Zim human rights defender wants stronger institutions

Activism, Africa, Democracy, Human Rights, Women, Youth, Zimbabwe

**I am reposting this from an article written by the Newsday on my acceptance onto the YALI Fellowship Programme **

Pan-African human rights defender, Rumbidzai Dube, wants strong institutional structures to promote accountability and good governance.



She says the invitation to participate in the first ever Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI) Washington Fellowship in June will allow her to reflect on her work and life experiences in Zimbabwe while searching for innovative ways to expand and strengthen her work.

Her most recent work at the Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU) involves assessing the contribution of legislators to the democratic process. She tracks the MPs’ attendance, participation, representation of their constituencies and exercise of their oversight role over state institutions.

“I assumed the role of watching what our Parliament does, recognising that Parliament is a critical institution that has the capacity to ensure and guarantee state and government accountability. Putting members of parliament in the spotlight enhances their performance and encourages debate.”

Rumbidzai will spend six weeks at the University of Virginia/ William & Mary. “I will also increase my efforts in public legal education by launching a new website (www.allthingslegalzim.co.zw), a project that will simplify the law for the ordinary person.”

Forecasting her role during the Fellowship, she appears to be caught between a rock and a hard place. To her, the ambassadorial role foisted on her for being one of the 30 Zimbabwean young leaders that have been invited to participate in the Washington Fellowship presents a chance to brag but also to tell hard truths about Zimbabwe, she says. “It will be a delicate balancing act.”

As a legal researcher with a human rights non-governmental organisation and a human rights defender, she has seen the best there can be of the country and yet she cannot shy away from uncivil acts perpetrated against innocent individuals. She notes;

“Being an ambassador means defending my country’s honour and integrity, bragging about the good in it from the amazing people, the wonderful touristic sites, the abundant natural resources, with the biggest bragging point at the moment being that we are the most educated country with the highest literacy rate on the continent,” She adds, “on the other hand I will have to tell the hard truths of the indefensible and reckless acts of violence and corruption that I have witnessed and observed in my work as a human rights defender.”

Rumbidzai completed a law degree at the University of Zimbabwe in 2007. Three years later, she attained a LLM degree in Human Rights and Democratization in Africa from the University of Pretoria in South Africa.

Her career has spurned several international human rights bodies including the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies in Egypt (2011) allowing her to witness, first-hand, the struggle for human rights and democratic transformation in Egypt and other North African countries during the Arab Spring.

She also worked briefly in 2010 with the Department of Political Affairs of the African Union Commission in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

She sees herself as a social justice advocate, passionate about using the power of the written word to inform, educate and transform societies.

She writes on her personal blog- MaDube’s Reflections– where she interrogates issues of the law as it relates to women, human rights, democratic governance, international relations, and global politics. She is an admitted member of the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association and the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights.

When ‘i’ means ignorance

Activism, Youth

I was sitting amongst a bunch of teenagers in an internet café when the things I observed inspired this article. I peeped at the screens of the computers they were using and made some interesting observations. Two were playing games. One was hiding his screen and from the corner of my eye I saw naked women, probably he was watching porn. The other two were comparing pictures of celebrities. Another one was complaining about how slow the internet was as he was trying to stream a video of one of Lil Wayne’s songs. So I sat there, busy looking for information on human trafficking on Google and I wondered if this was a generational thing.

Indeed the advent of technology with i phones, i pads and ido not know what else will follow has brought forth new dynamics in communication. The era of letters when we would run like mad puppies to the gate to collect letters from the postman or the age of landlines when at the first ring you would run to make sure that no one else picks up the phone in case it was your boyfriend and you did not want your mother or father to pick up are over. Even the use of cellphones’ has metamophorsised from a mere tool to receive calls and send sms’s to become an i(nnovative) tool of technology, where you surf the net, you skype and do all sorts of innovative things.

