ETHSA2012: What is human security without women?

Activism, Africa, Democracy, Development, Governance, Human Rights, Migration, Peace, Politics, Security, Terrorism, Violence Against 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

Africa, Democracy, Governance, Peace, Politics, Security, Terrorism

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 13: Betty Makoni

Activism, Feminist Chronicles, Gender, Security, Sexual Violence, Violence Against Women, Women, Zimbabwe

Anyone  who has ever been manhandled or sexually harassed, the way I have will agree with me that it is one of the most enraging and disturbing experiences that any woman has to ever go through. That feeling of powerlessness when someone, without your consent, touches you or whispers something in your ears and you cannot do anything about it is one of the most frustrating moments in life. Worse still the knowledge that the person who just did this to you will walk away and nothing will happen to them drives you mad and you feel like lashing out at everything within a metre’s radius. The frequency with which ‘things’ which like to call themselves ‘human beings’ deliberately encroach into women’s personal space and their non-remorseful nature for their lurid behaviour remain two vivid memories I carry of my experiences with sexual harassment in Egypt. But while I look back with anger and angst at what these people did, I realise I have abrasions but not scars. I have flesh wounds but there are people with deep embedded wounds, both physical and emotional. These people are victims of rape.

In Zimbabwe, being raped is a nightmare for a number of reasons. First, in most cases victims cannot report their case. They cannot report because if it is a politically motivated rape the police do not want to receive the report. If it is domestic violence and they are subjects of marital rape the police urge them to go back home and resolve the issue amicably. If the perpetrator is a close relative in some cases again the police send them back home to ‘talk it out’. Some do not report because they are too scared of the stigma attached to being raped. I cannot understand why, when the woman is the victim of the rape people blame her for the rape, while the man responsible for that terrible act walks away shameless and blameless. Fundamentally, the victim has to live with the trauma and pain of having been violated in the worst way possible.

Victims who are brave enough to report are sometimes re-victimised either by the police with taunts that they brought it upon themselves or by the justice system which forces them to relive every single moment of the rape in proving that they were raped. It is short of unbelievable that in every criminal case, the burden of proof lies with the state prosecution to prove that the accused is guilty beyond reasonable doubt, and the police will carry out every possible investigation to prove an armed hijacking, a murder, a theft without much help from the victim of the crime but with rape they just shift the burden onto the victim. Yes, rape is unique in that it usually occurs in the presence of two people, the perpetrator and the victim alone hence the cooperation of the victim is needed but then if the reliance of the police on the victim were so heavy in all cases, murder cases would never be resolved since the victim would be dead and gone. It is merely the attitude of the police and the prosecution towards the crime of rape that makes them feel it is not their place to prove that a woman has been raped. She must prove it herself!!! And so the cycle of violence never ends as would-be rapists realise that they stand a good chance of getting away with their crime.

However today, I salute one brave woman who has made it her life commitment to create an environment that makes it possible for every rape to be reported and for every report to be received by sensitive, well trained officials. She helps to track cases of abuse and bring them to the eyes of the police. She conducts training with police officials to sensitise them to respond appropriately to the plea of a victim. She haunted the Victim Friendly Unit of the police department to keep track of incidences of insensitivity to victims of rape. She fought and continues to fight to ensure that victims of rape find healing and learn to outlive their traumatic experiences. What impresses me most about her is how, as a victim of rape and abuse herself from the time she was 6 years old, she has managed to emerge a survivor and resolved to create a network of support for women going through the same experiences.

Popularly known as Muzvare Betty, Betty Makoni is a wife, the mother of three and the Director of Girl Child Network International. Girl Child Network International supports and promotes the rights of girls, advocates their empowerment and education. It aims at advancing the circumstances of girls especially those that are economically deprived, at risk of abuse, subject to harmful cultural practices, or living in areas of instability. This organisation has its roots in Zimbabwe where Betty founded the Girl Child Network Zimbabwe in 1998 aiming to defend the rights of the girl child. The methodology that Girl Child Network uses in executing its functions has been replicated in Swaziland, Malawi and South Africa. Through Girl Child Network, Betty has created a network of safe houses where girls can get healing, find a safe haven and can rebuild their lives in the aftermath of sexual abuse.

