The Blood of the Innocent Cries Out… But SADC Turns a Deaf Ear Once Again

Disclaimer: I’ve written this post late at night – lack of sleep and deep emotions have led to me not being quite as nit-picky about my writing style and grammar as usual. I just sat and wrote this, allowed the words to come and then posted it with only 5 or so minutes of editing.


Soldiers on the roads. Civilians shot in the back. Foreign journalists and citizens beaten in the streets.

If you have been following the news in the past few days you will have seen the stories coming out of Zimbabwe’s post-election turmoil. It’s very easy, in our day and age, to see the deaths of six innocent people as little more than a number on a page. To just say to ourselves “That’s sad.” And move on. Stop for a second though, stop and think about the fact that each one of those six people had a family and friends. Most of them were working to support their family. They leave behind children who were dependent on them for sustenance.

Now move on a little bit, beyond the horror that is a hail of live ammunition sprayed irrationally into a crowd of scattering, unarmed civilians. To the day after the election results were announced. Reports have been flooding in of the army, unidentified thugs and police officers harassing and beating civilians who are thought to have voted for the opposition MDC-Alliance. Not only the voters, but also the candidates have been intimidated – with reports of multiple MDC-Alliance members going into hiding or being abducted.

These things are all true. They are verified by multiple eyewitnesses, many of them journalists who have taken footage of the incidents and posted it to social media. However, should you happen to open the official twitter page of Emmerson Mnangagwa you would not know any of this has happened. His feed is full of tweets, spun by his British PR specialists, speaking of unity and peace – of a free and fair election and a hopeful ‘new Zimbabwe’.

Rewind 10 years, however, and this doesn’t feel much like a ‘new Zimbabwe’. During the 2008 Presidential Elections over 200 MDC supporters were killed in post-Election violence, forcing then-candidate Morgan Tsvangirai to pull out of the run-off election in order to preserve life. There is no ‘new dispensation’ in Zimbabwe as the current regime has been claiming for the past 9 months. This is the same dispensation, the same brutal regime filled with the same brutal people. Some of which were not only present and involved in the 2008 violence but even in the 1980’s during the brutal Gukurahundi massacres. Mnangagwa himself was instrumental in the Gukurahundi violence – and yet now he runs a nation, using rhetoric of peace and unity.

This is not a new dispensation! There have not been free and fair elections. There have not been peaceful and legitimate polls. It has not only been violence that has marred this election, but a host of irregularities that stand out in stark contrast to the claims of ‘transparency’ and ‘fairness’. To list a few:

  1. 21% of V11 forms (forms, signed by polling agents, verifying the results of that particular polling station) were not posted outside of their polling stations (as stipulated by law).
  2. Observers, hired by ZANU PF, were seen at polling stations taking down the names of voters from a few meters away. This process is well known as a vote-buying (should they vote the right way) system. [See NY Times report]
  3. In one constituency 105,000 people had voted by 5pm. Official reports stated that from 5-7pm another 300,000+ voted.
  4. The chairperson of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) – Justice Priscilla Chigumba – is brazenly partisan, having even been pictured in ZANU PF regalia.

These are just a few of the multitude of irregularities during this election. Many of which have been laid out in the EU Observer Mission statement.

However, while the EU declared the elections flawed and unable to be condoned as fully ‘free and fair’ there were other observer groups that seemed willing to turn a blind eye to the clear fraud on the day. The AU and SADC observer missions declared the elections to be ‘free and fair’. It has not only been the observer missions that have let Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans down, however. Congratulations and endorsements have been flowing in from presidents across the SADC region. Cyril Ramaphosa, Peter Mutharika, Magafuli and company – even EFF leader Julius Malema – have congratulated the incumbent Emmerson Mnangagwa and called on Zimbabweans to respect the decision of ZEC, ignoring the brutality that is currently being meted out by a vengeful ZANU PF.

