This fuckery must end! #freealaa

Activism, Africa, Democracy, Human Rights

They are the most adorable couple I have ever met. Each time I think about them I am reminded that true love exists. They fell in love when they were teenagers and have not fallen out of it since. Over a decade now they have been together, more than a decade in which so much has happened.

We met; 2009, February. They were geeks; total computer/techy/nerdy geeks; -both of them. They knew stuff I didn’t know then and still don’t know now. Stuff about technology, hacking, security online, open software blah blah blah. I was a novice, I had no Twitter account, all I did was post pictures on Facebook, I had no blog, did not know anything about anonymity online or all that other stuff that techies know. So they made me open a Twitter account and start a Blog page; sadly both were to remain dormant for the next 2 years because I was still gripped by technophobia. Slowly and surely they coaxed me out of it and today I have blossomed-slightly-with a whole lot more to learn -in this technology business.

Our shared passion was activism as we found common ground in our fight for freedom, justice and equality. We shared our experiences; they shared what was happening in Egypt and I shared my Zimbabwean story. We compared notes and concluded Bob and Mubarak were having the same note-sharing exercise. Systemic repression of political freedoms, police brutality, enforced disappearances, ceremonial elections; the scenes were too similar; at least Bob pretended to care about the women.

2010 we moved to South Africa. We shared so many good times, playing playing tennis on Wii in their house, eating the spicy shawarmas, celebrating the world cup-some matches in the fan parks- others in the stadiums-all thanks to Alaa’s running around to get us the tickets.

2011 when all was good and we had no premonition things would turn out this bad

2011 when all was good and we had no premonition things would turn out this bad

Beginning of 2011 we met again. We were happy, genuinely happy. I found out Dodou (their son) was on his way, ecstatic to becoming an aunt. It had been Manal’s idea that I should go learn from Egypt. She sold it and I bought into it, brilliant idea, I thought and so I prepared to do the prophesied trek: Cape to Cairo.

A few months later, we all stood in Tahrir Square. They were heroes and heroines among their peers; a family of revolutionaries that have refused; through generations to sit and watch as injustices unfold. I left several months later, they stayed home, to continue the fight.

November 2013, the police raided Alaa and Manal’s home and arrested him, accusing him of  inciting illegal demonostrations. June 2014, Egyptian courts sentenced Alaa and 25 other people to 15 years in prison in a kangaroo fashion trial that handed down judgement in default; talk about fair trial! Today Alaa sits in a prison cell, while Manal is raising their child alone. 2 weeks ago Alaa’s dad passed on and he was not there to bid him farewell.

I am angry at all the injustices that have befallen my friends, angry on  behalf of that little boy who is growing up without his father; and even more angry that Alaa is now without his father and was not given the chance to say goodbye, detained on nonsensical charges.

What kind of fuckery is this; that gives certain individuals who call themselves politicians the power to mess with other people’s lives!  What idiotic nonsense is it that they actually can and always get away with these bullying tactics across borders and oceans? Where is justice when we need it; when those who fight for the welfare of every citizen are thrown into the dungeons of despair while the greedy fools who purport to have the masses’ interests at heart loot away?

 

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

This World Surely is Messed Up

Human Rights

Interesting observations- in particular I agree with the sentiment that the borders we have set are indeed artificial and what happens elsewhere will definitely affect people all over. The globe is a single place after all…

Mamukasei Zimbabwe?

Yes, the world is a complex place, but only because we have made it so over the course of human history. We all mold our own reality, so why not make it something beautiful?

On July 27, Madeleine Albright, the former Secretary of State under Bill Clinton, offered some reflections on the current state of the world during a televised interview.

She frankly stated,

To put it mildly, the world is a mess.

