Friday, September 25, 2020, went down in history for what is generally considered to be a phenomenal and historic anniversary for the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC). That was when the Dar es Salaam based Centre commemorated the 25th anniversary of its founding in 1995.
It is my considered view that there is no one who attended the event which took place at the Julius Nyerere International Convention Centre (JNICC) in Dar es Salaam would disagree that the colorful festive was simply magnificent.
For starters, the place was highly secured. From the outward appearance alone, one could tell that the event was meant to be ‘magnifique.’ At the thresh old of the building, there were exhibition tents of LHRC directorates, so that you wouldn’t rush to enter the building without first taking a good look at the showcased services and products.
Exhibition tents were not the ‘icing on the cake’ only at the threshold. Tables were scattered across the place, serving breakfast for those who needed it.
Inside the premises happened to out class the outside appearance with tranquil, gleam and fabulous atmosphere. Indigo and black suits worn by most of the LHRC staff stole the show and with such attire, they could easily be mistaken for Members of Parliament (MPs) during parliamentary proceedings.
It was with great surprise and glee, therefore, that we learned that a 25-year anniversary would perhaps require not less than 24 hours to prepare; but, the organisers had used only five (5) hours to do the job to perfection.
The event was hosted by a long serving master of ceremony (MC), Taji Liundi and it was also musical, as a Tanzania music icon, Banana Zorro, was in action at the place, with singers from the Tanzania House of Talent (THT) and LHRC’s Mwalusanya choir group, all out to spice up the event.
The guest of honor was the Chairman of the Commission for Human Rights and Good Governance (CHRGG), former Chief Judge Mathew Mwaimu. Other invitees were government officials, LHRC founders and members, former chairperson of the LHRC board, former directors, the executive director, LHRC board members, ambassadors and representatives, political party leaders, religious leaders, LHRC human rights clubs representatives and members of the press.
Also there were justice actors, LHRC staff, beneficiaries and other invitees. The organising committee of the event did a wonderful job. Everything was in place, and things were moving smoothly.
When the clock ticked down to 11:06am, THT lads graced the beginning of the event by producing magnetic performance. Anna Henga who is currently the LHRC executive director – stepped up to the podium and introduced various guests. She also formally welcomed former Chief justice Barnabas Samatta to open the festive with speech.
Former Chief Justice Samatta’s overview
Former Chief Justice Samatta said the organisation was established with specific objectives, including enabling Tanzanians to readily access adequate education on legal and human rights.
But also, it was to enable people to benefit from good governance as a matter of course. He further stated that the organisation routinely monitors the constitutional legitimacy of enacted laws.
He notified his audience that LHRC marks 25 years of highly exalted service since its inception in 1995 under its ‘founding fathers,’ namely: Professor Costa Ricky Mahalu, Dr Ringo Tenga, the late Dr Sengondo Mvungi, Dr. Harrison Mwakyembe and Dr. Wilbert Kapinga.
“This is a special day for proponents of Justice. This is an aspired day for those who are deprived of Justice,” Judge Samatta stated, hinting at underlying protracted injustice cycle as another good reason for establishing the organisation. He stressed the dire need to safeguard Human, Natural, Constitutional and Legal rights in line with contributing to the improvement of rights protection systems particularly for marginalized groups of women, children, the disabled/disadvantaged, and others.
He categorically stated that “This organisation is highly-needed now than it ever was before.” This statement came after a series of human rights infringement acts which include, but are not limited to a criminal suspect being detained for an unlawfully period; detainees tortured as they await hearing of their cases in court; an upsurge of repressive acts against women and children, criminal offences without bail.
He believes that the proposed new constitution under the Judge Joseph Warioba Commission was a panacea for suppression and contempt of human and legal rights. Also, he sees values of democracy, freedom, fairness and justice are becoming a success if that proposed draft is approved and adopted well.
