Haiku Anniversary Zimbabwe's GPA

Prime Minister Tsvangirai (left) and President Mugabe

Last week Zimbabwe’s Global Political Agreement (GPA) turned one year old. The GPA was negotiated as a political compromise following the violence and contested elections of March-June 2008. And how did the proud parents (the Southern African Development Community, or SADC, which brokered and now guarantees the agreement) and family members (President Mugabe of ZANU-PF, Prime Minister Tsvangirai of MDC-T and Deputy Prime Minister Mutambara of MDC-M) celebrate this milestone? Well, they didn’t. But since every birthday should be commemorated, here’s my retrospective on the year. In haiku.

Mugabe no sign
Gono, Tomana stay on
No rule of law yet

Abuse rise, fall, rise
WOZA beat, arrest
NGOs out, in, threatened

Cholera kills quick
Doctors, teachers strike two times
Still not enough food

Mugabe birthday
MDC
turns 10, remain in GNU?
Press opens slightly

Bank, “yes, stole money
Bank pays money back in poo
Zim struggles for aid

Inflation down, good
Can’t get dollars for food, bad
Unemployment same

Tribunal withdraw
Diamonds, companies stolen
Parliament new vote

Constitution 2010?
Zim turns 30 in 2010, big party?
Growing pains to come

Fight Poverty by Protecting Human Rights

(Originally published on the Boston Globe)

On the evening of Sept. 18, 2007, six men broke into the home of Justine Masika Bihamba in Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Bihamba wasn’t home, but six of her children, ages 5 to 24, were. The men, reportedly government soldiers, tied up the children at gunpoint and abused two daughters in their 20s, sexually assaulting one with a knife. Bihamba and her children identified the attackers to military police but authorities refused to arrest the suspects, saying there was no evidence against them. They remain free today.

The men targeted Bihamba’s children because of her work coordinating medical and psychological care for women and girls who have been sexually assaulted. In the violent conflict that has raged in Congo for a decade, rape is a weapon of war.

The conflict has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and forced more than a million to flee; it is the latest in Congo’s long and bloody history. During the colonial period, ivory and rubber were the prizes for which Europeans sacrificed African lives. Today, the fighting is fueled by the country’s vast mineral resources – diamonds, gold and coltan, which is used in all mobile phones and laptops. Armed groups control mines and export minerals illegally, using the cash to buy arms.

The mineral wealth is of little benefit to the impoverished Congolese population.

More than 1,000 people die daily from preventable diseases such as cholera and dysentery. Most are children. These preventable deaths are human rights abuses in violation of international treaties on the right to health and the rights of the child. Until corporations that benefit from the mineral trade, together with the Congolese government and the international community, are persuaded to end the abuses, cases like Bihamba’s will keep recurring.

Amnesty International campaigns to ensure that human rights defenders like her can carry out their vital work in safety. But to stop the carnage in Congo, we recognize that we must also fight poverty – what Mahatma Gandhi called “the worst form of violence.”

People are accustomed to thinking of human rights violations as abuses committed by repressive regimes – torture, arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, enforced “disappearances,” political assassination, and the like.

But the international human rights framework is much broader. Sixty years ago, following the brutality of World War II when the Nazis denied Jews, Roma, gays, and others their very right to exist, the response of the international community was unequivocal – human rights had to be based on the principle of inclusion. That is, everyone is entitled to the same set of rights by virtue of being human. These include the right to freedom from torture and arbitrary imprisonment, and no less importantly, the right to adequate food and shelter, basic healthcare, education and employment. In short, the right to live a life of dignity.

People living in poverty are trapped, much like political prisoners.

Now, as the global economic crisis threatens to push an estimated 53 million more people into poverty this year, Amnesty International is launching the most ambitious campaign of its nearly 50-year history.

Just as we have fought effectively to protect civil and political rights on behalf of tens of thousands of political prisoners, we intend to mobilize our volunteers and supporters to hold governments, corporations, armed groups, and others accountable for the human rights abuses that drive millions around the world into poverty.

Governments have reneged on human rights obligations in the belief that economic growth alone would lift all boats. But now the tide is receding. Virtually none of the growth of the last two decades benefited poor and marginalized communities; instead, the gap between rich and poor only deepened in many parts of the world.

All human rights are interlinked, as the Congo demonstrates. If development was based on the fulfillment of basic human rights instead of skewed toward enriching a few at the expense of many, we might not be witnessing the violent upheaval of Congo and elsewhere.

Without an approach to poverty and development that puts human rights first, there will be many more stories like that of Justine Masika Bihamba.