 
 

If you ask me she’s hit the nail on the head. The world is so much in a mess right now, and perhaps more so than we’ve seen in decades, Turn on CNN, we are witnessing: a devastating war in Syria, disappearance  of an entire plane, then the shooting down of another, a polarizing conflict between Israel and Palestine that has been going one ever since, hostilities in Ukraine, tensions in US-Russian relations, violence…

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Dendere reshiri: The bird’s nest

Democracy, History in the making, Human Rights, Politics

The bird’s nest

There is a proverb amongst the Shona people in my country-Zimbabwe-which says

“Ziva kwaunobva, mudzimu weshiri uri mudendere” “Know where you are from, a bird’s ancestors are found in its nest”

This proverb speaks to the value of cultural heritage and roots. Once the bird’s nest is destroyed, its history and cultural heritage are gone. Destroying the nest kills the link between the bird’s current existence and its past. It’s in that old nest that memories of the past were made. Even though the bird may build another nest to create a new home for itself, that home carries no memories of the past nor does it have any value beyond the fact that it is just another nest. Preserving one’s cultural heritage is critical, not only for historical purposes but also for cultural value- linking past, future and present generations.

Montpelier, Monticello and  Ashlawn Highland 

Homes

The homes of 3 US presidents, James Madison’s Montpelier (top), Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello (centre) declared a world heritage site by UNESCO and James Monroe’s Ashlawn Highland (bottom).

In the past 3 weeks, I spent time in and at three of America’s 44 presidents’ homes. These homes and plantations belong to three of America’s founding fathers: Monticello, home of the third President Thomas Jefferson, Ashlawn Highland- home of the fourth president James Monroe and – Montpelier,   home of the fifth President James Madison. Roaming around on these estates, I have come to know how these three bookworms designed the foundations of the American democracy as it is known today.

The three musketeers

The three leaders had certain values in common that leaders should emulate:

  1. They were revolutionary. They believed that a nation—their nation—could be built on the idea that people can govern themselves.  Jefferson—the visionary imagined an independent united American nation and so wrote the Declaration of Independence spelling out the aspirations of its people. Madison-the intellectual, realised that the aspirations contained in the Declaration could only find true practical meaning in another document that clearly spelled out how they could be achieved- the Constitution. Monroe-the operationalist, excelled in enlarging the American territory through his negotiations with the French and his diplomatic skills gained America the space and support it needed in the international world order.
  2. They were well read and multi-lingual. All had libraries in their homes and between them owned thousands of books in as many as seven languages: English, French, Latin, Italian, Spanish, Hebrew and German. It is from reading these books that they formed the ideas they pronounced so eloquently, which ideas shaped their nation’s history.
  3. Except for one thing, they believed in learning from other contexts. Because they spoke and understood many languages, they developed knowledge and connections to other countries’ histories, politics, cultures and traditions. The lessons that they gleaned from the French influenced the decor in their homes. Jefferson’s groomed estate consists of plants flaunted from Africa, Asia and his many travels to Europe. Their common fault, and exception to the listening trait, was their refusal to consider advice from their great friend and ally, Gilbert Du Motier- The Marquis de Lafayette, to give up and free the slaves they owned as the French had done in 1794. How such visionary men failed to see or refused to act on the injustice of slavery is something that will always diminish their greatness in my mind, as with any leader who blatantly ignores or commits human atrocities.
  4. They were patriotic. In all they did, these three men came together to plan and strategise on how to build a stronger and united America. Jefferson was about rights and revolution, Madison about structure and governance, while Monroe focused on international relations and diplomacy.

Through tours with capable guides, and observing the cultural heritage that the Americans have preserved of the men who designed their political system, I reaffirmed the value of doing the same in Zimbabwe.

Our language

Language connects us to our history and traditions. It is our heritage. Denigrating our own language and attempting to mould ourselves into a monolingual community gives us a false sense of security that we fit in with those we emulate. What it really does is to create a sense of deficiency in us, especially when we realise that our command of the foreign language is incomparable to that of native speakers. We may write in foreign languages to be understood by many. We can also learn other languages to learn about other cultures. We must never think our own languages are valueless. We need to develop pride in and value our own local languages.

