24 January 2063: Dear Kwame from Nkosazana

Activism, Africa, African Renaissance, Governance, History in the making, Peace, Politics, Shared Resources, Social Justice

They are dreamers my friends, just as I am one too and, as I always say, I shall continue to dream for  dreams turn into visions, visions become plans, plans can be turned into designs and designs can be implemented and spring forth the change I want to see. In my optimism I find hope, for it is my hope that the Africa you shall read about in the letter below shall BE. It is the vision of that Africa that fuels my anger, energy and passion in doing the work that I do; for I know, Africa is better than what many say she is-Africa is capable of doing better than she is doing today.  So may the pessimists close this page before you throw up from the high dosage of optimism it contains. But may the optimists and hopefuls be encouraged in the knowledge that Africa INDEED shall rise!

*Beautiful note, written by Chika Onyeani of the Africa Sun Times; first published on the African Diaspora Network mailing list by Melvin Foote.

Date: 24 January 2063*

To: Kwame@iamafrican.com
From: Nkosazana@confedafrica.gov
Subject: African Unity

My dear friend Kwame,

Greetings to the family and friends, and good health and best wishes for 2063.

I write to you from the beautiful Ethiopian city of Bahir Dar, located on Lake Tana, as we finalize preparations for the Centenary celebrations of the Organisation of African Unity, which evolved to the African Union in 2002 and laid the foundations for what is now our Confederation of African States (CAS).

Yes, who would have thought that the dream of Kwame Nkrumah and his generations, when they called in 1963 on Africans to unite or perish, would one day become a reality. And what a grand reality.

At the beginning of the twenty first century, we used to get irritated with foreigners when they treated Africa as one country: as if we were not a continent of over a billion people and 55 sovereign states! But, the advancing global trend towards regional blocks, reminded us that integration and unity is the only way for Africa to leverage its competitive advantage.

In fact, if Africa was one country in 2006, we would have been the 10th largest economy in the world! However, instead of acting as one, with virtually every resource in the world (land, oceans, minerals, energy, forests) and over a billion people, we acted as fifty-five small and fragmented individual countries.

The bigger countries that should have been the locomotives of African integration, failed to play their role at that time, and that is part of the reasons it took us so long. We did not realize our power, but instead relied on donors, that we euphemistically called partners.

That was the case in 2013, but reality finally dawned and we had long debates about the form that our unity should take: confederation, a united states, a federation or a union.As you can see, my friend, those debates are over and the Confederation of African States is now twelve years old, launched in 2051.

The role played by successive generations of African youth contributed to our success. Already in 2013 during the Golden Jubilee celebrations, it was the youth that loudly questioned the slow progress towards integration.
They formed African Union Clubs in schools and universities across the continent, and linked with each other on social media. Thus we saw the grand push for integration, for the free movement of people, for harmonization of education and professional qualifications, with the Pan African University and indeed the university sector and intelligentsia playing an instrumental role.

We were a youthful continent at the start of the 21st century, but as our youth bulge grew, young men and women became even more active, creative, impatient and assertive, often telling us oldies that they are the future, and that they (together with women) form the largest part of the electorates in all our countries!

Of course this was but one of the drivers towards unity. The accelerated implementation of the Abuja Treaty and the creation of the African Economic Community by 2034 saw economic integration moved to unexpected levels. Economic integration, coupled with infrastructure development, saw intra-Africa trade mushrooming, from less than 12% in 2013 to approaching 50% by 2045. This integration was further consolidated with the growth of commodity exchanges and continental commercial giants.

Starting with the African pharmaceutical company, Pan African companies now not only dominate our domestic market of over two billion people, but they have overtaken multi-nationals from the rest of the world in their own markets.

Even more significant than this, was the growth of regional manufacturing hubs, around the beneficiation of our minerals and natural resources, such as in the Eastern Congo, north-eastern Angola and Zambia’s copper belt and at major Silicon valleys in Kigali, Alexandria, Brazzaville, Maseru, Lagos and Mombasa, to mention but a few such hubs.

My friend, Africa has indeed transformed herself from an exporter of raw materials with a declining manufacturing sector in 2013, to become a major food exporter, a global manufacturing hub, a knowledge centre, beneficiating our natural resources and agricultural products as drivers to industrialization.

Pan African companies, from mining to finance, food and beverages, hospitality and tourism, pharmaceuticals, fashion, fisheries and ICT are driving integration, and are amongst the global leaders in their sectors. Africa is now the third largest economy in the world. As the Foreign Minister’s retreat in Bahir Dar in January 2014 emphasized, we did this by finding the balance between market forces and strong and accountable developmental states and RECS to drive infrastructure, the provision of social services, industrialization and economic integration.

Let me recall what our mutual friend recently wrote:
“The (African) agrarian revolution had small beginnings. Successful business persons (and local governments) with roots in the rural areas started massive irrigation schemes to harness the waters of the continent’s huge river systems.

The pan-African river projects – on the Congo, the Nile, Niger, Gambia, Zambezi, Kunene, Limpopo and many others – financed by PPPs that involved African and BRIC investors, as well as the African Diaspora, released the continent’s untapped agricultural potential.

By the intelligent application of centuries-old indigenous knowledge, acquired and conserved by African women who have tended crops in all seasons, within the first few years bumper harvests were being reported. Agronomists consulted women about the qualities of various grains – which ones survived low rainfalls and which thrived in wet weather; what pests threatened crops and how could they be combated without undermining delicate ecological systems.

