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The New Times (Kigali)
This week the Supreme Court delivered a landmark ruling that deeply entrenched the rule of law. It was an indication that the justice sector had come of age after years of trying to rebuild itself.
In a very a rare occasion, a local lawyer had challenged the recently revised Penal Law that criminalised three core issues; defamation and public humiliation of senior public officials, defamation of religious leaders and rituals, and adultery.
The female-dominated Supreme Court bench threw out the petition that sought to decriminalise adultery arguing that the law should protect the sanctity of the family, something that the Rwandan society holds dear.
For a country whose deeply-entrenched relationship with the religion – especially the Catholic Church – goes back since the arrival of the white man, it was a deep blow when religion lost its immunity from defamation. The court ruled that they should not be handled differently from other organisations and had to be held accountable.
The same goes for public officials who had been shielded from humiliation in the current law. The only person who was spared was the person of the President of the Republic because of the high responsibility of the office and the respect it deserves.
However, President Kagame has since weighed in, stating that the law should not be according Head of State special protection. The President’s stand is that all cases of defamation and public humiliation ought to be treated as civil matters, and not criminal offences.
That President Kagame has himself come out to clearly state that no one should be held criminally liable over defamation or public insult – a position that is consistent with his long held views on public accountability, right to information and equality before the law – speaks volumes, and it is our hope that this restriction will be lifted too.
This does not mean that defamation is not an offence, it is but it is tried as a civil case and does not involve incarceration. So, in some sense, the only people who felt a huge weight lifted off their shoulders were members of the media.
All in all, it was a great day for freedom of expression and as Chief Justice said in his ruling: “Freedom of expression is key to holding those in leadership to account and this is a major tenet of any democratic dispensation. Freedom should be enjoyed without any limitations”.
Chad: $50 Billion to Save Lake Chad
Lake Chad used to be an economically important source of water for between 20 and 30 million people in West Africa with its basin covering parts of Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon. A combination of factors, essentially climate change, increase in the population, unplanned irrigation and desert encroachment have seen it shrink dangerously. According to the Global Resource Information Database of the United Nations Environment Programme, it shrank by as much as 95 per cent from about 1963 to 1998.
The Lake Chad basin used to provide space for a multiple of human economic activities ranging from grazing, fishing and crop farming not counting the rich species of flora and fauna it used to harbour. All that is vanishing creating, in the process, a range of challenges including ecological, employment and security, especially food security issues. The shrinking of the Lake has also caused several different conflicts to emerge as the countries bordering the Lake argue over the rights to the remaining water. Along with the international conflicts, violence with countries is also increasing among the Lake's dwellers. Farmers and herders want the water for their crops and livestock and are constantly diverting the water while the Lake's fishermen want water diversion slowed or halted in order to prevent continuing decline in water levels resulting in further strain on the fish habitat. Furthermore, birds and other animals in the area are threatened, including those that serve as important sources of food for the local human population.
It is from this perspective that this newspaper feels obliged to commend ongoing efforts to recharge the water of the Lake or at least save what is left of it. In our opinion, the plan to recharge the Lake using water from the tributaries of the Congo River is a welcome development even as it is on record that the idea was first mooted in 1929. It is believed that water from the Ubangi would revitalize the dying Lake Chad and provide livelihood in fishing and enhanced agriculture to tens of millions of people in central Africa and Sahel regions. The proposal then, for inexplicable reasons, did not see the light of day.
Interbasin water transfer schemes were also proposed in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1994, the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) proposed a similar project, and at a March 2008 summit, the Heads of State of the LCBC member countries committed to the diversion project. In April 2008, the LCBC advertised a request for proposals for a World Bank-funded feasibility study. All these attempts to save the Lake were not sufficiently successful, making the situation in the basin presently assume a renewed urgency. There is no doubt that revitalising Lake Chad has become a security project - security in all its manifestations. President Muhammadu Buhari, relying on his military background, understands it so well and is driving efforts to get the project off the ground.
Already, arrangements are on to raise a whopping $50 billion that will hopefully bring the project to fruition. Gratefully, in our view, the United Nations is interested in plans by countries in the region to restore the Lake to its former glory. Actually, the Secretary General of the world body is reported to have accepted to co-chair the fundraiser with the Nigerian President.
