Zimbabwe is a country with great challenges when it comes to human rights. The Raoul Wallenberg Institute, which has just opened an office in the capital Harare, is accepting the challenges. Mikael Johansson, head of the Zimbabwe office, talks about the institute's work in the country:
- It is about building for the future, he says.
On a typical Wednesday in March, on a swaying internet connection, Utvecklingsmagasinet interviewed Mikael Johansson, who since October 2019 is based in Zimbabwe's capital Harare, where he works as head of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute's office. The institute works to promote research and education in human rights and international humanitarian law.
Zimbabwe became independent in 1980 and was ruled until 2017 by Robert Mugabe and his party Zanu-PF. From being a freedom fighter Mugabe developed an increasingly authoritarian government over the years and in 2017 he was deposed. But instead of leading to improvement, the overthrow of Mugabe and the accession of the new president Emmerson Mnangagwa led to a worse life situation for many Zimbabweans. According to a report from the EU and several UN agencies from last year, the country's residents are affected by severe food insecurity. 4,3 million people in the Zimbabwean countryside are starving.
Mikael Johansson explains that the Raoul Wallenberg Institute has collaborated with Zimbabwe since the 90s, but that the business has expanded in recent years due to great interest in their work within the country. Since 2016, the institute, with funding from the development agency Sida, has been running the program RWI Zimbabwe Human Rights Capacity Development Program.
- We work with capacity development and are largely aimed at academic institutions, but also at other actors in both public administration and civil society, says Mikael Johansson.
Educate and strengthen resources
The activities of academic institutions are about strengthening the institutions' capacity to conduct education and research on human rights. In Zimbabwe, the Raoul Wallenberg Institute collaborates with five universities, including the University of Zimbabwe and Africa University. The collaboration includes the development of syllabi, training of teachers and researchers and scholarships for younger researchers so that they have the opportunity to publish.
- Together with our academic partners, Zimbabwe's first textbook on human rights has been produced. The book is used at universities and by authorities, for example also by the courts, we have been told, says Mikael Johansson.
When it comes to training for other actors, the Raoul Wallenberg Institute has been running a training program in human rights since 2016 with participants from everything from authorities and civil society, to local, traditional leaders and academics.
- The education is combined with a study trip to Sweden and then when the participants return, they get to carry out a mini-project that they present to us, Mikael Johansson explains. An important part of the program is to bring together actors from different sectors to promote dialogue and create networks for cooperation between, for example, government officials and representatives of civil society.
Work with the prison service and anti-corruption
The Raoul Wallenberg Institute also runs programs for individual actors. In Zimbabwe, they work with the National Commission on Human Rights, the Prison and Probation Service and the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission. The aim of the collaboration with the prison service is to strengthen the capacity to work with the regulations for the prison service that are based on international conventions on human rights.
- In the prison service, there are quite a few zealots. Prison staff often want to see change, says Mikael Johansson.
Cooperation with the Anti-Corruption Commission began in December last year. So far, the institute has developed and completed an online education that is combined with a course on site in Harare.
- We want to link corruption with human rights and make the links visible, for example that corruption in the education sector means that children do not get the education they are entitled to, says Mikael Johansson. We want to show that the state has a responsibility to act against corruption because it affects human rights.
Challenges and the future
What, then, is the situation in Zimbabwe with regard to human rights? Mikael Johansson is brief:
- Zimbabwe, like many other countries, has many and great challenges when it comes to human rights, he says, emphasizing that the role of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute is to educate, not to report, even if, for example, the Commission on Human Rights has been trained in human rights reporting.
The reporting from Swedish and international media over the past year has been about, among other things, police violence and that journalists and critics of the regime are imprisoned and tortured in the country. Extensive protests were held this summer against the oppression of the country's streets and zimbabweans spread the hashtag #ZimbabweanLivesMatter. The journalist and activist Hopewell Chin'ono who openly criticized President Mnangagwa and the corruption in the country was arrested in January for the third time in six months.
Despite this, Mikael Johansson has the ability to see the positive.
- There are many positive forces that do not emerge, he emphasizes. The role of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute is to build capacity, to build a base that has knowledge and skills in human rights both today and for the future.