Southern Africa To Be One Country

Bono, South X' New Head of State

Bono, South Zamalawimbiqueothobabweibialand's new Head of State

I was very excited to read today that ten countries in southern Africa decided to join forces, eliminate borders and become one country. This will make it easier for many Westerners who already think the continent of Africa is just one country; or at least think all the countries are exactly the same and therefore propose the same “one size fits all” solutions over and over again to mostly Western created problems.

Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia, Botswana and Angola will now be called South Zamalawimbiqueothobabweibialand. Recognizing this will be a challenge to fit on business cards, government officials have declared its ok to just call this new nation South Africa, since before the union it was the only country most Westerners could reliably find on a map.

It was quite a struggle to decide how this new nation would be governed, and there were points where it became quite ugly when dos Santos and Mugabe descended into vicious name calling, as both men are accustomed to longevity as heads of their prior respective states.  In the end, after many rounds of rock/paper/scissors, it was concluded that Bono would lead this new nation forward because it was felt to be the best way to secure debt relief, HIV funding and better coverage in People/US/OK magazine.

For similar reasons; Madonna will be Minister of Education (sorry to all those people who can now expect to lose their homes so she can build more schools), Oprah will be named Cultural Minister (her new talk show will launch in 2012), Brangelina will be appointed co-Ministers of Internally Displaced Persons  (expect lots of fighting between them and Madonna over those displaced for Madonna’s new schools as well as the best photo opps with their adopted children) and Mariah Carey will be Minister of Agriculture (good luck on that starvation diet Mariah!)

One of the first acts of this new nation will be to set up a large lion preserve to promote the image that lions roam free in the streets throughout Africa. Also, media relations will assure that news coverage focuses predominantly on anything bad happening in the region with an emphasis on promoting negative stereotypes, while ignoring positive stories. In particular, media will assure that any stories about the many amazing Africans working to improve conditions within their new nation will continue to rarely be printed because pictures of sad children are considered the only way to get people to care and stories of Africans helping themselves will discourage other celebrities from traveling to region for photo opps and establishing charitable organizations in an attempt to seem less self-absorbed.

Within Amnesty USA, the Southern Africa Co-group welcomes this new nation because it means much less work for us. It was getting very tiresome to lobby ten different governments about human rights conditions. Now, we only have to pester Bono. Oh, and happy April Fool’s Day.

Business As Usual in Zimbabwe

Women and children are disproportionally affected by collapse of social services in Zimbabwe.

Women and children are disproportionally affected by collapse of social services in Zimbabwe.

Everything and nothing has happened in Zimbabwe over the past month. Prime Minister Tsvangirai briefly boycotted the unity government. His goal: force the hand of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to step up in its role as guarantors of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) that forms the basis of the unity government. It worked; SADC held emergency meetings and appointed President Zuma of South Africa as the new negotiator, but the people in Zimbabwe who need to be talking are only grudgingly doing so.

Tsvangirai’s boycott led to an emergency meeting in Mozambique with Tsvangirai, Mugabe, the SADC Troika (Organ on Defense and Security comprised of Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia), SADC Chair Joseph Kabila, Zuma and former South Africa President Mbeki; where it was decided that Tsvangirai’s MDC-T party and President Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party had 15 days to iron out their differences or South Africa would step back in, with all issues to be resolved within 30 days. (Who was not at the party was Zimbabwe’s civil society, excluded thus far from every step of the process in negotiating a conclusion to the political stalemate and violence.)

The major sticking points are the appointment of the Attorney General, the appointment of the Reserve Bank governor, the appointment of ambassadors and regional governors and the harassment of MDC supporters by police.  ZANU-PF also insists on the lifting of targeted sanctions imposed by the European Union, United States and other nations against key members of the ZANU-PF party. An excellent assessment of the situation can be found here.


Mugabe Says Things in Zimbabwe are Just Fabulous

President Robert Mugabe granted an interview to CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour today – his first interview with a Western news agency in years. Mugabe spoke to Amanpour while he was in New York attending the UN General Assembly meeting. The interview yielded many choice soundbites. Here are a few of my favorites:

He denied that Zimbabwe is in economic shambles, saying it grew enough food last year to feed all its people. Which is interesting because the World Food Program is busily feeding 1.8 million people in Zimbabwe and Malawi is busily selling maize to Zimbabwe because it needs to import food to feed its citizens.

