"War," a German thinker once said, "is politics by other means". Today's history is yesterday's politics. So, when a court sits on War Crimes, should it not also judge history?
Dominic Ongwen, a now 43-yearold man from the north of Uganda, stands accused of war crimes at the International Criminal Court (ICC), where he has been held for nearly four years. He was an officer in the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), which gained global notoriety during its decade-long activities.
From 1987 to 2006, much of northern Uganda was the site of a civil war, in itself a follow-on from the earlier 1981-1986 one in mainly the south, that ended when the National Resistance Army (NRA) rebel group seized power, and its head, Yoweri Museveni took the national presidency.
"Treason," said another European statesman, "is a matter of dates." So are war crimes, apparently. Many of the charges Ongwen faces are also applicable to the NRA from 1981, when it began the war that brought it to power, and for the full decade after taking power.
The only difference is the dates. The ICC was only fully instituted in 1998.
How can one build a case on war crimes without a proper narrative of the political crimes that caused the war in the first place? Where is the line between acts of collective political recklessness and individual criminal acts, often dissected as sterile exhibits in court?
A virulent metaphor
The war in northern Uganda has never been properly acknowledged as a failure of Ugandan politics. The LRA, which was the third historical leadership on the rebel side, is simply its most virulent metaphor.
The proceedings against Ongwen first establish beyond doubt that some heinous act did indeed take place, and then work to forensically link it to him by using testimony from government army signallers, civilian eyewitnesses, satellite communication records, other former LRA fighters and the like.
Much as criminal law, by its nature, must focus on specifics, this approach offers the NRA, and its British and American backers, an escape hatch from an obligation to account for their historical role in creating the conditions that created the Ongwens of this world.
The conflict had a single, simple cause: political exclusion which in Uganda, has always translated into physical persecution.
The northern side was an amalgamation of political, community and military interests coping with the consequences of the ending of the General Tito Okello junta which lasted from July...