The African Law Service brings diverse commentary on legal developments from across our African continent.
Justice Joseph Wowo, originally of Nigeria, was jailed on corruption charges in January 2014. His trial was seen by many as involving trumped-up charges and he has now won a kind of vindication via the Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas).
In a special statement, the Ecowas court has announced that it has ordered Gambia to pay $200 000 in “nominal damages” to Justice Wowo. Unfortunately, however, no judgment has been released that explains the court's decision.
It made a great splash in the media when Ugandan civil servant Stephen Kisembo was arrested and charged with spying for Sudan. When the high court of Uganda acquitted him recently, however, not so much.
Recusal has become a political football in a number of African jurisdictions during the past months, but Namibia has produced a completely new scenario: magistrates who refuse to continue a case because of a workplace grievance, and recuse themselves in protest.
When part-time farmer, Matti Toivo Ndevahoma, allowed his counsin, Vilho Shimwooshili, to occupy customary land in the northern Namibia area of Eengolo-Ondjiina, he set what may seem to readers like perfectly reasonably conditions, particularly in such an ecologically sensitive area.
The solemn opening remarks by Judges John Mativo and Pauline Nyamweya signaled the gravity of the decision they were about to give and the horrors the case would disclose: torture, unlawful abduction, years in illicit detention, lives wrecked, bodies broken.
Law is the “bloodline of every nation”, the judges said. “The end of law is justice. It gives justice meaning.” It was a shield or refuge from misery, oppression and injustice.
When Malawi was gripped by a maize shortage scare a few years ago the government arranged to buy more from Zambia. But allegations of corruption soon followed against George Chaponda, then minister responsible for agriculture, as well as other officials in Malawi and in Zambia.
So great was the public outcry that a presidential commission of inquiry was established to investigate.
For a year following a breach of cyber security at Uganda’s Crane Bank, staffer Shakil Pathan Ismail was drawn into the investigation. After his password and that of another member of staff were used in an electronic hacking fraud during August 2015, the investigators put his salary on hold, promising that it would be “reinstated” once the police inquiries were completed. But this never happened.
The two Namibian high court judges who heard the appeal by drug-accused Paul Umub did not mince their words. Upholding his 10-year sentence they said: “The courts must step in and impose severe sentences, never heard of before, as we are losing the battle against drug abuse. … The sentences … imposed must be so severe to deter the appellant and would-be offenders from committing such offences.”
The judiciary in Zimbabwe is not enjoying a particularly good international reputation at the moment. News of bail applications routinely refused, of mass trials and sham prosecutions – all have raised questions about the quality of justice being dispensed in that country during the current crackdown on opposition activists.
Just one sentence into the judgment, and you know this is a legal scandal of significant proportions: Judges Thembekile Malusi and Mbulelo Jolwana said the “misconduct which culminated in this review, to the best of our knowledge, is unprecedented in the annals of the judiciary in this country. We hope it will never be repeated by any judicial officer.”