It is nothing new for the Zimbabwean people to be let down by the SADC region, over and over again SADC leaders have ignored the horrendous acts of brutality and the completely illegitimate elections held in Zimbabwe and have endorsed them. Perhaps it is political expediency… or perhaps they wish to normalize the idea of irregular and un-verifiable elections? Whatever their reasons, SADC cannot continue to desert the Zimbabwean people. Because at the end of the day, when everyone else has gone home, it is Zimbabweans who have to live in the country and deal with the results of the election. It is Zimbabweans who have to face the brutality of the regime on a daily basis, it is Zimbabweans who have to set aside their University qualifications and scrounge for whatever job they can find – be it a vendor, or a toilet cleaner – because their government is so thoroughly corrupt and self-serving that they are driving the Nation’s economy into the ground.

We must call on SADC to not be deaf to the calls of Zimbabweans again. Do not let them down for the umpteenth time, do not fail them in their hour of direst need.

To all the Zimbabweans who are caught up in this distressing and deeply tumultuous time – I pray fervently for your deliverance. God does not forget His people, this time of turmoil will pass eventually – these brutes, these evil tyrants will have to face their creator as they stand before his judgement throne. Justice will be done eventually, if it cannot be accomplished on our terms – then it will be accomplished on His.

But do not stop fighting, peacefully. Do not stop hoping, for hope is the lifeblood of change, without hope nothing can change. In the darkest days the smallest bit of hope shines the brightest.

 

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Celebrating Autocracy: What are we truly celebrating on Kamuzu Day?

On the 14th of May, in 1898 (though this date is contested, there are claims that the year was actually 1906) was born a man who would change the face of Southern African politics. Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, known affectionately as Ngwazi, and ‘Father of the Nation’. The official narrative reads that he was born into what was at the time ‘British Central Africa’. Details of Banda’s early years remain disputed, what we do know is that he ended up at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland where he earned his medical degree. Long story short, Banda returned to Malawi (then Nyasaland) by way of Ghana. He became involved in the liberation struggle, a fierce critic of British colonialism he spearheaded the movement for independence. Malawi gained independence in 1964 with Kamuzu Banda at the helm as Prime Minister

The reason I’ve given this brief history is to introduce you to the background of Dr. Banda, and to introduce the positive side of the man who led Malawi to independence. However, this is where the praise ends. It did not take long after independence in 1964 for Banda’s autocratic tendencies to start showing themselves. Several of his cabinet ministers approached him with proposals for laws that would limit his power, he promptly fired these ministers – several other ministers resigned in sympathy. All of these ministers fled the country not long afterwards. It was not long before Dr. Banda’s reign became blatantly autocratic, in 1966 a new constitution was adopted with Kamuzu Banda elected the first president. In 1971 Banda was declared “President for Life” by the national legislature.  Banda’s official title was “His Excellency the Life President of the Republic of Malaŵi, Ngwazi Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda”, ‘Ngwazi’ being translated as “Chief of chiefs”, “Great Lion” or “Conqueror”.

Malawi became a police state, with Banda ruling ruthlessly from the helm. Phones were tapped, mail was monitored and education was state-regulated. Banda’s cabal held all the positions of power within the educational frameworks of the country, silencing any voices who they thought might be dangerous to the life president. Strict regulations on dress code were implemented, with women not being allowed to wear anything above the knee and not being allowed to wear anything other than skirts or dresses. Men were not allowed to have flared trousers, or wear their hair longer than their collars.

In 1983 there was an incident that became known as the “Mwanza Four” incident in which three of Banda’s ministers and one MP where found dead, after a ‘road accident’. This happened after the three ministers (Dick Matenje, Twaibu Sangala and Aaron Gadama) had voiced support for multi-party democracy in Malawi. After the three ministers had been discovered being tortured by MP David Chiwanga, the four of them were put into a car and driven to the Mwanza District where their accident was faked, the four men were killed by having tent pins hammered into their heads.

Banda’s political brutality did not end here. A famous example is the poet Jack Mapanje, who was arrested in 1987. He was dragged out of a bar in Zomba and had his house searched and was then taken away for questioning. He was arrested and put into prison at Zomba’s infamous Mikuyu prison for political prisoners. He was never told why he had been arrested, and was told he would not receive a trial because that would be ‘questioning the wisdom of His Excellency’. His family was not informed of his whereabouts by the authorities. Mapanje worked with a friend of his from the Catholic church and ran a secret network of messages out of the prison to get word of his predicament to contacts in the UK. Amnesty International declared him a “Prisoner of Conscience” and campaigned for his release.