The social impact of the agrarian revolution was perhaps the most enduring change it brought about. The status of women, the tillers of the soil by tradition, rose exponentially. The girl child, condemned to a future in the kitchen or the fields in our not too distant past, now has an equal chance of acquiring a modern education (and owning a farm or an agribusiness). African mothers today have access to tractors and irrigation systems that can be easily assembled.

The producers’ cooperatives, (agribusinesses) and marketing boards these women established help move their produce and became the giant food companies we see today.’

We refused to bear the brunt of climate change and aggressively moved to promote the Green economy and to claim the Blue economy as ours. We lit up Africa, the formerly dark continent, using hydro, solar, wind, geo-thermal energy, in addition to fossil fuels.

And, whilst I’m on the Blue economy, the decision to form Africa-wide shipping companies, and encourage mining houses to ship their goods in vessels flying under African flags, meant a major growth spurt. Of course the decision taken in Dakar to form an African Naval Command to provide for the collective security of our long coastlines, certainly also helped.

Let me quote from our mutual friend again:
‘Africa’s river system, lakes and coast-lines abound with tons of fish. With funding from the different states and the Diaspora, young entrepreneurs discovered… that the mouths of virtually all the rivers along the east coast are rich in a species of eel considered a delicacy across the continent and the world.

Clever marketing also created a growing market for Nile perch, a species whose uncontrolled proliferation had at one time threatened the survival of others in Lake Victoria and the Nile.

Today Namibia and Angola exploit the Benguela current, teaming with marine life, through the joint ventures funded by sovereign funds and the African Development Bank.”

On the east coast, former island states of Seychelles, Comoros, Madagascar and Mauritius are leading lights of the Blue economy and their universities and research institutes attract marine scientists and students from all over the world.

My dear friend, you reminded me in your last e-mail how some magazine once called us ‘the hopeless continent’, citing conflicts, hunger and malnutrition, disease and poverty as if it was a permanent African condition. Few believed that our pledge in the 50th Anniversary Declaration to silence the guns by 2020 was possible. Because of our first-hand experience of the devastation of conflicts, we tackled the root causes, including diversity, inclusion and the management of our resources.

If I have to single out one issue that made peace happened, it was our commitment to invest in our people, especially the empowerment of young people and women. By 2013 we said Africa needed a skills revolution and that we must change our education systems to produce young people that are innovative and entrepreneurial and with strong Pan African values.

From early childhood education, to primary, secondary, technical, vocational and higher education – we experienced a true renaissance, through the investments we made, as governments and the private sector in education and in technology, science, research and innovation.

Coupled with our concerted campaigns to eradicate the major diseases, to provide access to health services, good nutrition, water and sanitation, energy and shelter, our people indeed became and are our most important resource. Can you believe it my friend, even the dreaded malaria is a thing of the past.

Of course this shift could not happen without Africa taking charge of its transformation, including the financing of our development. As one esteemed Foreign minister said in 2014: Africa is rich, but Africans are poor.

With concerted political determination and solidarity, and sometimes one step back and two steps forward, we made financing our development and taking charge of our resources a priority, starting with financing the African Union, our democratic elections and our peacekeeping missions.

The Golden Jubilee celebrations were the start of a major paradigm shift, about taking charge of our narrative.
Agenda 2063, its implementation and the milestones it set, was part of what brought about this shift. We developed Agenda 2063 to galvanize and unite in action all Africans and the Diaspora around the common vision of a peaceful, integrated and prosperous Africa. As an overarching framework, Agenda 2063 provided internal coherence to our various sectorial frameworks and plans adopted under the OAU and AU.

It linked and coordinated our many national and regional frameworks into a common continental transformation drive.

Planning fifty years ahead, allowed us to dream, think creatively, and sometimes crazy, to see us leapfrog beyond the immediate challenges.

Anchored in Pan Africanism and the African renaissance, Agenda 2063 promoted the values of solidarity, self-belief, non-sexism, self-reliance and celebration of our diversity.

As our societies developed, as our working and middle classes grew, as women took their rightful place in our societies, our recreational, heritage and leisure industries grew: arts and culture, literature, media, languages, music and film. WEB du Bois grand project of Encyclopaedia Africana finally saw the light and Kinshasa is now the fashion capital of the world.

From the onset, the Diaspora in the traditions of Pan Africanism, played its part, through investments, returning to the continent with their skills and contributing not only to their place of origin, but where the opportunities and needs were found.

Let me conclude this e-mail, with some family news. The twins, after completing their space studies at Bahir Dar University, decided to take the month off before they start work at the African Space Agency, to travel the continent. My old friend, in our days, trying to do that in one month would have been impossible!

But, the African Express Rail now connects all the capitals of our former states, and indeed they will be able to crisscross and see the beauty, culture and diversity of this cradle of humankind.

The marvel of the African Express Rail is that it is not only a high speed-train, with adjacent highways, but also contains pipelines for gas, oil and water, as well as ICT broadband cables: African ownership, integrated planning and execution at its best!

The continental rail and road network that now crisscross Africa, along with our vibrant airlines, our spectacular landscapes and seductive sunsets, the cultural vibes of our cities, makes tourism one of our largest economic sectors.

Our eldest daughter, the linguist, still lectures in Kiswahili in Cabo Verde, at the headquarters of the Pan African Virtual University. Kiswahili is now a major African working language, and a global language taught at most faculties across the world.

Our grandchildren find it very funny how we used to struggle at AU meetings with English, French and Portuguese interpretations, how we used to fight that the English version is not in line with the French or Arabic text!
Now we have a lingua franca, and multi-lingualism is the order of the day.