We live in the era of i pads and i phones

Yes the internet is a Revolution and communication will never be dull again. I love the emoticons on Skype, enjoy chatting on Gtalk, Nimbuzz, Facebook, Whatsapp and everything else that I know which is available. With a multitude of passwords, I am even amazed at myself and wonder how I keep up with all these different technologies. And if I, at my age, am such an addict surely teenagers can be forgiven for burying their heads in this technology.

The internet has become the backbone of life for today’s youths. My worry however is that, that backbone is collapsing & the future rests precariously on a skeletal figure. When we were growing up, we read novels, watched cartoons and played puzzles or Snakes and Ladders. We learnt a lot, we sharpened our brains and we had innocent fun.

We watched cartoons such as Captain Planet and the Planeteers, an animation that taught kids the importance of protecting the environment. The characters who came together to defend the earth from subversive elements namely;  Kwame from Africa, Wheeler from North America, Linka from the Soviet Union, Gi from Asia, and Ma-Ti from South America represented the collective effort of the global community in all continents to come together and defend the well being of the planet earth.We were captivated by the adventures of ‘Denver the last dinosaur’ which were entertaining and non-violent.

Denver the last dinosaur with his friends

This was way different from what the kids of today invest their time into (especially teenagers) when they are on the net. Most of the time a good guess would be, watching porn, playing games, chatting with possible ‘soul mates’ and watching some more porn, in that order.

The few more ‘innovative’ ones will watch sport, follow tabloids, chat with friends, and check out the latest fashion and such other things. Oh yes it is ok to want to read about sport or fashion or sex or gossip on celebrities. After all these things are proven stress relievers & once in a while we all need to let go of this complicated world of politics, global finance, abuse, hunger and poverty to think of things that do not stress us or give us headaches.

My worry is however that the youths of today do not make these things (porn and games) a pastime. It is their way of life. Young people do not like to read. They prefer watching pictures of naked women and rich people instead of figuring out how to get rich. Very few of them realise that it is in reading and critiquing other people’s thoughts that we sharpen our minds. And not just any junk but meaningful work that talks to our daily issues. They do not realise that it is through reading that we develop critical thinking which took many people far in developing innovative technologies-including the ipads and i phones that they abuse when watching porn. They also do not realise that it is through reading that the soul finds fulfillment & enrichment; after all ignorance is just as bad as death.

I wonder what it will take to develop & resuscitate a youth that loves reading, not just any lump of words put together, but meaningful reading that gives them much more value than that  famous article with close to a billion hits entitled ‘How to get multiple orgasms.’

I have considered giving my blog posts raunchy misleading titles hoping that the youths will read them even after discovering my deceipt? But then again I realised that they will read the first paragraph, realise that the content is not what they expected and leave a rude message to the sum of: “WTF is this s***!!!This article contains none of the things implied in the heading.”

Surely the creators of modern technology did not mean to create generations of ignorant beings. The internet is supposed to be a media for education and information dissemination as much as it should be a source of entertainment. Oh well, besides writing this article and hoping it changes a few of the youngsters’ minds about the kind of stuff they invest their time in when they are on the internet, I will just sit and hope for a miracle that a conscious bolt of lightning will strike them and implant in their thoughts ideas of development and progress to override the prevailing thoughts of women or men, sex, drugs and money!

Can we interest the youths in snakes and ladders once more instead of watching porn?

