When I was nominated for an Award

Activism, Human Rights, Sexual Violence, Transitional Justice, Violence Against Women, Women, Zimbabwe


A lot has been going on in my life. You must be thinking that I have been too busy to write. Although you are right in thinking so, you are probably wrong in why you think I have been busy. Of course, I meant no disrespect to you and your appreciation of my writing. I just had to devote my time to my new project, The Law Hub. When you pay the site a visit, I hope you will forgive me for my long absence.

While I was away, I was nominated for an Award. I was to be voted “Humanitarian of the Year.” At first, I was excited to have been nominated so I shared with my friends, asked colleagues and family to vote for me, ran around like a headless chicken to ensure every person who could vote for me voted. I even took the banner that the organisers of the Award Ceremony created and made it my Facebook Cover photo and profile Picture on Twitter and Linked in. Vote! Vote! Vote! I urged.

Then I sat back and reflected a bit more. It was and still is a tremendous honour to have my passion awarded the recognition that it has received through this nomination. It is even more exciting to see women creating an initiative to recognise the hard work that other women are doing. However, when I reflected on the reason I had been nominated, I felt like a fraud. I became wary of what actually winning such an award would mean. Do I really deserve an award? Should I even be the one nominated for this award, any award for that matter for the work that I do?

I thought of the several women I interviewed, documenting their horrific stories of gang rape for merely exercising their choice via the ballot. Yes I may have built dossiers for criminal prosecution and yes some of the perpetrators will face prosecution, but I still wonder how these women, the victims would feel about my nomination.

I pictured the many child brides I talked to, and whose stories I documented, whose stolen innocence will never be recovered and whose future is as bleak now as it was when the choice to marry was foisted on them. Yes I may have tried very hard to push for new legislation that criminalises child marriage, but even then the fact that the big red-eyed monster that made them vulnerable –that monster called patriarchy-is still alive and strong makes me feel like I haven’t helped them much.

I remembered Mai Mpenyu (not her real name).  I remembered the scars on her back, the fear in her eyes, the hopelessness and dejection as she talked about those who assaulted her, burnt her home and destroyed her barn of tobacco. I remembered Abby, and her tale of loss-she will never be able to hold a baby in her arms because someone decided to step on her stomach when she was pregnant, caused her miscarriage and damaged her beyond repair. The reason for all this; she was fighting for a new constitution. Doesn’t she deserve the award?

I thought of the poor woman I met in Pretoria; a refugee, driven from her home and comfort, rendered an orphan, forced to be a mother to a child whose father she knows not, rendered stateless and an outcast in one blow. I wrote about her many years ago, and I said,

A woman came to the hotel where I stayed. She had heard about the survey and wanted to tell her story. The hotel would not let her onto their premises so I had to meet her on the street. The sight of her broke my heart. Her clothes were tattered. Her skin was a black-grey colour- a sign that she had not bathed in days. The baby on her back was crying incessantly. “She is hungry,” she explained, “She has not had anything to eat for days.” As she spoke I found myself struggling to hold back my tears.

I could not interview her in the hotel. “She will cause discomfort for the other guests,” the hotel manager informed me. The street was not an option either, with the baby incessantly crying and the car horns blaring. She insisted she wanted her story to be heard. We walked together and at the sight of a fruit stall I stopped to buy her a few bananas and oranges so she could feed her baby. The child quieted down and the woman began her story.

Several young men had come to her home at night in one of the rural towns of Zimbabwe. Her father was perceived to belong to the wrong political party. These men tied up her mother and father and set their hut ablaze, burning them alive. They dragged her into the forest where they raped her, one after the other then left her for dead. She had no idea which one of them was the father of her baby. She had run away from home, walked miles on foot, and begged for passage aboard any vehicle heading for South Africa. She was smuggled across the border because she did not possess valid travel documents. With no money the only thing she could give was her body; more abuse. She had believed she would be safe but in South Africa all she found was more victimisation, hunger, poverty, loneliness and pain; “I had a home. I had a family. I am educated, you know. I wanted to be a nurse.”

All I could give her were a few bananas and contacts of organisations that might help her. I wish I could have done more.

Her name and her story sits in a pile of documents, created to be used at a time when there is political will to address the past injustices committed against my people. I still remember her today. I do not know if she is still alive. Maybe the cold winter nights, or the windy rainy days had their toll on her frail frame and she gave in. I wondered about her and asked myself if she would think I deserve this nomination.