Remember how we used to complain about our voice not being heard in trade negotiations and the Security Council, how disorganized, sometimes divided and nationalistic we used to be in those forums, how we used to be summoned by various countries to their capitals to discuss their policies on Africa?

How things have changed. The Confederation last year celebrated twenty years since we took our seat as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and we are a major force for global stability, peace, human rights, progress, tolerance and justice.

My dear friend, I hope to see you next month in Haiti, for the second round of unity talks between the Confederation of African States and the Caribbean states.

This is a logical step, since Pan Africanism had its roots amongst those early generations, as a movement of Africans from the mother continent and the Diaspora for liberation, self-determination and our common progress.

I end this e-mail, and look forward to seeing you in February. I will bring along some of the chocolates from Accra that you so love, which our children can now afford.

Till we meet again, Nkosazana

Two struggles, One story

Activism, Civil Resistance, Human Rights, Social Justice, Social Movements

*The following post is based on a video that my colleagues and I- at the 2013 School of Authentic Journalism  produced- which we released today*

In 1985, in one of Africa’s most beautiful countries, but with arguably one of the ugliest histories ever recorded, Mkhuseli ‘Khusta’ Jack waged a war against a government devoid of humanity, a government that did not see anything wrong with segregating the majority of its population or deliberately keeping them rooted in poverty because they were black. Young and energetic, Khusta led an economic boycott of downtown white-owned businesses in Port Elizabeth to leverage black people’s demands for better treatment -humane treatment by the apartheid government of South Africa.

In the dizzying heights of Cochabamba, Bolivia, in 2000, Oscar Olivera together with others waged a popular resistance that came to be known as the Cochabamba Water Wars- a struggle against the privatisation of Bolivia’s water; including its rain water.

Both men mobilised, they rallied their people to take a stand, they stood their ground. They took a risk; their activities were daring, after all they were dealing with life and death matters. But what choice did they have? Was a life without water a choice? Was a life without freedom, dignity and justice a choice? And so they sacrificed; not only their time and energy but their lives; and they both won. Two heroes. Two histories. Two continents.  Two lands. One Story. One common thread- civil resistance- a testimony of the strength of strategic organising and community mobilisation.

 Here is their story …

Musings of a vegetable vendor

Activism, Emancipation, Human Rights, Social Justice, Women, Zimbabwe

It’s 4 am

I wake up-it is early morning

I splash my face with cold water

I grab my tswanda (basket) on one hand

My little purse with the few dollars on the other hand

I rush out onto the street

 

“Town here mother?(Are you going to town?)”

“City patown? (Going to town?)”

“Town via Mbare?”

The hwindi (tout) shouts

Ehe mukwasha (yes my son)

I respond

I rush into the commuter omnibus

 

It’s now 4:30 am

At Mbare musika (market) I get off the combi

I rush to the varimi (farmers’) market

At least there I will get the tomatoes at a lower price

Iiii anhasi akanaka ende akachipa

“Today’s are lovely and cheap”

I say to my friend Amai Rwizi

I buy my goods

Parting with all the money I have

Except for my 5 Rand coin to take me to my market

 

It’s now 5 am

“Ndidengedzewo tswanda yangu shamwari”

“Help me carry my basket my friend”

I say to Amai Rwizi

I carry my heavy load, back to the combis

I decide today I shall go and sell my stuff in town

I need more money and selling in my neighbourhood will not work

 

“City patown-city patown” again the touts shout

I manage to get into the combi

The tout helps me get my basket inside (bless his soul)

The prissy miss sitting next to me pushes away from me

“Muchenjere kundisvibidza netswanda yenyu ineguruva”

“Be careful not to make me dirty with your dusty basket”, she says

I ignore her and face straight ahead

If only she knew that if I had had the chance to get an education

I would not be a vendor

I was a bright student

But poverty made me what I am

 

“Bhadharayi vabereki (pay up please)” the touts shouts

I hand him my 5 Rand coin

“Koyetswanda? ( How about payment for the basket)”

“Munhu here nhai mwanangu? (It’s not a person my son, how can it pay?),” I ask

“Manje kana musina yebhazi motosiya madomasi e5 Rand”

“(If you do not have the money you have to leave 5 Rand’s worth of tomatoes),” he says

I take 4 big tomatoes and give them to him (oh what a thief)

18 passengers in the combi

No one rises to my defence

No one protects me from this thief

Not one!

 

It’s now 5:30 am

I arrive in town

The sun is just beginning to filter through the clouds

So warming, cutting out the chilling cold

I lay out my tomatoes on my small makeshift stall

I sit in the sun, eagerly awaiting my first customer

(c) Rumbidzai Dube

She lays out her vegetables and eagerly awaits the first customer...

A few minutes later a woman comes to me

“Mangwanani amai (Good morning mother)”

She says to me, her broad smile brightening up my day

“Ndaona madomasi enyu akanaka saka ndipei e$2”

“(I saw that you have quality tomatoes so give me tomatoes worth $20)”

I am overjoyed-that is almost half the box I ordered

All bought by one customer

 

Little do I know my joy is about to come to an end

Mapurisa ekanzuru! Mapurisa ekanzuru! Mhanyai madzimai mhanyai!

(City Council officers! City Council officers! Run, women run!)

I am slow to gather my goods, slow to run away

Slow—slow—slow

 

They take all my tomatoes

 

They tell me I have to pay a fine of $50 for illegal trade

I tell them I only have $20

They take it

They take it all

All of it-except for 5 Rand for me to go back home

 

I go home- dejected, depressed, dead broke.