Banda was eventually unseated by a referendum on multiparty democracy in 1993. He lost his seat in 1994 in Malawi’s first democratic elections. He was tried for the murder of the Mwanza Four but the charges were dropped due to a lack of evidence linking him directly to their murder.

I’ve laid out this very brief timeline of HE Kamuzu Banda’s rule in order to highlight the dark side of the man we celebrate every year. I cannot imagine what the 14th of May must mean to the families and friends of those who were the victims of Dr. Banda’s iron-fisted dictatorship. We spend a day celebrating the life and times of a man who caused so much pain, anguish and fear in the citizens of our beloved Malawi. We will spend this time better if we use it to commemorate those who lost their lives and had their careers destroyed by the tyrannical regime of Dr. Banda. This will be a reminder to us, and a warning, so that we may never again live under the tyranny of a despot. I am deeply grateful for the democracy we have in Malawi; I am grateful to be part of a generation that never had to live under the fear of Dr. Banda’s autocracy. I pray that our democracy will remain strong in the face of any challenges that come its way. I remember clearly the dark period when we appeared to be slipping back into the night of autocracy under the leadership of Bingu wa Mutharika. Our constitution has survived the attacks on it up to this point, let’s remember what those before us fought for. First, for freedom from colonialism and then for freedom from autocracy. That is how I intend to celebrate Kamuzu Day in the future, a day of remembrance for the victims of Dr. Banda’s reign… rather than a day for celebration of the man himself.

 

 

 

Acknowledgement:
I used several sources to compile my timeline of Banda’s tyranny. Wikipedia and The Independent were my primary sources.

Autocracy’s Darling: The Guileful Façade of Rwanda’s Dictator

Bill Clinton has called him one of “the greatest leaders of our time.”
Tony Blair named him a “visionary” and Harvard and Yale both
invited him to give talks, during which he addressed the issues of
reconciliation and the western perception of his leadership. The
hypocritical stance of the west is nothing new to African nations,
urging democracy with one hand they prop up and praise dictators
with the other. Of course, in this case, it is not only the west that is to
blame. Our own people stand in awe of what Kagame has
accomplished in just a few short years. Many bloggers, activists and
leaders have praised Kagame for his record on development, his clean-
city initiatives and his provision of education. At first glance you can
see why: the streets of the Kigali are clean, free of the litter of plastic
bags, cans, and other rubbish that characterizes many cities around
Africa. Efficiency is the name of the game, with corruption and crime
at an all-time low and beautiful hotels and housing springing up in
many places.

And yet, there’s a dark cloud that hangs over Rwanda’s success. It is a
sinister cloud, one that should make us think twice before heaping
praise upon the so-called ‘success story’ of Africa. The cost at which it
comes is huge, a cost that is conveniently not mentioned by the west’s
aid organizations, including NGO such as the Bill and Melinda Gates
Foundation and Bono’s ONE foundation. Behind it all, playing the
NGOs, media and government organizations off against each other is
the master puppeteer himself, Paul Kagame. Kagame is famous for his
post-genocide reconciliation measures, and here we must allot to him
the credit he is due. In the space of a mere 23 years Kagame has pulled
Rwanda back from one of the most despicable acts of genocide in the
history of the world. After the genocide in 1994, reconciliation seemed
all but impossible. How could a country recover from such a
devastating tragedy, with the deeply entrenched divisions that it had?
So, for this achievement, I salute Kagame and congratulate him on his
unprecedented success. Leave it here however… and we are left with
only half of the story, half of the truth.