Rebuilding Zimbabwe: How ‘Bout Them Apples?

It’s said that an apple a day keeps the doctor away. But doctors are very far away in Zimbabwe, as in entirely other countries where they might actually be paid for their services. Worse, most people don’t have anything to eat, let alone fresh fruit. Zimbabwe’s infrastructure has been in a downward spiral for at least the last ten years. The education system is in ruins, hospitals are closed, roads are impassable and the water and sewage systems destroyed.

Zimbabwe inherited a colonial infrastructure now over thirty years old. I don’t condone colonialism, I don’t think Zimbabwe was better off because the British were there and it’s not because the British left that things fell apart. It was a combination of government mismanagement and an acknowledged siphoning of funds by the central bank leading to the lack of infrastructure maintenance. Schools and hospitals, once some of the most respected in Africa are in shambles. Teachers, doctors and other health care professionals left in search of a living wage, particularly as Zimbabwe’s inflation soared to astronomical heights. The current government salary of $100US a month is not enough to feed and house their families, pay school fees, even commute to work.

Last year a cholera epidemic erupted in Zimbabwe which will soon reach the 100,000 cases benchmark. Unless the water treatment plants and sewer systems receive urgently needed repairs, it is anticipated that cholera will return at crisis levels when the rainy season resumes in October. The 2009 harvest was below projected levels, meaning Zimbabwe will be the world’s most food needy country per capita in 2009. Zimbabwe’s once effective HIV anti-retroviral drug dispersal program has faltered with the medical system collapse, and poor nutrition makes the drugs less effective and difficult to digest. Food insecurity also exaccerbates the cholera crisis.

Zimbabwe needs more than apples. It needs good governance and directed humanitarian aid (aid that is dispensed to non-governmental organizations to pay salaries and restore the infrastructure rather than through a government of which donor States remain leery) to help the people of Zimbabwe rebuild their country. Until then, apples and healthcare are both very far away.

What Nkunda Wants

Alice Eve

Alice Eve

Laurent Nkunda considers himself a man of diplomacy and politics. Unfortunately, whether we agree or not has become academic. This war criminal has a following that is growing and will continue to: aside from his Tutsi advocates there is suspicion that he is allied with ethnic Tutsi Paul Kagame (Rwanda’s President), and furthermore it has been speculated that he has the support of the Christian American right. This is a powerful foundation from which to wage a war of unthinkable proportions. Surely the question to ask at this stage is:
What does Nkunda want?

We know the UN Security Council has approved 3,100 additional peace keepers. Hopefully  this will be enough. As Ugandan Eddie Kwizera notes, “there is no peace to keep”. The DRC is the size of Western Europe, yet MONUC (Mission des Nations Unies en République Démocratique du Congo) the biggest peace keeping mission in the world, still only has 17,000 troops there. Neighbouring state Angola acknowledges that: “the direct and indirect interference by third parties will only worsen the conflict”.

The World Health Organization as of last Tuesday has named cholera a ‘serious risk’ in the region. This is perhaps the most concerning of all the developments in the region since August.  Cholera stands to be as powerful a killer as the men with guns. It can be passed on with just a handshake.

It is a handshake that needs to be considered. We have seen genocide just one generation ago in Rwanda. In the 1960′s we saw another failed peace-keeping mission in the area (UNOC). Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General UN, has said the UN forces suffer from a “lack of adequate equipment or a clear chain of command”. Fighting fire with fire is not the answer.

It may seem insufferable to the Gordon Browns and Bernard Kouchners to think of Nkunda as a leader, but a leader he is. Nkunda’s CNDP (National Congress for the Defence of the People) is a growing army with a following. It is hypocritical and embarrassing to be preaching peace only to discover that MONUC finds itself lending its sympathies to the Congolese army. It publicly admonishes the CNDP for abuses that the Congolese army are equally guilty of. How can we expect the CNDP to behave rationally if MONUC itself is taking sides?

As it is the Western idea of partition that was imposed on this region (the Belgian colonizers deciding the Tutsis were a superior race and so creating divisions), the Western idea of peace talks must be followed through with. Finding out what Nkunda wants, and genuinely engaging with and understanding the desires and divisions is the only way forward. If Kabila continues to ignore requests for direct negotiations, Nkunda could be well on his way to fulfilling his promise of toppling his government.

Of course there is an inherent problem, the Congo is mineral rich. Perhaps now would be a good time to stop exploiting Africa’s abundant natural resources. With the current state of the world maybe we should be more concerned with growing our own carrots.