How shall I pay school fees?

What shall I feed my children?

Where shall I get the rent?

Who can I tell?

Who shall help me?

 

It is 1 May today

They say it is workers’ day

They say workers have rights

Where are my rights? What are my rights?

Who shall protect me?

When shall this end?

 

Feminist Chronicles: Diary 6: WOZA women

Activism, Feminist Chronicles, Gender, Human Rights, Politics, Social Justice, Violence Against Women, Women, Zimbabwe

WOZA women demonstrating

Bread and Roses: Woza's motto

I see their knavery. This is to make an ass of me, to fright me, if they could; but I will not stir from this place, do what they can. I will walk up and down here and I will sing, that they shall hear I am not afraid.” [Bottom, one of the characters in ‘A Midnight Summer’s Madness’, William Shakespeare.

 

I imagine these are the words that each of the members of the Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) repeats to herself every time she takes to the street, knowing full well that the day will end with her thrown in some dirty cell of one or the other of Zimbabwe’s remand prisons. These women are unstoppable. They have been heavily assaulted by the police, arrested and detained in terrible conditions (some with their children), but they do not give up. They have been threatened with death, stalked and placed under surveillance and some have been kidnapped but they continue their fight.

Their leaders, Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu have been held in prison the longest times. Jenni has spent more than 20 days in prison at a time and each time she has been released after the state case has been dismissed for lack of evidence in the courts and at times she has been released without charge. For their courage, Jenni and Magodonga and WOZA have won many awards. In 2007 Jennie received the Women of Courage Award from the US State of Department. In 2008 WOZA became the recipient of the Amnesty International Human Rights Award, awarded by the German Section of Amnesty International. In 2009, WOZA won the Annual John F Kennedy Human Rights Award. In 2011, Jennie won the French National Order of Merit. If ever I have seen a stubborn group of women, then these women top them all.

Flirting with danger, they challenge a despotic regime, a ruthless security sector defending an ungrateful nation full of cowards (Zimbabweans like calling their passivity peacefulness.

These women are freedom fighters, struggling to realise social justice in Zimbabwe. The issues they raise target the basics of life including access to clean and safe water, adequate food in reliable quantities and nutritional value, supply of electricity, access to affordable schooling, access to medical care and medical supplies, proper housing, and proper sanitation. That is why their leading mantra is “Bread and Roses;” a fight for the basic but a fight done in love, with love, out of love.

Their strategy; street protests, has earned them labels such as ‘idle prostitutes’ ‘imbeciles’ ‘useless noisemakers’ and ‘professional demonstrators’ among many other disparaging terms.

Yes, onlookers (who do not apply their minds to the whys of what WOZA women do) may see it this way. However my experience in Tahrir Square, being part of the Egyptian Revolution and the Arab Spring, taught me that it is through the efforts of groups such as WOZA that networks of resistance are developed. It is through their sporadic efforts as little pockets of disaffection that one day a Revolution can arise. After all if a government is not for the people, of the people and by the people, from whence does it derive its legitimacy?

Why do you think WOZA women are constantly silenced? Why do you think they are always harassed? Why is it their leaders are always incarcerated. I salute these women of courage. It is such a shame that their bravery and amazing contributions are more appreciated by the outside world than by Zimbabweans whose interests they serve. Let’s be honest, if today WOZA demonstrates against power cuts and the government concedes that power cuts shall be consistently done in accordance with a reliable timetable which communities can work around, would the whole nation not have benefited? If they deliver a petition to Parliament against school fees hikes and government then passes a school fees reduction memo, would the whole nation not have benefited? If they march to the police headquarters demanding that the police desist from assaulting protestors or throwing tear gas their way and the police concedes, would that not be a victory to freedom of association and assembly?

This is what WOZA women do, and of course due to the political climate, they have not yielded much success. This does not make their work worthless. Trust me, those sitting in their high seats of (stolen) leadership know what I know, that these women are raising issues that, if the nation were intelligent (or is it brave) enough to support could result in a complete social, political and economic transformation. Remember it was the bread riots that sparked off the French Revolution in the 18th Century. Also remember that it was a single man, Mohammed Bouazzizi’s act of self-immolation against the destruction of his fruit stall and source of livelihood that began the Tunisian Revolution which inspired the Arab Spring in the 21st Century. So let us not undermine and undervalue the work that WOZA women do when they raise bread and butter issues.

Of bloggers, activists, expectant mothers and military rulers: Free Alaa!!!

Democracy, Human Rights, Social Justice, Social Movements, Transitional Justice

Better days, Alaa, Manal, Sem sem and I ...April 2011

Throughout the time I spent in Egypt, one recurrent question from people outside Egypt struck me the most: Had the Revolution brought about any meaningful change? My very first impressions upon arriving in Egypt were that indeed the Revolution had changed many things. I had read about the Mubarak regime which sounded pretty much like my own government. The Egypt of Mubarak was one of violent repression of dissenting opinions, arbitrary arrests, bloody dispersions of any forms of protest, strict censorship of the media, demonisation of non governmental organisations and the general suppression of the masses’ freedoms and rights. Indeed Mubarak was famous for being a ruthless dictator who would not stop at anything to consolidate his reign on power.

