Posted May 15, 2020. To settle a pandemic-related financial crisis at UMass Dartmouth, law faculty are not receiving research compensation in summer 2020. I will be away from my desk, May 16 to August 15. Blog posts will be sparse, and I will not receive email. On the upside, summer 🌞! If you need to reach me, please send a message through the faculty assistants’ office (Ms. Cain and Ms. Rittenhouse). Stay thirsty.
Showing posts with label southern Africa. Show all posts
Showing posts with label southern Africa. Show all posts

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Happy Independence Day, Namibia!

Your humble blogger reaches Swakopmund, crossroads of the Namib Desert and South Atlantic Ocean.
All photos RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-SA 4.0.
Yesterday, March 21 was independence day in Namibia. One of the youngest countries in the world, Namibia attained independence from South Africa in 1990 after a brutal war and bloody history of subjugation as the German colony of Southwest Africa. Public celebrations of 30 years of independence were cancelled because of the coronavirus, though an inauguration ceremony of President Hage Geingob, for his second term, proceeded.

Sign fallen to the ground in Windhoek.
I found mixed feelings on the ground about Geingob, who was the country's first prime minister and a hero of the independence movement. One middle-aged man from Namibia's rural north told me Geingob can't be blamed for entrenched intransigence and corruption in the political establishment, that he can only do so much. Meanwhile a young woman in the capital, Windhoek, stringing together multiple jobs to put herself through university, blamed Geingob squarely for double-digit unemployment--by various estimates, one in three Namibians, or more, need work--and fiercely lamented his second term.

The National Museum and historic German Lutheran church stand in juxtaposition in Windhoek.
Me and Nujoma. He holds the Namibian constitution.
I've been sensitive in traveling Africa to the subtleties of foreign influence, especially that of China, and that shadow turned up in a curious way in Namibia. Like elsewhere in Africa (I wrote earlier about Guinea-Bissau), communists financed the independence movement as an aspect of the Cold War; consider, for Namibia, this was the 1980s. North Korea grew close to legendary independence leader Sam Nujoma. North Korea financed a great many public works projects in independent Namibia, including recently and strikingly, the National Museum, which opened in Windhoek in 2014. The building is modernist (technically "socialist realist"), marking a contrast with Windhoek's colonial center, and boasts a Kim Jong-ish statue of Nujoma. The interior is to match, celebrating Namibian independence with socialist-style murals and cult-of-personality-type homages to national leaders.

A mural in the National Museum celebrates independence.
The sun rises over the Rössing Uranium Mine in the Namib.
Why does North Korea's interest persist so many years after independence? Locals point to Namibia's especially valuable natural resource: uranium mines in the western Namib desert. Though North Korea formally is walled off by the West from materials that might advance the DPRK's nuclear capabilities, suspicions point to China as a willing intermediary. And so the African "natural resources curse" persists.

Namibian Parliament: A banner on the Parliament's administrative building heralds 30 years of independence.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Customary law undergirds justice systems in Africa: A-courting in Harare

Outside the "Harare Civil Court" buildings, a discarded sign reads, "Harare Magistrate's Court / Civil and Customary Law." Other court building in Harare are pictured below. All photos RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-SA 4.0.
The integration of customary law into national legal systems based on post-colonial polities is a challenge, and an opportunity, throughout Africa. I wrote recently about customary legal authority in the Casamance region of Senegal, and Zimbabwe is no exception to the norm.

The Zimbabwe constitution expressly preserves customary law, and federal enactments spell out the scope of customary law in sensitive areas, such as marriage and child care. The constitution creates customary courts and charges other courts, including the Supreme Court, with respecting and developing customary law, just as they do common law. For NYU Law GlobaLex, Saki and Chiware (updated by Pfumorodze and Chitsove, 2017) further explained:
The main reason for the existence of these customary law courts is to provide a justice system to ordinary people in rural areas which is consistent with African custom and values.  It is  realized that most ordinary Zimbabweans regulate their lives in accordance with customary law to the extent that the legal ideas and institutions inherited from the system has  preserved the authority of traditional leaders  to adjudicate in civil disputes by customary law.
In Zimbabwe, customary courts have jurisdiction over civil, but not criminal, matters. Common law controls in the civil sphere, while criminal law is strictly codified in Zimbabwe's mixed system.
Scales of justice adorn a high court building where criminal cases are heard.
Jehovah's Witnesses occupy the walk outside the characteristically modest legal aid office.

