Roadmap for a new Zimbabwe?
“We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy, for no document from human hands can make these humans any less than our brothers.” Dr Martin Luther King.
“There is nothing like a dream to create the future.” Victor Hugo.
“Not only is another world possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” Arundhati Roy.
Recovering from the legacy of ZANU-PF
How does one begin the task of fixing decades of mismanagement, corruption and a culture of impunity? It will take more than a decisive win at the polls to recover from the devastating impact of President Robert Gabriel Mugabe and the Zimbabwe National African Union Patriotic Front (ZANU PF), the country’s 28-year ruling party.
The emotional consequences are immense. Mugabe has been the only President we have known since independence in 1980. He and ZANU PF have set the only standards for comparison with little, or no, participation from broad cross-sections of the population. Accountability has not been a priority. So, instead the ruling party continued the divide-and- rule tactics of their colonial past that were so effective even during the Smith regime.
What is lacking in Zimbabwe is acceptance of diversity. The culture of exclusion has made it impossible for us to listen to each other and critical voices have been stifled. Zimbabweans are a hard-working people, many of whom are busy sustaining the economies of other countries while their own nation is in meltdown. The political environment is not conducive to unity and promotes mistrust, individualism and greed.
A Proposed roadmap for a new Zimbabwe
A realistic vision for Zimbabwe would involve the meticulous assembling of teams of experts (think tanks, for example) in various fields to examine current policies. The process would involve proposing new policies for a complete overhaul of the country’s main institutions, retaining those that are in the national interest and incorporating them into a new Roadmap to a New Zimbabwe. These new policies could be adopted into law and implemented in stages, depending on the new economy and governance.
This think tank process must be as transparent as possible and draw on the experience and knowledge of many Zimbabweans, regardless of political or economic status. Regional and international communities could help by supporting Zimbabweans resident in their own countries who want to be part of change and facilitate this exchange through physical relocation, visiting scholar schemes, virtual skills networks and sequenced visits. These ideas have been tried elsewhere by such organizations as the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and worked.
Since the current Zimbabwean crisis began many remarkable leaders and thinkers have emerged and shared their creative ideas. This abundance of ideas must be encouraged and embraced by any new administration to foster trust. Only then can we Zimbabweans feel ownership of the process and assume collective responsibility.
A strong inclusive constitution is the backbone of any functioning democracy. It must guarantee that the necessary checks and balances exist within the system of governance. A country’s constitution cannot be manipulated to serve the interests of a few or punish opponents and those who hold divergent views. All sectors of the population are able to identify with a constitution. This identity comes with certain rights and obligations.
A thorough review of the current “Lancaster House” Constitution amended by Mugabe almost at will would be a major first step in restoring trust, confidence and burnishing Zimbabwe’s tarnished image. Since it is not practically possible to go to the March 29 presidential and parliamentary elections with a new Constitution (that is just speculation and a red herring in the process of change being promoted in this article), it is still not too late to begin the democratic process of drafting a new Constitution and that would require a Constitutional Assembly and a plebiscite that reflects the will of the majority of Zimbabweans. Zimbabweans have too long been systematically incapacitated in their ability to influence change in the way their country is governed. Power and the decision-making process have remained in the hands of a few individuals. The National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), The Women and Men of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA & MOZA), labor, churches , human rights and civil society organizations are just some of the groupings who have been working on a new Constitution so much of the job is already a work in progress. We have good examples in the constitutions of our neighbours South Africa and Namibia which are already in place and have the protection of constitutional courts.
The Judicial system
The courts should not be allowed or exposed to interference by politicians or government officials. Appointments to the judiciary should be on merit and take into consideration national interests. There have been horror stories about the administration and functioning of the judiciary in Zimbabwe. There has been a complete breakdown in the rule of law. A country without a strong and reputable court system is doomed to fail and will not inspire confidence in its rulings. There are many rights to be protected by law, for example human rights, women and minorities, freedom of expression, association and property rights for potential investors and citizens. A dysfunctional court system deters investment, business with other countries and compromises the professional integrity of legal practitioners. In order to restore our courts and guarantee their independence from political interference, their independence from Government must be constitutionally guaranteed. And any head of state or government in the future must be kept at a long distance from the administration of justice.
The Zimbabwe public service has always operated in a political environment that forces it to become involved in electoral politics, especially around elections. Public servants are expected to demonstrate their loyalty to ZANU PF by how they conduct themselves or share information. Over the years there have been instances where employees of the state suspected of supporting the opposition have been victimized or denied opportunities to advance their careers. Rumor-mongering abounds in the public service and internal sabotage and incompetence pertains in many departments. As a result, many public servants who are committed and hardworking find it difficult to work in such a politically charged and uncertain environment. These are the individuals that a new government needs to retain so that they may assist in re-building the capacity of the public service that citizens can respect and support.
