Africa Watch

Africa’s spy chiefs take aim at the ICC


At a recent meeting in Rwanda the continent’s spy chiefs joined the crusade to rid Africa of the International Criminal Court (ICC) they perceive as biased.

The Committee of Intelligence and Security Services of Africa (CISSA), comprising the intelligence service chiefs of the African Union (AU) recently met in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda.

The meeting, which true to the shadow world of spies was held behind closed doors, caught the attention when it expressed alarm about “the frequency of selective indictments and threats of arrest warrants against African leaders by the western judges, which threatens to reverse Africa’s progress towards stability”.

They further lamented that laws “formulated to serve the international good, are being used as tools to enhance national interests and foreign policies of some countries”.

In the Kigali Declaration, issued on 5 August 2016 after the meeting, the spy chiefs recommended that the ICC suspend all arrest warrants and legal proceedings against African leaders and other high-ranking officials until discussions among all stakeholders are concluded and all stalemates resolved.

They also reaffirmed an earlier pledge to “deploy collective efforts to confront the growing threat of abuse of international jurisdiction”.


To some, the Kigali Declaration is a disappointment and is seen as a setback for efforts to improve responsible government and the advancement of democracy and human rights in Africa.

It is argued that if its recommendations were to be considered, it would involve, among other things, the controversial case of Sudanese president Omar Al Bashir and his former Minister of National Defence, Raheem Muhammad Hussein.

No surprise

That the spy chiefs of Africa would join in the criticism of the ICC is no surprise.

The AU is leading the campaign against the ICC for what is perceived as the court’s crusade against the continent and the victimisation of some of its political leaders. They have set in motion a plan to establish Africa’s own equivalent to the ICC.

A number of individual African states have already indicated that they are considering rescinding their ICC membership to accentuate their dissatisfaction.

The ANC has recommended in a policy statement that the South African government follow suit.

Rwanda is not a signatory to the Statute of Rome which established the ICC, but it did not prevent President Paul Kagame telling Africa’s spy chiefs that for a long time “some parts of the world seemed more important than others and lives of the people there somehow more valuable”. 

Kagame added that Africans have had enough and will no longer tolerate cynical manipulation imposed on them.

Still trying to come to terms with the consequences of the 1994 genocide against Tutsis and moderate Hutus, Rwanda feels aggrieved by the way the country is selectively treated by the ICC and some countries in the West.

Speaking at the official opening of the CISSA meeting, brigadier general Joseph Nzabamwita, the secretary general of the National Intelligence and Security Service of Rwanda, described what he termed “the abuse of international law” as an emerging threat which threatens the sovereignty of African countries.

According to him, Rwanda has been victimised, with 40 former and current Rwandese officials indicted by Spanish and French judges while Spain and particularly France, according to Rwanda, prefer not to bring known genocide perpetrators living in their countries to justice.

Support for the AU

African leaders, particularly those guilty of violating the basic principles of good governance and the human rights of their countrymen, will support the AU campaign to save their own skins, and so will their intelligence chiefs.

Tasked with the responsibility of safeguarding the security and integrity of the state against internal and external threats, the job of an intelligence chief is demanding.

As the proverbial eyes and ears of the heads of state, the intelligence chief is a confidant and close advisor.

Sharing the most intimate and sensitive information and details regarding the affairs of state, it is necessary that the relationship between the head of state and the head of intelligence is one of trust, openness and honesty.

With so much at stake, any rupture or estrangement between them requires immediate remedial action.

Once trust and confidence is broken, the changing of the guard of those entrusted with the safety and security of the state, becomes inevitable. This was illustrated by the resignation of South Africa’s three intelligence chiefs (NIA, SASS and SSA) in 2013 after they had voiced their concern over the undue influence of the Gupta family in the affairs of the South African government and the threat it posed to national security.

As a result of their close working relationship, the head of state usually handpicks the intelligence chief(s), whose fate is linked to that of the head of state.

Intelligence chiefs are more often than not instrumental in policy decisions adopted and implemented by the government.

It was, for example, the bold initiative by the National Intelligence Service (NIS) under the National Party government to start secret talks with the then banned ANC that led to the eventual peaceful negotiations for a democratic dispensation in South Africa.

It is to be expected that the intelligence chiefs of those heads of state targeted by the ICC, would support the Kigali Declaration. The intelligence chiefs know that if the head of state is summoned to appear before the ICC, they stand a fair chance of ending up in the dock too.  


What gives significance to the Kigali Declaration is the fact that the intelligence chiefs represent a particularly powerful and influential lobby group and the the declaration will strengthen the continent’s anti-ICC rhetoric, portraying it as targeting Africa.

Africa’s future relationship with the ICC was also discussed by the continent’s heads of state during the recent AU summit in Kigali.

A move for collective withdrawal from the ICC failed after some countries expressed reservations, voicing concern about the external political and diplomatic pressure that is likely to follow if such a decision is taken. 

Africa does have legitimate concerns and grievances regarding the ICC, but little has come of the plan to put in place Africa’s own version of the ICC, strengthening the argument of critics claiming that Africa is not serious about acting against those in power when they openly transgress international legal principles.

Demonstrating this lack of commitment, Amnesty International and the International Federation for Human Rights last week lamented the failure of the AU to carry out the agreements of the peace accord signed in August 2015 to end the conflict in South Sudan.

The AU Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan recommended in September 2015 the creation of “an Africa-led, Africa-owned, Africa-resourced legal mechanism under the aegis of the AU, supported by the international community, particularly the United Nations, to bring those with the greatest responsibility at the highest level to account”.

A year has passed and the AU still has not set up a hybrid court for South Sudan to investigate and prosecute individuals suspected of committing genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

In the meantime, the weak and the defenceless are suffering.

by Garth Cilliers

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