In refuting criticisms leveled against his government’s policies by Bishop Desmond Tutu, Mugabe said  “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about, the little man.” Hmmm. The Nobel Peace Prize committee might refute that assertion.

Elections don’t go all that smoothly all the time in many countries,” he said. “Look what happens elsewhere. They didn’t go smoothly here, look at what happened during the first term of Bush.” Ok. Valid that elections don’t always go smoothly. However, if you are going to point specifically at the Bush/Gore contest as your comparative example, you might want to think again; because even though many of us were pretty darn unhappy with how things went down, there are some very stark differences between Zimbabwe in 2008 and the US in 2000.

First, not going “smoothly” is probably a pretty good description of events in the US whereas it masterfully understates events in Zimbabwe. In the time between the actual vote and the final determination of who won, people were not killed, tortured and sexually assaulted in the US in an attempt to create an atmosphere of political intimidation.

Second, our political stand off was resolved by the US Supreme Court and ended with a peaceful transfer of power (whether we wanted it or not). In Zimbabwe, Mugabe had his arm twisted into a power sharing agreement and then signed that agreement with his fingers crossed behind his back.

Now I’m not ever going to say that things are all sweetness and light and wonderful in the US, but I do think Mugabe could have come up with a slightly better comparison if he wanted to make a point that elections don’t always go “smoothly.”

You can watch the interview here and respond in our comments section with your favorite moments.

Zimbabwe: Mugabe's Sleight of Hand

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights recently reported that President Mugabe did NOT sign the Global Political Agreement. Well, he signed half of it. The entire 36 page document was ratified into law by Parliament as Constitutional Amendment 19. President Mugabe, however, only signed an 18 page document. The result is potentially unenforceable as “It is impossible, legally, to have an act in two different versions-one version approved by Parliament, another by the President.” The missing pages included clauses governing the mandated Constitutional revision and referendum process. This means that the entire agreement can be declared null and void, or those pages not signed by the President are not enforceable.

The Global Political Agreement (GPA) is the result of negotiations that occurred after contested Presidential and Parliamentary elections in March 2008. Although now-Prime Minister Tsvangirai received the majority of votes, he purportedly did not receive the necessary 50% +1 required to win outright, forcing a run-off election. Tsvangirai subsequently withdrew from the run-off over concern for the extreme levels of violence that occurred, including deaths, disappearances and torture and Mugabe was declared the winner. The Southern African Development Committee (SADC) stepped in and negotiated a political settlement that became the GPA and is now the guarantor of this agreement.

ZANU-PF’s commitment to the GPA has been suspect from the beginning including refusing to cede control of the Attorney General office and Reserve Bank and chipping away at the Parliamentary majority position Prime Minister Tsvangirai’s party MDC-T secured in the 2008 elections through pressing criminal charges. Further, while levels of violence have abated, political violence is an on-going concern including the recent murder of an MDC activist.

The law is meant to define the parameters that regulate behavior and establish social control. It is not meant to be a blunt weapon of force to repress, dominate and terrorize citizens. Mugabe’s political party, ZANU-PF, consistently uses the law to manipulate and oppress from laws used to stifle dissent such as the Public Order and Security Act, to withdrawing from the SADC Tribunal, to entering the agreement with false intentions by building in an escape hatch.

ZANU-PF’s withdrawal from the SADC Tribunal and the failure to sign all pages of the GPA are essentially contract disputes and there is no applicable court to turn where a judge can decide which terms apply and should be enforced. Instead, the judge is SADC, who must remove the blinders of reverence towards a one time freedom fighter and see him as the leader of a party of freedom oppressors. SADC announced today it will convene an extraordinary summit in three weeks to address the outstanding issues surrounding the GPA and it MUST force a resolution on both these concerns. 

The judge is also the international community, who bears the burden of standing strong in speaking out against the injustices occurring in Zimbabwe while still standing in solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe by providing appropriate humanitarian aid to repair the schools, hospitals, water treatment plants and sewer systems, electrical capacity and agricultural industry. Finally, the judge is us, who must continue to demand respect for the rule of law and insist on accountability and an end to impunity for those who use violence to retain power and control.

