Category Archives: Peace

Of coups, rebellions & revolutions: CAR


They say history has a way of repeating itself. Ten years ago, the very same headlines we are reading today were topping most papers in the press. “Central African Republic: Rebel leader seizes power, suspends constitution” Irin News. Then;  the reaction of the African Union was the same; they ‘strongly condemned’ Bozize’s actions. The then Chairperson of the AU, President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, said the coup undermined the continent’s efforts to achieve sustainable development.  After inordinate delays, in 2005, an election was finally held, legitimising the coup government. The formation of that government was immediately followed by the continuation of arbitrary arrests, denial of fair trials, use of excessive force by security agents, abductions, torture and physical abuse, the use of child soldiers, suppression of freedoms of the press, expression, assembly, and association-which had been the order of the day from the date the coup took place.

I look at the political history of the Central African Republic and wonder, “Have they now developed an unwritten rule of a maximum term of ten years of autocratic rule given that the currently deposed leader, Francoise Bozize, also ousted his predecessor Ange-Felix Patasse in the same manner in 2003 after 10 years of repressive rule.

A myriad of rhetorical questions keep floating in my head. What drives the poorest of the poorest, countries into so much conflict? Why can’t they ever achieve peace? Don’t they realise they need peace if they are ever going to have a stable economy? Why are they always fighting? Do the people of the Central African Republic deserve the leadership they keep getting? Does any of us on the African continent? Where are we going wrong as African citizens to keep getting leaders who do not hold our interests at heart? What are we doing wrong to keep getting these narcissist egomaniacs as the leaders of our countries?

The Central African Republic has been plunged into yet another unpredictable era of instability by the coup leaders. Will they be any better than the people they have ousted-only time will tell. The African Union has given this type of change of government a name, this change that usually doesn’t really change anything besides increasing the misery of the citizens. They call them unconstitutional changes of government. The AU condemns these types of changes, they impose sanctions on the leaders of these changes, they engage the leaders  in dialogue to try and facilitate transitions to democratic rule- but is this enough? Will it ever be enough?

The Central African Republic is not really a poor country. They have large deposits of uranium, gold, oil and diamonds. They have wide spans of arable land, stretches of lumber and abundant hydro-power.

Why, have they remained in the top ten of Africa’s poorest countries?

Could it be the good governance deficit; because if a leader who came to power through a coup in 2003 is also leaving through a military coup in 2013, then this must be a clear sign that even after 10 years there haven’t been significant institutional reforms to allow for legal and smooth transition of power?

Could it be the remnants of the war; given that the CAR has not had significant stability since its independence from the French in 1960?

But what fuels the conflict?

Is it greed, with different sides thinking that the only way to gain access to the wealth that this country has is through acquisition of power and political influence?

Could it be external influence? It appears the Central African Republic had its independence declared in 1960 yet the struggle for independence continues. Bozize began a reign of terror 10 years ago, a period that he began ushered by a strong backing from the French. Repression, authoritarianism, nepotism, corruption and underdevelopment were the order of the day, so one would stop and ask, why the French would commit their funds, their  troops and efforts to protect Bozize’s government, if democracy, good governance, development and prosperity is what they [as members of the European Union] want for the people of the Republic.

Franceafrique a friend calls it; the continued interference of the French government in the politics of its former colonies- a handpicking of leadership, a sponsorship of rebel groups to unseat “unwanted leaders”, a total disregard to the idea of democracy and good governance.

All I can say is “Cry my beloved continent,” as the peoples of Africa continue the struggle for true independence, for peace and for development.

Meanwhile the media is in a frenzy:

  • “Bozize ouster is latest power grab in Africa’s “phantom state” Reuters
  • “President Francois Bozize missing as Central African Republic capital seized by rebels” The Australian
  • “Francois Bozize flees CAR capital as rebels move in” Scotsman.com
  • “Francois Bozize, Central African Republic President, Overthrown By Rebels” The Huffington Post
  • “Looting and Gunfire in Captured Central African Republic Capital” Al Jazeera
  • “Central African Republic’s Francois Bozize flees as rebels invade capital” South China Morning Post
  • “Central African Republic: President Bozize flees Bangui” BBC News Africa
  • “Central African Republic rebels seize capital and force president to flee” The Guardian UK
  • “Britons told to leave Central African Republic after coup” The Telegraph

I wish they had had the same enthusiasm when Ghana had it’s smooth transition. As I said before, When it happens in Africa….


Peace ≠ Non-violence


“Peace is not the absence of war but the presence of justice.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

The word peace is used loosely at rallies, on posters and stickers, through hand signals – in fact, the word is ubiquitous. However, if one were to adopt Dr. King’s definition then peace becomes unanimous with justice. The problem with that however is that justice, much like peace is a nebulous concept.

In 2008, political unrest ravaged Zimbabwe like a veld-fire leaving most Zimbabweans shaken and insecure. Women are still struggling to come to terms with rape and other violations inflicted upon their bodies. Some children were forced to grow up too fast and become heads of households because their parents died in the chaos that had gripped the country.

Yes, Zimbabwe cannot be compared with other war torn countries in Africa. The streets are not filled with soldiers. Neither are the roads damaged by grenades. Citizens are not accustomed to the sound of gunfire. However, the screams for help are the same. Some of them so silent, their echo can only be heard in the hearts and wombs of those who make them. The violence left scars, deep wounds which have not yet healed.