I recalled the woman in Gweru. Her child was gone. They put the baby in a sack and hit it to the ground. “This one goes with your vote,” they said. “When you vote right, the right child will come.” The baby cried until her voice got hoarse, until her cries died out, until she cried no more. They took her from her mother’s arms, a bubbly bundle of joy and returned her cold as stone, blood and froth around her mouth. I remembered the grief, in that mother’s eyes. I told her, transitional justice would take care of it. When a figment of transitional justice came, those in charge only wanted to reconcile and smoke pipe (kuputidzana fodya). She never got her justice, her baby is gone. Someday, her story shall be told but for now grief and pain, loss and despair reign. How would she feel to hear I am up for an award?

Nowadays, I sit and adjudicate-case upon case. Each one different from the previous one, but ultimately the same. Governments turning on their own people. Africans against Africans. Displaced people, tortured people, assaulted people, unlawfully arrested people, detained people, jailed for demanding their rights, some disappeared, never to be seen again. All of them denied dignity- human dignity. Faceless names, drops in an ocean of never-ending injustice. How will my contribution end their suffering, if at all it succeeds in abating it.

I have seen horror, pain, loss, dejection. I have tried to empathise. I have made promises to myself that justice will be done for all these victims, yet so much more remains to be done. I want justice done, the justice that each and every one of these victims desires and deserves. Should I consider myself a humanitarian? I only did what I could do, and continue to do as much as I can- what my circumstances enable me to although I still feel I should do more. I am pretty sure I do not deserve an award; for what is my humanity if I do not seek to have the human-ness in those around me recognised, respected and protected. Surely working to see that happen should not be outstanding; it must be the norm.

Njengoba ubaba njalo wangitshela , umuntu ungumuntu ngenxa abantu!

As my father always told me, a person is a person because of people!

World Mental Health Day-10 October

Governance, Human Rights, Sexual Violence, Transitional Justice, Violence Against Women, Zimbabwe

This article first appeared on the Research and Advocacy Unit Blog and was written by Jocelynne Lake, a colleague…

Today is World Mental Health Day with this year’s theme being “Depression: A Global Crisis”.

The aim of having a day which highlights Mental Health  and especially depression is to raise awareness and bring this important health issue, which is often trivialised, into the open to get people talking about and understanding it.

Whatever the symptoms, depression differs from normal sadness in that it engulfs the day-to-day ability to function of the person affected, interfering with work, study,appetite, sleep and one’s ability to enjoy life. Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and worthlessness are intense and unrelenting.

Although depression is treatable the majority of sufferers are unaware that they are depressed and therefore do not try to seek professional help.

One wonders what the statistics for depression are in Zimbabwe given the rampancy of violence and intimidation which is often committed with impunity?

Unfortunately, there appears to be very little research into this mental condition and it’s prevalence in Zimbabwe with the exception of research paper that RAU published in November 2011 in conjunction with our sister organisation The Tree of Life entitled ‘Trauma and Mental Health in Zimbabwe.’ In this research paper results from a survey done in Mount Darwin, an area badly affected by political violence around elections in 2008, showed that 24 percent of the people interviewed stated they were suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and 21 percent from depression. These statistics are similar to figures quoted in a medical article by Dixon Chibanda based on a case study conducted in the high density suburb of Mbare, Harare which stated that 25 percent of people attending primary healthcare services as suffering from depression or kusuwisisa (deep sadness) in Shona.

These are numbers based on two small sections of the total population of Zimbabwe and the people interviewed were probably only adults. The effects of both experiencing violence oneself and also witnessing it are extremely traumatic and far reaching so one wonders whether these figures are actually much higher and what will the effects be in the future…

I miss my sunshine: Lessons from Rwanda

Activism, Africa, Development, Transitional Justice, Zimbabwe

I had an exhausting trip from Harare (Zimbabwe) via Lusaka (Zambia) via Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) via Entebbe (Uganda) to Kigali (Rwanda). It took me 13 hours to fly from Zimbabwe to Rwanda when it takes just 6 hours to fly from Harare to Geneva? I therefore questioned how we as Africans could effectively foster the economic integration we talk of when the lines of communication and transport are so inefficient?  A certain individual, who happens to be Zimbabwean, then declared that there was no need for a direct flight from Zimbabwe to Rwanda because “What’s there to gain from Rwanda (economically) that will render a need for a direct link? And how many people will be on that flight?”

 I then made it my business to show how many things Zimbabwe stands to benefit from Rwanda, short and long term. Well here is the thing; our African leaders are closed-minded about what Africa can benefit them and I think that has been one of the major reasons for the failure of economic integration processes. With a myopic view of the world and clear lack of insight into the trajectory of intra-Africa trade patterns, they would rather seek immediate gratification, trading with parasites such as China and Europe in winners take all arrangements characterised by exploitation of Africans as the market determines the commodity prices, than trade within Africa in what would most likely be win-win situations of tradeoffs.

