Wednesday, June 6, 2007

For God or Country?

Although Tanzania is officially a secular nation, religion still guides an enormous amount of political and governmental policy. Tanzania’s population has an approximately equal number of Christians versus Muslims, thus the religious motivation used by the government is not necessarily sectarian or partisan, but rather a motivation of a higher power; God. I believe this is the most detrimental factor in our country’s development. Religious respect usually involves the disregard and disrespect of human rights and choices. No matter what religious convictions the leadership of the country has, this does not give it the right to limit citizens’ freedom just to appease their God. My, and every other Tanzanian’s rights should come before those of the lord, after all, the President is the servant of the nation.

A huge debate in the country is on the issue of abortion. There are supporters of the legalization as well as opposers within the populous; however government officials seem to take only their personal views into account. I believe the government’s views are based largely on fear of controversy; therefore should we leave every controversial issue untouched?

Presently, Tanzanian standpoint on abortion is based on the English Offences Against the Person Act of 1861 and the Infant Life (Preservation) Act of 1929. This states:

“Any person who, with intent to procure the miscarriage of a woman, whether she is pregnant or not, unlawfully uses any means upon her is subject to 14 years’ imprisonment. A pregnant woman who undertakes the same act with respect to her own pregnancy or permits it to be undertaken is subject to seven years’ imprisonment. Any person who supplies anything whatsoever knowing that it is intended to be unlawfully used to procure the miscarriage of a woman is subject to three years’ imprisonment.”

As a developing nation, it is fascinating that the abortion law has not been ‘developed’ for close to 100 years. This is a clear indicator of how social issues are very often neglected by the government. There are some exceptions to this law however, the English case of 1938 (which Tanzania follows as common law) of Rex vs. Bourne set precedent when the physician in the Bourne ruling was “acquitted of the offence of performing an abortion on a woman who had been raped”. This ruling was made on the grounds that the abortion was done to preserve the woman’s mental and physical health. Thus Tanzania still abides by this rule today allowing abortion in cases of mental and physical health preservation and if the woman’s life is at risk. Contrary to this allowance however, Tanzanian law still does not grant abortions in cases of rape and incest unless there is a clinical prognosis, which is rarely given. Practitioners saying that to predict the likelihood of mental or physical illness if the child is born is subjective, thus unscientific. Once again, a law full of contradictions, purposely done I’m sure.

The Tanzanian government admits that there is a crisis in levels of fertility being too high. The government admits that population huge population increases are damaging to the country. The government admits that the mortality rate of ‘backyard’ abortions is out of control. The government still refuses to legalize abortion.

If the argument is from a religious point of view, I fail to understand how legalizing abortion conflicts with religious convictions. According to both Christianity and Islam (the two largest religions in the country), free will is the greatest gift god has endowed on humanity. Why is it then that religious practitioners try and limit this god-given freedom as much as they can? Being pro-choice satisfies both factions of the country, those who are for abortion and those who are against it. Pro-choice emphasizes on giving choice to the individual. If your personal convictions do not allow you to have an abortion then you have the choice to not have one, just as if you have no conflict with the act then you have the choice to have one. It is not a very complex concept to grasp, choice works in everybody’s favor, why are so many against it?

The biggest reasons why people oppose freedom of choice are: restriction is a method of control, and control is a method of power. I ask those who are pro-life where does your overwhelming love for man go when women are dying in the thousands by unsafe methods of abortion? Where does your love for man go when children are abandoned daily, when the streets are full of homeless youth begging for scraps, when HIV is being passed on to future generations (this is also due to the limited access to ARV’s)? Where does your love go when you turn away from the repercussions of your views?

I more than agree that focus should be put upon family planning and contraception, that sexual education should become a larger part of schools curricula, access to medicine should be a priority, that microfinance initiatives should be in the forefront of our economic development, however, abortion should be a safe and legal option for our women.

Much of the stigma that goes along with abortion has to do with misconceptions and prejudice. Some argue that legalized abortion leads to an increase in sexual promiscuity; this claim is entirely unfounded. Sexual promiscuity is a figment of our prejudicial, patriarchal society. The term for some reason mostly used in reference towards women and rarely men. Why? Is it because our women have been cursed with the responsibility to bear children? When did that choice to bear, become an obligation? If this is what many Tanzanians think, then it is education that is the problem, not abortion.

I believe that in the specific case of abortion that choice is the most important factor, choice to abort an unborn, non-living (life starts when you are born not before that) fetus should be granted. By doing that, the government is valuing life much more then it is by restricting this choice. After all it is the government’s obligation to protect its citizens and their lives; it is the government’s obligation to value life. In theory government does respect these obligations; the constitution of Tanzania states that it is the government’s responsibility to ensure its citizens and those within the confines of its borders are protected. However, as with abortion, and with various other government principles, this one to is racked with contradictions.

Tanzania is one of many countries that have still not abolished capital punishment. Although we have not exercised the death penalty as often as many, the fact remains that the law still exists. It perplexes that one of the most influential women in the world Ms. Asha-Rose Magiro, a Tanzanian minister just until last week, first statement as the Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations was that capital punishment should be abolished in all UN member states, yet while being part of the Tanzanian leadership she never once publicly questioned the country’s death penalty policy. Maybe it was going to come but she was called away before it could happen, or maybe she is just jumping on the bandwagon of outrage after the high-profile execution of former Iraqi dictator Sadaam Hussein. Personally I hope the latter is false.

While the government still has the right to execute, it seems friends of the government also now have that right. I am talking about the infamous best man/murderer Ditopile Mzuzuri. It is nice to know that next time a dala dala driver cuts me off and I go into a bout of road rage I will be protected by the best and most powerful in the country if I decide that Mr. Dala Dala needs to be killed. Ditopile has been excused by many with the popular Swahili expression bahati mbaya!

So while the government adopts principles and policies and makes statements that completely contradict each other, and while citizens of this ‘peaceful’ nation sit back and watch in silence as injustices are being carried out in their names, and while God or the belief in him is destroying us, I say NO! Not in my name will you depreciate the value of truth and justice. Yet I know my no is powerless without yours. Speak up! Let them know that you know!

I urge you to break your vows of silence, knowing that many of you completely disagree with my point of view. Then make sure your point of view is listened to. I don’t want what I want; I want what the people want.

So I ask you to think about this, while our country of people is being ruled by person, and our president is strolling down the red carpet in London, who do you believe in? What do you believe in? Say it.

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