Experts agree that the project has the potential to address some of the emerging problems in the region. If that money or substantial part of it is raised and construction work commences, the job opportunities it is capable of generating are limitless. We are convinced that a revitalised Lake Chad will, presumably, reduce the army of unemployed youths that the terrorists latch on to and use to cause mayhem in the region. The project is, to that extent, seen as strategic phase in the war against terrorism because it is becoming obvious that efforts to take the youths off crime and criminality often fail because, with nothing to do, they soon relapse to anti-social behaviour.
It is pertinent, therefore, to urge the countries in the region to develop the political will desperately needed to get the project actualised. We are enamoured by the realisation that the international community, through the United Nations, is willing to buy into this plan to prevent the economic and ecological disaster a failed Lake Chad will constitute. Even more importantly, we call on rich countries of the world to feel compelled to assist this determined move to revive the Lake by making the soon- to- hold Recharge Lake Chad fundraiser a success.
The Herald – Zimbabwe
By: Obi Egbuna Jnr Simunye
At the exact moment that Cyclone Idai struck Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi, each and every SADC nation were forced to deal with both their ecological and political reality.
From a strictly environmental standpoint, the latest projections of crippling droughts that can potentially occur every five to ten years, in the region that is the agricultural backbone of Mother Africa.
If the pressure of finding both short term and long-term solutions, to a region that if properly protected and consolidated can end the starvation crisis on our mother continent isn’t enough, we couple that with maintaining solidarity with a nation that frightens US-EU imperialism to no ends.
Without diverting attention away from the loss of innocent lives in Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique at the hands of Cyclone Idai, or the fact that Namibia is facing its worst drought in 40 years, we cannot ignore US-EU imperialism’s diplomatic opportunism which has been illustrated by their feeble attempt to politicise a natural disaster.
This deceitful manipulation was on full display when earlier this month, the secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches Dr Kenneth Mtata, visited Washington DC and held high level meetings with the US State Department, US Institute of Peace, and United States Agency for International Development.
The main points of contact who handled Dr Mtata’s itinerary were Mr Rory Anderson the director of religious and global affairs for the US State Department and Mr Derek Brown of the Peace Appeal Foundation.
Among the policymakers and gatekeepers Dr Mtata engaged were the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the US State Department’s Africa Bureau Matthew Harrington, the former political officer at the US Embassy in Harare Ben Wiselogle, the Deputy Assistant Administrator of the USAID Oren Whyche Shaw, Reverend Susan Hayward the Senior Adviser for the United States Institute of Peace’s Religious and Inclusive Societies Programme.
Based on the high-level meetings Dr Mtata held, it can be argued this was his most important trip to the West since he participated in the World Conference on Xenophobia, Racism and Popular Nationalism in the context of Global Migration that occurred in Rome last September, where the delegates had audience with Pope Francis.
As Dr Mtata sat across the table from the faces who represent the humanitarian industrial intelligence police complex, one can only imagine the level of humility and diplomacy it requires, to engage individuals who have mastered the art of covering up crimes against humanity with band aid politics.
Based on his religious and spiritual foundation in addition to his political analysis, Dr Mtata feels they are three types of Christians in the church.
The first group prepare believers for heaven and the afterlife and are not interested in political debate and policies, the second group feel almighty God put all governments in place, and the third feel critical engagement is a necessity.
Dr Mtata also believes that the church cannot wake up one morning and start to criticise a government they have never praised.
What this exposed is US, EU imperialism would do everything within their power to shield Dr Mtata from grassroots organisations, who felt historically obligated to assist Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique, completely independent from the US State Department and USAID.
While Dr Mtata was deprived the opportunity to meet face-to-face with these organisations, who have no desire to be in the same room with the US State Department, USAID or the USIP, that task would fall on the shoulders of the diplomatic corp representing Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique.
On Tuesday April 15th 2019 at the Namibian Embassy in Washington DC Her Excellency Monica N. Nashandi the Namibian Ambassador to the US hosted a meeting with her counterparts Edward Yakobe Sawrengera Malawian Ambassador to the US, Carlos Dos Santos Mozambican Ambassador to the US and Amon Mutembwa Zimbabwean Ambassador to the US.