Feminist Chronicles: Diary 12: Chiwoniso Maraire

Activism, Feminist Chronicles, Women, Youth, Zimbabwe

Many young people live with the misguided notion that success in life is synonymous with a fat bank account. Oh yes I will not dispute that having a fat bank account will give you all the luxuries that make life a whole lot more comfortable and easy to go through, but, money is not synonymous with success especially if the money is coming through your hard labour, yet you hate what you do. Happiness on the other hand is synonymous with success. Will Smith may have given us the idea that we are always in pursuit of happiness, which is partly true, but it is the things we pursue in life that determine whether that pursuit is endless or at a time what we pursue is actually realised. I am one of those people who believe in pursuing a career of my choice, a career that I love, that I have a passion for, that I feel I am good at, one that gives me satisfaction, one that gives me happiness and consequently success. Unlike our neighbours, the South Africans, most Zimbabweans do not value art and do not think there is a future in art be it music, dance, poetry or theatre. If a child declares that they want to study art, the parents become distraught. ‘Why won’t you study ‘normal’ subjects just like any other child in this country?’ they will ask, normal being law, medicine, engineering, accounting and all those other subjects that are perceived to be the means to a bigger and better life. Don’t get me wrong- I studied law, and I loved it, and it helped shape the perspectives I hold of life in general and other subjects I talk about, but if I had not made the personal choice to study arts in high school, and if my father had not supported that decision I would be a bored, depressed accountant with a fat bank account today. I was good at it but I hated it. Many other people out there are in this situation because they do not understand that life is more than having a well paying job and success is more than a fat bank account.

Today’s feature is living proof of that old-old and overused adage “Where there is a will, there is a way.” To put it simply this woman made her career choice because she loved it, she worked at it and she made it! I suppose she was fortunate to have a father who taught her what she chose to pursue in her life, a career in music. Her father was an ethnomusicologist, a big word for the study of music of different cultures,  and he taught mbira and marimba in the United States where she was born.

 I adore her music, her style, her voice, her lyrics, her look. My Ethiopian friend Zemdena Abebe in Addis Ababa and my American friend Max Zalewski in Cairo know this too well. If these two had not loved her music too, they would have endured in sufferance my constant chatter about her. Probably what I think is the coolest music any Zimbabwean artist has ever produced would have been just ‘loud-pounding African drums’ to them, but good for me-I introduced her to them and they both loved her.

Chiwoniso Maraire, beauty, brains anda magical voice

Chiwoniso Maraire is a Zimbabwean musical icon. Her stage performance always ignites cosmic energy. Her true fans (and I admit I am one of them) know her as Chi or feisty Chi. Indeed she is feisty but feisty for a good cause. As she says ““Music…It’s an expression of God. All pain, joy, rage, love..wisdom, can be found in music. I am in awe when in the presence of its power. There’s a place from where the music comes. The life essence…”

Chi’s first professional musical performance was with her family when she performed alongside her mother, Linda Nemarundwe Maraire and recorded the song Tichazomuona ‘We will see you again’ when she was only 11 years old. Their whole family also recorded an album entitled Imwi Baba ‘You, Father’ and called themselves Mhuri yaMaraire ‘Maraire’s family.’

Later on Chi joined became a member of the group, A Peace of Ebony comprising American, German, Malawian, Russian and Zimbabwean artists. The group recorded revolutionary rap music in English, Shona and French and won the Radio France International ‘Best New Group out of Southern Africa’ Award in 1994. Between 1994 and 1998, Chi worked with Andy Brown, another Zimbabwean artist in his group ‘The Storm.’

Chi produced her first album “Ancient Voices” in 1996. The album is a unique fusion of  jazz, rap, reggae and other genres I cannot identify, since I have no musical expertise  but all put together they make Chi’s mbira sounds. Through this album she pasted mbira music on the international charts.

In 2011 Chi launched the musical concept Hokoyo naChi  ‘Lookout for Chi’ in which she collaborated with many other Zimbabwean artists and showcased her own extraordinary talent and versatility.

She is not just any musician, but a conscious musician.

She has performed songs on unrequited love, a theme which many of us can identify with. Her song Wandirasa ‘You’ve deserted me’, is a plea by a woman to her lover who treats her like she is the world to him when they are alone but treats her badly in other peoples’ company. She questions why he has thrown her away.

The song Ndipe rudo “Give me love” directly addresses domestic violence as the woman asks her husband who is supposed to be her friend why he does not give her love and why he does not listen to advise from his family. The woman in the song resolves that since she is still young, she would rather leave him than wait for him to kill her at her tender age. Clearly that song speaks to all the women who stay in abusive relationships hoping that someday things may change. Chi urges them to consider leaving and rebuild their lives.

