This past week, the Chief Justice of Kenya presented to the country the State of the Judiciary Report for the year 2019.
This piece shall review some of the cases decided throughout the world last year in a mini state of the judiciary and justice across the world.
Among the issues of concern to the CJ is the constant public refrain that cases take too long to conclude. ‘Justice delayed is justice denied’ is too often cited by those who seek to lampoon judicial officers for delays.
The public comment about the backlog of cases in the courts reminded me of another case that attracts the opposite of the adage about the speed of justice.
If anyone would be concerned about the snail’s pace of conclusion of cases in our courts, they may wish to remember that bare speed is not the goal in court cases.
Last year, Judge Helen Black broke a record of sorts about swift justice by holding a single hearing and determining after only 13 minutes to take a child away from the custody of her 16-year-old mother.
The judgment itself was also 360 words long. When this instance of swift injustice was challenged on appeal, the court of appeal had expressed dismay at the rough justice meted out with such speed.
Lord Justice Baker said that the trial judge was no doubt aware of the need to ensure that the line between robustness and unfairness is not crossed as had been done in this case.
The appellate court ordered that the case be heard before another judge within a week of the judgment.
But backlogs are not the making of judges. Indeed, a greatly litigious society contributes to the backlog in the form of vexatious cases, which the courts then have to consider alongside cases of merit.
One such case was the case of a British Airways pilot, who was banned by a judge from having to sue his former wife again because of constant harassment through vexatious claims over a period of 20 years.
Another case was about a spat between two women in 2008 during a morning train ride.
Samantha Mead pulled a face at the smell of eggs being eaten by a fellow passenger in a train.
She was charged with the offence of intentionally causing harassment and fined at the Black friars Crown court and was fined in November, 2019.
Cases such as this leave many wondering why such an inconsequential spat between two people should be entertained within an already strained judicial system.
The courts were not only rebuking judges on account of speed. The same court of appeal rebuked a judge in Bermuda for making a lewd remark during a murder trial.
The judge had said during the trial that the evidence in that case was making him sexually aroused.
The accused person appealed against his conviction on the ground that the trial judge’s inappropriate behaviour was prejudicial to his case.
On appeal, the court of appeal did not interfere with the decision to convict the accused but opined strongly that the lewd remarks by a judge from the bench were inimical to the dignity of court proceedings.
Another judge in upstate New York in the United States had to resign following a case of poor judgement outside the courtroom.
Justice Kyle Canning of Altona Town court resigned following a charge by the New York Commission on Judicial Conduct with conveying racial and political bias on his Facebook page.
The judge posted an image of a hangman’s noose within a Facebook post citing President Trump’s slogan “Making America great again” alongside the words, “If we want to make America great again, then we will have to make evil people fear punishment”.
The judge resigned and gave an undertaking never to seek judicial office in the near future. But judges also made very sensible if surprising decisions in court.
Professional racing driver Oliver Webb would affirm this following conviction for exceeding the speed limit while driving a car in England.
Instead of a harsher punishment for this traffic offence, the court ordered the offending driver to attend a speed awareness course to learn safe driving.
But judges did not only deliver verdicts and sentences in courts last year. One of the cases in which a judicial officer’s conduct was overwhelmingly approved was not a court order.
After police officer Amber Guyger was convicted of the murder of a man she shot after entering his apartment and mistakenly thinking he was an intruder, the victim’s brother hugged the convict in court.
The judge joined this fest and also hugged the convict and wished her well.
But the judicial hugs could not reach the heights of a court in Germany which ruled in September 2019 that since alcoholism is an illness, its aftermath hangover must be deemed as illness as well.
This came from a case in which a manufacturer of an anti-hangover drink was sued for making illegal health claims about the product.
In dismissing the suit, the court in Frankfurt said that even a small or temporary disruption of the normal state of the human body would be an illness.
But aside from judges, advocates in court also had their moments in cases last year. Of these the most memorable for me was the address by Aidan O’Neill who, while representing members of the British parliament who had challenged the action by Prime Minister Johnson in prorogation of parliament, said this to the supreme court judges: “I say to this court, don’t let this be your Dred Scot moment”.
This was in reference to the US Supreme court case of Dred Scot in which it held that black people were not entitled to rights of US citizenship.
Referring more pointedly to the prime minister, he added that we got here the mother of parliaments being shut down “by the father of lies”.
Courts were also places for sombre moments in 2019. In November, Ms Addelaid Ferreira died in court in Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa, while prosecuting a case.
She was shot dead after a shotgun that had been brought to court as evidence dropped and fired at her, leaving her with a fatal injury. This is a case of one who died in the line of duty.
In Kenya, there was one bizarre case where it is said that a woman sued her estranged husband with the intention of obtaining orders to prevent him from receiving any portion of the dowry that was soon to be paid by a suitor in respect of their daughter who was expected to be married in due course.