Most Zimbabweans love to describe this country as a peaceful nation. Yes, the physical traces of war are not visible but we cannot claim to have peace. Zimbabweans are at war- a different kind of war. We are fighting political and economic instability. We are fighting poverty, HIV and AIDS. We fight against impunity and fight for redress of the gross human rights violations that have shaped our history since colonialism. We also fight against ignorance as the most violent element in this war, the same ignorance that makes some Zimbabweans believe that we have peace.

Today is the International Day of Peace.

We need to ask ourselves what has our government done to stop violence? What have they done to heal communities carrying scars from the violence? Are the relationships amongst our politicians and our leaders instigators of peace amongst their followers or they actually incite violence? To what extent has government improved ownership, control and management of natural resources by locals in a non-partisan way allowing for every citizen to benefit from these resources given that resource management is a major source of conflict?

We need real peace, positive peace in our country and we may never have it until all the questions raised above are answered in the affirmative.

This article was co-written between myself and Yolanda Zinyemba, a colleague.


ETHSA2012: What is human security without women?


What is human security but the totality of all conditions that make a human being feel secure. Philosophers have debated this concept yet the sensible conclusion to be reached is that human security should be about empowering people to realise their full potential.

The concept of human security was first developed by the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) in its 1994 Human Development Report (HDR) encompassing all the elements that constitute freedom from want and freedom from fear.

What a wonderful world it would be, yes that world that we all aspire to have but which actively remains a figment of our own imaginations. A world in which each individual experiences a totality in security.

A world in which every individual would be free from fear; fear of death, of terror, of hate and hate speech, of violence and all other threats to the physical and mental well being of the individual.

A world where the individual is free of want. Want of employment, of food, shelter, clean water, jobs and all other factors that make human lives more comfortable and enjoyable.

A world where the individual is free from poverty, disasters, injury and disease, pollution, climate change, environmental degradation, natural and man made hazards, famine, food shortages, terrorism, political repression, torture, conflict and warfare and such other vulnerabilities.

Is human security attainable?

Human security is a wonderful aspiration whose main objective is to protect people. It can not be understated however that it is certainly difficult to achieve in its entirety. But the truth is that world does not exist where there is no will for it to exist. It probably never will exist without real commitment for it to exist. We will continue to live in a world of deep insecurity. Hence the subject of human security finds its relevance as we seek to understand the challenges and conceive solutions to these challenges.

One striking note on the concept of human security came with the address by one speaker who, speaking to the concept of human security from a gendered perspective, said that women’s involvement in all discussions on human security is imperative.

As she aptly stated, how more so important could it be in discussions on human security than to involve the very individuals who worry about what their families shall eat, where they shall sleep, where they shall get water to drink, and the same people who care for the sick and the elderly.

Here is what happens when the world ignores women’s voices…

“She saw it when her husband started keeping a machete under the bed. She knew it when he started attending late night meetings on whose agenda, not a word was uttered in their home. She also knew when the machete under the bed became 20, then 30 and then heaps and heaps of them occupied their home. She later understood it all when hundreds of thousands of Tutsis had died in barely a 100 days.”

Above is an account of a Hutu woman who knew in advance the preparations that were being made by her husband and his colleagues to launch the genocide in Rwanda. However, her knowledge failed to save lives because her voice was never given a space in the whole discourse on peace and security in Rwanda. Had she spoken out, maybe some deaths could have been averted. Hence no talk of human security should ignore women, especially women at household level whose everyday experiences are the best informants of sustainable and desirable security strategies.


Coup in Mali: The ‘Rats’ and ‘Dogs’ discussion continues


Another coup in Africa. Another decision by an elite group of citizens to take the fate of millions into their own hands.  Another threat to peace and security on the African continent.

Well here is the thing; it all begins with such events, a coup, a rebellion, a mutiny. Then it gets prolonged and for years we shall write about political instability in one or the other of the African countries affected. In the beginning, as is the case with Mali, the UN or the AU or both will make statements about how terrible it is for something like this to happen then bide their time to see if the situation will calm down.

The UN Security Council has called for the “immediate restoration of constitutional rule and the democratically elected government”. ECOWAS has said the soldiers’ behavior is reprehensible. The AU called it a’setback to the democratisation process in Mali.’

Then if the trouble continues for a while, the AU will suspend Mali’s membership and “continue to engage them to restore democratic governance.” And then the war with the rebels will continue and grow in intensity. One or such other Western powers will clandestinely give arms  to the Touareg separatists  to continue fighting the Malian government feeding their own economies on wars in Africa and then publicly condemn the protracted war and send peacekeepers to bring back sanity and ‘peace’ to the land of Mali.

Then maybe the UN Security Council will meet to decide if they should pass a resolution for action, either to intervene-which is rare- or to send the perpetrators of crimes against humanity to the International Criminal Court. And then China or Russia or the US will veto that decision. Civil society organizations will make a huge outcry and continue lobbying for action.  Meanwhile thousands will be losing their lives. Then if lucky, the conflict will abate. Then some young and inexperienced European and American citizens, in a KONY 2012 style,  will come to Africa  as ‘experts’ on Demobilisation, Disarmament and Repatriation, Transitional Justice and Peace building to Africa, paid huge sums of money because they are in ‘risk zones.’ They will purport to bring peace to Mali and the process and the cycle goes on and on and on.

That has happened before and it could happen again in Mali. The reality is that for years, Africa has been riddled by these changes of government which are unconstitutional and chaotic. They chip away at any progress that could have been made in improving the governance patterns on our conflict and poverty ridden continent.

