zimbabwe through a shared Cold War history. Do you think that Russia or China could open up to applying leverage to Zimbabwe?

Ms. LAWSON: I think that Russia - I think actually both nations. Russia at the G8 mentioned that they were actually in favor of stronger positioning around Zimbabwe. They didn't support sanctions, but they are actually - I think they're exploring ways to politically exert leverage. I think China also for the last couple of years has been very, very smart in the way in which they've engaged Zimbabwe. They've been quick not to distance themselves too far, but you remember that when the premier of China went to visit the Continent last year, he did not visit Zimbabwe.

I think also just being here in Washington, D.C., seeing that in any and every conversation within a political context on Zimbabwe, members of the Chinese embassy are present in the room and are taking copious notes to what civil society is saying in the U.S., what civil society from Zimbabwe is saying, and trying to really figure out what's the best role to play. And I think that they don't believe that isolation is going to be the solution.

CHIDEYA: Well, Roxanne, thank you.

Ms. LAWSON: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Roxanne Lawson is director of Africa policy for TransAfrica Forum. She was at our headquarters in Washington, D.C.

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