The almost annual strikes by junior doctors and teachers, as well as the go-slow actions and use of government property to conduct personal business pose huge challenges to an incapacitated administration. Despite the many costly attempts to reform the public service over the years, corruption, incompetence and partisanship have thrived.
In addition, the Zimbabwe public service has suffered from a lethal combination of brain drain, attrition and the effects of HIV/AIDS
The militarization of public institutions following the failed 1999 Constitutional Referendum and subsequent land invasions needs urgent attention to restore morale and merit.
The Governor of the Reserve Bank in Zimbabwe not so long ago referred to the Zimbabwe economy as being on “economic HIV”. There have been countless economic recovery plans that are gathering dust in the Ministry of Finance because of a lack of political will. As long as the political environment remains the way it is, not much economic recovery can occur. The Zimbabwe dollar is currently grossly over-valued and despite government’s denial, the parallel market is as influential as ever in determining economic trends and indicators in Zimbabwe. This needs to change and so do other policies that have caused the world’s highest incidence of inflation at an almost daily changing rise to above 100,000 percent. Wages keep chasing inflation and only 20 percent of the 12 million population is employed in the formal sector. The distortions in the economy are numerous and have created a huge pool of unemployed and under-employed Zimbabweans which creates circumstantial criminals, uncertainty and resentment of the status quo.
While public servants, employees in parastatals, politicians and other selected groups acquire foreign currency at a ridiculously low exchange rate of US$1 to ZW$30,000, the rest of the country purchases the same at US$1: ZW$25 million. Businesses are failing to function or have closed; the rich elite are getting richer and more alienated from reality whilst the poor are getting poorer and desperate. The black middle class is non-existent and most have emigrated elsewhere. With rampant food, energy and water shortages, human life is now cheap in Zimbabwe. The funeral and illegal foreign currency dealing are but a few of the businesses thriving in Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwe economic system has enormous economic powers concentrated in the hands of the state -- and ultimately one individual, the president. State intervention in the economy is pursued with a battery of controls on prices, exchange rates, interest rates and other economic variables. But they have serious unintended consequences. Besides the shortages state controls create, officials administering them quickly discover that the intricate maze of state controls and regulations provide huge opportunities for self-enrichment. Revenue collection, passport control, and even government stationery are all diverted, manipulated or used for illicit personal gain.
The next government faces an almost impossible task of bringing sanity to the Zimbabwean economy. The budget deficits are unmanageable so concerted effort must be made to create employment and to attract lost human resources to assist in rebuilding the country. Punitive measures applied by government towards businesses and the informal sector have resulted in the growth of an underground economy and further losses in taxable income. Government is fond of spending huge amounts of the national resources in the run-up to elections so as to gain votes. A new government will be left to deal with a battered economy and the subsequent effects of decades of financial indiscipline.
Zimbabweans are well-educated people but what is surprising is their inability to apply this knowledge by actively engaging themselves to solve the country’s problems. It is not out of a lack of interest but the existence of an exclusive ZANU PF inner circle which reacts in a combative way to constructive criticism in order to protect its interests. The same group of politicians has monopolized power since Independence, and treats the country as their personal property. They have not known any other employment and amassed wealth through public office. A handful of new players have been brought into the fold because of their perceived loyalty and articulation of ruling party policies and not because of what they can selflessly contribute to the country. ZANU-PF has employed various strategies to kill idea sharing. Character assassination, arrests and state control of the media are but a few examples. The majority of an estimated three million skilled Zimbabweans in the Diaspora are able and willing to be part of the process of restoring Zimbabwe but are continually denied the necessary space. Those brave ones still in the country are incapacitated by the daily struggles for survival and any attempts to influence change are persistently ignored or suppressed.
With the advancement in technology, it is possible to create virtual networks of Zimbabweans in the diaspora to share ideas and participate in the debate about the future. This may be accomplished without physical relocation but some will want to return home and help to build the new Zimbabwe. However, the political environment has to be accepting and not threatening for such exchanges to be successful. All parties contesting in the 2008 elections should not be afraid of enhancing their campaign efforts by inviting virtual debate on many pressing issues affecting the nation and capitalize on the limited time before March 29. The diaspora does not have a monopoly on ideas and will benefit from the local context that can only be provided through interaction with those that are living through the daily chaos and hardships.
Zimbabwe’s intelligence service and law enforcement agencies were among the best trained in Africa. While our police force was respected internationally and participated in United Nations peace-keeping forces, their image in Zimbabwe is the opposite. ZANU-PF has turned the Central Intelligence Organization (CIO) into an instrument of fear, which attacks the opposition to criminalize critics.
