Treat Greed in Africa as a War Crime: Simone Gbagbo's Case

Treat Greed in Africa as a War Crime: Simone Gbagbo's Case

When the International Criminal Court made public an arrest warrant last November for Simone Gbagbo, a former first lady of Ivory Coast, on charges of crimes against humanity, it set two precedents.

Treat Greed in Africa as a War Crime: Simone Gbagbo's Case

For the first time, it had indicted a woman — and someone who had held no formal public office. The previous year, Mrs. Gbagbo’s husband, Laurent, became the first former head of state to face trial before the I.C.C. He was indicted for thousands of murders and “other inhuman acts” after refusing to accept defeat in a presidential election that was held in November 2010.

The indictments of the Gbagbos are welcome, but they don’t bring the court any closer to confronting the fundamental causes of the violence that has plagued Ivory Coast — and most of sub-Saharan Africa — for centuries. Colonial rule, and the military takeovers and suppression of democratic movements that followed it, have contributed enormously to the misery. But even those legacies are not the root cause. Violence in Africa begins with greed — the discovery and extraction of natural resources like oil, diamonds and gas — and continues to be fed by struggles for control of energy, minerals, food and other commodities.

The court needs the power to punish those who profit from these struggles. So do other judicial forums. At a summit meeting here last week, leaders of the African Union proposed expanding the criminal jurisdiction of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights to include corporate criminal liability for the illicit exploitation of natural resources, trafficking in hazardous wastes and other offenses. Africa’s so-called “resource curse” is legendary. Take Nigeria for instance which experienced 10 successive military coups beginning in 1966, just a few years after independence from Britain and the subsequent discovery of large oil reserves.

The struggle to control its government was in large part a struggle to control oil. The pattern repeated in many countries — including the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), Somalia, Liberia, Uganda, Sierra Leone and the Republic of Congo — where rebels, political parties and international corporations have competed to control extraction industries. Ivory Coast, which produces about 40 percent of the world’s cocoa beans, is a case in point. Cocoa accounts for a fifth of its economy. Nestlé, Hershey and Cadbury play central roles in buying and trading it, and they benefit from the exploitative labor practices in the agricultural sector.  anding the powers of the African court would also help.

True international justice means not only investigating heads of state, but also the multinational companies that are part of the ecosystem of Africa’s violence. Kamari Maxine Clarke, a Professor of Anthropology at Yale University , is the author of “Fictions of Justice: The International Criminal Court and the Challenge of Legal Pluralism in Sub-Saharan Africa.”

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