Your humble blogger stands before the highest court('s house) in the land.
Constitutional Court.





Friday, March 20, 2020

Shop like a termite: Sustainable architecture in Harare

Leko, my guide in the Okavango Delta of Botswana, uses a termite mound for elevation.
All photos RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-SA 4.0.
The Eastgate Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe, pictured outside and inside below, uses passive cooling (read more at Wikipedia) to keep cool without exhaustive power consumption. Designed by Zimbabwean architect Mick Pearce, the shopping and office complex opened in 1996. Pearce works in "sustainable architecture" and developed the field upon an interest in biomimicry. The passive cooling design of the Eastgate Centre is said to be based on principles observed in southern Africa's ubiquitous termite mounds.

Eastgate Centre

Monday, March 16, 2020

Zimbabweans still await their development moment

Robert Mugabe airport.
All photos RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-SA 4.0.
In Harare, Zimbabwe, my host (whose identity I am protecting) brought me up to speed on national politics and the present fuel shortage. I had been under the impression that the exit from nearly 30-year rule of President Robert Mugabe, with subsequent electoral fanfare, marked a turning point for the southern African nation. Alas, my host reported that the new regime of President Emmerson Mnangagwa is same story, different day.

Zimbabwe imports its oil, but there is no ready explanation, such as a natural disaster or embargo, to explain the latest (nor the prior) bottleneck and long gas lines. My host blames politics as usual, which means control of the country's oil market awarded to cartels in exchange for lucrative kickbacks to politicians. A business owner dependent on vehicles to move assets, my host explained the strategies he employs to keep his fleet in service, including foreign currency purchases, which can bypass gas lines; fuel storage for a rainy day; the occasional financial inducement to a fuel seller; and, when all else fails, waiting in the interminable lines.

A gas line runs along the road.

A Total station is closed except for its 'Bonjour' shop.
The high ratio of pedestrians to vehicles on the streets of Harare is like none I've seen elsewhere in a major city, as even minibuses are in short supply for want of fuel. There are taxi stands, but the cabs are decidedly parked and not cruising for customers. My host said that the aforementioned politicians never seem to be wanting for fuel, though. Indeed, around Parliament and the executive administration building, I saw many official vehicles, and early in the morning, I saw workers filling their gas tanks from fuel cans. Entrepreneurial roving street merchants, who might be selling bananas, nuts, or newspapers in another city, hawk fuel cans and funnels in Harare.

Customers wait for the grocery store to open in the morning.
Another curiosity that struck me in Harare was crowds of people around and in the grocery stores. Outside a CBD branch of the popular market chain OK were a score of peddlers bearing cardboard signs showing numbers. My host explained that, in tandem with Zimbabwe's economic woes, and also a function of corruption, he asserted, runs the country's currency shortage. Indeed, I paid always with U.S. dollars, received change in same, and never saw other than inflationary Zim notes being sold as touristic novelties. In part because of the currency shortage, and to prevent a run on banks, people are restricted in bank withdrawals. That means one must go more often to the grocery store. But people have adapted, and they do have access to their money through electronic devices. The peddlers outside the stores are brokers, or internet-age money changers, who, for a competitive cut, convert electronic bank balance into hard currency to spend on groceries that don't directly accept debit or public assistance payments.

My host lamented: Zimbabwe is a country rich in natural resources and natural beauty to rival regional neighbors such as Tanzania and South Africa. Yet in 55 years since independence from the UK, the country inexcusably has failed to mature domestic productivity or the touristic sector. Sadly, coup d'etat and the long-anticipated exit of Mugabe seem not to have precipitated meaningful change.

Just wait, my host said: if the people don't see improvements, they'll change leadership again; and again, until someone gets it right.

Zimbabwe Parliament building sits on Africa Unity Square.