Betty Makoni receiving the CNN Heroes award

Her outcry against rape, whether committed in random acts of violence on the streets, in the homes or as organised political violence has been loud and consistent. As she declares herself she is driven to “remind policy makers and leaders to change policies, attitudes and laws that are detrimental to the growth and development of the girl child.”

In the run up to the 2008 elections, Betty was threatened, arrested and interrogated for her work for five days. Betty also recorded an unprecedented number of cases of politically motivated rape (amongst both women and children) during the Operation Murambatsvina (Restore Order) that government carried out in 2006. The findings of her research were disputed by many, including other civil society actors (without providing alternative and credible proof that the rapes were fewer than what Betty had reported). She made many politicians upset with her findings and she was forced to leave the country for her own safety and security. She challenged the abuse perpetrated by and successfully secured the conviction of a church sect leader, Madzibaba Nzira who was raping women in the name of religion. Her organisation has also challenged big people in power such as the advisor of the reserve bank governor for abusing young girls. On her personal blog, Betty continues to place in the spotlight incidences of abuse, and discrimination of women. She was one of the individuals that picked up and widely shared my article in which I cried foul against the treatment of the suspected female rapists that were being persecuted and subjected to media trials in Zimbabwe in October 2011.

Betty has won awards for her outstanding work defending victims of rape. In 2007 Betty was honoured with the Global Friend’s Award recognising her efforts in assisting Zimbabwean girls to escape trafficking, sexual abuse, child labor and other assault. She also received the World Children’s Prize for the Rights of the Child’s in Stockholm, Sweden. In 2009 she won the CNN Hero award for protection of the powerless. She was also the recipient of the United Nations Red Ribbon award, Zimbabwe National contribution award, and in 2011 she was nominated amongst the top ten Goddesses of Africa, an effort that recognises influential African women fostering development and emancipation of African women and girsl.

She now lives in England where she continues to fight against the degradation of women and girls through heinous acts such as rape and other forms of sexual violence. As a Trustee for the Global Network of Christians which is based in the United Kingdom, Betty continues to fight against domestic violence. She has been featured in the first chapter of the bestselling book, Women Who Light the Dark by Paola Gianturco which was launched in New York in September 2007.

I do not wish that I or another woman today, tomorrow or the day after be subjected to rape. However I find comfort in knowing that should we fall victims to this terrible crime, we have doors to knock on which will be opened for us to get help at that difficult time. All thanks to Muzvare Betty.

What Security Council?

Human Rights, Peace, Politics, Security, Uncategorized

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.

They are all terrorists

Responsible journalism, Security, Terrorism

When most of us hear the word terrorist this is the picture that forms in our heads because it is the most flagged stereotype.

A long bearded man, wearing a flowing robe, with a keffiyeh-Islamic headscarf- for men or a hijab for women and most probably a practicing Muslim. Yet this image and perception is fraught with inaccuracies. It is neither perpetually true nor justified.

I am also greatly concerned by the skewed reporting by the wider press on incidences whose consequences are grave and whose nature is terroristic. For instance the recent killings by Anders Breivik of  87 of his fellow Norwegians earned him the labels a ‘far-right Norwegian nationalist with ardent -anti Muslim views’,  ‘a right wing extremist’ (Wikipedia), a far right extremist (BBC News) a mad man (The Time World), a  ‘Norwegian mass killer’ (The Telegraph) and a self confessed mass killer (The Guardian). Yet when Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab tried to detonate a bomb aboard a Detroit bound flight headlines such as these were all over the news:

  • Detroit terror attack: profile of Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab – The Telegraph
  • Source: Terror suspect’s father tried to warn authorities – CNN Justice
  • Flight 253 terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab led life of luxury in London before attempted attack – Daily News UK
  • Terror suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab… Investigations still to be completed reveal he visited Houston in 2008 – The Examiner, Texas US

Clearly attaching the label ‘terrorist’ to Mutallab was an easier task for the press than it was with regard to Breivik. Worse still Breivik actually carried his act through yet Mutallab only had the intention but his plans failed. Do not get me wrong, Mutallab’s failure to detonate the bomb does not in any way make him less of a terrorist but one can not help but wonder what the cause and reasoning behind the differential labelling could possibly be.

