Sunday, August 30, 2015

The trial of Carlos Nuno Castel-Branco

Carlos Nuno Castel-Branco, a Mozambican economist, has been accused of libeling the then President, Armando Guebuza, in an open letter which he posted on Facebook in November 2013. Prosecutors have charged him under the law on crimes against state security, since Mozambican legislation classifies defaming the head of state, and a range of other political figures, as a security offence.
The trial begins on Monday, 31 August, at 9 am.
Support for Castel-Branco can be expressed by signing a petition being circulated by Amnesty International - Portugal. It is available here: 
Some of Castel-Branco's supporters have argued that he should not have been disrespectful to the then President. Jacques Depelchin has written an essay that explicitly looks at the question of the language used by going back in African history to find an answer. In order to circulate this as widely as possible, I reproduce the entire essay here.
Carlos Nuno Castel-Branco vs. Mozambique: What is at stake?
This case of Carlos Nuno Castel-Branco (CNCB) vs. the Mozambican State is an illustration of what has gone wrong in so many African countries following the end of formal colonial rule: citizens are forced to resort to strong, at times shocking language, in order to remind leaders of their responsibilities toward their own citizens.
This kind of situation is as old as African history, i.e., as old as the history of humanity, as one can see from the words of The Eloquent Peasant*, addressing a magistrate, in search of justice against someone who had robbed him. Through a long and painful pleading, this peasant begins to realize that high officials seem to be more committed to injustice. Throughout the story, the readers are kept informed of the peasant’s state of mind, and his growing frustration as he uses more and more blunt and fearless language.
There is no space to reproduce the whole text. Here, excerpts are meant to draw attention to the similarities between CNCB’s situation and that of a peasant’s story, more than 4,000 years ago, in Ancient Egypt.
The Eloquent Peasant addressing the High Magistrate, representing Pharaoh:
The standard for straight discourse has turned crooked and judges have taken to stealing. The glib trickster obscures the meaning of issues, perverting justice. He who should give breath is strangling one fallen on the ground; the comforter makes the victim pant; the arbiter turns plunderer; the remover of need orders the causing of it.
More than 4,000 years later, human beings, all over the Planet, have had to seek justice from people, from systems and practices of thinking, hostile to those human beings who are not afraid to challenge injustices, any injustices, whenever and wherever they appeared.
No wonder then that, in Mozambique, for example, Samora Machel liked to remind people to always ask themselves “who is the enemy?” As one reads the accusations against CNCB, is it not possible to see that the enemy of the accused and the accusers might be the same? Observing the history of capitalism, should not any reasonable human being ask themselves the following questions: is capitalism a crime against humanity? Is justice for all possible under capitalism? Under capitalism, why does impunity protect, with very few exceptions, the most powerful individuals?
Could it be, then, that, questions are not being asked because Africans, in particular, have turned their backs on their own history? In these times when evidence of liquidation of humanity is mounting, the case of CNCB might be understood as an issue that goes far beyond the borders of Mozambique and the reigning conception of justice within those borders. What is at stake is an understanding of justice as it has been defended by billions of peasants, since the days of The Eloquent Peasant. If CNCB loses this case, it will be much more than the loss by an individual. Let’s hope that his accusers also understand what is at stake because the Eloquent Peasant is addressing them:
He who should guide toward the laws is sponsoring crime. So who will combat evil? He who should fight laxity is causing wrongdoing. He who should correct another is steeped in crookedness.
The Eloquent Peasant is not afraid to tell the Magistrate, how justice should be delivered:
Doing right on earth means doing justice, Maât. Tell no falsehood, you are a great one. Don’t be flippant; gravity is what suits you. Don’t tell lies; a just balance is your quality. Do not be nonchalant; your virtue is rectitude.
In the face of such impertinence, the Magistrate makes sure the Eloquent Peasant knows who is in charge by having him beaten up. To which the Eloquent Peasant responds as follows:
Ah, so the son of Merw is bent on going wrong. His eyes are blind to what he sees; his ears are deaf to what he hears. 
