Civil Society Engagement in Zimbabwe 

agwagwazIn the aftermath of the 2013 elections, which confirmed Robert Mugabe’s grip on power and shut out the highly divided opposition, Zimbabwean civil society has been struggling to find relevance. The unified social forces that gave rise to the democratization agenda in 1999 are severely depleted, and the impetus for reform ran its course with the adoption of a new constitution. Formal organized labor is no longer in existence, the Movement for Democratic Change and civil society organizations (CSOs) trade blame for the failure of the democratic project. For CSOs, the primary question is how they can best engage with one another and other actors in the current state of predatory rule.

In his presentation, Zimbabwean human rights lawyer Arthur Gwagwa will evaluate CSOs’ democracy work both in collaboration with and outside of political party structures, and the ways in which this work has either resisted or perpetuated authoritarianism. He will offer recommendations for continued domestic engagement and strategies for enhancing international support of Zimbabwean democracy.

Arthur Gwagwa is a human rights attorney who heads the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, based in London. In the nineties, he was among the first lawyers to offer pro bono representation to victims of rights violations through the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights network. In 2002, he went into exile in the United Kingdom, when his work representing the politically persecuted and dispossessed brought him to the adverse attention of the authorities. While based in the United Kingdom, Mr. Gwagwa has represented refugees at the Refugee Legal Centre and has continued advancing the cause of human rights and democracy in Zimbabwe. During his fellowship, he is working on a policy document on how enhancing civil society engagement can strengthen democratic culture and electoral integrity in Zimbabwe.

The International Forum for Democratic Studies at the National Endowment for Democracy

cordially invites you to a presentation entitled

 How Civil Society Engagement Can Strengthen Democracy in Zimbabwe

featuring

Arthur Gwagwa

Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow

with comments by

Jeffrey Smith

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

moderated by

Zerxes Spencer

International Forum for Democratic Studies

Tuesday, January 13, 2015 3:00 p.m.–4:30 p.m.  1025 F Street, N.W., Suite 800, Washington, D.C. 20004 Telephone: 202-378-9675 RSVP (acceptances only) with name and affiliation by Friday, January 9

HERE.

Livestream of the event will be available here.

Twitter: Follow @ThinkDemocracy and use #NEDEvents to join the conversation.

Southern Africa’s unholy trinity

rafael marquesIn Southern Africa, there are three countries where such a struggle for freedom of expression is of particular concern, says Angolan journalist Rafael Marques de Morais.

What Angola, Zimbabwe and Swaziland have in common is that their heads of state are among the five longest serving in Africa. President José Eduardo dos Santos has been in power for 35 years, Robert Mugabe for 34, and King Mswati III for 28. They are all enemies of the free press. The difference among them is in the methods they use to silence dissent, and what they have to offer or not to the international community, in exchange for legitimacy, he said, delivering the Carlos Cardoso memorial lectureat Johannesburg’s Wits University earlier this week.

As for the media and civil societies in the three aforementioned countries, there is a paradox. Zimbabwe has a vibrant, very skilled media and civil society sector. For years, there has been an outpouring of support from the international community for civil society and the opposition. But oppression has triumphed, the opposition has crumbled and the press continues to be prosecuted. In Angola, in which the equivalent sectors have had negligible international support, it is corruption that has further weakened civil society. Little remains of the independent press, and the opposition.

Currently, there is arguably no more inspirational example of the struggle for freedom of expression than the cases of prominent human rights attorney Thulani Maseko and journalist Bheki Makhubu, both from Swaziland. On 25 July both received two-year prison sentences for articles they had written criticizing the lack of judicial independence in their country. The Swazi constitution protects their rights to free speech and freedom of expression. But the king’s court overrules such rights to suppress challenges to its rule.

As I speak to you, I am awaiting at any time, to face nine separate trials in Angola, for supposedly having offended seven Angolan generals and two diamond companies. Upon describing more than 100 cases of torture and murdercommitted by personnel employed by them in their private security companies and diamond ventures, I concluded that they are the moral authors of crimes against humanity.

Currently, there is arguably no more inspirational example of the struggle for freedom of expression than the cases of prominent human rights attorney Thulani Maseko and journalist Bheki Makhubu, both from Swaziland. On 25 July both received two-year prison sentences for articles they had written criticizing the lack of judicial independence in their country. The Swazi constitution protects their rights to free speech and freedom of expression. But the king’s court overrules such rights to suppress challenges to its rule.

RTWT

Marques is an award-winning journalist and human rights activist, specializing in political economy, the diamond industry, and government corruption. A former Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow, his writings have helped set the agenda for political debate in Angola by exposing abuses of power and endemic corruption through his journalism and his work with Maka Angola, an Angolan platform, supported by the National Endowment for Democracy.

Zimbabwe: The Military vs. Democracy

In this episode of Democracy Ideas, Christopher Walker interviews Charles Mangongera about the militarization of Zimbabwe’s politics, state institutions, and economy, as well as how the military’s role may affect Zimbabwe’s prospects for democratic reform.

Mr. Charles Mangongera is a Zimbabwean human rights and governance researcher who previously served as director of policy and research at the Movement for Democratic Change. He was a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow in residence at the International Forum for Democratic Studies from October 2013–February 2014. During his fellowship, Mr. Mangongera explored the role of the military in supplanting Zimbabwe’s democratic transition.

Watch more Democracy Ideas

Related Content

Read Charles Mangongera’s article, “A New Twilight in Zimbabwe? The Military vs. Democracy” from the April 2014 issue of the Journal of Democracy. (ProjectMUSE access is required) ::MORE

Watch video from Charles Mangongera’s fellowship presentation, “Zimbabwe’s Military and the Prospects for Democratic Reform” held on January 15, 2014.

RTWT

Zimbabwe: targeting rights lawyer highlights sinister trend

A top aide to Zimbabwe's Prime MinisterJust over two weeks ago, Zimbabwe’s Prosecutor-General Johannes Tomana, a close ally of President Robert Mugabe, announced that the government intended to reopen its case against lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa, following her acquittal last November on charges that she had “obstructed justice,” writes Jeffrey Smith, the Africa Advocacy Officer at the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. This charge was the result of Mtetwa – a universally acclaimed human rights attorney and recipient of the International Woman of Courage Award – having the audacity to demand a search warrant during a raid on the home of a client in March 2013.

Given Zimbabwe’s well-documented history of human rights abuses, Mtetwa’s clientele has traditionally consisted of individuals who comprise the political opposition and civil society, thereby making her a target herself. In fact, as a result of her legitimate work, Mtetwa has been severely beaten and routinely harassed by Zimbabwe’s often partisan authorities, which remain loyal to Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).

Last year, Mtetwa’s arrest and subsequent detention and trial were roundly criticized as a farce. The Committee to Protect Journalists stated in a letter to then-Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs that the arrest was an “affront to the constitution and legal system of [Zimbabwe].” The European Union expressed “deep concern” and both the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and the Pan African Human Rights Defenders Network deemed the arrest “arbitrary.”

RTWT