Since the economic woes in Zimbabwe it has become customary for the government to award large salaries and perks to the intelligence and military. The latest award occurred in February just before the March elections. ZANU-PF depends on the unquestioning loyalty of the armed forces and intelligence. The selective awards create divisions and tension within the public service and in the event of a labor dispute, one section of the public service is used to suppress the other. The awards are misguided because this sector of the economy is not productive. These awards are financed through more borrowing on the domestic market, further fueling inflation.
If ZANU PF was to be defeated at the polls, the question on some people’s minds is whether or not the intelligence and armed forces would accept the new head of state. Traditionally, it is public servants and the armed forces that administer elections in their various capacities. Any administration should swiftly review appointments in the military and armed forces to reduce bureaucracy, complicity and corruption. It should also ensure that the role of the military and armed forces is mainly to defend the country from real enemies and to serve and protect regardless of one’s political affiliation or societal standing. Zimbabweans have lost confidence in the military and armed forces. Appointing the military and other uniformed forces who lack both the pre-requisite expertise and knowledge to lead organizations is ill-advised and turns otherwise law-abiding citizens into criminals. It is also a subtle admission of failure. Placing all the trust in uniformed personnel makes them feel immune to prosecution so there are many reports of looting from farms, corruption and abuse of farm workers by the police and army.
Zimbabwe is represented in 35 foreign missions and is among the African countries with the largest number of diplomatic missions abroad. Since the economic crisis salaries for diplomats which are paid in scarce foreign currency have been sporadic and sometimes delayed. Some foreign missions have been threatened with closure for non-payment of rent and utilities. The cost of maintaining these missions abroad far outweighs the benefits. A review of our representation on the regional and international arena is overdue and critical to determine where we can be most strategically placed in the world.
In taking positions, we should safeguard ourselves from being entirely influenced by political solidarity and consider other factors like trade and economic cooperation. Staffing levels for diplomatic missions has to be commensurate with the level of activity and mutual benefits. We will be judged by the quality and not quantity of our contribution to diplomacy. An urgent task is a review of the purpose and mandate of all foreign missions abroad to ensure that they serve the interests of the majority and the country. There are many good diplomatic staff available, and appointing the right people with the right skills and attitude will once again bring some dignity and pride to the diplomatic service.
The Diaspora and the role of youth
The government, donors, civil society, the opposition, youth, women and the international community and the Diaspora all have an important part to play in building the national image. There is no justification in employing foreign companies paid in scarce hard currency to improve our country’s image because this is the job and responsibility of every Zimbabwean wherever they reside. The last few years have seen Zimbabweans denouncing their country out of shame and fear.
Mobilizing the youth in the Diaspora for instance to begin thinking about their future in a new Zimbabwe where they can participate in decision-making and policy formulation that affects their lives can only be possible through the deliberate promotion of self-respect and respect for others, accountability, tolerance and general good citizenry.
Our youth must be consulted and included in future national strategies. We need to launch a new Zimbabwe from within and outside Zimbabwe. The resources provided by the Diaspora must continue for now despite the hostile political environment.
Our vital institutions may be identified as constitutional independence for the judiciary, the central bank, the mass media, the armed forces and police mechanisms for peaceful resolution of conflicts and independent electoral system to oversee transfer of political power. The dysfunctional nature today of these critical institutions has banished the rule of law, respect for property rights, security of persons, social, political, and economic stability and created an environment that prevents national and personal development.
The most spectacular failure of leadership after Independence has been the apparent reluctance to build or expand viable, responsive, relevant and sustainable institutions. Years of mismanagement and systematic corruption has destroyed much of what was there and replaced them with institutions that Zimbabweans neither value or identify with as a people.
Since our institutions have been mercilessly politicized, they pose a danger to a new government. The challenges facing a future Zimbabwe can be achieved in large part by revamping important institutions so they work for the people and maintain certain standards
The die is cast in Zimbabwean politics and whichever way the wind blows on March 29 change is inevitable. The world’s view of Zimbabwe changed with the entry of new players into the political arena and we wait with bated breath for the outcome. Zimbabwe must not go the way of Kenya and fall into violent internal conflict. So restraint and tolerance will be of utmost importance.
The damage from the past is so profound that correcting it will take the work of generations. It is essential that we work towards healing and reconciliation to deal psychologically with the trauma suffered in silence. The disturbing reality is a marked increase in gender-based violence and sexual assault on children. These behavioral problems can be directly linked to the country’s meltdown. The weak in our society are the most vulnerable and need protection. Leaders will have to contend with a traumatized nation and a governance crisis of vast proportion. They need to draw up a critical path analysis for the country with involvement of as many capable Zimbabweans as possible. Time is not on their side and no sane Zimbabwean wants to be a mere observer while the fate of our country is at stake.
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