The Eloquent Peasant is not afraid by the arrogance of power, especially if, in the process, it breeds injustice:
Do not display arrogance just because you have power. That is the way to avoid evil catching up with you. Postpone one difficulty, it develops into two. In the end, it is the eater who tastes, the one questioned who responds, and only the sleeper sees the dream. As for the judge who acts culpably, he is as an exemplar for the criminal. You fool! You see, you are exposed.
From this text, it is easy to see how human beings, from thousands of years ago, faced with betraying their own conscience, by keeping quiet, preferred to use the strongest language possible, even at the risk of submitting to the most extreme punishment. From this text, one learns that there must never ever be compromise with justice, with how Mâât is understood and practiced.
Given this very long history of humanity, too often expediently shortened for the sake of enforcing a different view of the world in which we currently live, should one not put oneself in the same situation as CNCB, seeing, thinking that his country has gone completely astray from what had been envisioned back in 1975, the year of Independence from colonial rule? He is accused of defaming a sitting President, of attacking the security of the State, but, at the same time, is he not echoing The Eloquent Peasant who, railed against thievery and injustice. Is that not the kind of eloquence one would want to hear daily from all corners of this Planet? In that combative spirit, the Eloquent Peasant goes on:
You are supposed to hear cases, so as to arbitrate between two litigants, and to punish the thief for his crime. But behold, instead you are supporting the fraudster. Trust has been placed in you, but you have turned transgressor. You are empowered to be a retaining dam protecting the poor man, to keep him from drowning.
With regard to delivering justice-Mâât, The Eloquent Peasant, having suffered an injustice, does not need any lesson from anybody, and he also knows what his frankness might cost him:
Look with your eyes open. The judge is now a thief. The deliverer now causes distress; the comforter causes pain. Cheating devalues justice. So fill the measure honestly. Do not diminish, do not augment justice. If you get something, give to your fellow. Too much talk is dishonest. Now my anguish is causing estrangement. My sorrow will lead to a parting of the ways.
The Eloquent Peasant mixes fair-mindedness with a blunt reminder of what it means to be a judge:
It is acknowledged that you are educated, open-minded, accomplished, but not for cheating. Do not get involved in theft. You act badly, exactly like everyone.
And the Eloquent Peasant dares to predict what will happen to the one who sides with the cheaters:
My misery lies exposed before you. What more do you want? Your sloth will lead you to perdition. Your covetousness will turn you into a fool.
Your greed will earn you enemies. It is certain you will not find another peasant like me.
Given this long history of humanity, now, currently, systematically dehumanized not just in Mozambique, not just in Africa, but everywhere from Fukushima to Gaza, From Haiti to Ferguson, from the favelas of Rio de Janeiro to the Shackdwellers of Durban, from urban and rural areas the world over, should one not call for some form of reprieve, some sort of time out?
Given this long history of humanity, is it not reasonable to ask questions that are being asked, silently, but not voiced for fear of retribution? Should one not be proud of hearing voices like CNCB’s reminding leaders of what is expected from them, echoing the Eloquent Peasant from long ago? Yes, let us be as blunt as the Eloquent Peasant, calling a spade a spade, a thief a thief, even if the latter happens to be the highest official of the land:
Robber! Thief! Snatcher! Officials appointed to punish crime now provide shelter for the aggressor. Officials were appointed to repress lies. So do not cause the plaintiff to be afraid before you.
The Eloquent Peasant himself is bewildered: how could an official who is supposed to uphold justice, have turned into a mere thief:
Are you then just a thief? When people are brought to you, should troops be stationed with you, for the distribution of land lots?
Seen through this wide-angled lens, is it not possible for CNCB’s accusers to understand that instead of preserving the sanctity of the immunity of a sitting President, together they could be working toward the greater goal of changing the direction of a world headed for self-annihilation, and move toward healing practices, aimed at re-humanization of humanity?