So when I found Egyptians able to demonstrate and camp in Tahrir Square in the aftermath of the Revolution I thought things had changed. When one of my friends asked me whether the January 25 movement in Egypt was in effect a Revolution I answered yes and based my judgement on the characteristics of the movement. I argue that it was an initiative by the masses (1), which grew out of disaffection with the governing authority (2); it overthrew a government (3) and brought about change (4). Now I look back at that response and wonder if my assessment may have been premature. Was there a real overthrow of a government and has there been any real change in Egypt? Mubarakism persists even after Mubarak has gone.

I witnessed the smear campaign against the NGOs as the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces discredited them as agents of the West the same way Mubarak denounced and harassed them. That rang an alarm bell in my head because in my country, NGOs are also called stooges of the West. I witnessed the death of 26 protestors at the hands of the military as it exercised disproportionate force against unarmed civilians and again the alarm bells went off and I could smell doom coming.

I witnessed the political space closing up again and the ability to speak freely, assemble freely and associate freely that had characterised the period immediately after the revolution dissipated. Maikel Nabil an activist and blogger was subjected to military trial for writing a blog refuting the belief that was prevalent during the Revolution that the military and the people were one. He was sentenced to 3 years in prison and an additional fine of 200 Egyptian Pounds. He subsequently went on a hunger strike and has since been moved to a psychiatric hospital.

What I had not envisaged was that my very own dear friend and one of Egypt’s most prominent younger generation bloggers and human rights activists, Alaa Abd El Fattah ,would become a victim of the system just as he had done under Mubarak. I had also not anticipated that his arrest would come at a time when his dear wife Manal Bahey El Din Hassan is due to deliver their very first child/son Semsem.

In 2006 Alaa was arrested on spurious charges and spent 45 days in detention. On October 30 2011, just 6 days ago Alaa was summoned by the Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces at their C4 headquarters for investigations. Alaa stands accused of inciting violence among the protestors who were expressing their anger at the burning of a church in Aswan on 9 October. The clashes between the military and the protestors that followed hose protests now famously known as the Maspero attacks (named after the state television building in front of which they took place) resulted in the death of 26 people.

It is then quite ironical for the military to charge Alaa with inciting violence when they are on record for calling people to come and defend the oh-so-vulnerable army from uncontrollable and rowdy Christians on state television. It is also ironic coming from the military which according to most video footage and eyewitnesses is clearly responsible for the death of the 26 protestors. To add insult to injury the same indictment investigating Alaa also contains the name of Mina Daniel, one of the protestors who died during the clashes.

Alaa refused to answer to the charges by the military for many reasons. First, exercising his right to remain silent and not give any evidence that could incriminate him. Second, challenging the legitimacy of the military to investigate him given that they are also an accused in the matter and therefore placing questions on the independence and impartiality of the investigations. Third, questioning the legitimacy of the military to investigate civilians in a civilian matter when the ordinary channels and ordinary courts are there to exercise this function.

For refusing to answer, Alaa was thrown into a jail cell at the notorious Bab El Khalq prison where he later explained in a letter addressed to the press was a tiny 6 x 12 feet roach infested cell which he shared with 8 other detainees. Today marks the 6th of the 15 days that he has been ordered to remain in detention. It appears this period may be extended in order to force Alaa to cooperate with the military prosecutors.

Alaa’s arrest and detention is a tragic occurrence bringing to light the reality that the Revolution in Egypt is far from accomplished. It is clear that the real reason for his arrest is that he denounced the SCAF and unequivocally placed blame on their shoulders for the Maspero massacres. It is also his vocal stance against the SCAF stating that the military rulers are doing all they can to erode the gains of the revolution. Alaa is among 12 000 other individuals, many of them human rights defenders and activists that are being subjected to military trials a culture that is not only a clear violation of their right to a fair and transparent trial but also a gross travesty to justice in itself.

Taking advantage of my proximity to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights I filed a complaint regarding Alaa’s detention with the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in Africa. The Special Rapporteur has since sent a letter of allegations to the Egyptian Head of State with regard to the arrest and detention of Alaa Abd El Fattah and Bahaa Saber by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. I await the result of that enquiry and hope Alaa is released before SemSem (Alaa’s unborn son) comes into the world lest that little boy also grows up thinking it is normal for his father to be a political detainee the way Alaa did with his own father.

The Blame Game

Development, Governance, Social Justice, Uncategorized

I have been asking myself why it is that people never want to take responsibility for their own actions especially when the consequences of their actions are negative. Why is it so much easier to find scapegoats and shift the blame on others what is called chipomerwa in Shona, my mother tongue than to face the truth and find ways of dealing with the problem ? Why then is it that people expect problems to disappear yet they have not addressed the part of the problem to which they are the problem? These are questions I have been asking myself every time I think of the economic meltdown that Zimbabwe has undergone and the consequences that the meltdown has had on the lives of ordinary Zimbabweans,especially women and children.

In 2008; the worst year ever in Zimbabwean economic history since its independence in 1980, the lives of many people were transformed for the worst. The nation was plunged into poverty and the burden of poverty wore heavily on women as the mothers and in some cases sole breadwinners for their families. The food that most people grew up taking for granted was no longer so easily accessible and the content of the basket which was once considered basic consisting of bread, milk, tea-leaves, sugar, margarine, mealie-meal, meat, vegetables, cooking oil, washing and bathing soap and Vaseline became a privilege. Families were forced to eat a single meal each day and the meal would consist of food rich in starch to stave off starvation. Such an unbalanced diet led to increased reports of malnutrition.