Two days ago, my friend, Sarah Dorman, was reading a book called ‘The First Terrorists.’ I could not read it because it was in Arabic and my Arabic is still very much elementary but I did ask what it was about. She said it is an analysis of the origins of terrorism from an Islamic point of view. The book apparently identifies the Israelis as the first terrorists, arguing that the Zionist movement, which saw the Israelis trying to set up a nation and in the process displacing Palestinians began the war on terror. The book argues that had Israel not started the war against Palestinians, Arabic Islamists would not have had a reason to retaliate. And so it appears that blame shifting, labeling and in some instances misrepresentation is the order of the day when it comes to identifying who is a terrorist. It is with this struggle to define a terrorist in mind that I reached my conclusion and it is as follows:

The word terror existed before the terms terrorist or terrorism were created. The Oxford dictionary describes terror as ‘a feeling of extreme fear.’  The Cambridge Smart Thesaurus explains it as violent action which causes extreme fear. The Cambridge Thesaurus goes on to explain that terror is synonymous with fear, panic, fright, horror and dread. The Collins English Dictionary describes terror as great fear, panic or dread inspired by a troublesome person. The definitions of terror cannot get any better than these three sources, or at least my Advanced Level English Literature teacher, Miss Mpeti would say so. I believed and do still believe her.

Using these definitions, it means that any person who commits acts or threatens to commit acts that instill fear, horror and panic in people is committing terror and is therefore a terrorist. So from:

  • Osama Bin Laden (considered to be the worst terrorist ever) who took out the twin towers and killed many in the USA;
  • Al Qaeda who burn whole villages in Afghanistan and Pakistan;
  • Joseph Kony who  killed, raped and maimed civilians in Northern Uganda and continue doing so in parts of Southern Sudan and the DRC;
  • Omar Al Bashir who killed, displaced, and instigated the rape and are still killing, displacing and instigating the rape thousands in Darfur, South Kordofan and South Sudan;
  • George Bush responsible for wars that caused and still cause the death and maiming of thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan;
  • Benjamin Netanyau and his  Israeli government who have caused great suffering on Palestinian civilians;
  • Retaliating Palestinian Liberation Organisation members who attack Israelis with suicide bombers;
  • Genociders in Germany in particular the Holocaust by Nazis, Rwanda 1994, Zimbabwe in the Gukurahundi 1987 and Operation Mavhoterapapi 2008, Cambodia mass killing by the Khmer Rouge, Indonesian slaughter of the East Timorese;
  • Al-Shabab attackers on Uganda in July 2010;
  • Individuals responsible for the numerous bomb blasts in Nigeria, India, Pakistan;
  • Umar Farouk, the Nigerian who attempted to detonate bombs in an aeroplane and;
  • Anders Behring Breivik the Norwegian man who killed more than 87 of his own people they are all terrorists.

Terrorists live among us. They do not only wear headscarfs and masks, they also dress in smart suits and pretty dresses. They could be men or women. They could practice Christianity, Islam or any other religion. They might have a reason for their actions driven by certain ideologies or philosophies or they may just terrorise others out of  a sadistic character complex.

So despite the many specific definitions provided in UN Conventions against Terrorism, and despite the fact that genocide is defined differently in the Convention on the prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide from terror, when we go back to the basic description of the feeling in the people against whom these acts are committed; it is terror. And it does not matter if the individuals committing the act are seating heads of state, power hungry tyrants, ambitious drug-lords, war mongering warlords, religious fundamentalists or  common thieves. In my view, they are all terrorists and should be treated with the highest condemnation and disdain!


