Hildegarde The Arena
THE turn of the new millennium was characterised by all sorts of scares, chief among them the Y2K (compliance or non-compliance) issues.
Zimbabwe’s political landscape was fully charged since the foundational stages of the land reform programme were just taking shape. The opposition MDC party led by Morgan Tsvangirai had also made its debut appearance in Parliament.
Then there was this lady called Evelyn Masaiti, who wanted to capitalise on the momentous occasion. She saw fame and fortune beckoning, signalling to this former teacher basking in the glory of being Mutasa constituency Member of Parliament.
Her new-found fame looked like the beginning of a bright and promising political future, and the rich pickings that come with power. Masaiti (and three others), bit the bullet, took the bull by the horns and told herself that she would go in the annals of history by confronting President Mugabe in the courts of law.
Since fame and fortune were calling, she decided against doing it in local courts, and instead filed a multi-million-dollar lawsuit against the Head of State and Government, and Commander-in-Chief of the Zimbabwe’s Defence Forces in a US District Court in Manhattan, New York, with the hope that the summons would be served while he attended the United Nations Millennium Summit in September 2000.
Looking back, one is tempted to ask whatever happened to Masaiti and her lawsuit. It was pure grandstanding, because if her lawyers had advised her adequately, they would have educated her about the President’s immunity under international law.
We revisit Masaiti’s attempts and intermittent foibles because it was a unique case where a black Zimbabwean made a mockery of our judiciary system and in the process wanted the Emperor to mete out justice on her behalf.
When the Hague-based International Criminal Court became a major talking in the past decade or so, for its penchant to hunt down African Heads of State and Government, it did not surprise us, for we had a precedent where a daughter of Zimbabwe was so blind to realise that even being an opposition MP was the fruit of the liberation struggle. She was also so blind that she believed that the minority white settlers should have unfettered rights on our land.
Masaiti and company’s lawsuit is also foundational in our understanding of how and why the Emperor is the preferred adjudicator in our cases as Africans, even though we see injustices against their people on a daily basis. Roman-Dutch law remains the preferred law for some, and no effort is made to have indigenous law.
Although the ICC won’t let Africa alone, the questions this writer has been asking of late is whether former colonial masters (France in particular) are becoming another arm of the ICC, this time not litigating cases on crimes against humanity, but corruption? As with the ICC, they are after African leaders and their families.
Get me right. I’m not condoning corruption by whomsoever, because it is a vice that stinks, a vice that has robbed Africa of its ability to develop without necessarily moving around with begging bowls among the so-called donor community.
The writer asks who gives the French justice system the power to have Africans tried in their courts of law. Is this because of the nature of France’s relations with its former colonies, where it still calls the shots?
At the time of writing, the trial of the Vice President of Equatorial Guinea Teodorin Obiang, who is also President Teodoro Obiang Mbasogo’s eldest son, which commenced on Monday was on-going in the French capital, Paris. Although the trial is taking place in absentia, he is denying the charges of “laundering embezzled public funds”.
According to reports, this landmark case will see France’s judicial system spreading its tentacles to other African leaders’ families, among them Gabon and Congo Republic.
What is interesting is that when people from so-called “poor countries” acquire properties in these Western countries, even their media looks the other way.
It is only when they want the leader out of power that they start talking. It is an open secret that most Western nations’ banks have offshore accounts for both the ruling elite and businesspeople, but will only reveal them either for regime change purposes and/or when they realise that the money is being used to finance evils such as terrorism.
Thus we wonder about the genuineness of this desire for justice. Is this justice for the French people or the people of the former colony? And, if these people are found guilty, will the monies be sent back to their countries, and/or will the properties be sold and the monies reimbursed to the respective countries’ treasuries?
On June 26 Radio France International (RFI) reported that daughter and son-in-law of Congo Brazzaville President Denis Sassou Nguesso were being investigated for corruption by French authorities, and that the investigations were at an advanced stage.
RFI said Julienne Sassou Nguesso and her husband “were placed under investigation this week for ‘money laundering and misuse of public funds’ with investigators trying to find out how the couple purchased a mansion” in an upmarket suburb in Paris.
Closer to home, we hear that a Portuguese judge wants Angola’s Vice President Manuel Vicente prosecuted “for corruption and money laundering”.
Same charges throughout. There are a number of conclusions to be drawn from this latest “doing justice for Africa” charade, one of which I have already alluded to – illegal regime change, even if some of the claims might be true.
Every accused person is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and the burden of proof lies with the prosecutors. Why is it that some of the accused have been tipped to succeed the incumbent leaders, for example Teodorin Obiang (Equatorial Guinea), and Vicente (Angola)?
Are these political games, with the former colonisers assisting, since they have more to gain when power changes hands? Just like the ICC, is this also exposing African countries’ judicial systems and their dispensing of justice? Are these former colonisers also showing that the elites in some African countries are above the law, thus their desire to do it themselves?
Finally, is it possible that the regional blocs such as Sadc, Ecowas and EAC working together with the African Union set up regional courts where such cases can be expertly tried without fear of favour? We know that all former colonisers would want to do what France and Portugal are doing in respective African countries, just to demonstrate one point: they remain Emperors!
And the irony – yesterday’s robbers are now today’s cops.