Defender of the month: Vicky Ntetema

Vicky Ntetema is a former journalist and human rights defenders (HRDs) from Tanzania whose work spans more than two decades. In light of her home country’s recent crackdown on civic space, she has begun focusing her efforts towards full-time advocacy, bringing greater attention to human rights abuses and attacks against civil society.

“Tanzania is not peaceful anymore,” she laments. “Where is our independence? Where is our space?”

Ntetema began working as the Tanzania Bureau Chief for the BBC World Service in the early 2000s, working on stories related to current events, politics, and human rights. She says while the government under former Presidents Mkapa and Kikwete were more tolerant of critical views, several topics were off limits, such as HIV/AIDS, the sale expired antiretroviral drugs, the lack of education in rural areas, and the political situation in Zanzibar.

Trouble first came when Ntetema began investigating the murder of people with albinism in Tanzania, who are sometimes hunted by traditional healers claiming that concoctions made from their bodies can bring wealth and luck. As a result of her investigations into these powerful cross-border smuggling networks, threats were made against her life, forcing her to flee the country twice and require round-the-clock security.

In response, Ntetema left the BBC in 2010 and for many years led the Dar es Salaam office of Under the Same Sun (UTSS) an international civil society organisation that seeks to end the discrimination and violence against persons with albinism through advocacy and education.

“When President Magufuli came to power everything changed,” she says. “We expected with the new government that things would be better. Far from it, they have gotten much worse.”

In July 2017, the government attempted to deregister UTSS after the group quoted from a third-party African Union source which compared an albinism centre to a detention centre. This followed a trend in which the government was increasingly intolerant of critical views or any information that contradicted its own official statistics or economic development narratives.

“You know that these are facts, but if you don’t apologize when they ask, they shut you down,” Ntetema says regarding the suppression of independent information.

The controversy forced her to step down as the head of UTSS, leading her to focus her efforts fully towards advocacy in order to bring greater attention to Tanzania’s massive crackdown on HRDs and civil society as a whole. She also notes that the Magufuli government has also increasingly publically threatened media outlets who refuse to comply with the new agenda, creating a culture of impunity where human rights abuses often go unpunished.

“Now we see that even politicians who are very vocal are being attacked. We see quite a few people being killed or injured in police custody.”

Ntetema says that the overall squeezing of civic space means that communities no longer have adequate platforms to voice grievances, which may ultimately destabilise Tanzanian society. While the government has increasingly fragmented civil society organisations in order to assert control, she hopes that groups can come together to share common goals and counter these worrying trends.

“President cannot tolerate criticism, even if it is positive,” she says. “This is an era where we have control freaks in power, and this is very dangerous. We need to come together before it is too late.”

See more HRDs of the Month

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Ana Taban

Ana Taban, which means ‘I am Tired’ in Arabic, was established in 2016 in Nairobi, Kenya out of frustration of South Sudanese artists with several issues related to the civil war in the country. This was after another conflict broke out at the Presidential Palace in Juba a few months after the signing of a peace deal.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Jaqueline Mutere

Jaqueline Mutere’s motivation to establish Grace Agenda was a response to the post-election sexual violence of 2007 and 2008 in Kenya. Additionally, as a survivor of sexual violence which resulted into conception of a child, and following the experience of other survivors, Jaqueline identified the need to form an organisation that advocates for reparations for survivors of sexual violence.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Ocen Ivan Kenneth

Ocen Ivan Kenneth is a Program Director at Foundation for Development and Relief Africa (FIDRA), with more than 10 years’ experience working in the human rights field. Ivan’s ambitions for change focus on building inner peace, defending human rights and empowering local communities using theatre and storytelling. He creates a space where people from the community share their personal stories of trauma and resilience as well as identify mechanisms of healing.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Sandra Aceng

Sandra Aceng is an outspoken and energetic woman human rights defender (WHRD). She is a gender and ICT researcher and policy analyst for Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) where she coordinates the Women ICT Advocacy Group, advocating for internet access for all. In addition, she writes on various platforms such as Global Voices, Freedom House, and Impakter Magazine. Her regular contributions to Wikimedia Uganda often focus on profiling WHRDs, female politicians, and journalists.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Chantal Mutamuriza

Chantal Mutamuriza does not wait for problems to be solved. When the Burundian woman human rights defender (WHRD) encounters a problem, she will seek a solution there and then. When hundreds of thousands Burundians had to flee from political unrest in 2015, many of them were stranded in refugee camps with little economic opportunity or access to education. In her problem-solving spirit, Chantal felt compelled to act: she quit her job to put her skills and network to use and founded the NGO Light For All.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Foni Joyce

Foni Joyce has engaged in humanitarian work since the age of 20, when she joined a refugee student organisation to amplify the voices of refugees. Originally from South Sudan, Foni grew up as a refugee in Nairobi, Kenya, but she makes it clear that ‘refugee’ is merely a legal definition: “I firstly define myself as a human being who has been uprooted.”

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Meskerem  Geset Techane

Meskerem Geset Techane has fought injustice since she can remember: as a child she was known to stand up for herself and others, whether against bullies, teachers, her parents or church. Fighting injustice and promoting human rights is a common theme in the lawyer’s life. “It’s a passion, promoting human rights is not something you choose to do for a living or as a career opportunity. It’s more of a calling for me.”

SHARE WITH FRIENDS:

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on whatsapp
Share on email