The purpose of the meeting was to engage a coalition of grassroots organisers who are spearheading a month-long effort of benefits in strategic pockets inside US borders to help the victims of Cyclone Idai. The theme of this project is a month of unity, solidarity and goodwill with the people of Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique.
The meeting was arranged by Ambassador Mutembwa, who was in a position to facilitate the process because of his tireless efforts to engage US based Africans, primarily for the purpose of getting the US-EU sanctions on Zimbabwe lifted once and for all.
The meeting was chaired by Ambassador Nashandi because Namibia is the current chair of SADC.
The main representative who appeared on behalf of this coalition was Dr Kelechi Egwim the executive director of APPEAL INC which stands for the Association of People for Pan Africanist Economic Advancement Thru Leverage, there was additional representation from the Mass Emphasis Children’s History and Theatre Company and Zimbabwe Cuba Friendship Association.
The other co-sponsors of the benefit to launch this initiative are Bitmari INC, The Friends of the Congo, Sankofa Home School Community,and the DC Council of Elders.
The host of this historic gathering is none other than the historic Union Temple Baptist Church, under the courageous and visionary leadership of the liberation theology icon Reverend Willie Wilson. Prior to this effort Reverend Wilson allowed former Zimbabwean Ambassador Dr Simbi Mubako to address the entire congregation. Reverend Wilson also added his name to an appeal to the US Senate and Congress, United Nations and World Health Organisation condemning, how Zimbabwe’s applications to Global Fund to combat the HIV/AIDS pandemic were banned on political grounds.
Reverend Wilson followed that up by singing a Diasporan wide appeal in 2009 sent to the Obama administration calling for the lifting of US EU sanctions on Zimbabwe.
Another crucial part of the meeting was when the Zimbabwean, Mozambican, and Malawian Ambassadors stressed that Namibia is experiencing the worst drought in 40 years, and that this coalition should also turn immediate attention to that effort, while still generating support for the victims of Cyclone Idai.
The night of grassroots entertainment will feature local DC talent Ayanna Gregory who is the daughter of the Civil Rights and artistic pioneer the late Dick Gregory, Kaba The SoulSinger, The Proverbs Reggae Band, Kuumba Kids/Daughters of the Baobab and tbe Mass Emphasis Children’s History and Theatre Company and Sitali Siyolwe a Zambian Jazz Guitarist who is the nephew of the current Namibian President Hage Geingob.
The meeting then shifted into using this golden opportunity to build the consolidate the strongest ties with the SADC region, since the days of the Frontline States, were deeply embroiled in armed struggles for self-determination and national liberation. The organisers of the events agreed that the illustrious and robust history of the SADC region is too often reduced to the autobiography Madiba Nelson Mandela and occasionally Mama Winnie Mandela.
The discussion shifted to educational linkages, where the exquisite chronology of SADC’s political history chronicled by the late Pan African giant Tanzanian Foreign Minister Brigadier-General Hashim Mbita can begin to be used by universities inside US borders.
Other projects discussed were an agriculturally and ecologically driven effort called the Songhai Centre and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture based in Benin, that can partner with all the SADC nations especially because of the recent news that droughts could come as rapidly as every five years.
Nearly 10 years ago the former Anglican Bishop in Harare Dr Nolbert Kunonga had called for a Martin Luther King Centre, that could serve as a base for so-called African American Churches to strengthen ties with the SADC region.
This would ensure that Dr Mtata and other high-level dignitaries in church bodies throughout SADC in particular and Africa in general, can spread their wings, and not allow the US State Department to handcuff their programme when they touch down in the US.
All four Ambassadors were pleased to hear that the Mass Emphasis Children’s History and Theatre Company has written and performed plays about Zimbabwean national heroine Amai Sally Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s National Heroes Acre and the late national hero and guerrilla warfare architect General Josiah Tongogara and the African revolutionary giant former president of Mozambique Cde Samora Machel.
If these projects come to fruition, the future history books will share how a natural disaster introduced Africa’s most politically stable region, to its extended family of comrades more than ready to defend their sovereignty and human dignity.