Activism, Gender, Human Rights, Human Trafficking, Migration, Security, Sexual Violence, Uncategorized, Violence Against Women, Women

Imagine a young woman. I will call her Lily.

She lives with her mother and her little boy. A man comes into her life. He can see how she is struggling to make a living, working two jobs to support her family. He courts her and convinces her he is in love with her. He then invites her to visit him, promising to marry her and end her miserable days of never having enough. Enough money, enough food, enough rest. Innocent as she is and totally besotted with him, she goes. Little does she know that it is all a lie…

Somewhere else lives this beautiful and intelligent creature. I will call her Rose.

Barely sixteen years of age, she is innocent, hopeful and dreaming of a glamorous future as a model. A modelling agency visits her school. Excited to finally realise her dream she auditions and of course she is taken on board. She accepts the offer to travel to a new land and is thrilled to have made it into the career of her choice. She expresses her concern that she does not have a passport and is told by the modelling agency that they will take care of everything. She creeps out of her house in the middle of the night, leaving her father whom she considers old-fashioned and unadventurous, oblivious of her destination or her fate. If only she knew…

Another little girl, only nine years old is on holiday with her mother. I will call her Orchid.

She is excited to be soaking in the exotic surroundings of their chosen destination. She is fascinated by all that she sees around her when suddenly she finds herself being dragged away by huge burly men into a truck. And so ends her days of innocence…

The last girl I want you to meet is really young. I will call her Daisy.

Pretty and really tiny she lives on her family’s plot of land surrounded by wild vegetation and the sound of the sea. They are a poor family and they struggle to make it from day to day but she does not care. Why would she when she is surrounded by so much beauty. A man comes to her house and convinces her father to sell her to him. And so her father does sell her to this man because he has too many mouths to feed. The man takes her away and she will never return…

Suddenly these women and girls find themselves as sex slaves. They are drugged, used, abused, and assaulted. They are forced to sleep with 12 men each, every day. Rose is forced to be the ‘star’ in a pornographic movie. They all cannot escape. They are threatened with the death of their families if they even try. They become pieces of property for the owner of the business. This man makes a quarter of a million, yes $250 000 US per week out of selling the bodies of these young women. They get nothing. All that remains is just bruises; wounded and destroyed souls.

Indeed these are but some of the scenarios that victims of human trafficking for purposes of sexual exploitation face. It is a horrible crime against humanity that is committed by people with no heart against innocent women and children. It is an industry for sexual perverts, pedophiles and vile spirited individuals. Most of them look just like the normal person on the street, you would not suspect them of harbouring such evil thoughts and intentions in their heads. The people in this industry make a lot of money to such an extent that trafficking is regarded as the second largest industry, next to drug trafficking.

The important thing is to know that human trafficking could happen to anyone- rich or poor, educated or not. Any one of these girls could be your sister, your daughter, your friend, your niece or just any girl. Young girls and women aged between 15 & 21 face the greatest risk because the business demands that they be young, attractive and therefore marketable.

As the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in persons, especially Women and Children defines it, trafficking involves the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons for the purposes of exploitation. This can be done by threats or use of force, coercion, abduction, deception, abuse of power by a person in a position of authority against vulnerable individuals or paying off someone who has guardianship rights over someone else to give you access to the person they should protect. Trafficking occurs usually because there is an abuse of trust by a lover as in Lily’s case, a potential employee as Rose’s  experience shows, society in general as shown by Orchid’s abductors and close family or friends as was the case in Daisy’s story.

Trafficking is not only conducted for purposes of sexual exploitation. Women and children can be trafficked for purposes of domestic servitude, forced marriage, forced labor in mining, fishing, and agriculture or some other industry.