The woman claimed that the man had abandoned her with the infant and therefore had no basis to expect a part of the dowry meant for a father.
Sekou Owino is head of Legal at Nation Media Group PLC
Covid toll on Africa has been more than lives; we have lost great talent
On June 9, at the writing of this column, the total number of reported Covid-19 cases in Africa since the pandemic began stood at 4,946,536. The total deaths were 132,983.
That was a smidgen of the cumulative 174,136,688 cases reported globally on the same day, with a horrific 3,750,423 deaths.
Second and third waves of the virus have broken out in at least nine African countries, and Africa’s vaccination score is nothing to write home about (of the nearly 2.3 billion doses administered globally by Tuesday, just over 30 million of them had been given in Africa), so the worst might just lie, but the gods have not yet deserted us.
The deaths of all the 132,983 people killed by Covid-19 in Africa — and the nearly 3.8 million in the world — are tragic. Yet there is an added blow to Africa. We are a continent where many countries have talented people across many fields, and therefore, compared to others, we are the continent that can least afford to lose them. However, we have lost many.
My labour of love is the development of a digital museum of great figures and unsung heroes of African history called The Wall of Great Africans. We just posted a profile of Linah Kelebogile Mohohlo, a Botswana economist who was Governor of the Bank of Botswana from 1999 to 2016. She succumbed to Covid-19.
Going back to March 24, 2020 with the death of the iconic Cameroonian musician Manu Dibango, the Covid toll on our finest, has been high:
- Dorah Sitole was a renowned South African chef, food writer and editor.
- Lungile Pepeta one of the most inspirational South African doctors of recent times.
- Mohamed Melehi, a Moroccan painter who helped spur an artistic renaissance in his country.
- Ahmed Ismail Hussein, Somali musician and an important figure in the country’s independence movement.
- Wilberforce Kisamba-Mugerwa, a leading Ugandan and African agricultural economist, academic and politician.
- Béchir Ben Yahmed, the Tunisian journalist who founded the influential weekly news magazine Jeune Afrique.
- Étienne Flaubert Batangu Mpesa, perhaps the most renowned Congolese pharmacist and science researcher.
- Abdul Hakim Al-Taher, Sudanese director and actor, considered the pioneer of the idea of theatre for the deaf in the country.
- Cosmas Magaya, a virtuoso of the mbira and giant of the craft in Zimbabwe.
- Charles Bukeko (Papa Shirandula) a hugely popular comedian and actor who helped transform the acting profession in Kenya.
- Djibril Tamsir Niane a Guinean historian, playwright and short story writer noted for introducing the Epic of Sundiata.
- Mababa “Pape” Diouf, a Senegalese journalist and football agent who was the president of French football club Olympique de Marseille between 2005 and 2009. He was the first black president of a top flight football club in any of Europe’s top six leagues.
- Leïla Menchari, a leading Tunisian designer and decorator who worked for Hermès as a decorator for over 50 years.
These are a handful of the more than 200 we have recorded and/or profiled. In 2023/2024, or possibly even 2026, when we reckon with what else Africa lost other than their lives, there could be a lot of red.
Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. [email protected]
AU and UN, can’t you see Africa’s looming meltdown?
The eruption of Mount Nyiragongo in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, has left tens of people dead. Hundreds of thousands of others have fled their homes into neighbouring Rwanda.
This latest crisis comes on top of decades-old conflicts that have killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced equal numbers. Thousands in this region need food aid every year. Periodic eruptions of Ebola, cholera and other diseases, including Covid-19, compound an already impossible situation.
In the wake of the massive humanitarian crisis caused by the eruption, the Norwegian Refugee Council declared “DR Congo is the worst humanitarian crisis of the 21st century’’. In an interview with a DRC minister, CNN’s Becky Anderson asked a point blank question: How did DR Congo, with most of the world’s mineral deposits, get to be the worst humanitarian crisis of the 21st century?
The minister lived up to the reputation of an African official when confronted with evidence of his own or his government’s monumental and criminal negligence. He gave circumlocutory excuses, stone-walled , then gave a master class in the art of subterfuge.
We cannot stop volcanoes from erupting, but we can minimise, if not totally avoid, the humanitarian crises that follow. In 2002 , another eruption of Nyiragongo killed 250 people and displaced thousands of others. You would expect that the DR Congo government learned some lessons from that catastrophe. But the fat cats who run that country, always busy lining their pockets, had learned nothing. The Goma Volcano Observatory had not been functioning optimally due to corruption. It was even unable to pay for internet connection to remote monitors or transport staff to observation points.