Our history, our heritage

Monuments

Above are 3 of Zimbabwe’s most beautiful cultural heritage sites, the Chinhoyi Caves(top), Khami Ruins(middle) and Great Zimbabwe Ruins (bottom)-declared a world heritage site by UNESCO and the biggest man-made stone ruins on the continent

We need to know our history; who we are, where we are and where we are going including the stories of the men and women who have made our country what it is today. We may not have memoirs, letters or written documents narrating history but we do have the oral tradition of storytelling, which has passed folk-tales across generations. Story-telling can be used to pass down our history, recognising the limitations that come with it. We need to tell our own stories and give our own account of our history. We must preserve our monuments of national pride. We have done well in Zimbabwe to preserve cultural heritage sites such as the Great Zimbabwe, the Chinhoyi Caves and the Khami Ruins but we must do more to recall and record our history.

Another African proverb aptly put, “Until lions have their own historian, accounts of the hunt will always celebrate the hunter.” African history is predominantly told from the perspective of our former colonisers; books and maps are in colonial languages, mostly written by missionaries and mercenaries. As long as this persists, the account we have remains incomplete. We must tell our own history! We need to preserve our nests, as they will forever serve as reference points for future generations. As Malcom X said, “History is a people’s memory, and without a memory, man is demoted to the lower animals.”

Chance favors the prepared mind…

Human Rights

At age 33, Thomas Jefferson crafted the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America. This document is the foundation of the American democracy and has been since July 4th 1776, when America declared its independence from the British. In its entirety the Declaration, is profound but what resonates with many people is where it provides that;
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”

In these words, Jefferson declared four key elements that make up a democratic state; equality of all human beings; universal and inalienable human rights, people-centred political power in which governments derive their legitimacy from the people; and the ability of citizens to instate, reinstate or depose governments.

These elements both guide and inspire global civic leaders on a daily basis; fostering discussions around equality of all races, sexes, nations; civil, political, environmental, and socio-cultural rights; citizen voice and participation as well as full representation in choosing leaders and demanding accountability through designated processes such as the electoral process.

The freedoms and rights espoused in the Declaration when Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, only applied to a third of the population- they did not apply to blacks or to women- who were not considered citizens. In fact, the blacks were slaves, objects of the citizens of the state while women were perpetual minors- represented in the public sphere by their husbands or fathers. In my view, the historical account of Thomas Jefferson represents one of the greatest paradoxes of mankind. It is not easy to comprehend how the man whose beauty in thought process and enlightenment about the equality of all men was the same man who owned and built an empire and a whole university on slave labour.

However, the value of the Declaration of Independence can be traced in American history. In his famous Gettysburg Address, President Abraham Lincoln referred back to how the American fathers “…brought forth…a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

Similarly, Elizabeth Stanton, was one of the pioneers of the women’s rights movement in America, who fought hard for women’s equal citizenship, including the right to vote. Where Jefferson said “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence, Elizabeth stated that “all men and women were created equal” in her famous “Declaration of Sentiments.” Where previously the different states of the US suffered under colonial rule, in her struggle the women suffered under the new governance structure.

Martin Luther King in his battle for civil rights for the black minority, gave his famous “I Have A Dream” speech, in which he said “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” At the moment of his speech, Dr King was fighting racial segregation with a view to attaining civil liberties for the black minority. However, progressive and critical analysis of the struggle made him realise that civil liberties alone would not change the economic status of the poor masses hence the shift in his focus from civil liberties to human rights. Many believe this radical shift was the reason for his assassination.

Looking at these milestones, I recognise that the Declaration shaped the history of the American nation at every turn. It brought enlightenment and gave rights to those who previously never had them. But at each turn, it took the agitation of a sector of society, dissatisfied with the status quo to bring about change.