A few lucky victims of trafficking manage to escape or to get rescued but even then they still face many problems. They may have nightmares, partial memory loss, or suffer from dementia as a consequence of their trauma. Usually they face enormous difficulties fitting back into the ‘normal’ society life because often we alienate, stigmatise and exclude them socially. Many of us do not tolerate them and dismiss them as prostitutes or drug abusers because more often than not as victims of trafficking they are forcefully injected with drugs to impair their judgement.

Let us keep in mind that the demand for the products of trafficking fuels the continued supply of women and children. So if we all could advocate abstinence from pornographic material, most strip tease clubs, from prostitution [and here I am excluding what some people could describe as prostitution but would be in fact commercial sex work-it is different because it is consensual and made by individuals who have the free choice to engage in it] we would make great strides in reducing trafficking. If we spread the word we could save the lives of a few young women who could be duped or tricked into trafficking. Let us help them not to fall into these traps.

Let us be part of the solution and support our fellow sisters by affirming their rights as victims instead of revictimising them and labelling them when they return or are amongst us. Let us help them to reintegrate into our society. Their experiences are horrendous and they need us to rekindle the flame of humanity in them.

[The descriptions of the girls above fit my own understanding of the plot of a film called Human Trafficking. This film captures and exposes the gory details involved in trafficking for purposes of sexual exploitation and I urge all of you to watch this movie, if you have not done so already]

For more information on trafficking also visit the following sites:

Birth of a new nation

Activism, Africa, Democracy, Emancipation, Governance, Human Rights, Internally Displaced Persons, Migration, Refugees, Security, Transitional Justice, Violence Against Women, Women, Zimbabwe

As I watched the celebrations by the people of South Sudan on their Independence Day, the 9th of July 2011, I could not help but do so with a sense of nostalgia. I listened with a critical ear to the new President of the new Republic of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit swearing his allegiance to the nation and to serve it in good faith. I noted the presence of dignitaries from the international community with representatives from governments, as well as international and inter-governmental organizations including IGAD, the League of Arab States, the European Union, the African Union, the UN General Assembly with the UN Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki Moon present in person.

I observed the lowering of the flag of Sudan and the raising of the new flag of South Sudan symbolizing the victory of a People and the manifestation of a new identity.

I watched the jubilant crowds jumping, dancing, singing, and ululating-for a new nation had been born. I pondered over the significant signing of an ‘Interim Constitution’ of the Republic of South Sudan. I took a moment of silence to remember my fellow women who were raped, mutilated and subjected to the worst forms of sexual violence during the conflict. I paid my respects to the men, women, children, husbands, wives, sons and daughters to the crowds celebrating who died for this day to be realized.

Why did I feel nostalgic?

I remembered the Independence Day celebrations of Zimbabwe on 18 April 1980. Yes, I had not been born then but I have watched videos, read articles, seen pictures and heard many stories of how magical that day was. The vision of my country in 1980 is so vivid in my mind that I could have been there. It is a vision of a nation full of hope. A nation overflowing with joy for having achieved a hard won independence. A nation with scars and wounds: bearing testimony to a difficult and painful past.

I remembered the lowering of the Union Jack and the hoisting of the Zimbabwean flag with its bright and beautiful colors – green symbolizing our agricultural capabilities and the wide species of vegetation our land grows; yellow symbolizing the mineral wealth that is abundant beneath our soils; red symbolizing the blood that was shed in wars fought to liberate our country; black symbolizing the heritage and ethnicity of the majority of the population that our nation contains; the white triangle symbolizing our wish for sustained peace; the red star symbolizing our hopes and aspirations for the future as a nation; and the yellow/gold bird being our national symbol-the Zimbabwe bird. I remembered that moment, 31 years ago, when a charismatic leader on the eve of independence addressed the nation and said the following;

