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The Eleventh Day of Christmas: Christmas cancelled - order of ZANU PF
Sokwanele Reporter: 5 January 2005
All the invitations had gone out and the preparations were well in hand. Ms Sheba Dube, founder and organizer of the Providence Orphan and Caregivers’ Project, had put in an enormous amount of hard work into the Christmas party intended for orphans and poor villagers at Insiza in Matabeleland South province on December 23. Drawing on her wide range of contacts with Rotary and other local well-wishers in Bulawayo, she had sourced enough food to provide a really special meal of chickens and rice and other delicacies for the 300 or so orphaned children covered by her project, plus a number of poor local villagers. She had purchased dolls as gifts for the children and balloons to make it a festive occasion. She had also collected a large quantity of clothing to give away, plus 60 20 kg bags of mealie meal for the orphans and child-headed households in the area. And she had laid on a three tonne truck to transport all of this from Bulawayo to the remote Insiza.
Nor had the resourceful and capable Ms Dube neglected to inform all the local traditional and other leaders. In very good time she had sent out a letter politely informing all of the plans to hold this special event. Some time previously the Social Welfare Department had expressly, and in writing, approved her proposals to run a church-based welfare project in the area, providing humanitarian assistance and life skills training to AIDS orphans and a new home-based care giving facility for children at risk. The Department, along with the local political hierarchy, had been duly informed of the Christmas party and had raised no objections. Indeed the villagers were so looking forward to the event that it could hardly have crossed anyone’s mind that an objection could be raised. Most of the villagers are very poor and malnourished. The Christmas party was going to be an event to remember.
It was on December 21 – two days before the party – that Ms Dube first learnt there was a “difficulty”. The Social Welfare Department did not elaborate, but referred Ms Dube to the Provincial Administrator who advised that she was “in trouble” over her plans with the sitting ZANU PF member of parliament for the area, Andrew Langa. The latter claimed not to have been informed of the proposed party. He denied having seen the letter Ms Dube had written to all the local community leaders, the MP included. What is more, Ms Dube was to learn that Andrew Langa, who serves as the deputy Minister for Transport and Communications, was not willing to allow the party or the donation of food or clothing to proceed in his absence. (A consignment of medical supplies and books already transported to Insiza and intended to be donated to the community on the same occasion was similarly embargoed) Could Ms Dube do anything at this last hour to get Mr Langa to change his mind ? She was willing to supply whatever additional information he required. But no, Mr Langa had made up his mind. Neither the Christmas party nor the donation of food, clothing, medical supplies or books was to proceed. And though the MP spoke vaguely about complying with the new NGO Act (which has not yet been signed into law or gazetted), it became clear that his real concern was that he personally should receive a good deal of the credit for these charitable donations – which he had done nothing to secure, but was quite willing to deny to the community if his personal vanity was not satisfied. The only way to secure this recognition was for Andrew Langa to be present at the handing over ceremony – and no doubt to make a self-congratulatory speech. No recognition for Mr Langa and ZANU PF – no party and no gifts for the community.
Word started to go around Insiza that Mr Langa had vetoed the party, but not in time to prevent a crowd of 200 or so orphans and hopefuls from the village gathering on December 23. Their mood, when they were told the facts, was one of bitter disappointment and anger that a petty ZANU PF demagogue could effectively cancel their Christmas celebrations. As one said later, “we will meet Mr Langa in the election”.
And Sheba Dube ? She is bitterly disappointed of course at the frustration of all her efforts on this occasion, but her love for the people and indomitable spirit will not allow her to give up. She may have lost this round, but the fight for social justice and for the right to help the disadvantaged goes on.
Day 12: 6 January 2005
Tomorrow is Epiphany Day. Our final article marks the end of our 12 Days of Christmas Campaign.