We must halt our praises of Kagame for just a moment and examine
the dark secret behind his success. 23 years on from the genocide
Rwanda has yet to experience a transition of government. The word

‘democracy’ means nothing in a nation where the only leader that
post-genocide children have ever known has been Paul Kagame-the
man with the iron fist. It is almost eerie, as you speak to Rwandans,
that there is not a single person who has a single bad thing to say
about him. There is no criticism, only worshipful praise, for the man
that the press tells them they owe their prosperity to. Kagame has
played the role of ‘benign dictator’ to its absolute max using his
success and the country’s economic growth to justify the horrific
abuses of human rights that his people have to suffer under him.
Opposition politics are non-existent and critical journalism is nowhere
to be found. Every politician who has made any meaningful attempt to
run against Kagame has either mysteriously ‘disappeared’ or been
arrested on false pretences. Kagame has been quietly brilliant in the
way he has sown such a deep fear of reprisal in his people that the vast
majority of the population refuse to utter anything but praise towards
the man they fear so greatly.

When confronting Kagame supporters, there are two main arguments
that I come up against consistently:
1. Kagame doesn’t have an opposition because nobody opposes him;
his people love him and they want him as their president.
2. I’ve been to Rwanda, I’ve seen how successful he has been… and
I’ve spoken to the people. They all love him.

I’ll tackle these separately, #1:

This is patently false. One of the beauties of Kagame’s narrative is that
it’s very easy to “prove”. Rwandan papers espouse his exceptional
leadership and the social media personalities croon over his success.
They call him “father” and heap unconditional praises upon him. The
official ‘opposition’ parties never actually oppose Kagame, they back
him and do not field candidates to challenge him in elections.
To an outside observer it seems like the ultimate success story; a
leader that truly holds the unanimous support of all his people. Stop
there, I beg you, and scratch away the chrome veneer of this story, and
you start to expose something ugly underneath. A man who refused to
do business with Kagame’s people dies mysteriously in a car accident.
His daughter, political activist Diane Rwigara) decides that she has
had enough of the regime’s brutality and starts to speak out against
the regime, stating her intent to run against Kagame. Before long she
receives multiple threats that end in the eventual arrest of her and her
mother. Another one of Kagame’s political enemies is silenced by the
deaf bars of his dark prisons. This story is not unique; Kagame’s
penchant for ridding himself of uncomfortable opposition is becoming
something of a tradition.  There is story after story of Kagame abusing
his power to arrest or eradicate those who threaten his ‘ideal Rwanda’
in which he is the God-king, the self-declared saviour of the nation.
For example- Patrick Karegeya, former spy chief-turned critic of
Kagame was found dead in his hotel room in South Africa. We can
conclude that Kagame is not quite as loved as people believe he is. The
truth is he rules by fear and intimidation.

#2:

This point obviously ties in very closely with the previous one, in
which I concluded that Kagame rules by fear and intimidation, not
because of undying loyalty from an adoring fan-base of Rwandan
citizens. Constantly when I talk to people about this issue, they bristle
and give me some quote along the line of ‘I’ve been there’ or ‘I know
someone who’s been there’ and, because I have not, people think they
have seen the real Rwanda and I am just judging from a distance.
The reason they never heard anyone speak against Kagame, and only
see adoration and love for the leader is simple: fear. This is Kagame’s
greatest tool of control. People are far too scared to speak their minds.
On the odd occasion where somebody has spoken their minds, they
have been dealt with severely, thus re-enforcing the fear and
intimidation that Kagame rules by. So, in many ways, visiting Rwanda
as a tourist or a special guest is one of the least reliable ways to get an
accurate representation of the true opinion of the people.
I must add a disclaimer now: I do not claim to have some special
intuition into the minds and hearts of Rwanda’s citizens. I do not
know them personally, and I do not live there or fully understand their
political scene. However, I object viscerally to the attitude of Kagame’s
‘worshipers’. If Kagame is so confident in his position, why doesn’t he
host a truly free and fair election where he allows any and all who wish
it to run against him with no restrictions, no intimidation and no
interference from state agents. Then we can see whether he is truly the
choice of the people… or whether he’s really just a brutal dictator
playing a spectacular and brutal game.

It is time we, as Africans, and the international community as a whole
stop condoning dictatorships and brutal oppression. Political, press
and speech freedom are all vital to a truly functioning democracy. I for
one condemn the Kagame regime, and as an African I express my
deepest concern at the way Rwandan citizens are treated by the people
who are sworn to protect them. It’s up to you to make your own
decision, but I implore you to examine the facts before singing the
praises of a man who could be one of the strongest opponents to
democracy in Africa. We have a responsibility, as Africans, to be
united in our condemnation of injustice and fear, history will not be
kind to us if we neglect doing so now.