I recognise, therefore, that freedom and dignity are never secured in a single period of time in history. They have to be fought for, each and every day, by present generations. As a civic leader,  I recognise that the future of Zimbabwe-my country-depends on the citizenry. Whereas the history of my country shapes its current context and future, change, however can only be realised when Zimbabweans,’ especially youths,’ experience dissatisfaction with the status quo and have clarity around the new future they want to see.  Only dissatisfied people seek a new future. When they have made the decision to seek a new future, they engage in dialogue to define how that future will look like and innovate to make it a reality.  A pathway to change can only be clear when people are willing to be involved and are driven and dedicated to bring about change.

The demands made by American citizens on the basis of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, metamorphosised as American citizens’ mind-sets, values and demands transformed with time. Dissatisfaction with the status quo also brought Americans to envision a future without war, gender discrimination or racial discrimination in every historical time.

Similarly, young people in Zimbabwe must hunger for, visualise and work individually and collectively towards a transformed society that treats all citizens equally, respects human rights, and is governed by leaders who serve the best interests of those they govern; a government for, by and of the people.

There are currently high levels of youth apathy, with a 24.3 % voter registration rate in the 2013 election amongst youths aged 18-30 compared to the 100% registration rate amongst elders aged 45 and above. The commitment of young people to raise their voice in governance processes is questionable. Hope lies in pockets of youth who are agitating for rights, accountability and transparency in Zimbabwe. Together, we are transforming business and finance sectors, the arts industry, the media, the legal field, the medical profession and other critical sectors in Zimbabwean society.  We are seizing the opportunity to transform our society even when the conditions are hostile. Someday-something will give; and as Louise Pasteur states, “Chance favours the prepared mind.”

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.

27_Rumbidzai-Dube

 

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.

#CSW58- MDG 8: Developing Global Partnership for Development

Development, Governance, Zimbabwe

As the era of the MDGs draws to a close-(2000-2015) – one of the things that need paying attention to is; why did we fail to achieve the milestones? Why did Zimbabwe fall short on so many of the indicators? Central to these questions, is the issue of resources. This is because no policy, however brilliant, cannot be successfully implemented without the required financial and human resources. These resources can be attained where there is a clear fundraising strategy. Usually states fundraise through sustained economic growth in areas such as taxation, trade and consequently decreasing debt.

Zimbabwe has seen a steady growth of its GDP since 2009 recovering from the terrible 2007-2009 period of economic decline. However this growth has not translated into increased income in the home. External debt remains high, pegged at 113 % of the GDP. Overall availability of vital medicines has increased although there is low production of drugs, with CAPS-the leading pharmaceutical company- almost shutting down.  There is general improvement in access to cellular networks and internet with about 20% coverage. 65 in every 1000 people have access to a laptop. However the uptake of ICT’s remains largely centralised to the young and urban population. The lack of ICT legislation continues to hamper access.

What have we done well?

  • The Economic Recovery Programme implemented by former Finance Minister, Tendai Biti, emphasised economic and governance reforms which brought stability and recovery to the economy
  • Overall availability of vital medicines has remained stable because of the local production of drugs, enough to actually export some of the drugs.
  • Our creation and use of technology continues to improve; both mobile penetration and internet usage have significantly increased.
  • We are linked to both the Seacom and the EASSy undersea fibre optic cables, developments that have significantly improved our country’s internet connectivity.

What have we not done well?

