Neighbours frown on 'illiberal' SudanBy FREDERICK GOLOOBA-MUTEBI | Monday, December 5 2011 at 10:53
The Republic of Sudan must be feeling rather unloved in its neighbourhood.
Early last week, a Kenyan court declared the country’s President Omar al-Bashir wanted and eligible for arrest should he set foot on Kenyan soil. And then a view emerged with the East African Community that it should not be allowed membership.
I shall not go into the vexed question of the correctness or otherwise of the ICC’s indictment. As hot potatoes go, that one is smouldering.
With regard to Khartoum’s bid to join the EAC, it is important to point out that, as in the past when the matter has been considered and its efforts rebuffed, this time it was again Ugandan and Tanzanian officials who were categorical in their opposition.
Uganda’s Eriya Kategaya, not famous for mincing words, is said to have opined: “We rejected their application after looking at several issues like their democracy, the way they treat women and their religious politics and we feel they don’t qualify at all.”
And as in the past, Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi avoided their counterparts’ loudspeaker diplomacy.
Last Wednesday, Presidents Yoweri Museveni, Mwai Kibaki, Pierre Nkurunziza and the Prime Ministers of Rwanda and Tanzania convened in Bujumbura to, among other things, consider membership applications by the two Sudans.
They confirmed the rejection of Khartoum’s advances and sent South Sudan’s bid for further scrutiny.
South Sudan has all along been considered a natural member, so the outcome is hardly surprising.
Some of the reasons given for Khartoum’s rejection, such as its lack of geographical proximity to any existing member, are straightforwardly sensible.
There are others, however, such as those that Eriya Kategaya emphasised, that call for a good debate. And we citizens of the Community must join in — after all, we live in the age of bottom-up and participatory decision-making, said by experts to be the foundation of popular empowerment.
Kategaya and company are right to invoke values stipulated in the EAC Treaty when considering the eligibility of applicants.
The Treaty is clear: Potential members must adhere to universally accepted principles of good governance, democracy, rule of law, observance of human rights, and social justice. As a declaration of principle, this is all fine.
The problem I have with what for lack of a better term I shall call “Kategayan posturing” is that it amounts to what those who live by metaphors would claim is a case of the pot calling the kettle black.
Yes, there are issues with Khartoum’s democracy. Hardly anyone would quibble with that.
And yes, issues have been raised about the way women are treated there, as there have been about the role and place of religion in politics, as well as respect for human rights.
The question, though, is: should EAC members erect barricades against the entry of Khartoum or any other aspiring member because of perceived failures to measure up to so-called international standards on these fronts?
Consider this: There is not a single EAC member, including those where campaigns are more peaceful and elections more transparent than elsewhere, whose practice of democracy could stand up to scrutiny as a model others could or should copy.
In other words, if Sudan joined the EAC, it wouldn’t stand out; at the very least it would be in good company, generally speaking. The issue about women is neither here or there.
Informed sources tell me that the country’s constitution reserves a whole 25 per cent of positions in public life, at all levels, for women.
I understand that the country even had a female general in its police force, and that she retired only recently.
Perhaps most startling for those whose view of the country is of one led by raging misogynists, more than 50 per cent of university students are women. Also, out of the five judges of the country’s Supreme Court, one is a woman.
And then there are women Members of Parliament, Cabinet ministers, and presidential advisors.
Now, of course, these numbers could be bigger.
And those who look at things of this sort with a critical eye may argue statistics say nothing about the experiences of ordinary women.
That, however, would apply with equal force to all EAC member countries as well, including Rwanda, which, in terms of numbers of women in influential positions, is a clear outlier.
Moreover, a charitable view would consider Sudan’s current position to be a good foundation on which to build. Human-rights violations?
Which EAC member country is completely without blemish and can therefore take to a pedestal and lecture Khartoum or any other country?
Which takes me to a point I think requires greater emphasis than it has hitherto attracted.
That point is this: Even if Sudan were as guilty as the EAC’s would-be purists would like us to believe, there is an argument to be made about the necessity of allowing it into the fold once the geography has been sorted, for purposes of influencing it to move in the desired direction.
What it needs to shape up is help, not holier-than-thou finger pointing.
It is the easiest way, it seems to me, that its continuing problems with South Sudan and other restive territories within its borders could stand a chance of resolution without further violence that could spill over into the current EAC’s borders.
Frederick Golooba-Mutebi is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Social Research, Makerere University. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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