In this case, the coup by the military against the Malian government is said to have been started by the military’s anger and disgruntlement with the inadequacy of the government’s response to a rising separatist movement by Tuareg rebels in Northern Mali. This movement is alleged to have been boosted by the flow of arms remaining from the Libyan revolution. The rebellion began on 17 January. Many soldiers have been killed in the fighting and they claim that widows of the deceased have not been compensated.

Mali Coup- Credit Human Rights Watch

To refresh our memories a bit, in August 2011, when the Libyan- NATO assisted rebels took over Tripoli- Colonel Muammar Ghaddafi made a statement to the effect that the forces that defeated him were ‘rats’ and ‘dogs.’ I wrote an article questioning this statement and wondering who the real rats and dogs were.

Now, Ghaddafi is dead. NATO has left Libya. The Transitional Council is in power and all should be well in Paradise park isn’t? But really no. Why do I say so? The story that began as just a Libyan story and a Libyan civil war has now become a real threat to peace and security in the whole Sahel region and the recent coup in Mali is evidence of that.

On 19 March 2012, the African Conflict Prevention Programme of the Institute for Security Studies in their Daily Briefing gave a clear warning about the situation in Northern Mali and said;

“The demise of Gaddafi and the subsequent proliferation of arms in the region have fuelled rebellion and terrorist activities in West Africa and the Sahel region. One such negative outcome is the Touareg rebellion in Northern Mali, where the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) has launched an insurgency against the government in Bamako. It is believed that MNLA, made up of some 600 fighters, has been armed with sophisticated weapons acquired mainly from Libya or through the illicit arms proliferation channels that have emerged after the fall of Gaddafi’s regime in Libya… The rebellion has taken new threatening dimensions to the extent that MNLA is believed to have some territories under its control, as its fighters are well armed and better managed.”

Indeed their prediction was on point. However this coup has got me asking a lot of questions?

First, the warnings about the flow of arms from Libya to the Sahel region and warnings that this would lead to destabilisation of the region were widespread even before Gaddafi himself died and yet neither the NATO forces, the UN nor the AU Peace and Security Council took concrete steps to ensure the demilitarisation of this zone. Why was that?

Second, the irony of the coup having taken off immediately after an African Union Peace and Security Council Ministerial meeting, has got me wondering whether the African Union peace and security architecture is an effective tool for securing peace and security on the continent.

Third, the coup has got me wondering, how effective-if at all,  are Declarations by the AU such as the one it made tow days ago noting that the Sahel region is faced with multiple challenges, linked to terrorism and transnational organised crime, proliferation of weapons, illicit trafficking and latent armed conflicts. The PSC noted that these challenges were compounded by the Libyan crisis, in particular the influx of hundreds of thousands of returnees, as well as the inflow of arms and ammunition from the Libyan arsenal, which provided a source of armament to terrorist and criminal groups in the region. But why did they wait until these arms were being used to actually do something?

Fourth, how much real and tangible change do the Communiques such as the one passed by the  AU Peace and Security Council Ministerial meeting PSC/PR/COMM(CCCXI) bring to ensuring that the peace and security situation in Mali does not disintegrate further?

The coup itself is said to have been necessitated by the military’s wish to ‘defend the country’s security.’ Really? Can that be done? Can a coup restore the country’s security given Mali’s history?

A little history on Mali

  • 19 November 1968, Moussa Traoré led a bloodless coup, organised elections and subsequently became President after winning 99% of the votes.
  • Between 1979 and 1980, with Gen. Moussa Traoré in power there were 3 failed coups or coup attempts.
  • 26 March 1991, Amadou Toumani Touré led a coup together with 17 other military officers, suspended the constitution, formed a transitional committee as its head and spearheaded the move towards a civilian government.
  • 8 June 1992 Alpha Oumar Konaré won the election and became Mali’s third President
  • Today, yesterday and for an uncertain period to come as the success or failure of the coup has not been determined President Amadou Toumani Touré is being ousted by the military.

I keep wondering and never get concrete answers. The complexities of this world, the global politics, the toll on human suffering all seem like one big maze where nothing is ever what it seems. And so the ‘rats’ and ‘dogs’ in the equation remain unclear. Is it NATO? Is it the UN? Is it the AU? Is it the rebels? Is it the government of Mali? Is it the Partitioners of Africa who gathered in Berlin centuries ago? Is it the drafters of neocolonialism? Is it it just us as African peoples? How will we ever have peace in Africa?


Feminist Chronicles: Diary Three: Gertrude Hambira


In 1981, before I was even born, she was a factory girl, a machinist in rural Zimbabwe. By 1987 she was an active trade unionist affiliated with the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions. In 2000 she was elected the first ever female Secretary General of the General Agricultural and Plantation Workers’ Union of Zimbabwe (GAPWUZ), a trade union that advocates the rights of farm-workers. A mother of four and an activist, Gertrude Hambira is one of Zimbabwe’s most courageous women. Her courage can not be fully understood without explaining the context of her work.

Gertrude Hambira

In 2000, Zimbabwe began a land reform process in which government claimed to be addressing and correcting historical imbalances in which the 5% white minority in Zimbabwe owned more than 80 % of the arable land. However, evidence on the ground illustrates that instead of giving the land to the majority black population, the process simply created a black elite to replace the white elite. The land reform process failed to sustain the economy of the country, as it was the backbone of the economy. With an underperforming agricultural sector, Zimbabwe’s currency devalued to the extent that it was discontinued from use. The land reform process is therefore one of the most contentious and politically sensitive issues to talk about in Zimbabwe. Most non governmental organisations skirt around this issue and even then when they do talk about the issue, it is almost always in light of the economic implications rather than a direct scrutiny into human rights abuses that resulted from it.