Women with school going children struggled to pay school fees. Some failed to pay the fees forcing the children to drop out of school. In some cases where they could afford the fees, school uniforms were unaffordable so the children were sent to school with no uniforms. At a time when food was hard to get by, healthcare was not a priority, no wonder there was an increase in maternal and infant mortality. Access to proper medical care and medication became the preserve of the affluent.

In their resilience, women channelled their energy to the informal market and a spring of misikas (vegetable market stalls) and flea markets ironically manned by women became a growing phenomenon as women tried to make ends meet. Some started going to neighboring states to bring any goods that could be sold and the phenomenon of cross-border trading became a house-name in Zimbabwe.

When social justice movements and watchdogs of democracy spoke their minds against this deterioration in the lifestyle of Zimbabweans, they were thrown into prison cells. The stories of the arrest, detention and harassment of members of the Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) and Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) among others hit the headlines.

But, it is also at that time that the black-market flourished as mainly young men engaged in shady deals (madhiri). The field of gold panning chikorokoza and diamond dealing zvengoda made many people rich. But, these fields were the preserve of men as very few women were daring enough to engage in such cutthroat business. So yes, women in Zimbabwe bore the brunt of an economic era that was unregulated and chaotic.

The question remains how did the Zimbabwean economy collapse? The responses to this question will always vary depending on whom it is addressed to. The general public will say it is because of the corruption by political leaders. Economists and other political analysts will say it is because of the disastrous economic policies and politics that the ZANU-PF government implemented. The ZANU –PF loyalists and party members will say it is because of the sanctions imposed by the West (Europe, Australia and North America) which some of our own (meaning the MDC) supported. The West will say it was the mismanagement of the economy by ZANU-PF especially a disorderly land reform process that destroyed an agro-based economy. Viewed separately each response has a ring of truth. But these responses also reflect certain levels of bias and a failure by each group to appreciate and acknowledge its own role and contribution to the demise of the economy.

Disastrous economic policies

Zimbabwe‟s involvement in the Coltan War in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) between 1998 and 2003 significantly impacted the economy. The military initiative emptied the public coffers. Zimbabwe’s contribution was estimated at 11 000 in human resources and an unaccounted number of war-equipment. Most people viewed the war as unnecessary since the country was not under any strategic threat given Zimbabwe’s geographical positioning from the DRC. A report by the then Finance Minister of Finance Simba Makoni in his briefing to Parliament in August 2000 revealed that government expenditure directed towards the war was over USD $200 million. The reasons for that controversial intervention, the depth of losses incurred and the impact it had on the economy have never been fully accounted for and hence the real details remain mere speculation.

The disorderly and sporadic land reform process which began in 2000 not only failed to redistribute land equitably, but also removed land from the hands of the white population and placed it in the hands of a few elites. Most of the beneficiaries neither have farming skills nor do they have the business sense of approaching farming at a large scale. Under-utilisation of the land and reduced production destroyed the basis of an economy which was agriculturally based and hence shoved the economy many steps into the dungeons. Zimbabwe used to grow enough food to feed its own people and feed the region as well but now thousands go hungry and each year. The World Food Programme and other relief agencies have had to intervene to feed Zimbabweans.

It is also true that the widespread mismanagement of funds and excessive spending on luxury vehicles contributed in increasing government expenditure. This milked the government’s revenue and widened the debt deficit the country owed to international monetary institutions. The response of the Reserve Bank, between December 2008 and 2010, to limited foreign currency flows into the formal market with constant devaluation of the Zimbabwean dollar and the printing of higher denomination value bank notes backed by nothing fuelled inflation and completely rubbished our currency. It also promoted speculative tendencies which drove trade in foreign currency to the black market where rates were more lucrative than the formal channels. This caused even greater reduction to the foreign currency flows in the formal market and the result was hyperinflation.

The corruption that surrounds the mining of diamonds, platinum and other precious minerals has seen the country incurring losses with a few beneficiaries amassing wealth from the country’s resources. The politics of violence and intimidation that the country has experienced since 2000 has also led to its designation as an ‘unsafe tourist destination’ hence reducing the amount of revenue flowing into the coffers through tourism. Hence it cannot be disputed that the ZANU-PF led government played a major role in taking the Zimbabwean economy to the doldrums.

Sanctions
The role that Western powers have played to the death of the Zimbabwean economy cannot be dismissed as insignificant. The sanctions imposed by the United States under the banner of the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001 (ZIDERA) contributed to the economic woes. This Act significantly reduced Zimbabwe’s access to finance and credit facilities. With limited access to foreign currency, inability to apply for debt cancellations, coupled with the global financial crisis, Zimbabwe’s chances of surviving in such harsh conditions were next to nil. This catalysed fuel shortages witnessed acutely in 2008 which in turn catalysed price increases of all basic commodities and significantly made the cost of living higher.

The EU targeted sanctions which imposed an asset freeze on a few prominent leaders not only failed to serve their intended purpose which was to address the violation of human rights in Zimbabwe but they also fuelled corruption. With their lifestyles demanding huge cash-flows, individuals with political influence whose assets were frozen, simply used their influence to siphon state resources to make up for the financial gap created in the absence of their frozen fat bank balances.

Absence of the rule of law
There is nothing wrong with citizens expecting state institutions to enforce the rule of law. Under normal circumstances it is the responsibility of the state to ensure that there is rule of law. However in the absence of effective state institutions and in the absence of sanctions then the resultant end is anarchy. But who is the anarchist? It is the citizens. It is you (who is reading this article) and I. When citizens obey the law because they fear sanctions and act against the same law when the sanction goes away or if there is no one to enforce it, I believe it is their fault if their actions have negative consequences on themselves.