  But to get back to my story, I picked up a few areas in which Rwanda has done pretty well and from which Zimbabwe can draw lessons that could transform our society significantly.

 First; the transitional mechanisms


The Open Grave- One of the many mass graves at the Kigali Genocide Memorial where more than 250 000 victims of the 1994 Genocide are buried.

Yes Rwanda was the site of one of the worst genocides in the world and in Spring 1994 over just 100 days, more than 800 000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus lost their lives in ethnic cleansing by the extremist Hutus. However, post genocide, Rwanda has done a wonderful job of keeping that memory alive as a constant reminder that it should never happen again. They have created genocide memorials in almost every city – where the history of the country pre-colonial and post colonial, leading to the genocide is recorded for all Rwandans to see. All the victims of the genocide who have been discovered are buried in mass graves at these memorials.  A children’s room showing how even the most innocent of human beings; children were not spared records the stories of how these children were killed. All the pictures of the victims whose surviving families identified are displayed at the museum.The stories are horrific but they make the point that Rwanda must never go that route again.

The human face  to the genocide:The presence of the thousands of photographs of victims of the genocide at the memorial ensures that the victims will not remain anonymous or unnamed. It is a huge step by the state acknowledging the wrong done and giving a human face to the tragedy.

 In Zimbabwe we have done a good job of recording one period of our history-the pre-colonial period and ignoring all the others. Our Heroes Acre is a wonderful symbol of the struggle for independence and a reminder of how we never want to go back that route. Fair enough! But, should we put the victims of the various post colonial landmarks in our history, namely Gukurahundi (the scourge against the Ndebeles (1980-18988), the victims of the land reform programme (Zimbabwean white farmers and Zimbabwean black farm-workers), the victims of Operation Murambatsvina (a clean up campaign that displaced thousands and resulted in the deaths of many from communicable disease because of terrible living conditions), the victims of the Diamond Rush (those who lost their lives in power struggles for the control of the recently discovered diamond mines in Marange) and the victims of electoral violence (2000, 2002, 2005 and especially 2008 elections); then we may just have had a genocide in Zimbabwe, albeit not in 100 days but which still needs proper memorialisation, as Rwanda has done.

 Justice and Reconciliation

In Rwanda, after the genocide, the people with the highest responsibility for the commission of the crimes were prosecuted. A special Tribunal, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) was created specifically for that purpose.  A number of them have been convicted and the Court is finalising its work. Locally traditional forms of courts, the Gacaca Courts were used to establish the truth, find perpetrators responsible and mete out a punishment to the satisfaction of the victim in their communities. Yes the system was not perfect but effectively Rwanda did not allow impunity to reign supreme in its communities in the face of such horrific crimes.

 In Zimbabwe we have set up an Organ on National Healing whose self-created agenda is to force victims to accept forgiveness and reconciliation. Victims have not been properly consulted as to what they want or prefer to give them peace and to allow them to set the parameters under which they could possibly reconcile with perpetrators. In fact anyone who dares talk about the injustices and how they should be addressed becomes a victim of state intimidation and violence. Perpetrators walk free and they have become professionals, repeating their acts of plunder, rape, mutilation, torture, grave assault and arson among others because they benefit from the impunity they are granted by the state. Meanwhile victims have not received any remedy and they bear the physical, emotional and psychological wounds alone and in silence.

 Second; developing the economy

Rwanda’s economy is developing rapidly. Even the World Bank has acknowledged that Rwanda is among the fastest growing economies that have recorded sustained and widespread economic growth on the African Continent. Despite the impact of the global financial crisis, Rwanda maintained a positive economic growth at 5.5 percent. Lesson Number 1 they do not depend on the West. The West failed them and failed to stop the genocide and they learnt their lesson, you depend upon yourself as a country and find means to manage your circumstances in a way that benefits your own population. They have reduced their dependence on foreign aid from 100% in 1995 to 40% in 2011 moving towards 0% dependency. Through tourism, ICT’s and policies that allow investment, Rwanda’s economy is growing and pulling many of its people out of poverty.

 Rwanda produces more electrical power than Zimbabwe does (in our Hwange and Kariba stations combined) and there is room for Zimbabwe to invest in that energy sector to boost the scarce energy resources that we currently have. In Zimbabwe we have successfully created a volatile and investor unfriendly environment. We do not take heed of the advice we receive from others and we seem to think we can do it all by ourselves. Well wake up and smell the coffee, we are living in a global world where things happening elsewhere will definitely affect us so it is not only foolish but also suicidal to swim upstream when everyone else is flowing with the tide.