“Tomorrow is thus our birthday, the birth of a great Zimbabwe, and the birth of its nation. Tomorrow we shall cease to be men and women of the past and become men and women of the future. It’s tomorrow then, not yesterday, which bears our destiny. As we become a new people we are called to be constructive, progressive and forever forward looking, for we cannot afford to be men of yesterday, backward-looking, retrogressive and destructive. Our new nation requires of every one of us to be a new man, with a new mind, a new heart and a new spirit. Our new mind must have a new vision and our new hearts a new love that spurns hate, and a new spirit that must unite and not divide.” (Full speech available at

I can even see the crowds going into a frenzy as the legendary Bob Marley performed the song ‘Zimbabwe’ in the National Sports Stadium which opens with the lyrics “Every man has got a right to decide his own destiny” (Full song and live performance available at The ceremony was witnessed by Heads of State and Government and representatives of nearly 100 countries plus representatives of several international, political and voluntary organizations. I remembered the handing over of a new Constitution negotiated between the Nationalist leaders and the former colonizers at Lancaster House in England hence its name: The Lancaster House Constitution.

Guess what…

31 years on this is the picture of Zimbabwe I would like to paint. Our government has a reputation within the international sphere sourer than olives. In fact it has made enemies with the West choosing a “look-East” policy. The population is experiencing deterioration in living standards with difficulties in accessing fundamental basic needs such as medicines, medical care, education, food and shelter. Yes there have been improvements in 2009 and 2010 as compared to 2008 but the standard that we all once knew has not yet been restored.

The once charismatic leader who made such an inspiring observation as this;

“An evil remains an evil whether practiced by white against black or by black against white. Our majority rule could easily turn into inhuman rule if we oppressed, persecuted or harassed those who do not look or think like the majority of us. Democracy is never mob-rule. It is and should remain disciplined rule requiring compliance with the law and social rules. Our independence must thus not be construed as an instrument vesting individuals or groups with the right to harass and intimidate others into acting against their will. It is not the right to negate the freedom of others to think and act, as they desire,” (Mugabe in his Independence speech on 17 April 1980)

has resorted to organized violence and torture, abductions, rape, destruction of property including people’s homes to stay in power. The parties that liberated the nation from colonialism [the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) and the Zimbabwe African Peoples Union Patriotic Front (PF-ZAPU) have come together to form a single party [the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU PF) that uses all manner of treachery and trickery to get rid of opposition. The Constitution that the country inherited, although imperfect then has been amended 19 times reducing it to a manual to keep some people in power and the rest of the nation on the margins.

How did we get to this?

Complacency I would say. We [and by this I mean Zimbabweans] did not make the right demands at the right times. We allowed our constitution to be manipulated for political expediency and neglected to jealously guard it. That could have been because we never really felt we owned it since it was given to us upon our independence but we certainly should have tried to better acquaint ourselves with it. We allowed a single party to grow to proportions that led it to think it is the only party with a legitimate right to exist in and rule our country. We entertained/tolerated/bore a leader for so long he now thinks he owns us and has eloquently stated so;

We have fought for our land, we have fought for our sovereignty, small as we are we have won our independence and we are prepared to shed our blood…. So, Blair keep your England, and let me keep my Zimbabwe.” (Speech of the President of Zimbabwe at the Earth Summit in Johannesburg 2 September 2002)

They say history has a way of repeating itself and I hope that adage never comes to pass with regard to the people of South Sudan. I urge the South Sudanese to be wary and prevent the same thing from happening in their country and this is what they should guard against.

First, the women

A gendered analysis will show you that war affects women differently from men. Mothers cannot run away without their children. If they do run with their children, they worry about what their children shall eat, about keeping them warm and free from disease. Their hearts shatter when their children succumb to hunger, cold and disease and die. As wives they have to go for long periods missing the comfort of their husbands fighting on the warfront, fearing that they might be dead. As caretakers they cannot leave the old and disabled in their families hence sometimes they stay and face the worst when the enemy comes. They are often subjected to cruel and degrading treatment and rape. As combatants they fight alongside the men, keeping up with them despite the obvious physiological differences.

My point exactly?