 

 

Why I am going to the December 13th protests…and why you should too.

 

If you are in Blantyre, we will be starting from the Clocktower and marching to the Civil Offices.In Mzuzu from Katoto Secondary School Ground to the Civil Offices, in Zomba from Zomba Community to Mponda Freedom Park, and in Lilongwe from Community Center Ground to City Assembly.

The winds of change are blowing in Malawi. PAC, the Public Affairs Committee, along with at least 50 other Civil Society Organizations have organized nationwide protests on the 13th of December. Citing the need for Electoral Reform and transformational leadership, PAC have received the support of religious bodies countrywide and have been backed by many other civil society organizations. The primary purposes of the protests are:

A. To demand the implication of Electoral Reform, specifically the introduction of the 50% + 1 system. Which requires a presidential candidate to win 50% + 1 vote in order to take office as the next president of Malawi.

B. To demand transformational leadership. We have had some worrying situations recently where the basic freedoms of Malawians have been infringed upon. This is regressive leadership that does not seek to progressively promote the rights of Malawians. The demand is that our leaders seek to be transformational, instituting progressive legislation to ensure that the fundamental rights of every Malawian are upheld and respected, and that the promises made by those in power are fulfilled.

I will be attending the protests in Blantyre, God willing, and I think you should too… here’s why:

  1. Our voice is important.

We, who call Malawi home, have a voice that is important. Our voice deserves to be heard, and deserves to have its place in the national discussion. It is vital that, in order to preserve and promote progressive democracy in our nation, the citizenry must stay engaged and take advantage of opportunities such as these to have our voice heard by those in power. If we stay quiet and things go wrong, then we have only ourselves to blame.

  1. We must hold those in power to account.

It is a trend for those in power to grow comfortable in their positions, believing themselves invincible. We have an opportunity to remind them where the true power lies, with the people. We cannot let that opportunity disappear without seizing it. We have the chance, come Wednesday, to show those in power in our country the power of peaceful demonstration and I for one am not willing to let that opportunity pass me by.

  1. A show of peaceful, nationwide unity will send a powerful message and show we care about the future.

If we stand up as a nation, unified and peaceful, we can send a message more potent than anything printed in a newspaper or spoken from a stage. A show of a unified Malawi, desiring what is best for the nation and region, is such a beautiful and powerful picture. Be a part of this historic time in our country’s history. It is a time in which it is vitally important for our nation to stand up, to speak truth to power, and refuse to be cowed by threats.

  1. The future of Malawi is well and truly at stake.

In light of recent comments by people in power with regards to criticism, it is now more important than ever that we refuse to compromise as a nation. Our rights, enshrined in the constitution, are under threat by those who wish to intimidate us into contrite silence. This is about more than just electoral reform; this is about the Malawian people holding those in leadership to account.

Brothers and sisters, we face a situation that could be a crunch moment for the future. We have an opportunity to play a powerful role in the shaping of our future. We cannot sit idly by and watch our rights be slowly removed from us.For now, it’s a comment made in anger… but what will it be tomorrow? We cannot risk being silent as our future is stolen from us. I urge you to come out for that reason, because you have an opportunity to play a vital role in securing the future, for you, your children, friends, grandkids and fellow Malawians.So I will be going out on Wednesday the 13th of December, 2017, demanding a better future for myself and my family in order to stand up for my rights, and the rights of my fellow Malawians. Let us remember the powerful examples of men and women who sacrificed for our democracy, and dedicate ourselves to uphold their legacy. I hope you will join me, let us gather together across the nation to demand changes in our electoral process and demand that our leaders be transformational and progressive and that they address issues such as freedom of speech and respecting the fundamental rights of all Malawians. Whether you are young or old, male or female, regardless of religion or ethnicity, come out on Wednesday and play a role in the future of our nation. Anyone who wants to show solidarity with the people of Malawi, regardless of nationality, please join the gathering on Wednesday the 13th of December at the clock tower.