DRC is not the only country in Africa in which negligence and theft have led to great humanitarian crises. In Nigeria, an oil rich country, security forces — undisciplined and starved of funds — are overwhelmed by ragtag Islamic insurgents and criminal gangs. Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Chad, and the Sahel countries of Niger, Mali and Mauritania have been so weakened by decades of negligence and theft, they, too, are incapable of holding off jihadists. The truth is that without French military support, the Sahel countries would fall to the terrorists in a few months.
We have monumental humanitarian crises in the Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Somalia, Mozambique and South Sudan, and others waiting to happen in Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea and Burundi. Others like Kenya, Uganda, Congo Brazzaville and Malawi , due to the same neglect and corruption, are finding it impossible to match development to population growth. The Covid-19 pandemic has further exposed years of negligence and corruption in all of Africa, including South Africa.
The African Union and the UN can go on burying their heads in the sand, refusing to see the looming apocalyptic meltdown of the continent. Or they could begin demanding accountability from those who manage our national affairs. There remains a small window in which to act.
We’ve defeated polio, smallpox… oh, now you fear coronavirus vax!
Within a year — less even — of the pandemic hitting the world, pharmaceutical companies had come up with not one or even two but several vaccination options. The process continues to be refined as we speak, a solution in motion.
I am in awe. When… how did technology get so amazing? What else will we be capable of if we just devoted more resources to preventive measures and other global crises? I am waiting to see what will be made available in my country — Tanzania.
Not everyone feels this way. I was minding my own business in the vicinity of a conversation last year when I accidentally eavesdropped because I heard the word “vaccine” but I politely tuned out again until my hearing picked up statements like “don’t trust…” and “they might mean us harm.” I had to look up and check.
To my disbelief, it was people here in Dar talking about the vaccines being a menace to Africans and Black people in general. For real.
Give us the benefit of the doubt, I thought. This might be a minority event. There have been disinformation campaigns targeting Africans, and Tanzania in particular attracted a lot of attention from people whose motives I never fathomed. Oh, how wrong I was. Anti-vaccination sentiment has been growing, and I hear it more often than I would have imagined. This is a phenomenon.
Conspiracy theories are fascinating, the weirder the better. I like them because they are a form of storytelling about ourselves and the world that is collective in nature — hardly a conspiracy if only one person believes it. Occasionally researching them can give startling bits of obscure history, little known facts.
But in the end, as interesting as they are as a social phenomenon, I try to stay away from what they are selling. It’s the Us vs Them element that feeds our worst fears, and scared humans are bad news.
Finding genuine anti-vaccination sentiment right here at home took me by surprise. I’ll tell you where the logic fails for me: by virtue of being born here and most countries in the world, you have been vaccinated as an infant or a child. And we’ve defeated polio, smallpox… except in those small communities where people do not want to vaccinate their children against these dangerous illnesses.
Even with my frustration with our education system I have never felt that we’re anti-science. Many schools of thought are welcome here.
But then again… there is such a thing as intergenerational trauma. This nebulous “They” who are planning to take over the continent and wipe out all people of African descent… aren’t exactly fiction.
The slave trades both Atlantic and Indian Ocean? Happened. There is only half a century separating many of us from self-rule.
In the obfuscations and politicised queries about the source of Covid-19 and the doubts about the vaccines’ efficacy, this is a perfect breeding ground for a very real fear to emerge.
You know what is truly Machiavellan? Exploiting a fear. Someone seems to have found a crack in our psyche.
In the Tanzanian anti-vax campaign’s early days, a number of American social media outlets advanced a narrative which gels with that of a belief that the world is out to get Black people and we must maintain our “purity” by refusing interventions, including medical ones.
I know the shape of the anti-vax movement in its hotspots, namely the part of American society that is certifiably insane, and a few dots here and there around the world that have become infected.
But to link it to a shared African super identity and scare people into doubting vaccination? That is a level of evil brilliance that is dangerous. Can you imagine what could happen if enough people refuse any forms of preventive measures and fail to achieve herd immunity?
It is hard to stomach that, as I write this, there are countries in real distress such as South Africa, and India, which now has a Black Fungus problem on top of everything else. Both countries with which we have close ties.
Close ties. Somehow in this anti-vax discussion, regular treatment we all rely on — the doctor’s visits, the run to the pharmacy, the myriad African scientists and their work — doesn’t come up. I thought that this article was going to be about arguing against anti-vax but that would be futile. The information is out there.
Lurking underneath the surface of what seems to be a contemporary debate is actually something else I have had a hard putting my finger on but which recurs: a crack in our psyche. The unfinished project.
Is this the unending business of liberation? At what point will we have that argument, discussion, healing with each other, in addition to pointing fingers outwards for all the things that aren’t right where necessary?
If I wanted to decimate a people, especially a people exploited for centuries — well, I will tell you more next week.
Eyakuze is a consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report: E-mail: [email protected]