War is rough on women! Why then is it that in most cases this fact is easily forgotten after the war. During the liberation struggle in Zimbabwe it was the women (chimbwidos) who cooked for the guerilla fighters, risking their lives to take the food to the places where the fighters were hidden. Some were raped by the same fighters they served because it was impossible to say no when sexual advances were made to them. The women lost sons, husbands, daughters and some died. They lost their homes. Yet after the war it was predominantly the men…the war veterans who were rewarded for their role. It was the men who occupied key political positions. Not to water-down the positive position that our first vice-President Joyce Mujuru occupies, but why did she have to wait for so many years after independence before she could be awarded this position. The rest of the women were relegated to cheerleading positions where they campaigned for male candidates to hold key positions.

The situation of women in South Sudan was terrible and still remains precarious. The war brought suffering, rape and abuse of women. Social services were continually disrupted. I try to imagine being pregnant in that context, constantly living in fear of rape or death and filled with uncertainty about access to medical facilities, food and water. Many women lost their babies and South Sudan is one of the countries with the highest mortality rates in the world. To further their miseries women’s livelihoods were continuously disrupted with, with cattle raids targeted on defenceless women.

South Sudan adopted a new interim constitution on its independence day after consultations with various stakeholders. A final constitution shall be adopted after the first 4 years of interim rule whereupon elections shall be held for a new parliament and president. These consultations presented an invaluable window of opportunity to the women of Sudan to advocate a supreme law and a system of governance that represented their needs as women. Women in Zimbabwe did not have this pleasure at independence. In fact there was no woman at the Lancaster House negotiations. If there was she was British and had no idea what Zimbabwean women wanted. Although over the 31 years of independence Zimbabwean women have struggled and largely succeeded in asserting their space within the governance of their country, the progress would have been much higher had certain rights been constitutionally guaranteed. The women in South Sudan should not be relegated to spectators and should vigorously pursue their interests before the adoption of a final constitution in 2015. They must place themselves strategically to have their needs addressed. The key women who arose during the long fought war should be the voice of the grassroots. The women in power must be the voice for their voiceless counterparts.

Allow me to digress a little…

The other day I met a female politician from my country (the diplomatic kind); This woman had the nerve to mock another female politician who has been making a lot of noise advocating the adoption of UN Resolution 1325 in Zimbabwe. As she spoke in that derisive tone I really wished that her little nest of diplomatic grandeur could crumble and that she would experience the terrible things that Resolution 1325 seeks to protect women from during and after conflict including rape; internal displacement; becoming refugees; exclusion from peace-building processes; as well as marginalisation of their voices in repatriation, resettlement, rehabilitation, reintegration and post-conflict reconstruction processes. I thought to myself, a woman who cannot understand the value of this Resolution and stand and fight for her fellow women, does not deserve to be in a position of influence at all.

Back to my story…

In a nation emerging from years of conflict there is an unavoidable tendency to reward those who have ‘fought’ in other words those women perceived to have made huge sacrifices in the struggle. Yes, their contributions might have been outstanding but it must be remembered that all women ‘fought’ despite never having held a gun or gone to the battlefront. The key women must use their influence to represent the wishes of other women and not prioritize the designs of the political parties they belong to. Individuals like Rebecca Nyandeng De Mabior, the wife of John Garang De Mabior the former leader of the SPLM, who already wields power as advisor to the President should push for reforms that draw in more women to participate in politics and prioritize that goal above the wishes of the SPLM. Women in Sudan constitute 60% of the population. At the moment 34% of Parliamentarians are women with 7 ministers in a cabinet of 32. Women have a high illiteracy rate with an estimated 80% rating compared to the 60% for men. Women and girls are still traded for cattle and these are the things the women in decision making should fight to change.