#AfricansRising: A Glimpse of African Spring

2017, a year of triumph and tragedy, from the heights of Gambian democratic victory to the lows of DRC’s election controversy. We are currently living in a time where African nations are rising to throw off the chains of oppressive rulers and despotic dictators it is vital to recognize the importance of this era. Not only in order to appreciate it, but so that we can take action to ensure that it does not falter. To do all we can to make certain that the progress that has begun continues. It is an era characterized by the rising of grassroots activism and peaceful protest. The unequivocal success of this was seen in Gambia, and serves as a shining example of the trend that is beginning to shape the African political landscape. As the people are awakened to take on our own drive for freedom, we are learning to no longer lean upon the international community to fight our battles for us, nor even the traditional opposition parties. But as a citizenry we are beginning to fight back, through the revolutionary means of peaceful protest, our voices are being heard.

It’s amazing to see how far we’ve come in such a short time. Not that long ago most of Africa, specifically the SADC region where my focus lies, was shrouded in the darkness of autocratic oppression. From Malawi’s Kamuzu Banda to South Africa’s Apartheid regime we were in a state of political night. But the cracks began to show, as Apartheid was lambasted from abroad and from within by the likes Steve Biko and the Black Consciousness Movement, Banda’s tyrannical regime was starting to fall apart at the seems as Malawians grew tired of living in fear and oppression, citizens like the emerging artist Lucius Banda grew emboldened and began to speak out.  President Ibrahim Babangida of Nigeria, the incoming OAU (Organization of African Unity) chairman spoke strongly in favor of democratization in Africa. Babangida stated that Africans faced the simultaneous tasks “of solving acute problems of economic restructuring and of creating free and democratic institutions for social expression.” The ideals of self governance and freedom of determination were beginning to take root in the heart of Africans.

These were positive, exciting times. Hope swelled in the hearts of many, and the future appeared bright. Things weren’t changing everywhere though, as the world entered a new millennium Zimbabwe entered one of it’s darkest periods under autocratic leader Robert Mugabe. Many countries faced corruption scandals, and abuses of powers from leaders. Malawi narrowly fought off the threat of an unconstitutional third term run from incumbent Bakili Muluzi and Moçambique continued to face sporadic violence and repressive government to name just a few of the damaging events in African politics at the time.

The battle for democracy in Africa is an uphill battle, one that is constantly being fought. Every day another story breaks, some are good and some are bad. From heartbreak to heaven, sometimes more than once a day.

But through the turmoil, and through the struggle there is one very important thing to keep our eyes on. That is a glimpse, a glimpse that we have been gifted… to spur us on, and to give us hope. It’s the glimpse of an African spring. As the darkness begins to be fought away, a glimmer of light appears. Through a long tunnel we can see the world beyond, an Africa where democracy reigns. Where despots like Robert Mugabe and Filipe Nyusi no longer hold power far beyond their constitutional reach.

Really, it shouldn’t be that hard to see now. The glimmer has grown stronger over the past several years. As Gambia held it’s first decisive, free election and we saw a region come together to ensure that the democratic process be honoured. It should encourage and inspire us, the #ThisFlag movement and other movements have swept Zimbabwe, where people are standing up to tyrannical rule. Nigeria had landmark elections, and the peaceful stepping down of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf from power and the orderly first round of voting in Liberia has been almost surreal.

And to those who would put out the false narrative that Africans do not desire democracy, I urge you to rethink. AfroBarometer states:

  • On average across the continent, Africans prefer democracy to any other kind of government. Large majorities of Africans surveyed by Afrobarometer reject alternative authoritarian regimes such as presidential dictatorship, military rule and one-party government.

So let us not lose hope as we stare down the barrel of more battles to be fought on the plains of peaceful protest and citizens action. Rather, I encourage all Africans to take heed of these successes and let us keep our eyes focused on the light of spring that is so close at hand. Don’t give up, don’t give in… we may have a distance to go, but we’ve come too far to look back and we’ve fought too hard to give in. Future generations will look back and either thank this generation for what it did to ensure their freedom, or they’ll wonder why we didn’t do more… why we gave up on a dream that was within our reach.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good people to do nothing.”