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?

 

Day under the Egyptian Sun

Activism, Africa, Civil Resistance, Democracy, Social Movements

As I write this piece, the Egyptian army is claiming to have ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. Morsi insists he is still president and that he is open to negotiations. He had only been in power since 30 June 2012, following what has been known as Egypt’s first ‘democratic’ election.

Everything about this situation defies all the obvious definitions we have come to know as questions are buzzing around; was the ousting of Morsi a revolution or a coup or… Who knows???

Democratic election? Was the election that led to President Morsi’s election democratic? Many of the anti-Morsi protestors will tell you it was not. The US government will say it was. What would make the election democratic or not?

Was it competitive; did all parties and candidates enjoy fundamental freedoms of speech, assembly, and movement? Did they have the necessary to voice their criticisms of the government openly? Did they manage to bring their alternative policies and candidates to the electorate?

Was it periodic, oh well since this was the first such election that really doesn’t count does it.

Was it inclusive; did all eligible and willing voters vote? Were any religious, racial or ethnic minorities excluded? Were women included? Were all interest groups included?

Was it definitive; was a leadership of the government chosen? Of course, there would not have been a President Morsi had that not happened.

So then was the election democratic: I don’t know…

Others argue these events oust a “legitimately elected leader.” Who confers legitimacy on a leader? Who elects a president?  Is it not the people, the same people who have decided that he is not living up to expectations and have decided to remove him? If these same people with the right to choose a President were now describing him as “a political despot who was peddling religious fundamentalism to consolidate his power base,” did he still remain “legitimate?”

Oh but wait, there is a Constitution. Constitutionalism demands that the President should be removed through a democratic election but neither through a mass protest nor through the solicitation of the military’s strength. In terms of the law he obviously remained legitimate because he could only be legitimately removed through another election , but politically was he still legitimate? I don’t know that either…

To throw in another spanner, was the Constitution itself a legitimate document? Is it legitimate when citizens are trashing its provisions and crying foul about the process through which it came into being? Is it legitimate when citizens are crying foul about its provisions and crying foul about the implementation of some of its provisions? Is that Constitution binding or do the people have a right to demand a re-write of the Constitution-for the people, by the people, of the people? Again, I don’t know…

Is this a coup? The Encyclopaedia Britannica defines a coup as “a sudden, violent overthrow of an existing government by a small group, the chief prerequisite of which is control of all or part of the armed forces, the police, and other military elements.” Was it sudden-yes. Was it violent-well four people died and a whole lot more injured.  Was it illegal-in terms of the constitution-yes. Did it result in the seizure of power from a government – yes. So was it a coup-hey, I don’t know…

Is this a revolution? Again the Encyclopaedia Britannica says a revolution occurs when “large numbers of people working for basic social, economic, and political change organise and execute a major, sudden alteration in government.”  Were there large numbers in Tahrir-the images speak for themselves. Were they asking for social-economic change- bread, butter and bedding issues do sound economic and social to me. Were they asking for political change- definitely, against arbitrary arrests and other rights violations.

Late on 3 July, a number of civics in Egypt including the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies described the mass uprising as “tantamount to a genuine popular referendum by which the majority of Egyptians rejected all policies seeking to undermine rights and liberties in the name of empowering a single political faction to monopolise state institutions, undermine the rule of law and judicial bodies, disregard court orders, harass and prosecute political opponents, and restrict the media and freedom of opinion and expression.”

Many are giving these events many terms; counter-revolution, popular uprising, invited coup, popular coup, a coup within a revolution, a revolutionary coup.  What it all adds up to is that there is nothing defined under the Egyptian sun.

We are all Munyaradzi Gwisai

Africa, Democracy, Governance, Human Rights, Politics, Social Movements, Tolerance, Zimbabwe

*This article was motivated by the call by Kubatana for Zimbabwean human rights activists to stand in solidarity with Munyaradzi Gwisai, and 5 of his colleagues who have been convicted for watching videos of the Egyptian Revolution in February 2011*

Munyaradzai Gwisai

The decision passed against Zimbabwe International Socialist Organisation leader, and my former lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe, Munyaradzi Gwisai and five other activists to me only serves to show the ineffectiveness of the law as a tool for delivering real justice in today’s Zimbabwe. Comrade Gwisai, as he likes to be addressed stemming from his socialist background, was found guilty of “inciting public disorder”, after he, together with his counterparts organised a film screening and subsequent discussion on the Egyptian uprising in February last year.