  • We have no industry to talk of. Our manufacturing sector is still underproductive because of the many challenges it faces such as electricity load shedding and the liquidity crunch.
  • Domestic policy such as indigenisation and land reform, whose implementation is unclear continue to pose a threat to investment resulting in low foreign direct investment
  • Our proud and arrogant stance in our engagement with the international community continues to alienate possible allies in spearheading economic recovery.
  • The health sector still relies heavily on foreign funding, with our main donors being the Unites States, the European Commission, the United Kingdom and Australia. Our own government has not dedicated enough money to fund our health system.
  • We have not taken full advantage of our membership to regional integration initiatives such as COMESA, SADC and EU-ACP; for instance, we have not utilised the fact that SADC is a Free Trade Area which represents a large market to our goods and produce.
  • Although we are producing and exporting vital medicines, they are still expensive for the average person on the ground; as there is a leaning towards protecting the interests of the pharmaceuticals above those of the patients who are just ordinary citizens
  • We do not have an ICT policy to regulate the ICT industry resulting in stunted growth in that area.

What more can we do?

  • We need to re-engage the international community understanding that we live in a global village where we need allies and partners. Re-engagement should not mean begging, we do not need donations- we need good trade relations in which we bargain for the true value of our goods, both processed and raw.
  • We need an ICT policy to cater to the needs of a constantly changing technology landscape
  • We must learn lessons from the region. Rwanda is a good example, especially where the health system is concerned. In just 19 years Rwanda;
    •  increased its life expectancy from 28 years to 56 years;
    • decreased the size of its population living below the poverty line from 77.8% to 44.9%;
    • decreased child deaths from 18% to 6%;
    • increased the size of the population with health insurance from almost 0% to 90.6%;
    • maternal mortality dropped by 60%;
    • HIV,TB and Malaria deaths decreased by close to 80%;
    • The poorest pay nothing to access health care.

We have so much potential as a nation. We do not need aid! We have enough resources. If we deal with corruption, work to redistribute our resources equitably ad ensure that everyone, and not just the big fat-fatty cats continue to benefit, the challenge of failing to implement the MDG’s will cease to exist and be another old archive in the history books.

#CSW58- MDG 7: Ensure Environmental Sustainability

Development, Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, Zimbabwe

The environment is our most valued/priced natural asset because in it exist all the elements that make our lives what they are; air, water, sun, wind, rain, food among others. The conservation of the environment is hence a priority area as failure to conserve it could spell our demise or extinction. Yet, more often than not, the protection of the environment is relegated to the least of our priorities. Even at the global level, recognition that environmental protection is needed is there but the political will to do so is as good as non-existent. The big powers, whose greed and reckless quest to grow their economies is largely responsible for the rut we are in with climate change, refuse to take up responsibility in mitigating further damage and stopping further degradation by reducing their emissions and giving financial assistance to the countries affected by climate change already to adapt to the current climatic trends.

Yet in all this, the poor suffer more. How, one would ask; climate change affects the environment and in doing so poses the biggest human security threat to the poor and the vulnerable. The majority of our women in Zimbabwe live off the land, vana gogo vanorima (women farmers), vana tete vanochera mbambaira (sweet-potato harvesters), madzimai emusika anotengesa maveggie (vendors), makorokoza echidzimai (female gold panners) they all live off the land.

Credit: Greeningtheblue.org (UNHQ exhibit, New York)

Credit: Greeningtheblue.org (UNHQ exhibit, New York)

Climate change could bring either droughts or floods. Droughts will mean that the farmers, who depend on consistent and sufficient rains, will be affected. The failure of the rains to come means their failure to produce food (crop failure); which means there will be food insecurity, which will bring hunger, which in turn causes malnutrition. Poor yield means increased poverty and with poverty come health risks. Droughts also mean less water available, the less clean water we have available, the more our chances of being exposed to contaminated water which will result in the contraction of terrible diseases like cholera and typhoid, something that Zimbabwe has already experienced.

Climate change could also mean floods. As the experience of Zimbabwe with the Tokwe-Mukosi disaster illustrated, floods bring many issues: displacement, homelessness, food insecurity, disease, poverty and a general drawback to the development agenda.
Our main energy source in the rural areas, firewood comes from the land and results in the cutting down of trees, the very same forests we need to mitigate against climate change. But what other alternative do they have; gas is expensive, electricity is scarce-and although solar is readily available and can be successfully converted for cooking, it is slow and is hardly a favoured option in many households.

