THE main African stories for the start of the week remained mainly stuck between Ebola –or in this case its varieties – terrorism, and war. There were two breaks.
One was from an old bête noire of African leaders – the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague. The other, from a South Africa still in the throes of the Oscar Pistorius trial, is a about a visiting bisexual British man who killed his girlfriend on a honeymoon.
Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta Tuesday flew out to attend a hearing at the ICC), where he will become the first sitting president to appear before the chamber.
But, in Kenya at least, that was overshadowed by how he did it: In a speech to the nation judged to have been fairly powerful, Kenyatta announced he was temporarily handing power to his deputy William Ruto to “protect the sovereignty” of the country. His departure was low-key, and he travelled as a “private” citizen on a regular flight to Amsterdam through the general terminal, accompanied by a small delegation including his wife and daughter, as well as six MPs and three ministers.
He is due to attend a “status conference” hearing on Wednesday at the ICC, after prosecutors asked for an indefinite delay until Nairobi handed over documents they believe could clinch their case.
Kenyatta, 52, faces five counts at the ICC over his alleged role in masterminding post-election violence in 2007 and 2008 that left 1,400 people dead and 600,000 displaced.
The Kenyan leader has appeared at the ICC before, but not since he was elected president in March 2013.
Fancy political footwork
Bitter memories are still fresh from 2007, when elections escalated into ethnic conflict, for which Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto were charged with crimes against humanity. Both reject the charges.
Kenya’s newspapers said they backed his travel to the ICC, pointing that to defy international orders could have resulted in repercussions for the whole country.
Analysts say African leaders who had rallied around Kenyatta to oppose the ICC, and had even pushed a resolution at the African Union (AU) to halt his trial, and to withdraw from the ICC if it went ahead, must have been flat-footed and left with some egg on their faces.
At the same time, by relinquishing power, albeit temporarily, he denies The Hague a full presidential scalp. Kenya social media was abuzz with comments about how he had taken a lot of wind out of the ICC’s sail.
But Kenyatta also upended his local and international critics, who had portrayed him as a lawless tribal warlord hiding behind sovereignty to evade accountability for his alleged role in the early 2008 post-election violence.
It was a deft public relations manouvre, if nothing else, and in the course of the week it will become clever if his gamble will pay off. After all, the ICC has all but conceded that it has no evidence to proceed with the case against him.
However it turns out, Kenyatta has scuppered Africa’s anti-ICC form book. And he will probably get a lukewarm embrace from several of the African leaders who had fought his corner perhaps even more keenly than himself.
Murder by Boko
As Kenyatta played his international back-hander on the ICC, in Nigeria the terrorist group Boko Haram too went international – but they picked the worst.
Boko Haram militants killed seven people on Monday in the remote northeast of Nigeria, residents and an official said, with reports indicating the victims were beheaded in a revenge attack.
The overnight raid targeted the town of Ngamdu in troubled Borno state, the area hardest hit in the Islamists’ five-year uprising.
When locals woke they discovered “seven people had been brutally killed”, said resident Musa Abor.
The gunmen “slit their (victims) throats just the way people slaughter goats”, he added.
Abor and a Borno state official, who asked that his name be withheld, said the bodies had been decapitated, in the latest act of gruesome violence blamed on the Islamists who have killed more than 10,000 people since 2009.
In recent months, Boko Haram insurgents have targeted reprisal attacks at locals who have fought alongside the military as vigilantes.
In recent weeks, more and more reports of beheadings by Boko Haram have emerged. Nigerian officials and commentators have said they are inspired by the beheadings being carried out in Iraq and Syria by the unusually extremist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS).
Meanwhile, with the Ebola epidemic in West Africa already a big international story – having killed 3,400 people mostly in the worst hit countries of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone – it set off hysteria in the USA when a US national who had travelled to Liberia was diagnosed with it.
Ebola kin in Uganda
But disease, clearly, has a sick sense of humour. Its “rising” reputation battered by Ebola, Africa had to endure a new spin in the tale when the equally deadly Marburg virus broke out in Uganda.
Uganda’s health ministry said Monday it was monitoring eight people suspected of having contracted Marburg virus, after one person they’d been in contact with died.
“A total of eight people who earlier got into contact with the Marburg confirmed case have developed signs of the disease,” the ministry said in a statement.
“Preparations are under way to quarantine the suspects as a preventative measure.”
A hospital technician has died of the Marburg virus in Kampala on Sunday.
The Marburg virus is one of the most deadly known pathogens. Like Ebola, it causes severe bleeding, fever, vomiting and diarrhoea.
The virus has a 21-day incubation period.
A killing in Cape Town
And in South Africa, another legal drama has begun ahead of the sentencing of Oscar Pistorius, the celebrity runner who was found guilty of culpable homicide.
The trial of British millionaire Shrien Dewani, who is charged with murdering his young bride while on honeymoon in Cape Town, will cast a further spotlight on the country’s judicial system following the debate over the Pistorius decision.
Dewani’s trial is already off to an explosive start, after he admitted being bisexual and having paid male prostitutes for sex. He fought a three-year legal battle to avoid extradition but was sent back to South Africa in April, where he is standing trial for the death of Swedish-born bride Anni (nee Hindocha), who was shot dead on November 13, 2010, aged 28.
Dewani claims that he and his bride were hijacked at gunpoint as they drove through Cape Town’s impoverished Gugulethu township in a taxi. Dewani escaped unharmed, but his wife’s body was found in the abandoned car the next day. Taxi driver Zola Tongo admitted guilt in a plea bargain and claimed that Dewani had offered him $1,300 to have Anni killed.
Three South Africans have been tried and convicted and are serving jail sentences of between 18 years and life for their role in Anni Dewani’s death.