My point is to ask, how many Zimbabweans will stand and say they never traded foreign currency on the black market because there was no regulation to stop them? How many did not sell whatever they had and which they knew to be on demand at exorbitant prices ignoring the 40% mark-up needed to make a decent profit? How many people pay their domestic workers meagre wages because the Labour court never came knocking on their door? How many Zimbabweans are involved in informal trade yet they have not given a dime to the government in tax returns because the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority has not caught them out? How much revenue was lost through tax evasion by Zimbabwean citizens?

Many argued and will argue of course that paying tax under the previous regime was tantamount to feeding a corrupt government, but how many still evade paying tax with the new inclusive government in place and despite its clear appeal for revenue to get the economy back on track. The private sector has taken to mimicking the exploitative nature of the government, paying employees peanuts despite making mega profits and forcing thousands of skilled labour out of the country in search of greener pastures. So who should be blamed? For the shrinking pool of skilled labour? For the corruption that has become endemic? For the government‟s bankruptcy? For the demise of the Zimbabwean economy?

The reality
The response I will never get from all the different groups would be; “The Zimbabwean economy collapsed because we all contributed in some way to its demise.” The ‘we’ implies an assumption of responsibility and acknowledgement that everyone is part of the problem. It is not a mere shelving of responsibility on other parties’ shoulders and it is a reflection of honesty. Honesty that speaks of commendable levels of self-introspection and a wish to change the fate of this beautiful country I call home.

Indeed the government, the Western powers, the politicians and we the people of Zimbabwe have all contributed to our economic woes and until we accept this reality and take concrete steps to solve the part of the problem in which we are the problem then Zimbabwe’s economy shall never rise out of this pit. Zimbabwe is currently rated as the country with the largest diamond deposits in the world. It has gold, copper, coal, platinum, silver and vast amounts of mineral deposits. It has wide expanses of land for agriculture. One of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Victoria Falls, is in Zimbabwe and the country could be bringing in revenue through tourism. Yet this same country ranked 172 out of 191 states on the Human Poverty Index in 2010, 159th on the Ease of Doing Business Index and is one of the lowest ranked countries on the General Inequality Index (GINI).

People are starving surrounded by arable land and flowing rivers. Scores are unemployed and the government is broke!! This suffering that Zimbabweans are going through could have been avoided and can still be overcome. Accountability for a few hundred diamonds could change so many things. Strategic and well thought out redistribution of land could also make food available on people’s tables. Black empowerment strategies that are reasoned and conscientious of the global market paradigm in which we live would also ensure employment and production of good quality, affordable goods for Zimbabwean people.

Initiatives that seek to empower grassroots economically targeting women who have proved to be the breadwinners and providers of families in trying times would ease the poverty. The politicians may jump in like bull frogs into hot water, dragging whole nations along and when a whole nation’s legs are burnt then they want to drag it in yet another wrong direction, but the ‘people’ do not have to let them continue doing so. The end to corruption starts with the individual, choosing to be a whistleblower. Choosing not to be corrupt is choosing a transparent nation and possibly a stable economy.

Justice or no justice?

Social Justice, Social Movements, Transitional Justice

Egyptians are angry, so very angry that they are dragging their former president through the criminal courts. The trial of  Hosni Mubarak on charges of corruption and for conspiring to kill protestors who are popularly known as the martyrs of the Revolution, made headlines on many news stations across the globe.

Mubarak denied all charges meaning that his plea was that of not guilty. The implications of that plea are grave. The prosecution has to establish the link between Mubarak’s actions or failure to take action and the crimes that he is said to have committed. That is not an easy task. There is thus no guarantee that the trial will result in a successful conviction because the outcome is based on the evidence. So no matter how much Egyptians may be convinced that Mubarak was corrupt or that were it not for him snipers would never have shot at protestors, their convictions will come to naught if no convincing evidence is put to the judges to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.  Criminal justice is also slow and very expensive. The hiring of lawyers and the charges of the court could be costly.

The most worrying element for me is even if Mubarak were to be found guilty the criminal charges against him are specific to particular incidences of corruption and specific incidences of killings. The trial will not likely reveal details of the repression of the regime which must be exposed if Egypt is to move on. The trial will not expose the structures of corruption and so these will remain standing even after Mubarak is convicted. It will not show who was responsible for all the human rights violations that took place in Egypt during Mubarak’s reign. It is with this in mind that I ask myself if the prosecution of Mubarak, his sons and the six associates is the best way for Egyptians to express their anger.

When crimes are committed and justice is never served, the wounds of those against whom the crimes were committed never heal and that is why transitional justice is relevant. Transitional justice is not just an idea. It is the lived experiences of many countries that suffered under repressive regimes and then found ways of moving forward post-conflict. Transitional justice seeks to help societies to find ways of reshaping them, to prevent recurrence of atrocities committed in the past, to reaffirm victims’ dignity and to expose the truth of what exactly happened because victims have a reciprocal right to know.

By victims I mean the actual people who were killed, beaten, tortured, mutilated, abducted, unlawfully detained, disappeared, harassed, subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment and had all sorts of terrible things done to them. These are the primary victims. I also refer to secondary victims; the people who were close to those who directly suffered. They witnessed the atrocities committed against their loved ones and some of them live even today with the trauma of not knowing the fate of their husbands, sons and relatives.