What have we done well?
 Although in the SADC region, Botswana, Mauritius, Tanzania, Namibia, Zambia, Mozambique, Seychelles, Swaziland, Malawi and Lesotho are doing better than us, we are ranked number 100 in our carbon dioxide emissions. This makes us one of the lowest net emitters of greenhouse gases. One could argue that this is the case because we have no industry to talk about as most of our factories and plants have closed and are largely dysfunctional.
 However, should we begin boosting our exiting efforts at adopting green energy, this could prove useful in maintaining our emissions really low and preserving our environment.
 We are producing ethanol fuel which is home-grown and in the process creating jobs, developing our economy and preserving the environment.
 We are improving our solar technology to reduce the use of wood in rural areas.

Credit: Greeningtheblue.org (UNHQ exhibit, New York

Credit: Greeningtheblue.org (UNHQ exhibit, New York

What have we not done well and how can we improve?
 There is increased deforestation. This is because of the increased reliance on firewood for energy both in the rural and urban areas. With increasing power cuts, populations have turned to firewood for cooking. Until we address our energy deficit by increasing and improving electricity supply as well as exploring alternative energy sources such as gas, our forests will continue to deplete.
 There is increased environmental degradation through veld-fires.
 The existence of the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) in itself is a positive development. However, this government body is underfunded and is hence plagued by corruption. Anyone can pollute as long as they can pay some in the EMA.
 There is increased poaching of wildlife in our national parks (especially in Hwange), and again this is being made possible by the rampant corruption in that sector. The lack of resources to patrol the parks makes poaching easier.
 There is increased desecration of valuable environmental sites such as vleis, sanctuaries and wetlands. This cannot just be a case of ignorance of the need for environmental protection as most of the desecration is sanctioned by government. It is clear the problem is corruption; those who stand to benefit from the building of malls on wetlands or the allocation of residential stands on wetlands are the real culprits that need to be weeded out. (And I am glad that the ugly-Chinese-mall-built-on-the-wetland-is-cracking-up-proving-it-was-built-on-a-wetland).
 Our water and sanitation situation is pathetic. The housing backlog and the overcrowding in urban areas does not help the situation either. And it must be pointed out that the housing problem is a man-made disaster, a consequence of the demolition of houses by government in Operation Murambatsvina in 2006 and the subsequent failure to replace those destroyed homes.
 Climate change has begun to show its presence with seasonal changes and drastic changes to our weather patterns. The impact that this has on our environment and our food security is something that has little talked about. We need to increase dialogue around the meaning, cause, consequences and impact of climate change to improve our adaptation strategies.
 We are destroying our conservancies (such as Save) all for the love of money. Are the diamonds not enough nhaimi?
 We need to have more public-private partnerships on sustaining the environment. Most environmental degradation affects the public but is caused by corporates accessing resources be it minerals, land or forestry.

Above all, this goal needs us to do three things; the first is to deal with Corruption, the second is to deal with corruption and the third to deal with corruption. That green eyed monster called corruption that’s being passed off by those who practise it and being substituted with the s (for sanctions)-word which I dare not pronounce, needs to be dealt with effectively. Until and unless we do that, we are a doomed nation.

Credit: Greeningtheblue.org (UNHQ exhibit, New York

Credit: Greeningtheblue.org (UNHQ exhibit, New York

#CSW58- MDG 6: Combating HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases

Activism, Development, Gender, Human Rights, Women, Zimbabwe

I saw a headline in one of yesterday’s papers which said: “MDC official succumbs to Malaria.” Yes, Malaria, as a disease only becomes topical when it kills a prominent individual. Outside such circumstances, the media pays it very little, if not, no attention. Yet malaria remains one of the biggest health problems our country has to deal with. Did you know that 50% of our population is at risk of Malaria? And, did you also know that 1 in 12 children die before their 5th birthday of Malaria? Do you now see why we must pay malaria as much attention as HIV/AIDS?