Former LHRC’s leader’s journey
Former leaders of the exalted organisation had an opportunity to discourse on its 25 years journey as individuals. It was an event that involved former LHRC executive directors, Dr. Hellen Kijo Bisimba and Francis Kiwanga, as well as a former director of finance and administration, Ezekiel Massanja.
Dr Kijo-Bisimba was a woman of forthright articulation during her speech. She admitted to have never thought of holding such a top position in any organisation. She was cajoled into the position by a colleague, despite having not qualified for the position since the position, required a lawyer who is an advocate of the high court.
As there are no flies on her, she chose to hold onto human rights advocacy, coupled with the fact that she is built around objectivity. Dr. Kijo-Bisimba is bold. She strongly advised her staff of the importance of overcoming fears surrounding their careers if they really wanted to put hallmarks on their names.
She was delighted with the way the LHRC has been operating as the LHRC’s staff collectively put their shoulders to the proverbial wheel. Perhaps by the luck of a draw, Francis Kiwanga was honed to perfection by Dr. Kijo-Bisimba. Francis’ LHRC entry story is quite different from Dr Kijo-Bisimba’s story.
Kiwanga joined the organisation after graduating from a university, and began his career as a volunteer. During his service, he solved a number of land cases and his craving to provide society with legal aid was what pushed him to the hilt.
He urged LHRC staff to continue to serve society the best way they could, bringing them a hope. “People should participate in human rights and legal processes,” Kiwanga invariably urged all and sundry.
A former director of finance and administration of the Centre, Ezekiel Massanja, closed the historical chapter with what he believed he had achieved during his tenure. Having already worked for international organisations such as AMREF International, Massanja truly believes that LHRC’s relocation to its new premises was an integral part of his efforts. He said that building is not enough of a milestone to cherish at the organisation and he would want to be remembered for providing staff with various insights, including how to budget well.
He went on to advise the organisation to increasingly work with other human rights organisation with a view of building synergies for attainment of a LHRC’s vision of a just and equitable society.
LHRC beneficiaries’ appealing tales
It was such a great honor for beneficiaries of the legal aid from the organisation to share their touching stories with participants of the event. However, Valeriana’s story appeared to draw the attention of many of the people who were present in the function. Valeriana was a Journalist who had an accident and lost both of her legs. According to her, she was hit by a private company car whose owners refused to pay her compensation. Her family could not afford the cost of Valeriana’s seemingly insurmountable problem.
She said “I lost hope of survival after the accident.” She sought out Dr. Kijo-Bisimba whom she had known from her journalistic duties, and was given hearty cooperation by her. Valeriana’s case was handed over to lawyers from whom she received written legal assistance. Indeed, the lawyers aided her at every step of her case against the car’s owners.
Although the case took four years, she won every step of the way. Valeriana said she was grateful to the LHRC for the support and, since then, she has been brave enough to stand up for her own rights. Also, she has moved to her new home, and now runs her life without relying on other people’s help.
LHRC development partners’ message
Some of the Embassies which attended the 25th Anniversary ceremony were from Sweden, Norway, Ireland, and Finland, Den-mark, Italy, France and a representative of the European Union (EU). The Swedish Ambassador to Tanzania, Anders Sjoberg speaking on behalf of the other ambassadors and representatives said he was pleased to join Tanzanians in celebrating the 25th anniversary of the LHRC, and heartily congratulated them.
He commended the organisation for its effective management of civil rights, environmental rights, community rights, But, as development partners, they are saddened to see LHRC was not included in the process of over-seeing this year’s elections. They were also somewhat touched by the detention of its employee, Tito Magoti.
Sjoberg added that, on behalf of the diplomatic envoys in Tanzania, they will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with LHRC and wished it all the best in its next 25 years journey.
Professor Maina’s speech
The celebration would not have been such a success if legal pun-dits like Professor Maina a Law Lecturer at the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) had not made a presentation at the gathering. When he was given the opportunity to do so, he focused on discussing shortcomings in some laws that have hindered access to justice in the country.