 Rwanda and Zimbabwe are both members of  the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the only reason I was allowed to get a visa upon arrival at Kigali international airport (against the regulations because I was supposed to obtain a visa before travelling) was because Zimbabwe is a member of COMESA.  Surely we should capitalise on these relationships to our mutual advantage.

 Third; keeping Rwanda clean

Rwanda is the cleanest country I have ever visited on the African continent and mind you I have been to quite a few. Yes, even cleaner than South Africa for those of you who may be wondering. The country of a thousand hills, as Rwanda is known has adopted a citizen policing system to ensure cleanliness of the city. So every Rwandese ensures that the next person does not litter, does not burn things that pollute the environment and maintains clean surroundings. There is no litter on Kigali’s streets and in its residential areas. I even went to their poorest areas and the grass was immaculately cut and neat and roofs were clean. Rwanda adopted a no-plastics campaign which has significantly reduced litter on the streets. They have replaced plastics with bio-degradable khaki carriers, which if for some reason find their way onto the street, decompose by themselves but also which the city authorities can dispose of cheaper and more efficiently. Every last Saturday of the month, Rwanda comes to a standstill as they clean their surroundings as a nation. Now that is what I call responsible citizenship!!!

 Harare, once the Sunshine city has become a mass of dumping. Plastic bags, plastic containers litter our streets. And on this one do not rush to just blame the government. Yes city authorities have the responsibility to collect rubbish in residential areas which they have not done, but it is us the citizens who have been responsible for littering our cities. I commend the citizens of Bulawayo, because they have taken up a clean-city campaign and by far Bulawayo is cleaner than Harare. Harare residents need to drop their dirty habits. Stop littering! Throw your rubbish in bins or keep it until you can dispose it responsibly! Separate your paper and food from plastics and glass when disposing. Create composts with degradable products. Burn the stuff that can not decompose.

 On the other hand let us hold our authorities responsible for what they ought to do but are not doing. What are councillors and mayors for if not to ensure that residents live healthy, fulfilled lives? They must collect rubbish, dispose of it responsibly and if we do not force them to take up these responsibilities then they will continue to sit in their offices, selling off land to corrupt business people and politicians and enlarging their already fat behinds!

 Fourth, development of infrastructure

As much as Rwanda is developing its cities and building new infrastructure, they are doing a pretty good job of preserving the natural look of their environment. They are developing yet ensuring minimal degradation to the environment, cutting off trees only where the buildings themselves stand and retaining all the surrounding trees and vegetation intact. As a result, the place is streaming with modern life in a very green space that looks welcoming and warm. Yes I love modernity but I hope most African cities, in particular my Sunshine city do not further develop- the Swiss way- and become neat, modern but barren and cold hubs of activity.

 You may be wondering where I got all this information. Well I was given access into the Parliament of Rwanda. I met some Parliamentarians as well as the vice President of the Senate (a She-very progressive!!!) who gave my friends and I a guided tour with explanations of how a country that was grounded in poverty and conflict 18 years ago has risen to what it is. Trust me, I have never been allowed access into my own parliament despite my efforts to do so and if I were to ask for information from my government, no one would give it to me and if they did most of it would be inaccurate.

 I drew many lessons from Rwanda and I am sure if I had stayed longer, I would have learnt even more. Harare used to be called the Sunshine city. Zimbabwe was the jewel of Africa. I really miss my sunshine-and I want her back!

51st CEDAW Session: Part 1

Activism, Africa, Development, Emancipation, Gender, Governance, History in the making, Human Rights, Human Trafficking, Politics, Sexual Violence, Transitional Justice, Violence Against Women, Women, Zimbabwe

A less jittery me, an hour before I was set to make my presentation

Monday the 20th of February it was. I would think the exact time was 1525 hrs, Geneva time. The Session had begun at 1500hrs. I was the 7th speaker among 8 designated speakers; 3 from Algeria, 2 from Jordan and 3 from Zimbabwe. Each speaker was given 3 minutes to say all they had to say.

What would I say in 3 minutes? What was the most crucial message for me to get across to the Committee members? What if I ran out of time before I said it all? What if my words failed me?

My delivery was obviously on the issue that is dear to me; the physical, mental and finacial integrity of women and the one thing that I was fighting in that Committee Room in the Palais des Nationes on that cold Monday afternoon in Geneva, Switzerland was violence against women. The government delegation of more than 18 people was listening attentively.  All 23 members, except for one of the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against women were listening to hear what Miss Rumbidzai Dube from the Research and Advocacy Unit from Zimbabwe had to say to them.

