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Mozambique/Africa: "The Eloquent Peasant"
September 8, 2015 (150908)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
The juxtaposition of a current trial for freedom of expression in
Mozambique with a classic ancient Egyptian poem may seem incongruous
at first glance. One trial currently awaiting a verdict in Maputo
includes a Mozambican economist and two Mozambican journalists [with
the trial of one journalist postponed because of health], while the
other features a peasant seeking redress from the country's rulers
for wrongs inflicted by a landowner. But the poem was cited in his
own defense by economist Carlos Nuno Castel-Branco, in a one-day
trial in Maputo on August 31.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains an essay by Congolese historian
Jacques Depelchin on the trial, with extensive quotes from the new
translation of the ancient Egyptian poem "The Eloquent Peasant," by
a team of which he is a part, and the latest update on the trial
from Mozambique News Agency journalist Paul Fauvet. The trial
verdict is to be released on September 16.
Depelchin makes a convincing case for the commonality over distance
in time and space of subjects or citizens facing up to rulers for
their rights. Depelchin, who is from the Democratic Republic of the
Congo and has worked in Mozambique, is one of the translators of a
new edition of the poem, to be published in multiple European and
African Languages. "The Eloquent Peasant" will be published by Per
Ankh Publishers in Senegal (http://www.perankhbooks.com/) and
distributed internationally through a distributor in San
For additional regularly updated information on the case, visit
https://www.facebook.com/vozesnaosilenciadas Most postings are in
Portuguese, but some are in English.
For additional background on Castel-Branco's studies of economic
development and inequality in Mozambique visit
For additional background and news on the case, the best strategy is
a google search for Mozambique Castel-Branco trial.
For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Mozambique, visit
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++
Carlos Nuno Castel-Branco vs. Mozambique: What is at Stake?
by Jacques Depelchin
Published on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/LiberdadeMoz/posts/1912990268925360,
August 30, 2015
* 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.
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
"The Eloquent Peasant addressing the High Magistrate, representing
The standard for straight discourse has turned crooked
and judges have taken to stealing.
The glib trickster obscures the meaning of issues,
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
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, Maat.
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 Maat 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-Maat, 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
How else to explain the consternation caused when a truth is given
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 reintegrated
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, The´ophile
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
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
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.
Academic and Journalist on Trial over Facebook Post
Freedom of expression on trial in Mozambique. I've just spent an
interesting day in court, and I'm optimistic that this case will be
won. - Paul Fauvet
Paul Fauvet is the editor of the English service at the Agência de
Informação de Moçambique (AIM).
Maputo, 31 Aug (AIM) - Prominent Mozambican economist Carlos Nuno
Castel-Branco on Monday told a Maputo court that a Facebook post he
wrote in November 2012 was intended as part of a political debate on
the problems the country faced, and not an attack on the honour and
dignity of the then president, Armando Guebuza.
Castel-Branco is on trial before the KaMpfumo urban district court
for supposedly libeling Guebuza in his Facebook post. Since libeling
senior political figures is classified as a crime against state
security, it is not Guebuza himself who brought the case, but the
Public Prosecutor's Office. Fernando Mbanze, editor of the
independent newssheet "Mediafax", is in the dock alongside CastelBranco.
He had republished the Facebook post, and now finds himself
accused of the crime of "abuse of press freedom".
Guebuza has made no comment on the case, and there is no indication
that the prosecutors even questioned Guebuza. The prosecution claims
that various of the statements made by Castel-Branco in his post
were untrue, including his opening line "Mr. President, you are out
It also did not like the claim that Guebuza had surrounded himself
with "boot-lickers", or that he had repeatedly insulted "those who
have ideas about national problems, rather than creating
opportunities to benefit from their experience and knowledge".
