African viewpoint: Taming volcanoes

A militia soldier in eastern DR Congo on guard with a volcano in the background (Archive shot February 2008)

In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, film-maker and columnist Farai Sevenzo considers how international justice is affecting the continent.

Africans are in a new age of revolutions, it seems. From our Arab neighbours in the north to the usual rebellious suspects in eastern Democratic Republic Congo, to the culture haters in northern Mali to the striking miners in the south - change is all around us.

The growth of good news and an explosion of books by ubiquitous Africa experts also speak of a new age of confidence taking advantage of the fastest-growing economies on the planet, huge discoveries of energy and mineral resources and more billionaires and millionaires than at any other African age.

But the more things change the more they seem to stay exactly where they once were.

I have lost count of the number of times I've read of a rebellion in DR Congo, or how, when I first started pretending to be a journalist , I would be irked and annoyed by the same experts describing the armed battles surrounding Laurent Kabila's newly named Democratic Republic of Congo as "Africa's first world war".

They somehow managed to be patronising and inept in this description, conveniently forgetting that Africans fought in both World Wars and that having five nations battling for influence over DR Congo's riches and her politics did not actually involve all 54 of the continent's governments.

Comic book name

Yet here we are again, picking at the scab of this particular wound as the M23 rebel movement marches past UN soldiers who have been clinging on to DR Congo like the useless jungle weed that grows over everything yet provides neither protection nor sustenance to the citizens of Goma and beyond.

It is easy to imagine that a lifetime of watching this particular corner of the continent is like being caught in a loop of time, where the same names - Kabila, Kagame - pepper the pages of reports and the same pictures - armed men, fleeing citizens - feed the news channels and nothing much changes.

But add to this looping melodrama the UN and its impotent soldiers, the International Criminal Court and its praise-singers and you could have a brand new drama in which a rebel with the comic book name of "the Terminator" - also known as General Bosco Ntaganda - flees international sanction to run yet another group of rebels in the Kivus and the new name of Col Sultani Makenga has a victory march in newly captured Goma while threatening to take his far more disciplined troops onwards to take the capital, Kinshasa.

Would such events have occurred were it not for the international arrest warrant out on Gen Ntaganda?

Would the rebels have stayed onside had DR Congo's President Joseph Kabila not promised, under pressure from the ICC, to arrest him?

Of course it would be wrong to assume that horrendous crimes of state and militias should not be punished, but the ever-repeated drama here requires strength to terminate its decade-long hold on the citizens, and that strength has been strangely lacking from the Congolese government as well as the UN mandate.

Is it any wonder, as the speculation has it, the rebels want to form their own republic in the east "The Republic of Volcanoes"?

A republic so aptly named would be difficult for ordinary men and women to tame.

'Alter ego'

And as new people take the reins of rebellion or power, old names keep popping up thanks again to the ICC.

Image caption Ivory Coast's former first lady pictured on the day of her capture in April 2011

We heard last week that an arrest warrant has been issued by the ICC for Madame Simone Gbagbo, the former first lady and politician in Ivory Coast.

The court's prosecutors said Mrs Gbagbo was a member of her husband's inner circle and his "alter ego", and had blood on her hands over her planning of attacks on political rivals.

She "exercised joint control over the crimes by having the power to control and give instructions directly to the youth militia who were systematically recruited, armed, trained," the arrest warrant said.

The image that lingers of the first lady's fall from grace is her sitting on a hotel bed in April 2011 surrounded by opposition forces, the tell-tale bruising of several severe slaps around her face, her hair pulled out in lumps from her scalp.

Fear instead of forceful authority dripping from her eyes.

It has all come full circle and instead of being detained in Odienne, a small town in the north of Ivory Coast, the ICC would like her to join her husband, former President Laurent Gbagbo, in The Hague.

Certainly Mr Gbagbo would like to have his "alter ego" in close proximity, but the African jury is still out on where the fallen should be tried.

The Hague or Monrovia for Liberia's Charles Taylor; Tripoli or The Hague for Libya's Saif al-Islam Gaddafi - and the list will go on.

Image caption Archbishop Desmond Tutu, 81, was awarded $1m for "speaking truth to power" last month

There are many who think with the ICC's arrest warrant and summons to The Hague, Madame Gbagbo may have dodged the bullet of local justice from her foes.

Over in Egypt new revolutionaries are discovering that everyone may dislike a pharaoh but all leaders will one day act like one.

That was the case when the much-lauded Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi finally put away the label of former opposition leader to become a fully fledged president with sweeping powers over Egypt's judiciary which, it seems, bore too strikingly the hallmarks of the ancient regime.

One man's president is another man's tyrant and even there in Tahir Square, where the tear gas continues to sting and the rocks keep pelting policemen in uniform long after a pharaoh called Mubarak has gone, the children of the Arab spring are being forced to grow up very quickly.

Perhaps true change can only be bought by the odd million-dollar donation from our burgeoning billionaire class.

But you may have to be a very old male bishop to qualify.

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