On Saturday’s Talk To Al Jazeera, former South African President Thabo Mbeki explained to Mike Hanna why he is critical of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and efforts to impose justice on Africa from the “outside,” when the entire focus should be on bringing peace to the continent.
Mbeki succeeded Nelson Mandela as South African president in 1999. Since his time in office ended, he has been involved in the affairs of the wider continent.
He knows all the major players in Africa’s trouble spots, including one of the most violent areas, the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where a 10-year bloody war may finally be reaching an end after the deployment of a more robust UN peacekeeping operation there.
Mbeki discussed the recent developments in the DRC, as well as the ongoing dispute between the two Sudans, where Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir is wanted by the ICC for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Mbeki is personally involved in the Sudan situation in his role as a UN representative overseeing negotiations between the neighbours. But does he believe that justice comes before peace?
“These charges against people – like Omar al-Bashir in Sudan or Uhuru Kenyatta in Kenya – they arise out of situations of conflict,” Mbeki says. “Our first response as Africans is that here are Africans who are dying, so we need [to intervene] to end this conflict.
“Our first task is to stop the killing of these Africans. But the challenge that arises is when someone says that the issue of justice trumps the issue of peace.
“If you talk to the South Sudanese President Salva Kiir, and ask him if President Bashir should be transported to The Hague, he will say no. He says [no] ‘because I need him for the peace that we are trying to make’,” Mbeki adds.
“But then somebody else coming from outside says ‘no, no, justice is more important than the peace you are after’.”
Some have described South Africa’s transition from apartheid to democracy as a potential template for dealing with deep-seated conflict. Mbeki played a central role in the negotiations with the white regime which, he says, helped avert a racial war. He uses his country’s example as an approach that yielded a positive outcome.
“You can imagine what would have happened in our case, in South Africa, if the International Criminal Court was there in 1994, and somebody said arrest [apartheid-era President FW] de Klerk and take him to The Hague. We would have refused,” Mbeki says.
“We would have said no, because [we knew] what you need to do is to end apartheid, and we need President de Klerk here to lead the white population into the democratic settlement.
“We would never have agreed that justice must trump this – even though we agreed that apartheid was a crime against humanity. Sure it was a crime against humanity, but we can deal with this matter of justice differently. This is the principal challenge that faces us.”
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Talk to Al Jazeera can be seen each week at the following times GMT: Saturday: 0430 and 1930; Sunday: 1930; Monday: 1430 .