Like the Pharaoh of Ancient Egypt, Heads of State, in today’s Africa, are expected, according to the Constitution, to be the guarantors of justice. However, as the Peasant from Ancient Egypt found, being the guarantor of justice does not, automatically mean, that the Pharaoh (and/or his magistrates) will implement the rule of law, expeditiously, equitably. In Africa, the temptation of Heads of State is to trample the Constitution whenever it suits them.
Comparatively and in retrospect, CNCB’s situation does seem much worse than that of the Eloquent Peasant. Although Mozambique went through an armed struggle to end colonial rule, the colonial/colonizing mindset still permeates the relations of power between the citizens and the rulers.
As the Eloquent Peasant has demonstrated, persistence, patience, and honesty, finally defeated evil in all of its manifestations. Just as importantly, his uncompromising adherence to truth called for blunt language, even at the risk of losing his case. His distillation of how truth and justice are preserved, although the product of more than 4,000 years ago, are as pertinent today as they were then:
The stand-balance of the people is their tongue, it is also the hand balance that detects shortcomings. Punish one who deserves punishment. The norm is patterned after you. Falsehood misleads when it needs to; but truth returns to correct it. A match for lies is truth. Lies may grow green, but do not last till harvest.
The Eloquent Peasant knows that to plead for a just cause, for truth, is the best thing any human being can do. He calls on the officials, low and high, not to dismiss him:
Pay attention to a man pleading his just cause. There is no yesterday for the slothful, no friend for the one deaf to truth, no feast day for the covetous.
It is true that whenever and wherever power is challenged, it finds it offensive if not insulting, but then, is it not true, too, that whenever and wherever power has ruled and generated injustices, it has salted the injuries with built-in practices of impunity? To the point where power must mean, by definition, today, injustices committed with the full awareness that they will be rewarded with impunity.
Why has power become so powerful that, in order to challenge it, our eloquent peasants must resort to words and phrases that sound offensive to the ears of those who have grown accustomed to impunity?
How else to explain the consternation caused when a truth is given voice?
In his book, The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born, the Ghanaian writer Ayi Kwei Armah showed how the promise of decolonization, in Ghana, had fallen horribly short off the mark. To this day, on the continent that invented writing, leaders continue to submit their citizens to dehumanizing conditions and practices inherited from a system that has inverted human values to serve those who have most benefitted from a process of liquidation of humanity, wherever this humanity has tried to breathe and stay alive.
Let us simplify the question further: Why does an entire continent seem to have been satisfied with partial decolonization, benefitting a select few? Why are the cumulative practices of justice, of Maat, present in African cultures all across the continent not been re-integrated into the education and society of “post colonial Africa”. Why has the literature of Ancient Egypt not been integrated into the educational system of all African countries as one might have expected from the work of people like Cheikh Anta Diop, Théophile Obenga? Did not their work aim at uprooting the colonization of the minds so successfully achieved by the colonizers?
Through nine eloquent petitions, the peasant of Ancient Egypt could easily be mistaken for a lawyer in contemporary Africa, making the case in court for justice to be done. The sense of justice that motivated the peasant, more than 4,000 years ago, can be seen, echoing in CNCB’s denunciations of abuses of power by a sitting President.
This issue is supposed to be settled in court, run and organized by the state. Surely, there could be other ways of settling it. In a world in which the practices of finding a scapegoat in order to resolve a conflict, it will be crucial to point out how to move away from those practices so that both sides, the accuser and the accused, or, maybe a better way of putting it: accuser and accused having suffered wounds, they should seek a common ground, new practices from which to heal, not just for their own sake, but for the sake of turning the exercise into a process for re-humanizing humanity.
What is at stake in Mozambique is not just about what will happen to CNCB, what is at stake is larger than the individuals involved. Anyone looking beyond Mozambique can see that humanity, for the first time in its history, is facing the real possibility of self-annihilation.
EndNotes * This essay was inspired by the work of the collective that has been transliterating and translating texts from Ancient Egyptian Literature, starting in 2011. The Eloquent Peasant will follow The Story of Sanhat, already available from Per Ankh Publishers. The collective members are Ayi Kwei Armah, Ayesha Harruna Attah, Jacques Depelchin and Yoporeka Somet.