Gertrude Hambira is one of a kind. She talks incessantly, openly and firmly about the human rights abuses that arose and are still occurring as a result of the land reform process. These abuses were not just perpetrated against white commercial farmers as most of the mainstream media likes people to believe but against black farm-workers as well. As the Sec-Gen Gertrude is the lips and the voice of the Union, reporting the thousands of farm-workers who suffered violent attacks, eviction and forced displacement from farms. Some of them were wrongly perceived as loyalists or at the very least sympathetic to the previous commercial white farmers who owned the land.

Gertrude has stood firm for the farm-workers, who have become one of the most marginalised groups in Zimbabwe. In particular she fought for the women and children who bore and continue to bear the physical brunt of homelessness, inaccessibility of schools and medical facilities and general lack of food because of their terrible situation.

In 2006 she condemned the increased use of child labour on Zimbabwean farms. She estimated that close to 10 000 children were trapped in child labour. She lamented the meagre wages that farm-workers earned then; Z$600 000 equivalent to US$6 per month. This was beyond the poverty datum line pegged at Z$28 million equivalent to US$282. She blamed the new black farmers for the child labour saying that it was a direct consequence of the underpayment of farm-workers. Parents were forced to bring their children to work on farms to raise as much money as possible to sustain their livelihood.

Gertrude also fearlessly allocated responsibility to the land reform process for increased unemployment. She gave numerical evidence of the decrease of farm-workers in employment from 500 000 in 2000 to 200 000 in 2008. This resulted in a direct decrease in GAPWUZ’s membership from 150 000 to 25 000.

In 2009 Gertrude and GAPWUZ released a documentary accompanied by a detailed report, exposing the violations that were being perpetrated against farm-workers. The documentary; “House of Justice” and the report “If something (is ) wrong” were well received by other civic groups, diplomats, the press, regional and international human rights bodies as evidence that the plight of farm-workers in Zimbabwe needed greater attention than it had previously been given.

These truths that GAPWUZ, through their mouthpiece, Gertrude revealed damned the land reform process. Not only did they show that process did not address historical imbalances and were about a black elite’s self aggrandisement but also that the process came at the detriment of black farm-workers who used to benefit from employment, access to education and medical facilities on these farms.

Gertrude endured physical and verbal abuse as a result of her determination to highlight the plight of farm workers. When she was eight months pregnant she was abducted by ‘war veterans’, a group of former liberation war fighters who commit many atrocities with impunity claiming to be defending the ‘gains’ of the liberation struggle in Zimbabwe.

In December 2008, while taking part in a demonstration against shortages of hard currency inc circulation under the banner of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions in which GAPWUZ is a member, Gertrude was severely beaten by the police in the street. She was arrested and held in detention for a couple of hours.

On 6 November 2009, armed men forced their way into her home in her absence. They fired a shot towards her husband while her 5 year old son and her 70 year old mother were in the house. Although no one was physically harmed, the incident left Gertrude and her family traumatised.

On 19 February 2010 Gertrude was summoned by the Joint Operations Command comprising 17 high ranking security officials from the Zimbabwe Republic Police, the army, the airforce and the Central Intelligence Organisation for interrogation. The interrogation was focused on the report and documentary that GAPWUZ had released regarding the plight of farm workers.

In September 2010, Gertrude fled the country after 5 men and a woman who identified themselves as officers from the Criminal Investigations Department raided GAPWUZ’s offices looking for her. She gathered that from the statements of the police that she was wanted for contravening Section 31 of the Criminal Law Act, which makes it an offence to publish or communicate false statements prejudicial to the state, she was supposed to be arrested and subjected to detention without due legal process as had previously happened to some activists in Zimbabwe.

She has been living in exile since then, first in South Africa and now in Canada where she continues to denounce the mal-treatment of farm-workers.

Gertrude is the symbol of the struggles of women in decision-making positions especially if their views are divergent from those of those in power.


Feminist Chronicles: Diary Two: Emilia Muchawa


The first time I met her I was a very impressionable young student on attachment – one of the many requirements of the law degree at the University of Zimbabwe. I had heard so much about the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association (ZWLA) (pronounced as zwala) even before I began my studies and when I finally met the firebrand of a woman responsible for the day to day running of the organisation, the Executive Director, Mrs Emilia Muchawa I began an intriguing and unforgettable experience.

Mrs Muchawa presenting at the Commission on the Staus of Women session in New York in 2011

I had heard of bruised bodies and battered hearts and souls, but then they were just flowery expressions of pain and sorrow. At ZWLA, I saw them and I felt them. I met the woman who lost her teeth because she was refusing to grant her husband a quick divorce through consent. I conversed with the HIV infected woman who procrastinated leaving an abusive husband until he destroyed her life. I looked into the eyes of the mother with no access to her own children because the husband prevented her from doing so. I met the woman with the bent back who toiled day and night farming in the rural areas while the husband worked in town, earned some money from selling her groundnuts and gave the husband the money so they could buy a house, yet overnight she lost everything because the house was in the husband’s name and he did not want her anymore. I met the woman who was chased out like a dog from her own home after her husband died because the husband’s relatives said it was his property; she owned nothing because she had “just” been a housewife.