I wonder then if a trial that addresses one incident of corruption and the killing of a few protestors during the Revolution is the best answer when so many years of repression remain mystical. Is it not prudent to deal with the issues in a more holistic manner than to focus on a single incident?

Reconciliation is key if Egypt is to move forward. But there cannot be reconciliation without justice. And that justice cannot be achieved through the trial of Mubarak, his two sons and a few associates for an isolated incident. Justice lies in the nation of Egypt coming together to chart a process in which they will formulate a strategy to deal with their past. Such a strategy must not only focus on addressing the violations committed during the revolution but also the trends of violations that prevailed throughout Mubarak’s rule.

Truth-seeking must be a central part of that strategy. The victims need to know how certain crimes were committed, who committed them, what happened to their loved ones. In knowing the truth and exposing the systematic way in which certain crimes were committed; history will correctly record the violations and the victims can begin to deal with their losses and come to terms with their experiences.

Victims must receive reparations. Reparations can be in the form of restitution, compensation or reintegration.  Restitution involves restoring the victims to their previous circumstances before the violations were perpetrated against them. Those who lost their jobs or property for merely opposing the regime could be reinstated. Compensation must be given to the victims for the harm they suffered. Such compensation may be in the form of money, goods, symbolic acts significantly recognising the wrongs of the past or some other form such as the building of memorials. Reintegration would be the process of bringing society together, rebuilding trust between individuals who previously were on opposing sides. In the context of Egyptian society it would involve rebuilding relations between the perpetrators and the victims especially the police and the general public, between Copts and Muslims and recent events show the need for mending the relationship between the army and the revolutionaries.

Libya: ‘Rats’ & ‘Dogs’ defeated humans?

Africa, Democracy, History in the making, Social Justice

As the Libyan rebels gain ground towards Tripoli every news station is talking about an end to the grip on power that Gaddafi has had over Libya for 42 years. And just some hours ago the Colonel lost a grip on himself and in an outburst called the rebels ‘dogs’ and ‘rats.’ This got me wondering who are the real rats and dogs in this equation. The unarmed civilian protestors who, inspired by their counterparts in the region, peacefully assembled asking for ‘democratic reforms’ and in return received warplanes, warships, tanks, artillery, and live fire from their government? The rebels who, provoked by a rigid government that was not willing to negotiate took up arms and welcomed assistance from NATO forces to resolve their ‘Libyan’ crisis? The leaders and nations behind the NATO forces who ‘could’ be driven by nothing more than political and economic expediency? A leader and his government on the verge of total collapse who for 42 years systematically eroded all freedoms of the media, speech, assembly and association;  who tortured all opposition, disappeared many and killed scores more? A leader who launched a war against his own people and killed more than 6,000 lives in just 6 months?

Surely without NATO intervention we would have seen one of the following outcomes in Libya:

1.      Disintegration into a perpetual civil war

Highly likely! When two or more warring sides are driven the battle will go on until one side has no more people or resources to fight. Another DRC – another Somalia – a protracted war, with a government that holds power in some regions of the country while others are controlled by rebels. Lawlessness and ultimately a debilitation into a perpetual state of insecurity is what we would have seen.

2.      Defeat for the rebels-brutal punishment from the restored leader

With no NATO to stretch the Gaddafi resources both human and military, the rebels would have faced the full wrath of the Gaddafi forces. Eventually they would have run out of arms, if no (more) covert supplies were given to them. Gaddafi would have regained his control over Beghazi. This would in all likelihood signify severe bloodshed as the wounded leader wiped out every single trace of an attempted mutiny. Libya would have given historians yet another ‘Reign of Terror’ to document. Very likely! No wonder NATO did not leave it to chance for this outcome to come to pass.

3.      Defeat for the rebels-mercy from a benevolent leader

The rebels would have run out of ammunition. Gaddafi would have crashed the protests and resumed his post at the helm of Libya as President. He would then have reflected on the cause of  the protests, instigated reforms, promised to step down, arrange for the holding of free and fair elections and we would never heard of him in a bad light anymore. Really? More of a pipe dream and delusional wishful thinking, I would say, given the man’s history.

4.      Impasse-Negotiated solution

Maybe the two sides would have fought until they were tired of it then sought a negotiated solution whereupon they would  enter into a power sharing government and live happily ever after the way Raila Odinga and Mwai Kibaki in Kenya or Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai have been doing in Zimbabwe. To borrow one my friends’ expression this would have been ‘[absolute] nonsense upon stilts.’

Picture credit: African Cultural Renaissance Artists

What we have now is a post-NATO-intervention Libya. NATO efforts were ‘allegedly’ focused on  ‘ the protection of civilians.’ To what extent this is true history shall reveal in due course as it has always done. But what other alternative was there really? Would it have been better for NATO to stand on the sidelines while Gaddafi, the butcher prepared a barbeque out of his own people’s flesh? Would the intervention have been more legitimate had it been by the African Union? Was the African Union ever going to stop the killings?

Fears remain that factions within the rebel groups could disintegrate into inter-rebel fights for political control. More fears are  that pro-Gaddafi fighters will continue to pose a security threat to Libya launching incursions, possibly ‘terroristic attacks’ and haunt Libya even after Gaddafi is gone. Worse still as I write, Gaddafi himself is nowhere to be found. God forbid that he be on his way to Zimbabwe to join his long term friends Bob and Mengistu. I am convinced the four scenarios I posed above would never have been better options and if the rebels do not rapidly assert control a protracted war could still be a possibility. Should the new authorities also fail to assert control over their resources then history shall reveal the real rats and dogs.