The decision by the Court is not only perveted to the extent that it fails to defend the fundamental rights of freedom of assembly, freedom of association and freedom of expression but it also sets a terrible precedent that legitimises the systematic persecution through prosecution of ordinary Zimbabwean citizens for innocent acts such as discussing politics, current affairs and airing their grievances with the state of affairs in the country. The right to freedom of assembly is a crucial as it allows us as individuals or as groups to come together and collectively express, promote, pursue and defend our common interests.

Why am I so surprised when for years we have been moving towards this- a complete stifling of our voices. A systematic, determined strategy to scare us off from saying what we really think and pretending we are living in Disneypark. If Gwisai has been convicted just for watching the videos and discussing them, how much more so will it irk the government to know that I specifically went to Egypt during the Revolution to experience and understand how they did it so I could be better informed and also better inform my Zimbabwean colleagues about what it means to exercise our freedom of expression in a repressive environment.

Gwisai’s conviction is a travesty to justice and I am not afraid to say so. For the rest of Zimbabweans out there, do not be fooled to think there can ever be another way of exercising your freedom of expression which will not expose you to reprisals. There is nothing like ‘responsible exercise of freedom of expression.’ It is either we cower behind our curtains and pretend all is well out there or we continue to speak our mind boldly and probe and question what we do not like until something gives. That is how the Egyptians did it and that is how we can reassert our dignity.

It is a misconception to imagine that when the Egyptian Revolution began the people in Tahrir Square wanted to get rid of Mubarak. No, the majority of them did not even think that was possible. They understood the repressive nature of the police and they knew Mubarak had established a strong military system that would be difficult to overthrow. All they wanted was to reclaim their dignity. They needed him to make concessions to ensure that their socio-economic situation improved. They also needed to reassert their right to choose their own leaders, something that Mubarak’s presence at the helm of the Egyptian ‘throne’ was denying them. They needed to ease him out slowly but get guarantees that things would improve. So yes that is what they were asking for at the beginning.

But guess what, thinking that he had all the control and power in the world, Mubarak in his misguided arrogance refused to budge and refused to negotiate with the masses or to allow them the least sort of decency and dignity. So the people became angrier and angrier and angrier. And with the growth of their anger also came the rigidness of their own position and demands until their final and unmoving demand was for Mubarak to step down. Today we speak of him and not about him. That is the power of a people’s freedom of expression and that is why our own government in Zimbabwe is stifling us.

Only 5 months prior to the beginning of the Arab Spring, with the first of these protests in Tunisia, on 30 September 2010, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) had passed a Resolution on “The Rights of Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association.”This Resolution recognised the valuable contribution that the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association have in building sustainable democracies. Most significantly, the Resolution introduced the mandate of a Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of assembly and association with the responsibility to “study trends, developments and challenges in relation to the exercise of these rights, and to make recommendations on ways and means to ensure the promotion and protection of these rights.”This development was a milestone achievement in the history of the fight for freedom of assembly providing protestors with an invaluable tool to defend civic space and promote the respect of peaceful protests by state machinery.

And then came the Spring, a spring of expression, association and assembly. Thousands took to the streets in Tunis, Cairo, Tripoli, Benghazi, Damascus, Beirut, Lilongwe, Manzini, Dakar, Kinshasa and many other parts of the African continent and the world. One thing to be understood is that these people took to the streets not because it it was fashionable to do so but because they had similar concerns. The reasons for demonstrating included demands for political, social and economic reforms and in some cases the total dismantling of political  regimes. The responses of the states were all the same- violent – with variations only in the degree of violence from one place to the other. The governments’ attitudes towards the demonstrations were that they were ‘disturbances to public order.’ The responses ranged from arrests, detention and harassment of perceived organisers of the protests to violent disruption of gatherings employing excessive force, including the use of teargas and live armour against the protestors. The pictures of Syrian armoured tanks being used to shoot at protestors, and the use of snipers to shoot into crowds of protestors in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain and Yemen reflected the nature of the responses by governments’ in particular to protests.

Of course, these responses were unwise, if not completely foolish reflecting authorities’ aversion to  the free exercise of the right to peaceful assembly. But squashing people’s voices does not make the problems go away. It only makes the masses more agitated and desperate to be heard. Why governments, including my own can not get this, and concede to demands by citizens to say their mind, I can never understand.

Yes we may be stifled today, but history has proved, human beings are like gas. The more you suppress it the higher the chances that when it finally pops open that window of escape, it will completely blow you away-like the Egyptians blew away Mubarak, the Tunisians-Ben Ali and the Libyans-Muammar Ghadaffi!