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Malawi’s Rastafarians win landmark dreadlock ruling




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Makeda Mbewe was just six years old when she was kicked out of her primary school in Malawi for wearing her hair in the dreadlocks of her Rastafarian religion.

Two years later, she is back in the playground, thanks to a landmark court ruling in January forcing state schools to accept children wearing their hair the Rastafarian way.

The case was galvanised by her family, who joined forces with dozens of other Rastafarian parents to try to force the education system to end discrimination against children from one of the country’s smallest religious minorities.

“I am delighted with the ruling because it takes a huge burden off my shoulders,” Makeda’s dreadlocked father, Wisdom Mbewe, told AFP.

At first there was no problem when Makeda enrolled at Blantyre Girls Primary School, in the country’s capital.


But after two years — and as her hair grew long and prominent — the child was told to leave.

“They demanded that we cut her hair,” said her father, a 40-year-old truck driver.

Rastafarianism is a religious movement of Jamaican origin which considers former Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie to be its Messiah.

Many Rastafarians sport dreadlocks which for them symbolise the Lion of Judah, one of the late emperor’s titles.

Dreadlocks gained global recognition thanks to the cultural influence of the late reggae star Bob Marley, also a Rastafarian, and have since become popular the world over.

Malawi’s 15,000 Rastafarians have long suffered discrimination because of their hairstyle.

In government-run schools, children were told either to shave or cut off the locks, refused enrolment or simply thrown out of class.

Whether the practice had a legal foundation was the central point of the courtroom battle.

The ministry of education said the ban was justified under a policy that required all pupils to have a smart appearance and keep clean hair.

But, challenged by lawyers for the Rastafarian children, it was unable to produce documents to prove that the policy existed.

As a result of her exclusion, Makeda was home-schooled for two years — a change that placed a strain on her family’s finances.

Enraged, Wisdom Mbewe approached a local advocacy charity, the Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance (CHREAA), for help.


Subsequently, the centre received complaints from the parents of 76 other Rastafarian children about being “denied admission into government schools,” CHREAA lawyer Chikondi Chijozi said.

It then took the issue to court.

On January 14, High Court judge Zione Ntaba ordered the country’s 7,000-odd government-run schools to admit “all children of Rastafari religion, who have dreadlocks.”

Ray Harawa, a Rastafari leader in the forefront of the fight for the rights of his co-religionists in Malawi, welcomed the ruling.

“This judgment will go a long way in showcasing how seriously advanced our democracy is,” he said.

The order is in line with judgments by courts in Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

They all ruled that excluding dreadlocked children from school was an infringement of their right to freedom of religion, according to the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC).

“The court’s order recognises the injustice endured by many Rastafari children,” said SALC’s litigation director Anneke Meerkotter.

The practice was a clear violation of Malawi’s constitution, which guarantees the rights to freedom of religion and to equal treatment, said Edge Kanyongolo, a law professor at the University of Malawi.

“In the case of Rastafarian children, I cannot see how allowing them to keep hair in dreadlocks harms anyone at all,” said Kanyongolo.

Makeda was back in school days after the court ruling.

In the playground the other children touched her hair with curiosity, but she appeared used to the attention and took it in her stride.

For Rastafarian parents, the court victory is bittersweet.

Ezaius Mkandawire said the judgment was “just the beginning” of the battle for compensation.

“There has been lots of damage,” Mkandawire told AFP. “What about those people that have not gone to school for the past 25 years?



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Kenya: Time’s Ripe to Trust Our Own Scientists – Ongaji




As the world continues to play catch up with coronavirus pandemic, which has unleashed terror around the globe, Africa has not been spared, as the disease continues to slowly crawl into the continent.

Statistics have suggested that compared to other parts of the world, that we have been lucky at least for the moment, not to have come face to face with the full terror unleashed by the pandemic.

But as we continue to ride on this luck, which we have no idea how long it will last, the continent has not been left with many choices other than be at the mercy of the developed world.

Researchers from different parts of the world, be it from Australia, The UK, China or America, keep updating the world. Be it on the biological structure of the virus, or maybe a testing kit that takes shorter time to get results, we on the other hand have been relying on rumours and fake news from various platforms online. This is not only to feed our curiosity, but also to sway our minds from a possible horror story that likely awaits ahead.

I can’t help but notice every time my friends on social media become optimistic, whenever there is some sort of good news in the fight against the virus, courtesy of foreign scientists.


What’s disheartening is that some of our experts have been reduced to conveyor belts of dissemination of latest research information from their foreign colleagues; some details that we can easily access online.

It is as if no form of scientific research structure exists in this part of the world. It is as though we are completely out of touch with the situation. In other words, we have been reduced to spectators.

The saddening fact is that this is not first time that as a continent we are just mere spectators in the midst of such an outbreak.

Such laxity or should we call it ignorance may be best explained by how much African governments have been investing in research.

The 2017 Unesco Institute for Statistics survey released in June 2019 showed Israel and South Korea as the world’s leading spenders on research and development (R&D), as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP). The two countries spent 4.6% of GDP on R&D, compared with the 2.4% average of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in that year.

That’s just but one example. A good number of research investment lists are dominated by Western and East Asian countries, while no African country appears even in the top 20 of the pack. We are talking about the second most populous continent.

Here in Kenya, out of the Sh3.02 trillion 2019-2020 budget, the government allocated Sh1.0 billion to modernise facilities in Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute (KIRDI).


As for the many talented heads in Africa; scientists who shine even at the international level, when they come back home, they are either frustrated or do not find a conducive working environment.

Case in point is Dr Jean-Jacques Muyembe, a microbiologist who after graduating with a Ph.D. in Belgium, instead of enjoying the comfort of Europe, he decided to go back to his home country of Democratic Republic of Congo to try and at least bring sanity to the medical situation there.

But what did he find when he went back? A less than ideal working environment, which was characterized with insecurity and lack of working apparatus. However, that did not discourage him from trying to save his people, having been the first scientist to discover the hemorrhagic fever, Ebola, and also pioneered the treatment of the same.

There are many true sons and daughters of Africa who despite their hardships, have shown the will to change the medical and research situation in the continent, only to be frustrated by the system, and finally fade away.