'African Leaders Should Be Ashamed of Rights Violations'
This Day (Lagos)
January 3, 2005
Posted to the web January 4, 2005
The immeasurable contributions of Professor Emmanuel Victor Oware Dankwa to human rights struggle in Africa earned him his world wide fame. He is a past Chairman of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights and now a Special Rapparteur on Prisons in Africa. JUDE IGBANOI had an exciting afternoon with the law professor at the Hotel Meridien President in Dakar during the 36th Session of the ACHPR recently.
You are the past Chairman of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights. During your tenure what were those issues that engaged your attention and how did you handle them?
There were several issues. There were issues about the independence of our Commission, the irregularity of our meetings, contributions by states, contributions by non-state sources, having adequate human resources to service our Secretariat and matters of that nature were of paramount importance.
What level of cooperation did you enjoy from various African governments and heads of state during your tenure as Chairman of the Commission?
There were some countries, which were very forthcoming on issues, and there were others that we did not hear from at all. You know I was also the special rapparteur on prisons and detention centers in Afric. It was very easy for me to get permission from some countries to visit prisons. But it was not so with other countries. So, it was a mixed case of cooperation and neglect of action by state parties.
There is this conception by some human rights NGOs that the Commission's sessions are gradually turning into ordinary exchange of papers and speeches while nothing positively concrete is achieved in terms of implementation and enforcement. Do you subscribe to this view?
Well, you can't do away without papers and speeches. People who attend the session must know what is going to be discussed. They are informed and kept abreast through papers. We also are very open, so that people who have observer status and affiliate status with us can express their opinions on matters being discussed. But we go beyond that. It is noticeable that we have had ratification of the Protocol on the establishment of a court for Africa. It was adopted, the requisite ratifications have been obtained and it has entered into force.
Within this same period we drafted a Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa. It went to the states and the Assembly of Heads of States and Governments adopted it and countries have started ratifying. Countries are taking note of our decisions and they are incorporating them and acting on them. So matters go beyond exchange of papers and speeches.
You are from Ghana. What are those common issues and challenges that the human rights community face in your country and what role does the Ghana Human Rights Commission play in the struggle?
One problem that our National Human Rights Commission has been grappling with is the effect of their decision. At the moment the decision are of an advisory nature. They are not enforceable. They have to go to court for the decisions to be enforced and they find that rather tedious and tortuous. They would want a situation where their decisions are enforceable. But then that will amount to creating a court outside the regular court system. It is a problem that is being dealt with.
That is one Commission that has offices throughout the country. But they deserve to have a presence within every District and to have sufficient resources. So in that area there is some limitation.
You are a Special Rapparteur on Prisons in Africa. From your assessment of prison situation in Africa, what would you say is the attitude of African governments to prisoners' welfare?
I don't think we can speak of one attitude. There are some countries where you have an open attitude; the government allows people to see the conditions there because they think they have done their best within their limited resources. There are those who are rather restrictive, secretive and don't want to have their prisons thrown open to outsiders. But it would appear that in all situations, in all countries we have problems of congestion, long remand before trial, non separation of categories of offenders, health, hygiene, these are the serious problems common in our prisons in Africa.
You are a Professor of law at the University of Ghana in Legon, which is one of Africa's best recognized universities. What is your assessment of legal education in Ghana in terms of its standards? Are there any areas of concern to you personally?
When I was in school, the allowance given to us was sufficient for us to live on, buy books and even extra reading materials. Now the books have become so expensive and have gone beyond the reach of the average student. Students are being asked now to contribute towards their education. With the limited resources, access to facilities that used to be taken for granted have become difficult. There is also the question of increase in numbers which does not make it easy to have the attention we had when we were in school.
We also have the situation of older students with families and having no accommodation on campus, they work under serious constraints. These are naturally matters that can affect standards and quality.
In Nigeria law teachers are legally allowed to engage in private law practice. What is the position in Ghana? Should law teachers be allowed to practice law simultaneously?
Ideally, teachers in the university should devote full time to teaching. But economic pressures compel not only lawyers but others in other disciplines to try and supplement their income in areas where they have expertise, law is one such area. Obviously it would have some impact in the work of the university lecturer.