There are more women, more stories, more issues but for me this was my experience in just 5 months. For Mrs Muchawa it is a lifetime experience. With her multiple identities as a woman, a wife, a mother to her children, a lawyer by profession, in addition to being the Director of ZWLA, she has dedicated her life to lift the burden off these women’s shoulders. Litigating in the courts, researching the issues, reporting on them, advocating for transformation and lobbying anyone with a listening ear, she has been fighting to change the fate of women in Zimbabwe.

Mrs Muchawa holds a Masters Degree in Women’s Law, a Masters of Policy Studies, a Post Graduate Diploma in Women’s Law from the University of Zimbabwe and a Bachelor of Law Honours Degree from the University of Zimbabwe. She has served as the Chairperson of the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe, a network of non governmental organisations dealing with women’s human rights issues such as access to land, inheritance, harmful cultural practices, access to justice, and access to financial aid among many others. She also sits on the Board of Trustees of the Poverty Reduction Forum Trust an organisation that conducts and presents evidence based research to influence the formulation of poverty reduction policies and strategies.

She has fought for an end to harmful traditional practices such as child marriages, polygamy and widow inheritance. She has screamed her lungs out for the equal participation of women in politics and decision-making to that of men including the creation of a conducive climate. She has made presentations looking into the ways in which gender stereotypes feed AIDS/HIV related stigma and discrimination. She suggested ways in which legal norms, both national and international could be used to address stigma and discrimination.

She is one of the leading figures who fought for the promulgation of the Anti-domestic Violence Act. For years as a member of the women’s coalition and in her capacity as Director of ZWLA she participated in the drafting and pushed the draft Anti-Domestic Violence Bill that was then passed into an Act of Parliament. She represented the Women’s Coalition in meetings held with a special committee for legislature in the president’s cabinet whose approval allowed the Bill to be introduced to Parliament.

The Act which was passed in 2007 now outlaws abuse derived from cultural practices that degrade women; requires police stations to have at least one officer on duty with expertise in domestic violence at all times; provides for the setting up of an Anti Domestic Violence Committee to review the consistent application of the new law. It allows for the arrest of a perpetrator by a police officer without a warrant, in the interest of the victim’s safety, health or well being; allows third parties to apply for protection orders on behalf of the victims, all of which were demands carried in the work that Mrs. Muchawa and the women’s coalition carried out. In 2009 she was appointed to the Anti-Domestic Violence Council.

Mrs Muchawa has been one of the leading figures advocating constitutional reforms in particular a constitution that provides for the respect, protection and promotion of gender equality in all spheres of life. As the Chairperson of the Women’s Coalition she has relentlessly fought for the equal representation of women with men in the organs spearheading the ongoing constitution making process in Zimbabwe especially at management level. Together with other members of the Coalition she forwarded a petition to the co-chairs of the constitutional select committee demanding that gender imbalances in the select committee and the thematic committees be addressed. In February 2010 the women’s coalition launched a constitutional SMS campaign in which they encouraged the flooding with text messages of the three Parliament Constitution Select Committee (COPAC) chairpersons for failing to achieve gender equality in the representation of members of the outreach teams.

In 2010 she was announced as the Deputy Chairperson of the Thematic Sub-Committee on Women and Gender Issues in the constitution making process in Zimbabwe. The sub-committees were tasked to undertake public consultations including approving the content of the questionnaires used in the outreach processes, analysing the public responses and preparing reports of principles to be used by the drafting committee of the Constitution.

Mrs Muchawa as the Director of ZWLA is currently steering a committee of Zimbabwean civil society actors in preparing a shadow report to the Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women. The shadow report highlights issues which the state report -submitted in fulfilment of the requirements of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is either silent on or has misrepresented. This very important process allows the issues of women to be heard at the United Nations level. The recommendations that the civil society shadow report makes regarding the legalisation of abortion, the decriminalisation of sex work, the empowerment of rural women, and the harmonisation of marriage laws among other things are crucial.

She is also leading a campaign for the harmonisation of marriage laws in Zimbabwe. Currently Zimbabwe has a multiple marriage system, in which customary marriages and civil marriages are treated differently. The rights and privileges deriving from the customary marriage are limited especially when it comes to issues of inheritance, children’s rights within the marriage and protection of the women within the marriage in the event of separation or divorce.

As the Director of ZWLA, Mrs Muchawa in 2007 initiated the ZWLA Women Human Rights Defenders award for 2011, an award that emphasises the importance of human rights protection within the context of peace, security and justice. The award complements the agenda of UN Resolutions 1325, 1820 and 1888 which synonymise peace and security with women’s empowerment.

Mrs Muchawa’s work in fighting violence against women has received global recognition. She is one of the world’s most renowned leaders in the Council of the Spiritual Alliance to stop Intimate Violence (SAIV) together with the likes of Ela Gandhi and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Deserving of such an honour, the gallant efforts of this woman for the rights of women in Zimbabwe should not only be admired but emulated. She, and others started the struggle and I believe they depend on us and future generations to drive it forward.

And so ends the tale of yet another inspiring woman in the women’s rights movement in Zimbabwe.


What Security Council?


Before I go into my story I wish to make a disclaimer. International law and the rules of international law have brought much sanity to the relations between states, which sanity was absent many years ago. The system has numerous faults but it still remains relevant in a world where without it, a depression into total chaos would be eminent. This piece does not wish to diminish that role. It rather seeks to highlight the recurrent problem that the system faces which is increasingly proving to be a limiting factor in the full realisation of global peace.