Another disease, well known and feared but with hardly any statistics to tell us what it is and how much it has affected our people is cancer. All we know is that the number of death certificates, with the cause of death written down as cancer, are dramatically increasing. Women are being diagnosed with breast and cervical cancer while the number of men with prostate cancer is also increasing. We have many cases of individuals seeking donations to have surgery done on growths in the stomach, jaws, throat abroad and a vast number are also succumbing to lung cancer. Costs of getting cancer treatment are steep, estimated at $500 per session and government no longer subsidises the patients because they says government has no funds.

Typhoid and Cholera are also killing many people. The annoying thing about the scourge of these diseases in Zimbabwe is that it was purely man-made. Yes, I said that! We brought cholera and typhoid unto ourselves through the failure of our government to provide us with clean water and ensure sanitation for its citizens. Meanwhile, the bosses at the municipal councils responsible for collecting our rubbish bins, repairing our sewer pipes and providing us with clean water were always whining that there was not enough money for it while they paid each other $35 000 salaries.

Tuberculosis is also killing many of our people. Fortunately, the drugs are available for free in our public hospitals so once diagnosed; an individual can be helped and healed. Although about 79% of the people treated of TB in 2011 also had HIV/AIDS, 21 % were just cases of TB-something that a lot of people have lost touch with; assuming that only HIV positive individuals can suffer from TB.

We have been doing well in our fight with HIV/AIDS. Infections reduced from 30% in 2000 to 15% in 2011. However it is worrying to note that HIV/AIDS affects more women than men as prevalence is 6% higher among women (18% prevalence) than men (12% prevalence). And so it is perplexing to understand why some people JUST don’t get what we mean when we speak of the feminisation of HIV/AIDS, or the need for addressing gender relations in ending HIV/AIDS. Can she negotiate for safe sex [with her HIV positive partner]? Can she say no to sex with her [HIV positive] husband? How many of the women will get HIV/AIDS from their [HIV positive] husband in that polygamous marriage? How many of the women will contract the disease from that serial rapist? And so the nature of the relationships [where women have less power] determines the risk [higher] of getting HIV/AIDS and reflects in the prevalence [higher among women].

What have we done well?

  • HIV/AIDS testing has significantly improved. It takes less time to get tested and the counselling services have improved.
  • The roll out of the Anti-Retro Viral Treatment (ART) has been largely successful, with free drugs being provided for patients in public hospitals.
  • The successful implementation of the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) has helped reduce new infections in children.
  • The availability of malaria and tuberculosis (TB) drugs for free in public hospitals has helped the fight against both diseases.

What have we not done?

  • We only have 2 public hospitals treating cancer – Mpilo Hospital in Bulawayo and Parirenyatwa in Harare.
  • These hospitals have very little in the form of radiation therapy equipment, drugs and manpower in the form of specialists.
  • We have not opened our eyes to the reality of the increase in cancer detections enough to take steps to prevent its outbreak.

What more can we do?

  • We need to allocate more funds to addressing all these diseases. Relying on external partners’ support is unreliable and risky and as proved by the withdrawal of funds by the Global Fund, the plug on such funds can be pulled off any minute. Government must adequately budget so that donor funds become surplus, not the core.
  • More focus needs to be paid to dealing with cancer as cancer deaths are on the increase. Further, awareness efforts on what causes cancer and how it can be cured need to be scaled up.
  • Above and beyond the policy and practice, we need to address our ethos as a people. The reality of the high HIV infections among women lies in unequal gender relations where women are unable to negotiate for safe sex. Without addressing these gender relations, women will remain vulnerable.
  • We must address corruption; Salary-gate is part of the reason why people died of cholera and typhoid. Those who sanctioned and those who took fat salaries home while some poor people drank infected and dirty water to their death bed have blood on their hands.