In her song “Madam Twenty Cents” she explores the theme of poverty because the young boy asks for ‘just’ twenty cents, says his mother is sick and disabled and his father left and never returned. This song speaks to the many street children’s ill fate. Chi’s empathic voice is meant to move us and the world to take action in alleviating the suffering of those less fortunate than we are.

Her song ‘Iwai Nesu’- ‘Be with us’ appears to me to have been a prophetic depiction of the effects of climate change that the world has begun to see in earnest with floods in Thailand, Cambodia and the Philippines and raging droughts in Somalia, Ethiopia and Djibouti, shorter rainy seasons in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Mozambique and harsh winters in Europe and North America. That song also speaks to the injustices of the world, the social disparities where those who have, have too much while those who do not have, have nothing at all. She begs God to be with us, His children.

Iwai Nesu
Vamwe vaparara nenzara (As some are dying of hunger)
Vamwe vachifa nekuguta (Others are overfilled)
Kumwe vaparara nemvura (In some places they have been destroyed by water/floods)
Kumwe vachipera nezuva (While in others, they are wiped out by the sun/drought)
Kutungamira nekutungamirwa (In leading and being led)
Tiri vana venyu (We are your children)

Ivai nesu Mwari Baba (Be with us God our Father)

Chi has always been one to give straight talk against government repression, women abuse and other human rights violations. Her 4thalbum” Rebel Woman” predominantly confronts the issues of freedom, equality and justice.

The Cover for theAlbum-Rebel Woman

The lilting lyrics in the title track reflect her empathic nature when she says of the woman fighter,

There will be no compensation

It was of your free will

Oh, that you stood on the frontlines

Rebel woman, these are the rules of war

Remember that you fought for your people

I know the freedom has been hard won

It’s been so hard won

But as you weep Rebel Woman

Remember you are strong

Her song ‘One world’ on this same album is one of the most moving songs I have listened to, depicting the role that we, as adults and parents have and should prioritise – to shape the kind of future we want our children to inherit.

Ngatibvisei zvibingaidzo izvo (Let us remove these barriers)

Rusarura neruvengo, zvinoparadza (Discrimination and hatred can only destroy)

Vana vanotarisira rudo kwatiri (Our children expect love from us)

We have only one world, to give to the children

She also sang and performed with the multi-national all-women’s band Women’s Voice consisting of American, Algerian, Norwegian, Tanzanian and Zimbabwean artists between 2001 and 2004. In 2007 Chi became a jury member of the Creole Worldmusic  Competition. She has performed in Europe at musical festivals Europe such as the Africa Festival Wuerzburg in Berlin,Germany and the Afro Pfingsten (festival) in Switzerland.  She has performed alongside African musical giants such as our very own Oliver Mutukudzi, as well as Salif Keita and Habib Koite of Mali, Ishmael Lo, Youssou Ndour, Manu Dibango, Baaba Maal of Senegal, Achieng Abura of Kenya,  and Koffi Olomide of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Chi in a live performance

Chiwo has won quite a number of accolades for her music. Ancient Voices won her the Radio France International (RFI) Decouverte Afrique 98 award. In 1999, she won the UNESCO Price for Arts at the MASA festival in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. She was also nominated for the KORA Best Female Vocals of Africa Awards in the same year.

I am pained to see thatdespite her outstanding talent and splendid perfomances, Chi has never won an award at home. It is only befitting that  I recognise her  as one of the women in my country  to whom youths can look  for guidance in their chosen career paths and wish to emulate. If I could sing she would be my mentor.