Ghana and Nigeria share a common history in terms of their colonial past and Common Law roots. In Nigeria there have been calls to urgently review our statutes especially as received from the English legal system. What is the situation like in Ghana?
We have a Statute Review Commissioner whose sole responsibility is to do exactly what you have said. We also have the Law Reform Commission which is tasked with reforming the laws. We are conscious of those responsibilities and a number of measures have been taken to bring the law up to date.
In Nigeria the justice delivery system has been criticised as very slow. Cases take many years to decide. Judges some times hear as many as 10 cases in a day. Can you compare that with the Ghanaian Judiciary?
I would say that it is not very different from Ghana. The adversarial system is very slow by its very nature. When you have a situation where lawyers cannot be in court when they are expected and therefore seek adjournment. When judges can't be in court from the time they are supposed to be there, you are likely to have the situation exacerbated. There has been an attempt in Ghana to try and use electronic system to speed up the process of justice delivery. So, we have High Courts which are called Fast Track' where things are not recorded manually. It has made some impact, but it is generally slow.
As a Professor of law, is there anything that we can refer to as African Jurisprudence? If there is non, is there any need for it?
You know we had our law before we encountered the white man. We had ideas in almost all aspects of law. Let me give you the example of human rights. It is presented as if it was an idea from western society, but we have an indigenous concept of human rights. My name for instance 'Dankwa' it comes from two words in my mother tongue, 'da' and 'kwa'. Which means 'sleep' and 'life'. It is an illustration of right to life.
The Ewes, (my tribe) they used to be in a place called Benin, but they had a ruler who was tyrannical and so they fled. They are now in four countries, Nigeria, Togo, Benin and Ghana. It was their desire to be governed well, to determine how they should be governed. This idea is now called good governance. It is indigenous to us.
Similarly you have the people calledNdebeles in South Africa. A similar thing led them to flee from Shaka the Zulu to many other countries including Zimbabwe. So we only have to sit up and look at our customary law and traditional legal system and know that we have them. They are there.
In recent times there has been an unprecedented level of armed conflict in the West African sub-region. The crisis in Liberia, Ivory Coast and Sierra-Leone are examples. What would you suggest as a panacea for lasting peace in our sub-region?
It seems to me that the solution is so simple that it is not seen as so. We still don't have a culture of respect for human rights. I put almost all our problems that we have had leading to wars to this lack of culture of respect for human rights. If we go back to this and internalize this and make it part of us, our problems will be solved.
Human rights defenders in Africa face a lot persecution and victimization from their home governments. Some are arrested and detained, some tortured and some even killed. What would be your advice to African governments on this issue?
Rights have not been obtained on a silver platter. It's been a question of struggle over the years and it will continue to be so. We therefore need to put pressure on governments. We need to expose what is going on. They need to be shamed by what they are doing. They also need to be reminded that themselves had taken an obligation this respect. Pressure should be brought to bear on these governments to show respect for the rights of their citizens.
At this 36th Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights, one issue that seems to be of the greatest concern to human rights NGOs is the proposed merger of the African Court and the Court of Justice. From the angle of finance there seems to be justification for the merger option. But the human rights community seems to believe that there should not be a merger. What is your opinion?
Let me say that from now on we should be careful about what we start, the institutions that we crave for and bring into being. We should think about our resources, we should not bring something into being and then later think about our resources. So we should limit the institutions that we set up. But having started some institutions we should take them to their logical conclusion.
I think the court on human rights should be brought into being. It doesn't appear to me that we are so cash strapped that we will not be able as a continent to support an institution like this. If we were to prioritize, if we were to cut down in many areas we will be able to take care of this. Apart from what I have just pointed out, I think our basic problem is with lack of respect for human rights. So it's a top priority and it cannot be swept under some other institution that way.
What message do you have for your colleagues in Nigeria? First to your fellow professors of law and then to your fellow human rights defenders?
I wouldn't want to pontificate or appear as a holier than thou in any field. But to every person I say let us try and give of our best to our community, our society for the betterment of our country and Africa as a whole.