Second, the Constitution

South Sudan should ensure that when they adopt their final constitution; that constitution will embrace the views and aspirations of the wider population. Every voice and need should be heard and responded to in the Constitution. It must not only provide for civil and political rights but also incorporate social and economic rights. The Constitution must safeguard against majorities silencing the minorities or else the long and arduous war with the North would have been fought in vain. It must be the supreme law of the land and as such should be respected and adhered to and enforced by an independent and impartial judiciary. It must be based on inviolable fundamental principles which would make amendments even by the required majority in parliament impossible should those amendments be contrary to the founding principles. I say this because in Zimbabwe all the amendments to the constitution were legally made with a 2/3 vote. Some of these amendments violated basic constitutional precepts such as the separation of powers, giving the President excessive power. As of 17 September 2008, the day before the Global Political Agreement which introduced a power-sharing government in Zimbabwe was signed, the Constitution gave the President powers as head of state; head of government; commander of the armed forces; appointer of the judiciary, electoral commission, the attorney general, the registrar general and other key positions hence enabling him to control every decision making processes in Zimbabwe. Although the GPA has reduced some of these powers theoretically, in practice, these are the powers that our President still has. South Sudan should listen, learn and take all measures necessary to make sure this does not happen to them.

Third, the President

President Salva Kiir should not be mistaken as the only Sudanese capable of ruling South Sudan. Inarguably, he has been pivotal in keeping the momentum in the movement for the liberation of the South. His availability as a trusted member of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) allowed the party to stand especially after the assassination of SPLM leader John Garang a few weeks after signing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement which enabled South Sudan to secede from Northern Sudan. To mind comes the similar role that President Mugabe played after the murder of Josiah Magama Tongogara (whom everyone expected to become the President of an independent Zimbabwe) on the eve of Zimbabwe’s independence. However South Sudan should not lose sight of the fact that, leaders should serve the nation’s interests and should be removed the moment they cease to do so. The people of South Sudan should continue to nurture and encourage many options for the presidential post to avoid falling into the same trap as Zimbabweans have where some people believe that there cannot be a Zimbabwe without Mugabe. Excuse me! He was born in 1924 and Zimbabwe existed way before then.

Fourth, the SPLM

The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement has been the force behind the success of an independent South. In other words the vision for nationalism in the South was spearheaded by the SPLM. They had to take up the guns and fight the North for 22 gruesome years. They lost friends and family who were killed, maimed, raped for South Sudan to be born. Indeed they paid a huge price for the freedom of their country. It was a noble cause they fought for which ought to be commended. However South Sudanese should be careful not to be held at ransom for the rest of their lives by this party because of the leading role it played. I urge the mothers whose sons died to remind anyone who comes to them claiming that the SPLA should be their only party that it is their sons who died and those who are alive should respect the choices of the living. For South Sudan to mature into a full democracy, they must encourage the growth of other parties. It will be up to the people to choose who they please based on their needs and their assessment of the fulfillment of their needs through the policies adopted by the party in question.

Fifth, the oil and land

The oil and land in South Sudan belongs to the South Sudanese and hence should benefit them. Their land holds the potential to diversify the Sudanese economy from being oil based to include large-scale commercial agriculture. They should not make the same mistake Zimbabwe made. Zimbabwe’s leadership agreed in the Lancaster House negotiations with the British to suspend discussions on ownership of or access to land (the main resource in our country) for 10 years after independence. In fact they waited for 20 years to begin to do something to address the glaring imbalance where 1% of the population owned 60% of the means of production and the rest of the 99% watched on with growing discontent. The people of South Sudan should assert their rights to their land and oil beginning now. Yes, foreign investment shall be pivotal to the growth and development of the South Sudanese economy but should it be skewed in serving the interests of the investor, and involve the exploitation of resources at the expense of the masses who are the true owners of the resources? Should the people of South Sudan provide cheap labour in the exploitation of their raw materials, fail to add value to their resources and see no benefits from having such resources at their feet? If that does happen then we can all be assured that it will only be a matter of time before a meltdown occurs when the people realize that this is not what they bargained for when they celebrated and jumped welcoming their independence.

I do wish South Sudan the very best as they join the world of nations.