African viewpoint: Caged comeuppance?

Mr Mubarak in a cage in court (August 2011)

In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, film-maker and columnist Farai Sevenzo considers whether the former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's murder and corruption trial is a victory for justice.

We are in August already and looking back on this momentous year of revolutions and natural disasters, it seems that the Gods have packed so much into these eight months they might as well consider giving 2011 24 months, for who knows how much more we have yet to see and if our eyes can take it all.

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Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has been playing the long game of survival”

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The sight of Hosni Mubarak prostrate behind a cage, surrounded by his accusers and ogled by the 21st Century's ubiquitous television cameras, was thick with the symbolism of revolutionary triumph.

Besides the hardened loyalists skirmishing outside the Cairo police academy which once carried his name, sympathy for Mr Mubarak was thin on the ground and around the world.

Relatives of the pro-democracy activists who died at the hands of Mr Mubarak's soldiers cried at the sight of the former president as if their dead had been honoured by this pitiful scene and all of Mr Mubarak's former friends - powerful presidents and influential diplomats - were nowhere to be seen.

The Cairo air did not seem laced with justice but overloaded with the anguish of the bereaved, thick with emotion or anger. The tear gas trails of February's spring seemed to give way to a thirst for revenge against the symbol of the ancien regime - just about alive enough to become a pressure valve for the people's anger.

Can justice be found in such a setting? "He is not ill," cried some Egyptians, "he seems far too robust. So what if he is 83 years old? He must answer for his crimes."

'Leaders' nightmares'

Everyone knew that those who had upheld his dictatorship were in military barracks somewhere nearby, miraculously transformed from being Mr Mubarak's foot soldiers to being the new guardians of the revolution without going through the very cage in which the accused now stood.

Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has been playing the long game of survival from the moment it promised this trial.

Anti-Mubarak protesters with placards in Cairo (August 2011) Relatives of killed pro-democracy activists are demanding justice

By its very name, this Arab Spring of 2011 had already separated itself from the African continent so that we were left to watch one man on trial in Cairo, another being bombed in Tripoli and yet others from Damascus to Bahrain killing civilians to keep the spring at bay.

Still, we Africans are only too aware of our leaders' nightmares - the International Criminal Court, the humiliation of arrest or exile, the shouldering of responsibility for the actions of men and women whose loyalty kept them in power, the desertion of political allies, the solitude of defeat.

So, do all things return to normal with the arrest of one man and his offspring? Should that satisfy us?

Whatever the outcome of Mr Mubarak's trial, something has changed.

For some time now, we have been striving for justice over many of our conflicts. This is why 17 years after the Rwandan genocide, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda is still at work.

'Moral ambiguities'

Rwanda's former army chief Augustine Bizimungu received 30 years in jail while ex-government minister Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, 65, is the first woman to be convicted of genocide in Rwanda by an international court and is to serve life in prison.

In this year, Zambia's ex-President Frederick Chiluba died with the cloud of corruption hanging over his mixed record, Sudan's Omar al-Bashir will go on despite the genocide charge hanging over him, and former Liberian President Charles Taylor's long trial is due to deliver a verdict imminently in this year of great events.

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Some dictators will live with the insults and the bombs, but live they will”

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Somehow, as the song goes, I can't get no satisfaction.

For over in Liberia, as a presidential election campaign shifts gears for October's poll, we can find several of Mr Taylor's former associates doing rather nicely thank you, despite being on an asset freeze list and we can be sure that their influence will remain for several elections to come.

In Malawi nearly 20 protesters died at the hands of Bingu wa Mutharika's riot police last month - how will we deal with him should he order more killings?

And when we put the spotlight on Libya, all we get is a kaleidoscope of moral ambiguities where it is OK to bomb a dictator into submission, condemn him and his rebel opponents for crimes against humanity and feel justified in killing his sons and his grandchildren in the belief that civilian lives are being protected.

It is no wonder then that some dictators will live with the insults and the bombs, but live they will.

The truth is 2011 is proving to be the year of uncertainty for everyone - jittery financial markets have the world's economies in a spin, long-running wars are getting bloodier and the Arab spring - from Tunis to Damascus - is the wild horse no-one has yet managed to tame.

From Benghazi we heard news that Abdel Fattah Younes went from being the rebels' general to a murdered corpse burnt and dumped in the desert, and now the National Transitional Council has had its entire cabinet dismissed by Mustafa Abdel Jalil - all of which point to divisions galore somewhere in the near future.

Then, as we focus our eyes on the Arab region, London, that bastion of order, goes up in flames to gangs of youths and looters.

Still, we shall continue to watch the changing fortunes of Mubarak & Sons, which is not a business in financial crisis but the fate of justice in revolution's hands.

Is it too much to expect that justice should reach beyond the head of one autocrat - to the snipers, tank drivers, riot policemen and assassins?

Has the excuse of "I was only following orders", ceased to be a legitimate legal defence?

We await Cairo's lead.

If you would like to comment on Farai Sevenzo's column, please do so below.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Notwithstanding the atrocious acts committed by Mubarak, he should not be brought to the courtroom in a cage. This is very inhumane and it should not happen in Africa. Indeed, lessons have to be learnt but a human being should be treated with dignity - at least. What will compel Assad to give up when he sees such a thing in Egypt. Two wrongs do not make one right.

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    Comment number 5.

    Had it been Mubarak and the Tunisia President were not subjected to this kind of mockery,by now Gaddafi could have steped down, as they adhere to the voice of the people and give up power,they suppose to be given preferences.See to it now that the revolution is not working in Libya and Syria.

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    Comment number 4.

    As always, your commentator Mr Sevenzo takes the long and more nuanced view. A fine article.

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    Comment number 3.

    Once you let a higher-up (parents, preachers, bosses, politicians, a world power, World System... etc) make a decision for you (assigned by whichever mechanism: whether they happened to be there when you were born, or you elected them), it becomes your own mistake that you carry the burden of for the rest of your life - with the relief that true justice exists even if it's not in this life...

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    Comment number 2.

    Mubarak was supported by the military and now the military are driving his prosecution and getting off the hook. This court case is designed to show “action” and proves nothing. Where are the other guys? Is it possible that a handful of men did all the wrong in Egypt?

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    Comment number 1.

    I believe it's combination of revenge and justice. I read that former Nigerian president Obasanjo weighed in saying Mubarak was caged like an animal. An act not befiting a president, thus a disgrace to Africa. What about the brutality and killing of innocent citizens at the order of dictators like Mubarak? The sanctity of protecting human life trumps any dignity due any head of state.


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