Was I nervous, of course! This was not a moot court competition. This was the real deal. A deal breaker. Women in Zimbabwe depended on me to make the Committee know how much they suffered at the hands of violence. They needed me to be brave to respond boldly to the questions of the Committee when they asked me who were the perpetrators of political violence. I had to name the Police in the presence of a top police official. I had to say political parties in the presence of all representatives of the political parties. I had to say the military  and war veterans in the presence of the  Ambassador of Zimbabwe to Switzerland. Yes I had to say it. The women I was representing needed me to tell the Committee what they want, what they have always said they want to address violence:

  • Prosecution of offenders
  • Psycho-social support
  • Trauma Counselling
  • Compensation
  • The truth of what happened
  • Public and sincere apologies

So, I did as the women asked as best I could in the 3 minutes I was given and this is what I had to say…

51st Session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women

 ZIMBABWE NGO Statement and Delegation

 The following text will not be read out:

 The Zimbabwe Civil Society Delegation wishes to present the NGO Report which has been endorsed by 27 CSO organisations and is the result of wide consultations in Zimbabwe.

 Presented by:

Zimbabwe Civil Society Report

Emilia Muchawa, Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association

Rumbidzai Dube, Research and Advocacy Unit…

 Rumbidzai Dube

 Violence against women

a) Madame Chair, we acknowledge the positive development of the enactment of the Domestic Violence Act which has provided a framework for addressing violence in the private sphere.

 However insufficient resources to ensure the effective implementation of the Domestic Violence Act have been provided. In particular the state has not allocated adequate resources to the effective function of the Domestic Violence Council or for public education and awareness raising. There are only 4 formal shelters in the whole of Zimbabwe to cater for the thousands of victims that seek refuge each year.

 We recommend that:

  • The state allocate adequate resources to the national gender machinery and the Anti-domestic violence council for the effective implementation of the Domestic Violence Act
  • Further that the state builds adequate shelters to give women a refuge  and safe space when subjected to domestic violence

 b) We also note that violence in the public sphere has been on the increase especially in times of elections. Politically motivated violence plagues Zimbabwean women.  In 2008 alone, civil society organisations documented the use of an organised campaign of violence against women in the period towards the Presidential rerun which violence resulted in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Election Observer Mission deeming the election not free and fair.

 Women human rights defenders are persistently targeted, arrested, detained, tortured and subjected to inhumane treatment. In 2012 alone 27 women from the activist organisation Women of Zimbabwe Arise were arrested for demonstrating peacefully.

 The state has not adequately protected women from sexual violence including politically motivated rape, and targeted rape against sex workers and LBT women. This has also led to increased HIV/AIDS infections where women comprise 56% of people living with HIV/AIDS as these women are forced to have unprotected sex. Social and cultural norms limiting women’s control over their sexual and reproductive rights including negotiation of safe sex, also increases women’s risk of exposure.

 The state has acknowledged the severity of the problem of politically motivated violence by setting up an Organ on National Healing, Reconciliation and Integration and the 3 Principals in the Inclusive Government have also acknowledged this.

 However cases of politically motivated violence remain largely uninvestigated and unprosecuted leading to a culture of impunity which feeds the cycle of violence. Existing institutions such as the Organ on National Healing, the Joint Monitoring Committee (JOMIC), and the Human Rights Commission which has a prescriptive mandate are not adequately capacitated to effectively address this form of violence.

 We recommend that:

  • The state should prioritise the sensitisation of bodies such as the police, the courts and other key bodies facilitating the protection and access to justice of women victims of politically motivated violence with a view to ending impunity in line with UN Resolution 1820 as part of a comprehensive approach to seek sustainable peace, justice, truth and national reconciliation;
  • The state should set up a multi-sectoral investigation into politically motivated violence led by the Ministry of Women Affairs in collaboration with the Ministries of Home Affairs and Justice and other stakeholders before the next elections to ensure that politically motivated violence does not recur
  • The state should not only condemn but also hold accountable those responsible for the perpetration of politically motivated violence.

    Minister of Women Affairs, Honourable Olivia Muchena and Minister in the Organ on National Healing, Honourable Sekai Holland at the 51st Cedaw Session

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.

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.

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 http://www.kubatana.net/html/archive/demgg/070221rm.asp?sector=OPIN&year=2007&range_start=31)

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 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnpBtRlfdjc). 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.