The unfinished African liberation business

The NGO Forum is an advocacy platform co-ordinated by the African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies to promote advocacy, lobbying and networking among and between human rights NGOs, for the promotion and protection of human rights in Africa.

LAST week I joined human rights defenders from across the continent at the NGO Forum, a precursor to the 77th Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) in Arusha, Tanzania.

The NGO Forum is an advocacy platform co-ordinated by the African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies to promote advocacy, lobbying and networking among and between human rights NGOs, for the promotion and protection of human rights in Africa.

The ACHPR session officially opened on October 20, 2023 and will run until November 9, 2023.

Arusha has become central to African diplomacy. As one of our hosts, Onesmo Olengurumwa the director of Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition said Arusha was the Geneva of Africa.

This was my first time in Tanzania. What I remembered from stories from friends in civil society was that Tanzania was not usually friendly to human rights defenders during the time of former President John Magufuli. During my visit last week, I met very friendly people.

The Zimbabwean brother I met at the airport told me that the people of Tanzania reminded him of the authentic Zimbabwean culture that truly rejoices at the sight of visitors.

In our culture, visitors are loved, welcome and pampered with gifts. Urbanisation has eroded these good ancient values. But not in Tanzania.

It felt like home. True to Mwalimu Julius Nyerere’s wisdom, I found the taxi drivers to be the most reliable sources of current affairs.

And, of course, what places to get good food, and good African wear.

The greatest of my experiences was connecting with fellow human rights defenders from across the continent who love Zimbabwe just like it was their own home. It was their home.

“When my neighbour’s home is burning, my home is burning,” Alice Mogwe, the president of the International Federation for Human Rights would later say at the Zimbabwe solidarity dinner.

On one of the evenings we were hosted by the chief executive officer of the Pan African Lawyers Union, Donald Deya and he spoke so passionately about the great hope he had for Zimbabwe in 2008 on the verge of the Global Political Agreement.

We were a people on the verge of making a gigantic breakthrough, but look at where we are today?

Deya later spoke and shared the same views at the Zimbabwe solidarity dinner that we held on October 18, 2023, with colleagues from the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, and the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, to reflect on the state and direction that Zimbabwe was taking.

“Zimbabwe today is like Uganda — marauded by a beast, sending the military to kill its own people,” Deya told the delegates.

Many comrades spoke that evening, who included our host Onesmo Olengurumwa, who reminded us that we must learn from the solidarity that our forebears showed.

The liberation struggle would not have been a success were it not for the solidarity that Africans showed each other.

“Let’s go back to our history — the way we fought colonialism in Africa and the way we fought apartheid in South Africa. The level of solidarity our leaders had cannot be measured anyhow. That level of solidarity that our fathers had cannot be seen anywhere today. All the plans and strategies for the wars in Africa were done here in Tanzania, but today as we fight for human rights, we don’t see that kind of solidarity. This is the message I want to share, not only with Zimbabweans but all people from Africa. My message is, why have you forgotten?”

This was very touching for me as a human rights defender.

In closing the evening of solidarity, I thanked the human rights family for standing with us and recalled the memory of the liberation.

I believe the time has come for us to rekindle that spirit of the liberation solidarity which radicalised a generation under oppression to do everything in its power to overcome the bondage of colonialism.

I said, “Friends, human rights work is a struggle. It is a liberation struggle. The fact that we choose to wage it without violence does not make it any less important. We must confront oppression with the same vigour, the same passion and the same energy with which our forebears confronted colonialism.”

Thank you Arusha  for giving us hope and for reminding us that we are not alone.

As the 77th Session of the African Commission continues this week into next week, we must insist that the commission takes seriously the human rights problems confronting Africa, just as the then Organisation of African Unity (OAU) took seriously the problem of colonialism.

If these mechanisms, these peaceful mechanisms of resolving our problems fail for one reason or the other, the alternative, while unthinkable, will become inevitable.

And for this reason, I plead with our African human rights system and my brothers who serve in these spaces to say please, don’t fail our people.

The liberation of Africa is unfinished business as long as the ideals of the Africa Charter are not realised.

The resolution of human rights issues in Africa is urgent today, just as the liberation of Africa was at the time the OAU was formed.

In giving us the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, our forefathers gave us an option other than violence.

Let us not squander it.

Dzikamai Bere is the national director for the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights). Comments to this article can be sent to [email protected].

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