Zimbabwe to Egypt: Reflections from Tahrir Square

Africa, Social Movements, Women, Youth, Zimbabwe


As a Zimbabwean, an African, a black person and a woman, I cannot help but wish my life were different. No, I do not wish I had a different nationality-I love my country and all its beauty. I do not wish I were anything else but an African- I love the diversity that makes our continent what it is. I do not wish to be anything other than black- in fact I love being black because I do not believe in the stereotypes attached to being black.  I am not barbaric! I do not eat human flesh! I do not live in a jungle! I am not ignorant though I do not claim to know everything there is to know in this world! I am not poor even though my bank account is empty! As one of my professors always said whereas some subscribe to the “I think therefore I am” theory by Rene Descartes as an African I believe “We are therefore I am.”Hence money does not make me rich, family does. When I have no family then I am poor.  When I wear something black there is definitely a difference between my skin complexion and that piece of clothing and I see the same difference when a ‘white’ person wears a white dress so maybe that label should be changed to dark skinned and light skinned instead. I love being a woman, ask any woman who is comfortable in her skin and she will tell you she does not wish to be recreated any differently.  The reason I wish my life were different is that I hate the negativity attached to these identities that make my life more difficult than it should be. As a Zimbabwean I face repression from my own government. We cannot express ourselves freely, assemble freely, associate freely and choose who we want to govern us freely. As an African our nations are subjected to global politics characterized by the paradox of ‘equal’ nations yet some are more equal than others.’ This has caused untold suffering, particularly, to the African peoples through skewed negotiations on climate change. We constantly fight the war on the patenting of life saving drugs as against free and easy access to medicines. We are victims of conflicts fuelled by the availability of arms and weapons supplied by developed nations, the so called ‘War economies.” As a black person I am constantly made to feel I need to measure up to something. I still have not figured out what that something is since I certainly do not feel I am lacking in any respect. As for my struggle as woman, that cannot be told in this short space. I will leave it for another day and forum.

Where am I going with all this? Well here is my story…

Today I spent an hour in Tahrir Square, mingling with the thousands of Egyptians who were gathered there. Some were just sitting and discussing the recent developments in the country including the acquittal of some and conviction of other perpetrators of human rights violations during the |Jan|25| protests. Others were chanting slogans making demands from the Supreme Council of Armed Forces to implement the reforms that have been demanded since the Revolution began. Yes, there were factions in the Square. I came across one stand comprising youths that cried out “Allah Akbar” an Islamic phrase loosely translated to mean “God is the Most High.” I also found another one where they were playing Christian gospel music. It was clear there were different groupings in the Square but guess what, they were all in the Square. They could have chosen to assemble in different squares but they did not. They came together, putting aside their differences for a greater purpose which was to put the message across clearly to the ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces that this new earned right conceived during the Revolution shall neither be aborted nor miscarried. I also met a 14 year old blogger- yes fourteen. Before he has even reached the legal age of majority he understands that politics and political participation affects his life and impacts on his human rights. He does not shy away from it because ‘politics is a dirty game’-no. He takes charge and makes legitimate demands from the politicians in his country. I spent quality time with my close friends Alaa Abd El Fattah and Manal Bahey El Din Hassan who have been blogging for years at http://manalaa.net , exposing the Mubarak regime for the dictatorship that it was. Alaa got arrested several times by the police and today he stands with the rest of the Revolutionaries celebrating the fruits of his and many other people’s hard work.

I walked within that Square for an hour and in all that time I did not get sexually harassed, neither did I hear any man whisper the obscene things that I am usually subjected to on the street. I was treated with respect and I did not feel conspicuous as a dark-skinned person amongst the crowds of light-skinned people.

What did all this mean to me?

As Zimbabweans, Africans, black people, women we can change our future. It takes patience, persistence and perseverance but it not impossible. Let history be remembered as the hair we shaved off our heads but let it not determine the kind of new hair we grow on our heads. Black people let us not remain victims of perceptions created ages ago and sustained for generations by people who suffer from a misplaced superiority complex. Africans let us not let the ghost of colonialism haunt us forever. Zimbabweans let us not pay for not having been born when the war of independence was fought. Women, let us stand strong against the skeleton that patriarchy has since become. We have been eating off the flesh of these things and I am sure pushing over the bones will not be such a hard task.

