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: Kamau Ngugi

On October 7, 2022, Kamau Ngugi was elected Chairperson of the East and Horn of Africa human rights defenders’ network (EHAHRD-net), a stirring affirmation for the Kenyan human rights defender’s efforts in defense of human rights that go back nearly 30 years.

But it was not always this promising for her. Born 37 years ago in Grand Kru, Southeastern Liberia, Margaret had to do with a childhood of abuse, neglect, and want, after her, her sibling and her mother were abandoned by their father at an early age.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Margaret Muna Nigba

A human rights lawyer per excellence, Margaret is also an indefatigable woman human rights defender (WHRD) who has won the adulation of millions in her country for her impassioned dedication to defending the rights of women and girls in her native Liberia.

But it was not always this promising for her. Born 37 years ago in Grand Kru, Southeastern Liberia, Margaret had to do with a childhood of abuse, neglect, and want, after her, her sibling and her mother were abandoned by their father at an early age.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Mohammed Adam Hassan

Mohammed Hassan has known mostly conflict, displacement, and war all his adult life. As part of Sudan’s black population in the country’s region of Darfur, they were for long the victims of oppression by Khartoum, then under now deposed dictator Omar Bashir. Then, in 2003, when Mohammed was 19, Darfur’s black population decided to fight back. Two rebel movements – Sudan Liberation Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement launched a rebellion against Bashir’s government, seeking justice for Darfur’s non-Arab population. The response by Khartoum was chilling: Bashir’s forces launched a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the region’s non-Arab population, and thousands of families were displaced and herded into refugee camps.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Issah Musundi

At first encounter, Issah Musundi is a coy, if not shy, mostly reserved lad. But behind that quiet disposition is a steely character and an enforced existence.
Born 27 years ago in Kenya’s border district of Busia, Issah belongs to Kenya’s sexual minorities community, who have had to win majority rights that other Kenyans take for granted.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Agather Atuhaire

In late May this year, Agather Atuhaire, via her twitter account, broke the story that the Parliament of Uganda had spent a whopping Shs. 2.8billion to purchase two luxury vehicles for the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker.

Aside from the fact that the expenditure was unnecessary – both the Speaker and her Deputy already have two luxury vehicles for their official duties, the purchase flouted all public procurement procedures, and when Parliament’s contracts committee could not approve the procurement, the members of the committee were fired and new ones immediately appointed to approve the purchase.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Esther Tawiah

In Ghana, Esther Tawiah is one of the loudest voices for women empowerment and gender. It is also why she is one of the most loathed. Born and raised in New-Tafo in the country’s eastern region, Esther grew up surrounded by a culture that frowned at the idea of women participating in public affairs, and witnessed firsthand, the backlash those who dared to challenge that cultural norm faced.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Alex Njenga John

Alex Njenga has always believed in egalitarianism both as a principle and as a tool for justice. As a result, he has always been suspicious of, and at times hostile to social prejudices that treat some people as “more equal than others,” – to use a line from George Orwell’s famed political fable, Animal Farm.

Some of the experiences that have shaped his social and political outlook have been personal. As an adolescent in Kenya’s Uasin Gishu County, Alex was stigmatised and denied healthcare after he identified himself as belonging to Kenya’s sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) community.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Abacha Ahmed Ibrahim

Abacha Ahmed Ibrahim is one of his country’s leading advocates for the rights of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs).

Born 34 years ago into a family of Eight, in Kajokeji County, East of Juba, the Capital of South Sudan, Abacha ’s passion for human rights was born out of grim personal experience. At birth, he was immediately neglected by his father on discovering that the little infant was visually impaired.

“My own father denied me access to education because he considered my disability a kind of misfortune brought to him by my mother,” he says.

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