Professor Maina recalled that the Nyalali Presidential Commission (February 1991) did list 40 defective laws that needed to be revisited. Arguing that the laws were enacted to target law breakers, Professor said he thought that some of the laws had been over-taken by events, as some of them were aimed at stifling and/or punishing institutions that help people to get their rights.
He cited Amendment in Non-government Organisations (NGO) Act number 6 of 2000 on ‘Written Laws: Miscellaneous Amendments,’ saying this law does not allow a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) to defend a person unless the NGO does have a direct interest in the matter.
Also, Section 4 of the law prohibits anyone from prosecuting a senior national leader including, for example, the Prime Minister, the Vice President and the President for any offence. “You can see that, even the results of presidential elections cannot be challenged in court, while other nations have laws that allow,” Professor Maina said, adding that many such laws are passed through Parliament on a ‘Certificate of Urgency,’ and are difficult to oppose or ques-tion.
The professor reminded us again of the issue of the African Court of Justice in Arusha which is said to have jurisdiction to hear civil proceedings only. If organizations and individuals want to go to that Court, their country must issue them with a certificate approving the process.
Indeed, he said former President Jakaya Kikwete (2005-2015) did issue such certificates, and some people did go to that continental Court. However, a few years later, the provision was revoked – and Tanzanians can no longer file their complaints with the African Court!
Anna Henga profiles the organisation
The time came to listen to the Chief Executive Officer, Anna Henga, who expressed her satisfaction with the way people attended the Anniversary ceremony. She said 25 years of LHRC means a lot for her, as she has already served the organisation for 15 years.
Noting that the organisation has about 130 members including a 7 member Board of Directors and Management, she said the organisation has four offices across the land, situated in Kijitonyama and Kinondoni in Dar es Salaam Region, as well as in Arusha and Dodoma regions.
Ms Henga said the organisation has a function of equality advocacy in various groups; women’s rights, children’s rights, youths’ rights etc. The Centre is also tasked with providing legal aid, research on human rights reports, elections monitoring and parliamentary/legislative activities.On the success side, she said the organisation has become a refuge for the underprivileged, as it empowers Tanzanians, and provides legal aid to about 14,000 people a year.
Also, the LHRC has been overseeing the process of legislative reforms in parallel with overseeing the process of formulating a new Union Constitution. Nonetheless, barriers are also part of the success, as the organisation has been facing challenges fear being the most prevalent.
Other challenges include (but are not limited to) the detention of its staff member for nine months now; a large group of people who are still unreachable; harmful traditions; case delays; executives not being motivated enough; accusations of bias and a lack of resources. However, the organisation still wants a better human rights system in the country.
Guest of honor addresses the audience
The audience were all ears when the official guest took up the podium, seeking to hear what he had to say after his predecessors and other speakers touched on sensitive issues. In the event, former Chief Justice Mathew Mwaimu began by thanking LHRC for giving him the honor of being an official guest on the institution’s 25th anniversary. He also commended the LHRC’s decision to appoint Judge Samatta as chairman of the Board, as they could not have found a better person for the position. He also took the opportunity to congratulate Dr. Hellen Kijo-Bisimba for her glorious leadership that helped build LHRC to the exalted status which it now enjoys.
Judge Mwaimu urged the organisation to closely cooperate with the Judiciary, the Government, and the Commission for Human Rights and Good Governance, as well as development partners. This is basically because he believes that the organisation has become an important linkage between the Government and the people.
He added that LHRC has a great potential to help the government in such areas as pointing out the latter’s shortcomings so that they can cooperate in effectively improving the nation’s justice system. Indeed, Tanzania continues to provide opportunities for the establishment of institutions that would help to provide much needed legal and related aid.
Celebrations draw to a close
At 9:40pm, the celebrations were concluded with a cake cutting event, ending with various groups of guests invited to pose for a group photograph to mark the historic event