That recurrent problem goes by the name of ‘double standards.’ These double standards have given birth to skepticism and cynicism about how effective the Security Council can occupy the role of guarantor for global peace and security. In fact the double standard culture that has permeated the United Nations System has taken me back to one of my first lectures as an undergraduate law student when one of my renowned lecturers, Dr Lovemore Madhuku, stated categorically that there is a very thin divide between law and politics.

Indeed the events of 24 September 2011, when Palestine made its official bid for statehood showed me this thin divide between law and politics. I watched as President Barack Obama, a man I had admired because of his great achievement in an environment that would not give him an easy chance(and of course for his good looks) disappointed me acutely. President Obama delivered an impeccable speech that crushed the hopes of the Palestinians to gain freedom and reaffirmed his support for Israel, a state whose history fits the adage of the “oppressed who became the oppressor.” Not long ago was the world condemning the killings of Jews by the Nazi regime and not so long ago were museums and monuments built in memory of those who lost their lives at the hands of the 3rd Reich, Adolf Hitler in his anti-Semitic campaign.

Yet today, it is the same Jews who are guilty of a targeted campaign against another group, the Palestinians merely because they are Arabs. For years Europe and North America have turned a blind eye to the deteriorating human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Numerous human rights violations have been committed against Palestinians in Israel and in the Occupied Palestinian territories including restrictions in movement, institutional discrimination against the Arab minority in Israel, arbitrary arrest, detention, torture and ill treatment of Palestinians, dispossession of Palestinians from their land, the demolition of their homes and displacement of Palestinian Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel living in the unrecognized villages in the Naqab (Negev).

One of my lecturers, for whom I have great respect, Professor John Dugard served as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Palestinain Occupied Territories and shared with me and my colleagues (LLM Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa-Class of 2010) his experiences as the Rapporteur. He said he had reported to the United Nations Human Rights Council that the “standards of human rights in the Palestinian territories had fallen to intolerable new levels” and likened the restrictions on freedom of movement to those that existed in South Africa during apartheid. He also stated strongly that the Israeli actions against Palestine were racist. Of course, Israel and the United States dismissed his findings as biased.

And here we have come to the point when Palestine is seeking to achieve its freedom and such freedom can never be complete without full recognition of its statehood. The recognition of Palestine as a state is a procedure of international law. The human rights violations being perpetrated by the Israeli government against Palestine are a subject of international law. But the decision taken by Mr Obama to counter Palestine’s bid for statehood was purely a political one. It is not surprising that he supported Israel given that elections are looming and the Zionist Movement (a movement that favors the protection of Israel and opposes all those who are perceived to threaten its security) hold his reigns on power in their hands. His decision was purely political and pragmatic given his circumstances but it was disappointing, to say the least. I believed he was a man who would not let anything stand against the ideals of dignity and freedom. Once again politics won over international law and political expediency won over respect for human rights.

To go back to my argument, the Palestinian case is more than just a case of self-determination. It is the story of a people who seek to reassert their control over their land from which they have been dispossessed. It is a story of a people who need to regain their independence, freedom and dignity. The story of Israel’s involvement in Palestine is about disregard for human rights and continued disrespect of rules of international law, without censure or condemnation from those with the resounding power to do so.

Palestine’s bid already has the support of more than 130 of the world’s nations but then again because of the legacy of unequal ‘equal’ nations that characterises the structure of the United Nations, the voice of the superpowers will always count. Even if the General Assembly endorses Palestine’s bid, their decision without the endorsement of the Security Council will not be legally valid to constitute a conferment of statehood. For the Security Council to make such a referral all the permanent members need to have agreed with it and if one decides to disagree, then it would use its veto power to block the decision from attaining legal status. The US looks set to use that veto power against Palestine.

This is one time when I am persuaded to agree with one of the sayings of my President whose speeches have often been dismissed as the “rantings and ravings of a disillusioned despot’ when he said at the 62nd Session of the General Assembly
“Once again we reiterate our position that the Security Council as presently constituted is not democratic. In its present configuration, the Council has shown that it is not in a position to protect the weaker states who find themselves at loggerheads with a marauding super-power. Most importantly, justice demands that any Security Council reform redresses the fact that Africa is the only continent without a permanent seat and veto power in the Security Council.”

The tendencies of pronounced expediency in the way the superpowers have used their veto power to serve their own agendas is disturbing. The case of Palestine is only one such example among many. The Chinese government sits on the Security Council yet it continues to engage in trade with the Sudanese government. China has not taken any action against Sudan. In fact evidence shows that the current bombings in Sudan are being made possible through the use of Russian and Chinese manufactured weapons, and both countries are members of the Security Council. When a government drops bombs on innocent civilians killing thousands, maiming children, taking off their limbs, gutting their stomachs open, should these nations not take action? Oh well, China has a reputation for putting money before humanity but what does this all mean when the Security Council as the body that is supposed to represent the ideals of peace, security and human dignity is made up of states that do not care about those ideals.

The Americans and Europeans cannot raise their heads against Bashir too because his actions against the Nuba and Darfuris and the tactics his troops employ in committing these atrocities are exactly the same ones that the Israeli Army commits against Palestine. Like the Israelis have done in Palestine, Khartoum gets fake lists of insurgents, storms into their homes, kills or abducts alleged insurgents, tears down whole towns and villages to quash the so called rebellion and destroys everything in its sight.

