Two ICJ decisions highlight the challenges of regional integration in Africa

Last week the The highest court of the United Nations ordered Uganda to pay the sum of 325 million dollars to the Democratic Republic of the Congo for the East African country’s role in the brutal war that took place there at the turn of the century. The International Court of Justice, or The ICJ ruled on February 9 that Uganda had violated international standards as an occupying force between 1998 and 2003, and was responsible for the deaths of up to 15,000 people in the eastern Ituri region of Congo. It was also discovered that Ugandan troops had looted precious gold, diamonds and Congo wood.

The case is both an illustration of the failure of African continental and regional bodies to help resolve these disputes before they end up before the ICJ, and a cautionary tale of the difficulties these bodies will face in reaching their ambitious integration goals in the face of residual conflicts between their Member States.

The $325 million given to Congo is only a fraction of the more than $11 billion that Kinshasa was seeking. Congo originally filed the case with the ICJ in 1999, citing acts of armed aggression on its territory by Ugandan forces “in flagrant violation of the Charter of the United Nations and the Charter of the Organization of Unity African”. The court ordered Kampala to pay the sum in five installments of $65 million, beginning in September and ending in 2026.

The Ugandan Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the ICJ decisionwhich is final but not binding, as “unfair and wrong”, while lamenting that it “comes at a time when the two countries continue to strengthen their relationship, and Uganda is doing everything in its power to help and work with the DRC government in different areas including security, infrastructure [and] Regional economic integration.”

Indeed, the ICJ judgment was delivered a few days before Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni joined his Congolese counterpart, Félix Tshisekedi, as well as Togolese President Faure Gnassingbe in a security summit organized in Congo Brazzaville by President Denis Sassou Nguesso. The meeting of the four Heads of State focused primarily on the political and security landscape of the Great Lakes region of West and Central Africa, where a number of military coups and humanitarian crises continue to undermine regional peace and security efforts.

The ICJ ruling is the second landmark international verdict in recent months involving two African states, following the A UN tribunal sided with Somalia in October 2021 in a years-long dispute with neighboring Kenya on their maritime border. And as in the case of Uganda and Congo, there are fears that the decision could worsen the already fragile relations between Kenya and Somalia, which have been complicated by Kenya’s military involvement in southern Somalia for counter the Al-Shabaab insurgency.

In principle, neither case should have reached the ICJ. Since the 1990s, and particularly following the protracted conflicts in Somalia, Liberia and Sierra Leone as well as the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, African regional organizations have expanded their mandates to include conflict prevention and management, alongside their traditional efforts at economic integration and cooperation. It is in large part because of this increased desire for African-led efforts in diplomacy, security, humanitarian aid and development assistance that “African solutions to African problems” has become a mantra in continental affairs, following the formula coined by Ghanaian economist George Ayittey.

The two most recent ICJ decisions highlight thorny political disputes that Africa’s frameworks for trade and trade integration may not easily overcome.

In 2002, the African Union and the African Peace and Security Architecture, or APSA, were created to address the perceived limitations of the organization that preceded the AU, the Organization of African Unity, or OAU, by designing a framework for working with regional economic communities and regional mechanisms for the prevention, management and resolution of conflicts. Of more than 200 intergovernmental organizations in Africa identified in 2006 by an expert report, the AU has recognized eight regional economic communitiesincluding the Economic Community of West African States and the East African Community, as pillars of APSA and part of its continental crisis management framework.

Similarly, individual states have invested considerable effort in easing relations with their neighbours, including in this case Kenya and Somalia, as well as Uganda and Congo. Following the restoration of full diplomatic relations between the Congo and Uganda in 2009, the two countries intensified their engagement in trade, infrastructure development and security cooperation. In 2021, Congo was the country of Uganda largest source of export surpluses among its regional neighbors. As for Kenya, it is the fifth largest exporter of goods to Somalia, although well behind the top four: the United Arab Emirates, China, India and Turkey. However, goods exported from Kenya to the Middle East are often re-exported to Somalia, creating mutually beneficial transit trade opportunities for both countries.

Notwithstanding the opportunities for bilateral cooperation and the interdependence between these countries, the two ICJ judgments nonetheless highlight thorny political disputes that trade and trade integration frameworks may not easily overcome. “The Congo-Uganda dispute ended up in the ICJ partly because of Ugandan paternalism,” Owiso Owiso, a lecturer in international law at the University of Groningen in the United States, told me. -Bas, adding that repeated efforts by Kinshasa to negotiate with Kampala were constantly rebuffed. But Owiso also pointed to the failure of the AU dispute settlement mechanism to play a meaningful role in either case. “The AU was largely absent, while its diplomatic force would have had a significant impact on the direction these disputes took,” he said.

Owiso noted that the timing of the latest ICJ judgment creates a dire optic regarding regional integration efforts, with Congo currently closer than ever to joining the East African Community. But he pointed to recent infrastructure and military cooperation initiatives between Congo and Uganda, as well as the possibility that leaders of other EAC member countries will negotiate in this dispute to smooth Congo’s path. in the regional body, as a sign that attitudes in Kampala and Kinshasa may be changing, in a way that will perhaps lessen the fallout from last week’s judgment.

Owiso also presented the Somalia-Kenya dispute as another case of paternalism, this time from Nairobi towards Mogadishu, although he acknowledged that its history is complex. But he argued that the dispute should never have ended at the ICJ in the first place, and therefore represents a failure of both diplomacy and good neighborliness. Nevertheless, again, he does not see this decision as a setback in the pursuit of mutual economic and security interests. “Kenya and Somalia face major security challenges, primarily the Al-Shabaab threat, which they can only address through bilateral cooperation,” he said, adding that the economies of the two countries “are interdependent in more ways than the Kenyan elite cares to admit. ”

Owiso also noted that international law does not prevent litigant states from reaching an alternative settlement among themselves, either in accordance with the ICJ’s decision or through other means using the former as a guide.

Both ICJ decisions stand out as important cases involving key AU member states, and their importance will likely reverberate for some time to come. Although bilateral or regional diplomatic efforts have ultimately failed to prevent these particular cases from ending up before the ICJ, they could make a difference in ensuring that resolutions to these disputes do not remain a source of resentment or grievance that could hamper regional and continental cooperation efforts. further down the line. And going forward, if the AU and African regional blocs hope to achieve their ambitious goals of integration and cooperation, it will be essential to use their diplomatic clout to resolve such disputes faster and closer.

Chris O. Ogunmodede is associate editor of World Politics Review. His coverage of African politics, international relations and security has appeared in War on The Rocks, Mail & Guardian, The Republic, Africa is a Country and other publications. Follow him on Twitter at @Illustrious_Cee.

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