Zuma Zooms to Zim

First off, apologies for the title. I couldn’t stop myself. That being said, South African President Jacob Zuma traveled to Zimbabwe last week for either one of two reasons, depending on who you were asking. According to South Africa and the current majority political party MDC, Zuma was there in his role as Chair of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), guarantors of Zimbabwe’s unity government, to encourage resolution on outstanding issues of contention between MDC and the former ruling party ZANU-PF regarding the political agreement structuring the unity government. However, according to President Robert Mugabe of ZANU-PF, Zuma was only in town to open an agricultural show.

Zuma met privately with the three signatories to Zimbabwe’s Global Political Agreement (GPA)-President Mugabe, Prime Minister Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Mutambara-and offered absolutely nothing productive to break the on going stalemate, which is pretty much as expected. Despite prior assurances that he would speak strongly against any “deviant behavior,” he failed to hold any of the signatories accountable for the continuing human rights violations in Zimbabwe or demand an immediate resolution to the political difficulties hampering the State. In the meantime, Mutambara of MDC-M is facing increasing difficulties as he is challenged within his own party and heckled by the official State paper.

SADC meets this week in Kinshasa, DRC where the Chair will transitition to President Kabila, who has failed dismally in managing catastrophic human rights violations within his own borders. But you can do you part to let SADC and President Kabila know you are watching what happens in Zimbabwe by sending a message to the SADC leadership urging them to protect women in Zimbabwe.

"Finding Goodness Where You Least Expect It" – Interview with WOZA Founder Jenni Williams

Jenni Williams © Scott Langley & Amnesty International

Jenni Williams © Scott Langley & Amnesty International

Anyone who met Jenni Williams and her colleague Magodonga Mahlangu at AIUSA’s Annual General Meeting this Spring knows what amazing, uncrushable spirits these women have, despite having been jailed, beaten, and threatened repeatedly by Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe. But if you weren’t fortunate enough to meet them, or you’d like to get a deeper look into what makes the women of WOZA keep going, check out this great interview with WOZA founder Jenni Williams that was published in the Guardian this past Sunday. She is truly an amazing woman.

Although Jenni and Magodonga expected to have had their trial by now, the trial date has been postponed until July 7th, so they remain in limbo, but they also remain unstoppable!

As Zimbabwe turns 29, statements are not enough

As originally posted on the Daily Kos

In advance of talks with Zimbabwe’s finance minister Tendai Biti next weekend in Washington DC, the World Banks Robert Zoellick shared his assessment of the situation:

Zimbabwe is at a very sensitive point and we want it succeed. But that is going to require steps by all of the members of the Zimbabwe’s institutions to restore democracy, restore human rights.

Reading these statements I remembered a recent chat with Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) Executive Director Frank Donaghue who was in Zimbabwe a few months ago. His explanations and PHR’s report leave no doubt over the gravity of the situation and who is responsible for ruining the country’s economy – and with it its health system:

The health and healthcare crisis in Zimbabwe is a direct outcome of the malfeasance of the Mugabe regime and the systematic violation of a wide range of human rights, including the right to participate in government and free elections and egregious failure to respect, protect and fulfill the right to health. The findings contained in this report show, at a minimum, violations of the rights to life, health, food, water, and work. When examined in the context of 28 years of massive and egregious human rights violations against the people of Zimbabwe under the rule of Robert Mugabe, they constitute added proof of the commission by the Mugabe regime of crimes against humanity.

At the same conference where I met with PHR, the leaders of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) spoke about their human rights activism. WOZA represents some of the country’s most courageous human rights defenders. Compared to them, I feel like a wannabe activist. Harassed several times for their activism, they remain at risk of arbitrary arrest and intimidation. Their commitment and leadership is probably the biggest sign of hope for Zimbabwe, and the least we can do is to show them our support and sympathy, and share their story.

The country’s destroyed health system and the ongoing persecution of human rights defenders are painful reminders how far the country still has to go. The International Crisis Group (ICG) released a new report just moments ago, stating that:

If the international community stands back with a wait-and-see attitude, the unity government is likely to fail, and Mugabe and the military establishment will entrench themselves again. There should be no alternative to engagement to address pressing socio-economic needs, reinforce new hope and prevent a return to violence and repression.

Obviously, the ICG focuses on the major players in international politics and ignores that the international community includes all of us. So if you don’t want to wait for national governments or international institutions to make a move, here’s your opportunity.

By Christoph Koettl, Crisis Prevention and Response Campaigner at Amnesty International USA

DISCLAIMER: the opinions written above are the author’s alone and should not be considered official Amnesty International policy.