Where Israel’s military carried out an assault on a convoy of six humanitarian aid ships travelling to Gaza, they were let off lightly and so Bashir emulated these actions blocking humanitarian aid from reaching South Kordofan by increasing insecurity and displaying disrespect for humanitarian staff ignoring guarantees of respect to their immunity and interfering with peacekeeping missions, removing all guarantees that should be respected in accordance with International Conventions and the Status of Forces Agreement. Human rights advocates will speak and lobby the Security Council but the most one will get is a statement condemning the killings.

Even if the case of Sudan were to be seriously considered before the Security Council there are fears that it would be vetoed by China which has vested interests in Sudan as much as the Israeli- Palestinian issue will always be blocked by the US. This then reflects the redundancy of the Security Council as an effective international mechanism for responding to international crises even where genocide is happening and the words of my Uncle Bob ring true; in its present state, the Security Council is in no fit state to protect the rights of the citizens in weaker states which do not have the support of the stronger states! We wait to see if the veto shall win yet again, although all indicators do not leave room for one to hope for anything different.


Water wars: Battle for the Nile?


Before I get into my story here are some boring facts.

Officially named the longest river in the world and going on and on for 6670 kilometres the Nile River serves 11 African countries namely; Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, South Sudan and Egypt. It starts off as 2 separate rivers the Blue Nile and White Nile. The White Nile, which originates in Burundi, contributes 15% and the Blue Nile, which originates in Ethiopia, contributes 85% of the water to the Nile. The two converge near the capital of Sudan, Khartoum and then flow through Egypt to the Mediterranean Sea as one big gigantic Nile River.

But to get to the real story…

When I was in Addis Ababa in 2010 I attended a public meeting where issues concerning the Nile River were discussed. After the meeting I walked away with the impression that the Ethiopians who were at that meeting were just a bunch of self-pitying bitter individuals who envied the Egyptians because they had done wonders with a free flowing river, something that they had failed to do. I had listened to the story behind this perceived bitterness yet still I could not understand what the big deal was about, after all Egypt is the end user of the Nile and can do whatever they wish with a river that flows their way, right? Actually I was wrong.

A bit of the background…

Many years ago when the British still exercised colonial power over most parts of Africa they signed an agreement with Egypt in May 1929. The Treaty gave Egypt and Sudan rights of usage of the water on the Nile and reserved the use of all the water on the Nile during the dry season for Egypt. It also gave Egypt the right to monitor use of the water on the Nile by upstream countries including the right to veto any attempts by upstream countries to launch developmental projects on the Nile yet allowing Egypt to undertake similar projects without the consent of the upstream states. The treaty effectively meant that the Nile belonged to Egypt.

Some 30 years later, another agreement the Nile Waters Treaty, was signed between Egypt and Sudan in 1959. It gave sole rights of usage of the water on the Nile to the two countries with Sudan entitled to 18.5 and Egypt 55.5 billion cubic meters. This treaty neither consulted nor even considered that the other riparian states were equal stakeholders in the allocation of the Nile waters. The treaty also meant that no upstream country could interfere with the flow of the Nile waters by having any public works such as dams, hydroelectric power stations or using the water on the Nile for irrigation without the consent of the Egyptians. So for years the agreement stood and enabled Egypt to cultivate vast amounts of land growing sugarcane, rice and wheat (which need a whole lot of water by the way). Both Egypt and Sudan constructed dams for hydroelectric power and irrigation on the Nile.

The Nile is not only a source of water but a source of pride and a long and rich history to the Egyptians. I must admit the Egyptians have done wonders with the banks of the Nile. This is a speck of what you get on a single day of going around the Nile in Aswan in Egypt.

On the other end of the Nile, Ethiopia’s rivers contribute 85% of the water into the Nile yet its people have starved. Even today, next to the distinct characteristic of being the only African country that was never colonized and being home to a great portion of the world’s most beautiful women (in my own opinion), the famine in Ethiopia remains one of the reasons why it is distinct on the world map. Most people have seen the graphic pictures of malnourished children spread over the electronic media drawing attention to the food insecurity in that country.

The Ethiopians could not use the water on the Nile because the best way to do so was through construction of dams. To build dams they needed money. To get money they needed the approval of the International Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. That should have been simple enough since these institutions are supposed to be independent, right? Again, wrong! Ethiopia was told it needed the consent of the lower riparian states (i.e. Egypt and Sudan). The two downstream states resisted any interference with the flow of the Nile waters arguing that any such action by Ethiopia would violate the 1929 treaty. Some people have insinuated US interests in Egypt as a strategic partner in the war against terrorism to have been pivotal in influencing the global financial institutions from withholding the requisite funds from Ethiopia.

My understanding of international law tells me that a state cannot be bound by an agreement to which it is not a party. This means neither the 1929 nor the 1959 agreement is binding on Ethiopia and the other upper riparian states because they are not party to the agreements. The two beneficiaries, Egypt and Sudan have not entered into any other treaty concerning the sharing of the Nile waters with the other stakeholders, Ethiopia included. Although a treaty exists which calls for equitable allocation of the Nile waters, namely the Cooperative Framework Agreement Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania and Kenya have signed, DRC is expected to sign it but Sudan and Egypt have not and have expressed their intentions not to sign the Framework.

I must be clear that water is a very precious resource in Africa, more so in the region through which the Nile flows because rainfall is erratic to almost scarce in some countries. As a shared resource the Nile is important to all who stand to benefit from it. However without diminishing the role of the other 9 states involved, the Nile issue does seem to be a battle between Ethiopia and Egypt because Ethiopia has the means to reduce the Nile waters drastically and Egypt stands to be affected the most by such an action.