Back to Tahrir Square and Egypt…

Many people have argued that the culture of protests has become almost maniacal in the Arab world. Others argue that they have not seen how protesting has helped the Egyptian people and I quote my colleague, Paul speaking of the revolutionaries and the ousting of Mubarak (Paul and I studied for the Bachelor of Laws Honours Degree at the University of Zimbabwe)

“I do not see any good results coming from them. And do u believe they are the ones who removed him from power? I do not think so that is why they back in the streets bcoz their revolution was not home grown”

Well here is what I think. Protesting helped Egyptians get rid of a despotic government whose corruption had reached chronic levels. It ensured that their demands for justice against the perpetrators of human rights violations during the |Jan|25| protests were heard. Protesting ensured that property and money worth thousands of dollars belonging to the state which had been siphoned by the President and his wife was returned and handed over to the State. Through their concerted effort, Egyptians are setting a culture which if entrenched will see better respect, promotion and protection of human rights. How? Every time they gather in protest they are asserting their right to peaceful assembly and association as well as their right to freely express themselves. Every time they make political demands pertaining to law reform, constitutional amendments, as well as the formation of political parties and their participation in elections they are asserting the right to participate in the governance of their country. It definitely is not as simplistic as it sounds but this is one step (or however many it may be) positively taken and it is gaining momentum each day. The police and military authorities still resist this culture but their resistance is becoming weaker each day. The weaker it becomes the more entrenched these freedoms will be in Egyptian society, spelling a progressive realization of their rights.

It is also many steps ahead of the Zimbabwean scenario where attempts to hold peaceful protests are crushed every time. In Zimbabwe, we have a security system that harasses, arrests and detains lawyers for demanding the sanctity of the profession that they chose. Our system finds a group of brave women (the Women of Zimbabwe Arise-WOZA) as criminals yet these women are constantly advocating social justice. The Egyptians have certainly gone one step ahead in this regard and the more they gather in Tahrir Square and hold their peaceful protests with no interference from the state apparatus, the higher their chances of sustaining this exercise of their right.

No sexual harassment for an hour?

Yes, I have discovered that Egypt is one of those places where being a woman is particularly difficult. The way you dress, walk, talk and laugh is so scrutinized that you cannot help but be very self conscious. Men whisper all sorts of obscenities to you as they pass by. Others stalk you. Some even try to grab you and run-in public! Yet today I was in that Square and for a whole hour none of that happened yet there were thousands of men there. Why-I asked myself? The obvious answer is because the Revolution birthed a new culture of respect for women with leading figures like Dr Laila Soueif emerging as lead figures at some defining moments of the Revolution http://articles.latimes.com/2011/feb/13/world/la-fg-egypt-revolutionaries-20110213. Harassment of women was viewed as unacceptable behavior and hence that perception holds true. Yes-it might only be wholly observed in Tahrir Square and at moments such as the one I experienced today but there is no doubt with time it shall cascade down to the everyday lives of Egyptians. It will take time but as always everything that is good comes through hard work, perseverance and persistence.

A 14 year old blogger? Wow!

My first thought was; I am 27 and I have done close to nothing to share the knowledge I have on human rights, democracy and democratization, good governance and women’s rights? ZIP!! And I am very ashamed to admit this. My second thought was I wish I knew a 14 year old blogger in Zimbabwe, let alone one who blogs on human rights and political participation. It is this kind of awareness that we need to build in our youth in Zimbabwe and the rest of Africa. A youth that is not polarized on political grounds. A youth that resists state patronage. A youth that questions policies and practices that do not benefit the wider population. We do not want a youth that is used to terrorise communities, or to rape women and girls, or to force communities to support a party or a government they clearly loathe. It is time that our 14 year olds developed an interest in the things that shape their future and the future of their countries rather than concentrating on figuring out how to put a condom on!

There is more but for now I will end here.