Southern Africa Year in Review 2009

December 22, 2009

Waiting in line to vote. Amnesty International.
Waiting in line to vote. ©Amnesty International

As 2009 winds down, here’s a wrap up of the year’s highlights from the southern Africa region. From elections, to assassinations, to elections, to awards ,to elections, to boycotts, to elections, to what was all in all a fairly smooth year compared to what might have been, here are a few notes about human rights conditions in the 12 countries we monitor for Amnesty International USA.

Angola was supposed to hold presidential elections this year but didn’t. Current (and for the last 30 years) president, dos Santos, said constitutional reform must come first and this will take another two years.  Constitutional reform=good. Using it as an excuse to delay democratic elections=bad.

Forced evictions continued in 2009 in Angola. Amnesty International continues to call for an end to illegal evictions and for just compensation for forcibly displaced persons in Angola.

On a positive note, Prisoner of Conscience Fernando Lelo was released this year. Lelo is a journalist imprisoned for criticizing above noted president. However, those who were tried and convicted with him remain incarcerated. Lelo directly credited Amnesty activists for their efforts on his behalf. Pat yourselves on the back for a job well done!

Botswana held elections this year. Khama was elected to a new term, after finishing out the term of his predecessor. Major concerns in Botswana continue to be media restrictions, repression of labor unions, displacement of indigenous persons and high HIV infection rates. But Khama does his fair share of criticizing regional leaders and tweaking the nose of Zimbabwe’s President Mugabe. He mailed a congratulatory letter to the ladies of Women of Zimbabwe Arise following their win of the RFK Human Rights Award this year.

Guinea Bissau

One election not anticipated this year occurred in Guinea Bissau-but it tends to follow when you assassinate your head of state. Guinea Bissau was forced into elections this year after the head of the army was killed, prompting the tit-for-tat killing of President Vieira. Subsequently, two more men linked to the dead president and set to campaign for the sudden vacancy were also killed. And you thought politics in the US played dirty.

Since elections in July, things have been relatively calm, but Guinea Bissau is a small country overrun with small arms and drug running. On a brighter note, a campaign to lower maternal mortality rates-amongst some of the highest in the world-is showing success.

Yes, this is really a sovereign nation. Find it on a map, I dare you! Lesotho has alot of great social service programming going on, but struggles with food insecurity due to poor agricultural output caused by endless cycles of drought and flood combined with a decimated population due to HIV/AIDS. As a result, poverty in Lesotho is crushing. A growing textile industry offers hope for income diversification and less dependence on a climate altered landscape for sustainability.

Madonna broke ground on a school her charitable organization will fund and adopted a daughter. I assume this is the only reason most people have even heard the word Malawi. But it’s this whole country of people, most of whom could care less about Madonna. Imagine that.

Malawi also held presidential elections in May this year and incumbent Mutharika won. Malawi was recognized as one of the most peaceful nations in the world (when compared to its sub-Saharan neighbors). However, failure to hold regional elections and recent attempts to pass police reform legislation that was a tad sketchy don’t bode well. Mutharika, meanwhile, is lobbying hard to replace Gaddafi next year in the African Union presidency.

Oh, and some dude built a really cool windmill, wrote a book and was a 2009 media darling. Sorry he stole a bit of your Malawi-referenced press, Madonna.

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Mozambique held presidential and parliamentarian elections in October. (Sensing a theme yet? Elections, elections everywhere.) There were pockets of violence prior to polling day, but the election itself was relatively quiet and things have been calm since. The ruling party Frelamo retained it’s hold on government and former rebel group-cum-political party Renamo seems to be fading into insignificance, except in it’s own mind.

Amnesty International released an updated report in November regarding human rights abuses committed by the police in Mozambique. Extra-judicial killings occur at an alarming frequency and police act with impunity. Basically, you don’t want to tangle with the law-you aren’t likely to win. However, just last week President Guebeza addressed a graduating class of police officers and impressed upon them the importance of recognizing human rights in their work. Coincidence this occurs a month after Amnesty activists are urged to take action by contacting President Guebeza to urge him to end police impunity? I think not! Rock on, Amnesty peeps! Keep up the pressure by sending more letters!

Yet another election in the region. Namibia held elections in November that were deemed free and fair. Ushahidi (if you don’t yet know what this is-you should) rolled out coverage for the elections and recorded minor incidents of violence.

Two of the largest issues in Namibia are hunger and HIV prevalence. When combined, it creates an even more challenging problem-people can’t take ARV’s without food because they become nauseous and chronic lack of food makes it harder to increase T-cell counts and fight off the co-morbid infections often seen with HIV.

Sao Tome y Principe
Two major things about this tiny island nation-it found oil in it’s territorial waters and it’s sinking. Hmmm…a natural resource that can help the gross national product by becoming a major oil producer at the expense of pumping more carbon fuels into the atmosphere which will further raise the earth’s core temperature and accelerate the pace at which the nation is lost to seawater. Talk about your conundrums.

South Africa
Guess what! That’s right-another election! South Africans went to the polls in April and overwhelmingly reaffirmed the ANC party as the dominant force in politics. Zuma was sworn in and HIV/AIDS policies are beginning to move forward, reversing the dark ages policies of his predecessor. Health care for women in rural areas remains an issue, however, and Amnesty calls upon the government to make affirmative changes to allow accessible health care in rural areas.

Incidents of xenophobia against immigrants continued throughout the year, Zuma was officially appointed as negotiator for the Zimbabwe transitional government and the Dalai Lama was stopped at the border in March; but there was really only one thing on everyones mind-the World Cup. And it doesn’t even happen until June of 2010. So here’s a preview of the South Africa year end review for next year-World Cup. Now you can skip this section 12 months from now.

If you found Lesotho, you found Swaziland and probably thought “There are TWO other countries there! I thought that was all South Africa!” But you would be wrong. Swaziland is the last monarchy in Africa and they sure don’t let you forget it. Political opposition is firmly quashed in Swazi, through the use of repressive laws like anti-terrorism legislation which is really just an excuse to lock up opposition party members.

Mario Masuku was jailed and tried under this law earlier in the year but was acquitted. Upon his release from prison, however, prison guards beat the stuffing out of some supporters and journalists waiting outside the prison for him. Seriously not cool, King Mswati. Seems like picking a new bride every year is distracting you from practicing good governance and following human rights principles.

Zambia experienced a crack down on human rights this past year. Proposed legislation requiring registration of human rights organizations that will potentially force many out of operation was signed into law by President Banda. And a newspaper editor went on trial on obscenity charges for exposing shameful conditions one woman faced trying to access health care. The charges were eventually dropped.

Zimbabwe had a relatively quiet year. Well, as compared to last year-and that is a very good thing. The transitional government was sworn in mid-February and limped along since. Inflation is down dramatically but it is still a challenge for Zimbabweans to afford basic necessities. Human rights violations and political violence continue but at a lesser rate than seen last year. Tsvangirai boycotted the transitional government in October to force the hand of regional leaders in negotiating violations of the Global Political Agreement and met with minor success.

Amnesty International also called upon the displaced victims of forced removals to be compensated by the government. Zimbabwe has forcibly evicted nearly three-quarters of a million people from their homes and informal businesses in the last five years.

The Southern Africa Country Specialists wish you a happy new year. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook to keep up with what’s happening in the region in 2010.