What lesson has the trials and convictions of former Presidents of Liberia and Egypt, Charles Taylor and Hosni Mubarak taught other African leaders?
One of the Holy Books, the Bible, says in Ecclesiastes chapter 3 verses 15 - 18 says that “God will call the past to account. I saw something else under the sun: There is wickedness where justice should be found. There is wickedness where righteousness should be found. I thought to myself, ‘God will judge righteous people as well as wicked people, because there is a specific time for every activity and every work that is done’.” Perhaps it is in keeping to the old par-lance that vengeance is the Lord’s that led to the sentencing of two former leaders of two African nations, Charles Taylor of Liberia and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. While Taylor, who was tried by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands, made sensational headlines across the world, Mubarak was tried by the same people he lorded it over for over 30 years as the maximum Pharaoh of Egypt. Both trials attracted international attention as every stakeholder was interested in their outcome.The United Nations – backed criminal court found Taylor guilty of war crimes in Sierra Leone and thus sentenced him to 50 years, after being found guilty of aiding and abetting rebels in Sierra Leone during the 1996 to 2002 civil war. The ICC judges said that the 50-year jail term reflected his status as head of state at the time the crimes were committed, adding that it was a betrayal of public trust.Although Taylor, 64, insisted that he was innocent, even as his lawyers have said the sentence would be appealed, Richard Lussick, who read the judgement, pronounced: “The accused has been found responsible for aiding and abetting some of the most heinous crimes in human history.”
Defence counsel, Morris Anyah said: “The 50-year sentence is effectively a life sentence for someone of that age - the rules of the court prohibit expressly the imposition of a life sentence.”It is on record that Taylor never set foot on Sierra Leonean land, but his heavy footprints were found almost everywhere in the West African country between 1991 and 2002.
The crimes which Taylor were accused of took place over five years and they included: cutting off the limbs of their vic-tims and cutting open pregnant women to settle bets over the sex of their unborn children, according to the judges. The Taylor sentencing was an indication that the former warlord would spend the rest of his life in prison.
Taylor became the first African dictator and the first former president in history, since the Nuremberg trial that convicted Admiral Karl Doenitz, who ruled Germany briefly after Adolf Hilter committed suicide, to be convicted in an international court. A former Yugoslav president, Slobodan Milosevic, died while on trial, in 2006.
Sudanese leader, Omar al-Bashir, accused of war crimes, is yet to face trial.Mubarak, who is now in coma, was also sentenced to life imprisonment for his complicity in the killing of protesters during the Arab Spring that swept through the Arab World last year, thus making history as the first former leader to be tried in per-son since the advent of the Arab Spring in 2011.
Handing down the sentence, Judge Ahmed Refaat said that the 10-month trial was a fair trial, describing the Mubarak era as “30 years of darkness,” and praised the courage of those he called “the sons of the nation who rose up peacefully for free-dom and justice.”
Mubarak was said to have failed to stop the security forces from using deadly weapons against unarmed protesters lead-ing to the death of about 850 protesters.
Other Arab leaders who have suffered removal and prosecution since the Arab Spring included Zine al Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia, who was found guilty in absentia of drugs and gun charges while the Liby-an leader, Muammar Gaddafi was killed by rebels. Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh es-caped prosecution having been granted immunity after handing over power last year.
But what lesson has been learn't from all these sit-tight and despotic African rulers? To the President of Campaign for Democracy (CD), Dr. Joe Odumakin, the sentencing should serve as a big lesson for tyrannical African leaders, adding that ty-rants, who abused power, should know that they would never go scot-free and that the evil that men do now lives with them.
Her words: “This issue of dictatorship and power drunkenness is more prevalent in African countries and must be tackled headon.
There is need for rethink by African leaders on how they wish to end up. This means that leaders must be careful of what they do while in power as they will someday give account.
”She added that what had happened in Egypt is “a wake-up call to developing countries to strengthen their judiciary as it remains the last hope of the common man.
”The trial and sentencing of Taylor and Mubarak, according to analysts, should of course serve as a big lesson to all leaders “who worship and do the bidding of global empire builders; whose desire is to enslave the good and spirited people of the world.
”Arab and most especially African despotic leaders must learn a lesson from the humiliation of Mubarak who has served international capitalist system all his lives but ended up in humiliation. They must also take a cue from Taylor, who was once a feared warlord, but who will spend the remaining part of his life in prison for war crimes.
It is a clear signal that whether the remaining African dictators take responsibility for their actions and atrocities, justice will certainly be served on them and they will one way or the other be held accountable for whatever they do while in office.
For international human rights activists, the guilty verdicts on Taylor and Mubarak were clear indication that “if they commit crimes against humanity, they will be forced to face the consequences, regardless of how powerful they are.”Human rights lawyer, Bamidele Aturu, described the situation as “a signal to tyrannical African leaders that there is no safe haven for them.”His words: “We have many leaders who still do similar things.
He added that in the past whatever any leader does in his territory have always been referred to as domestic matter, but today, the reverse is the case, as such crimes fall within the jurisdiction of international human rights.
The Taylor conviction, most especially has set a precedent for other leading tyrants in the world who ought to have been brought to justice. It has for a long time been the mantra of the UN that nations should not meddle in one another’s internal affairs and this has given dictators leverage to misrule their people and subject them to horrendous experiences.
Perhaps, this would also serve as great lesson to the Zimbabwean dictator, Robert Mugabe, who has also committed sundry atrocities against the opposition since he took Zimbabwe by the jugular in 1980, even as attempts in the past t hold him responsible have proved abortive, simply because other countries do not want to interfere in the internal affairs of another country.
Therefore, it is not too early to conclude that Mugabe and his Sudanese counter-part, al Bashir, would one day also pay for their crimes against humanity.
Taylor never envisaged that a day would come, considering the enormity of the power he wielded while holding sway as Liberian president that he would ever find himself in his present condition.
While Mubarak’s trial and conviction was an indication that there are domestic legal frameworks that can effectively take care of the kind of crimes he was accused of, Taylor’s trial and conviction places a dent on Africa’s institutional capability to govern and administer justice effectively on its own.
It was the considered opinion of many analysts that like Mubarak, who was brought to justice by the same people he committed those atrocities against; Taylor was brought to book by an international tribunal, but some analysts believed that Taylor ought to have been brought to book either in Liberia or Sierra Leone where he allegedly committed the war crimes.
But it is generally agreed that the convictions of the former presidents is a plus for constitutionalism, respect for human rights and good governance in the African continent.
Africans should also learn to hold their leaders accountable, by ensuring that power also absolutely reside in them and not the so-called leaders, who more often than not, misuse such powers, whether willingly given or stolen, as has always been the case in Africa.