- News and Notes
Chinua Achebe (1930–2013)
Chinua Achebe died on March 21 from an undisclosed illness. Achebe is best known for his debut novel Things Fall Apart (1958), which has been translated into dozens of languages. In 2007, he was awarded the Man Booker International Prize. In addition to writing novels, short stories, and poetry, Achebe was a prolific essayist and staunch advocate for democracy, especially in his native Nigeria. Nelson Mandela described him as “the writer in whose company the prison walls fell down.”
Achebe had a conflicted relationship with Nigeria and its government, partially for its failure to live up to his democratic ideals. Born “a British protected person,” he proudly witnessed the country’s independence in 1960. Yet he fled Lagos a few years later as Nigeria descended into civil war. In The Trouble with Nigeria (1983), Achebe wrote, “Nigerians are what they are only because their leaders are not what they should be.” He twice declined awards from the Nigerian government— in 2004 and 2011—using the opportunity to criticize the state of political leadership in the country. But he also once wrote that, in his next life, he would like to be born Nigerian again.
Achebe was an original member of the editorial board of the Journal of Democracy. In 2001, he moved to the International Advisory Committee, where he served until his death.
Zimbabwe Approves Constitution
In a March 16 referendum, almost 95 percent of voters approved a new constitution. The referendum was one of the final stages in an internationally brokered transition plan to set the country on a stable path following the violent aftermath of the 2008 elections. [End Page 188] The agreement allowed longtime leader Robert Mugabe to retain the presidency but forced him to share power with Morgan Tsvangirai, who was made prime minister.
The new constitution is the product of negotiations between Mugabe’s ZANU-PF and Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change. It features a bill of rights, an expansion of parliament, and the creation of a constitutional court. It imposes greater constraints on the presidency, including a two-term limit. This will not apply retroactively, however, allowing Mugabe to run for up to two more terms.
The adoption of the constitution sets the stage for presidential and parliamentary elections, expected later this year.
Swedish NGO Civil Rights Defenders held its Defenders’ Days conference in Stockholm on April 2–5. The conference featured a series of training sessions and workshops for human-rights activists on effective communication, networking, technology use, and security measures. It also featured a pair of panel discussions on human-rights defense; a screening of Brother Outsider, a film about U.S. civil-rights leader Bayard Rustin; and a presentation by Shin Dong-hyuk, who was born in but managed to escape from a North Korean political prison camp.
During the conference, Nataša Kandić received the Civil Rights Defender of the Year Award. Kandić is the founder and executive director of the Humanitarian Law Center in Serbia, an organization dedicated to investigating and documenting the human-rights abuses that followed the dissolution of Yugoslavia. In 2000, Kandić wrote an open letter to the Yugoslav Army General Staff that concluded, “Ethnicity is irrelevant; a crime is a crime.”
Community of Democracies Conference
On April 27–29, the Community of Democracies, which was established in 2000, held its seventh Ministerial Conference in Ulaanbaatar. At the conclusion of the conference, the participants issued the Ulaanbaatar Declaration, which assesses the status of democracy, comments on the Community’s recent activities, and issues a set of goals for strengthening the Community. The Declaration can be accessed at http://cdmongolia.mn/ulaanbaatar-declaration/.
The conference concluded Mongolia’s two-year term presiding over the Community. El Salvador will now serve in that role.
NED’s International Forum
On April 2, the Forum organized a book launch for Fouzia Saeed’s Working with Sharks: A Pakistani Woman’s Story of Sexual Harassment in the United Nations. After a presentation by [End Page 189] Saeed, a NED visiting fellow and the chairperson of the Islamabad-based democracy and human-rights center Mehergarh, comments were offered by University of Minnesota...