How, some may ask?

The controversy has been stirred because Ethiopia has begun the construction of a dam on the Nile. Named, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, it shall have a capacity of 63 Billion cubic metres. It will significantly reduce the flow of the Nile waters downstream to Egypt and although the impact of that reduction has not yet been ascertained, it is definitely not negligible.

So what is the big deal with that?

A great part of Egypt is too dry and rugged to sustain human life. Only the areas close to the Mediterranean have an average of 100-200mm a year while the rest of the country records a measly 25 -50mm of rainfall annually. The Nile represents the source of life in that barrenness, no wonder Egyptians refer to the River as ‘the Gift of the Nile.’ Seriously, coming from a country where we can record an average of 1000mm per year and 72 to 100 mm a month, I feel really privileged and can understand why Egypt needs the Nile.

The same cannot be said of Ethiopia. It has much better rainfall patterns with an annual average of 450mm. This rainfall is currently the backbone of Ethiopia’s water resource and agricultural needs and 85% of the flow into the Nile.  Droughts and climate change have made the rains erratic and unpredictable therefore forcing Ethiopia to find other options besides relying on rainfall to sustain its agriculture.

Some of you might ask why, if Egypt is the end user, they cannot use the water in the river as much as they like. Indeed life would be so much simpler if that were the case but there is a catch to it.

Its name is aquatic biodiversity.

Big word I know, I was also bamboozled when I first saw it. It refers to the composition of plants and animals in the water bodies of the world. Egypt has an obligation to protect and sustain freshwater lakes, rivers and fisheries within the Mediterranean. These can be affected by overfishing, pollution, building dams and excessive water withdrawal from the Nile. So Egypt cannot just build a giant dam on the mouth of the Nile into the Mediterranean and run the sea dry.

So remains the question, what should be done?

Past efforts at dialoguing failed to yield any results hence the tension that has been caused by the construction of the Renaissance Dam. The unyielding and non-negotiable position of the Hosni Mubarak regime contributed to the stalemate. It pushed Ethiopia to make this drastic decision. Who can blame them, I mean you have a country whose rivers contribute more than 85% of the total flow of water into the Nile, but by virtue of a bilateral agreement in which it was not party it is not entitled to utilise that water? Ethiopia has an estimated population of 85-90 million people, 80 % of whose livelihood depends solely on agriculture and 78 percent of whom struggle with an income below US$2 yet it only uses about 2 to 3 % of the water on the Nile. Within a national context I have been taught that an unjust law is no law at all and calls for civil disobedience. I am not sure what that would translate to within the realm of international law.

However, the problem does not have to be so insurmountable.

Ethiopia must negotiate a coordinated construction of the Renaissance Dam in good faith and be prepared to share the benefits of the dam with its two downstream neighbours. Having been denied access to the benefits of having the Nile within reach, so to speak, for a long time, they must however rise above these past differences. The dependence of the Egyptian identity, economy and water security on the Nile cannot be understated and I fear, if driven to desperation, they could carry through their threats to go to war.

War is however not a viable option. It will not resolve anything but only serve to worsen the tensions. What we need now is dialogue, constructive one at that. Egypt must be prepared to give up some of the privileges it has had when it was almost the sole user of the Nile. Clearly there is nothing in international law that justifies Egyptian dominance over the Nile waters especially given that the Treaty they rely on did not consult the other Riparian states. In fact all the Riparian states must cooperate with each other by joining the Comprehensive Agreement in good faith and in a spirit of partnership for all stakeholders to benefit equitably from the resource of the Nile as is required by Principle 27 of the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. Egypt should also get rid of or reduce unsustainable patterns of consumption of the Nile waters to allow other beneficiaries to benefit from the river.

Egypt should concede that Ethiopia has rights to the water on the Nile and the construction of this dam was long overdue. Egypt must also concede to the Ethiopian argument that conservation of the water on the Nile will be higher in the Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia than it will ever be on Lake Nasser in Egypt where masses of water are lost through evaporation. Should Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia co-operate in building the dam then they all stand to benefit from it.

The international community {which has not done nearly enough to help resolve this stalemate} must now play a pivotal role. By international community I refer to the monetary institutions and developed nations who, for years, have not supported Ethiopia’s efforts to build a reasonably sized dam that could have alleviated the starvation in Ethiopia without drastically reducing the flow of water downstream to Egypt.

If I may digress and vent my frustration a little bit.

They gave the head of the household a fish instead of giving him the fishing rod. So for years we saw stories making headlines of the oh-so-charitable countries that gave food aid to Ethiopia yet Ethiopia has been crying out to have the means to produce the food it needed itself. Forgive my presumptuous nature but I thought international cooperation meant nations sticking together to create the best possible conditions for the existence of all peoples.

My point is global financial institutions should support Ethiopia’s agricultural efforts, particularly during the rainy season enabling them to utilize the rains to avert food shortages. A little bird also tells me that diligent use of technology could help alleviate the impact of climate change on Ethiopia. Apparently skillful rainfall predictions and assessments of climate patterns could help Ethiopia to be best prepared to utilize the rainfall it receives, lessening its dependency on the Nile and therefore easing the pressure on the Nile giving Egypt a better chance of receiving the amounts of water it needs.

It sounds like a story but it is real and all because of a river.


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