In the 1980s, US President Ronald Reagan was searching for a ''man in Africa'' who would keep Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi in check--and decided on Hisséne Habré, a rebel leader who was as ambitious as well as ruthless. His rebels were armed with heavy weapons by Washington, counseled by US intelligence operatives and supported by French army units.
In October 1982, Hisséne Habré seized power for himself with the logistical support of the CIA. until his toppling in 1990, he waged a proxy war against Moammar Gadhafi's troops: 10,000 Libyan soldiers are thought to have been killed in the conflict. In 1984, three years before his state visit to the US, entire villages were erased in southern Chad during an incident that came to be known as: ''Black-September''. In June 1987, Hisséne Habré was received by Reagan in Washington. Nobody wanted to hear about the fact that he rampaged through his country and had tens of thousands of people killed. Hisséne Habré was the most brutal dictator ever to have been funded by the United States.
The former president of Chad was one on the most gruesome tyrants in post-colonial Africa's gruesome history. He is accused of crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture. According to estimates by a Chadian truth commission, he is responsible for the deaths at least 40,000 people.
The trial taking place in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, is an historic one. For the first time, an African despot is being tried in an African country, after the African Union (AU) gave its blessings to the special tribunal. It was a decision nobody expected. The organization, after all, includes several dictatorships whose rulers are themselves at potential risk of persecution. Furthermore, the relationship of many African states to the International Criminal Court in the Hague, is irreparably damaged.
They consider the ICC to be a racist institution of the West that has it out only for Africans. Alleged criminals like Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta refused to cooperate with the court and the South African government blocked the extradition of Sudanese head of state Omar al-Bashir, who has been on the ICC wanted list for years because of the mass killings in Darfur. But the ICC has no jurisdiction for the crimes in Chad. The ICC did not take up its work-until 2002--after the massacres took place. For this reason, the African Union has now decided to take own legal path.
In Senegal, Africans are going to pass judgment on Africans for the first time.The trial could even serve as model for other countries looking to clear up past crimes.
After he was toppled, Hisséne Habré fled to friendly Senegal--along with $12 million he had taken out of the national bank. For 25 years, he led a pleasant life in Dakar, residing in the Ouakam neighborhood and in a villa in the wealthy ''Almadies area''. He bought himself the favor of politicians and journalists. One of those politicians bought by Hisséne Habré, is the former Senegal president, A Wade. For many years, Mr Wade refused the extradition of Hisséne Habré, despite the International Court of Justice, the highest judicial organ in the United Nations ordered the prosecution of Hisséne Habré.
Then the light at the end of the tunnel became visibly clear when a new president was elected in Senegal, the liberal reformer Macky Sall. He gave his allowance for the special tribunal in Dakar and on June 30, 2013, the ex-dictator was arrested. Once again, an investigation was opened in Chad, this time led by the tribunal judges. They questioned over 2,500 witnesses, and had mass graves exhumed. Forensic experts from Argentina analyzed the human remains.
Finally, the victims have names, faces and their own voices. They are no longer part of an anonymous mass of victims, as is so often the case when leaders violate human rights in Africa. So far, no victim has been able to confront dictators like Robert Mugabe, Joseph Kabila, Yoweri Museveni, Pierre Nkurunziza, Omar al-Bashir without fear. At the special tribunal in Dakar, the victims are able to look at the accused directly in the eye.
By Guylain Gustave Moke
African Affairs Expert
Photo-Credit: Agence France Presse-Getty-Images: Hisséne Habré at Court hearing in Dakar