Uganda’s decision not to invite Sudan’s President Omar al Bashir to the upcoming African Union (AU) summit in Kampala has been celebrated by some and criticised by others.
In an interview just days before the recent International Criminal Court (ICC) summit in Kampala, Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo was asked how he felt about African member states hosting Al-Bashir, who is wanted by the Court for war crimes in Darfur. Ocampo, smiling, replied with an anecdote:
“The last time I visited Uganda, they had invited Bashir for an African Union summit on refugees. President [Yoweri] Museveni told me I couldn’t understand it because it was ‘a tribal thing’. I told him that I loved the tribal concept, and that I had always thought that me and him [Museveni] belonged to the same tribe, the ICC tribe… in the end, Bashir didn’t travel to Uganda”.
Ocampo must have repeated these words to the Ugandan President when they saw each other last month in Kampala, as the country has decided not to invite Bashir for next month’s African Union summit.
For Dr Richard Barltrop, an expert on Sudanese politics, this decision “is not entirely surprising”, and the reasons go beyond Uganda’s commitment to the ICC.
“Uganda has stronger relations with Southern Sudan than with the central government of Sudan, and it has demonstrated it very recently. For example, President Museveni didn’t go to Khartoum for the reinauguration of President Bashir, but he did go to Juba, the capital of Southern Sudan, for the reinauguration of [President] Salva Kiir Mayardit.”
Sudan is demanding an apology from Uganda and has called on the African Union to move the summit to another venue. A predictable reaction, Barltrop says, and not one Uganda should be too worried about.
“Sudan officials may fulminate a little bit, but they won’t be badly affected by it. The fact is that the Sudanese government has already adapted to life under the arrest warrant for President Bashir.”
Human Rights Watch has said, on the other hand, that the decision is proof that the ICC is gaining strength in Africa. But it’s by no means certain that other African member states will follow suit, according to Barltrop. “There’s a very small trend in African countries adopting a position of passive and then gradually more explicit support for the ICC, so perhaps Uganda won’t isolate itself and other countries will follow suit, but it’s not going to be a rapid increase in the number.”