The prosecution claims, in a willful misreading of the post, that
Castel-Branco had compared Guebuza to fascist dictators. In fact,
the post warned, not that Guebuza was a fascist, but that his
governance might pave the way for fascism. The politico-military
crisis of 2013, Castel-Branco wrote "makes us remember the preludes
to fascism. In similar situations, Hitler, Mussolini, Salazar,
Franco and Pinochet were installed in power, and were defended by
big capital as long as they defended the interests of big capital".
"I did not compare the former president to fascists", Castel-Branco
told the court. "But the processes in Mozambique are similar to the
processes leading up to fascist dictatorships". As for saying that
there bootlickers around Guebuza, he pointed out that many others
had made similar claims - including senior figures in the ruling
Frelimo Party, such as the former head of the Frelimo ideology
department, Jorge Rebelo.
Castel-Branco was once close to Guebuza. In 1977, when he was just
17 years old, he joined the revolutionary armed forces (FPLM), and
was placed in the FPLM political commissariat, which was headed by
Guebuza. Three years later, it was Guebuza who ensured that CastelBranco
went to university.
At the time, they shared a common ideology - both defined themselves
as socialists and as Marxist-Leninists. Asked what had changed since
then, Castel-Branco, citing former Greek finance minister Yanis
Varoufakis, replied "I didn't change - the boat changed its
As for the publication of his Facebook post in the Mozambican media,
he said that he had neither authorized it or denied permission to
republish. "I am not going to exercise censorship against the
Mozambican press", he said.
Mbanze told the court that the post had been discussed in the
"Mediafax" newsroom, and the journalists agreed that it was part of
an important debate of ideas, and was therefore worth publishing.
No-one in "Mediafax" had construed it as libelous or insulting.
"Had we concluded it was libellous, we wouldn't have published it",
It is strange that the case has come to trial at all. For last year
the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, passed a
law amnestying security offences "of any nature" committed between
March 2012 and August 2014. Clearly, this covers a Facebook post of
The prosecution has not explained how it can override words as
categorical as "of any nature". But Castel-Branco and Mbanze
deliberately did not base their defence on the amnesty law. Instead,
they argued that the post was a legitimate part of a national
Castel-Branco's lawyer, Joao Carlos Trindade (who is a retired
Supreme Court judge), said his client was not invoking the amnesty
law, "because he prefers to be acquitted, since no crime was
committed. Accepting an amnesty would be to accept that he committed
Trindade regarded this trial as a litmus test. "What is at stake is
whether we live in a democracy or in a dictatorship where people are
gagged and cannot express their views".
"As a court, we have to tell the world what sort of country we are
living in", he said. "In no democratic country is someone condemned
for criticizing the way the President is ruling". Presidents should
be prepared for scrutiny by the public, he added. "They have duties
towards citizens, and citizens have to be vigilant to ensure that
they are not defrauded".
Trindade quoted sociologist Elisio Macamo, a well-known supporter of
Guebuza, who in December 2013 had declared his shock at the decision
to prosecute Castel-Branco and Mbanze. "I am astounded by this", he
had written. "What kind of country do some people want to build. As
a fan of Guebuza, I can't believe he is behind this".
Macamo did not agree with all Castel-Branco had said. "The content
of this text is debatable", he wrote. "But since it is debatable, it
ought to be debated".
The defence produced several witnesses, including a former deputy
chairperson of the Mozambican parliament, and later head of the
government's Legal Reform Technical Unit (UTREL), Abdul Carimo, and
former deputy agriculture minister Joao Carrilho. It cannot
plausibly be claimed that these men are opposed to Frelimo or the
government - yet they, and every other witness, saw nothing libelous
or insulting in the Castel-Branco post. "I don't see any intention
to offend the dignity and honour of Armando Guebuza", said Carimo.
"The article is a cry from the heart. It has a lot of adjectives,
but there's no attempt to offend".
The prosecution, on the other hand, did not present a single
witness. It brought forward absolutely nobody who claimed to have
been scandalised by the article.
Presiding judge Joao Guilherme announced that the panel of three
judges court will give their verdict on 16 September. The delay of
more than a fortnight was due to pressure of other work, he said.
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