With the revelation that High Court judge, Dr. Key Dingake, is to take up a position on the bench of Papua New Guinea next year, it has become evident that contrary to the expectations of most, he will not become the next Chief Justice.
In terms of the constitution, High Court judges are supposed to retire at the age of 70 and Chief Justice Maruping Dibotelo, reached that threshold on October 13 this year but his contract was extended up to March next year. Historically, ascension to the position of Chief Justice has been on the basis of seniority. At the time of his appointment, Dibotelo was the most senior judge followed by Mpaphi Phumaphi, Singh Walia and Dingake in that order. With both Phumaphi and Walia having retired on account of having reached retirement age, Dingake was the next man up for the big post.
“Was” because he is no longer in the running, having been appointed to a judgeship in Papua New Guinea, a Pacific Islands nation north of Australia. At this point, there is no clear favourite to replace Dibotelo. For some time it looked like Dingake’s ascension might be stymied by the dispute he and three other judges were locked in with Dibotelo. The matter, which resulted in the suspension of the quartet, has been amicably resolved and Dingake was to resume work in the new year. Instead, he will be in Port Moresby and not Gaborone next month.
His impressive CV notwithstanding, it was never really guaranteed that Dingake would become the next Chief Justice. Sources at the Ministry of Justice, Defence and Security say that the executive has grave misgivings about Dingake because his judgements have never favoured it.
“There is also strong suspicion that he is affiliated to the Botswana Congress Party,” says a source, referring to an opposition party whose founding president was Dingake’s elder brother – Michael Dingake, who served alongside Nelson Mandela on Robben Island.
Despite what the powers-that-be have convinced themselves about Dingake, one incontrovertible fact is that he is very well-respected by his peers both here at home and abroad for his incisive legal mind. A source says that it had become standard practice for international organisations inviting the Botswana judiciary to meetings to specifically ask for him to attend.
Papua New Guinea has a population of 8.1 million, more languages (over 820) than any other country and the sixth-fastest growing economy in the world. The bench that Dingake will join next year has 44 judges. He goes to Papua New Guinea at a time that the menu at funerals in some part of the country has been modernised. Until the early 1960s, the tiny Pacific Islands nation was convulsed by a strange illness called kuru which belied an even bigger problem. Australian medical researchers studying cases of deaths from a disease called kuru among the Fore people discovered that it was caused by funerary cannibalism. The practice stopped immediately and the last kuru victim died in either 2005 or 2009. Some parts of the country are still unexplored by westerners and according to a History Channel documentary, may still practise revenge cannibalism. In the documentary, an almost nude man tells the interviewer about how he killed an enemy from a neighbouring village not too long ago but decided to “forgive” him. Full punishment would have been in the form of eating the corpse.
Papua New Guinea has a uniquely Botswana-like problem ÔÇô it has the highest incidence of HIV/AIDS in the Pacific region. It also shares another characteristic with yesteryear’s Botswana ÔÇô good economic management that enabled its economy to grow even during the 2008/9 global economic recession.