Nick Mangwana View From the Diaspora
Sovereignty cannot be enjoyed in a context of abject poverty and disease. These have a tendency to undermine any form of dignity anyone has. When we got our independence people had expectations and aspirations. Some were met , a lot more were not. A few years later, the expectations turned into frustrations.This is what the President has been hammering about.
President Mnangagwa said that: “The voice of the people is the voice of God”. He also said “Parliament is the ultimate expression of the will of the people outside an election”. In that he appears to show a desire to empower Parliament so it can continue to check on any excess of his Executive. But besides that our Constitution gives our people power to petition their Government. Outside Parliament there should also be mechanisms for people to contribute to their government besides through taxation.
There should be shared solutions between the government and the people. While the government has been chosen to lead the people the relationship between the government and the people should be interactive. And by saying the people the definition should be applied liberally to mean civil society, the media, private sector, religious organisations and anyone impacted upon by the decisions and actions of a government.
So far the Government has done mainly the right things.
The primary social contract between the government and its people is the management of resources. The people vote for a government, they pay their taxes and obey the law. The government needs to manage those resources responsibly and show that they are not being brazenly wasteful.
In this regard, President Mnangagwa’s Government has started on a decent keel. They have been in power just for a few days, but let’s face it, this is a transitional Government and it has no honeymoon period. So the expectation of green shoots is immediate. The expectations which this Government dubbed as the New Era should not slide into another destructive frustration like happened after Independence. Everything now depends how governance will be managed.
Some of the governance pillars that should be there for all to see in order to keep the faith are that we should see more transparency. Decisions of this Government should be open to public scrutiny. The public has a right to know for example about why Mr (Tobaiwa)Mudede is still in office when Austin Zvoma was dragged out screaming and kicking after reaching his retirement age? The President said that he was ushering in a new democracy. We believed him, and we still believe him. One thing the people are expecting from their leader is that decisions made by his officials will not be self-serving. That regardless of their personal dogma or ideological leanings the will of the people should guide decisions. And there is no better cogent expression of that will except through the constitution.
When things are not happening the way they should happen, the media should be at liberty to beam the light on it. A self-serving government will always have a problem with that. But one for the people and by the people would simply expect people to report responsibly. That’s it. This is what transparency entails. One cannot talk of transparency without talking of corruption. Whenever there is corruption, people try to hide things and transparency becomes a threat. It is the first casualty. Once we are in that zone then citizens will start losing their rights.
This is why it is very important for this Government to be transparent and if there is any sign of abuse of power, it should be dealt with. In this regard, we have to confront any abuses of resources that happened in the past and in order to make sure it will not happen again.
One hopes that President Mnangagwa will never let his Government be held hostage to private interests. That is why there is an expectation of a new Disclosure Regime. One of the ills that made organised crime rife in Zimbabwe is the lack of full disclosure of the assets of public officials. This column has covered that way too many times, but as long as public officials’ assets are not fully disclosed this is not going away.
When the President said that he was ushering in a new democracy it was a clear confession that our democracy had shortcomings. There are gaps he wants to close. They don’t happen over night. They are not going to be easy because any rapid changes appear destabilising, but it will all settle down. If the President gets this right, he can only benefit from positive political consequences. This is why any positive change should be painted in a positive light in order to reinforce the benefits.
This changing of a political system and habits of old is the most challenging an incumbent leader can ever undertake, especially when elections are not far off. People have to bear with the leader if they don’t see a few things being changed yet or a few people from the old system still hanging around. In 1980, we had to keep the Rhodesians. This was meant for continuity and it will be meant for continuity. Transformation is a long drawn process because it’s an interaction of many facets of a system. In this we are saying people have to be patient. But it also takes courage from those in power. The Zimbabwean state is demanding a concerted effort from us all.
Only weak and vulnerable states are scared of reform. Ours is not and our democracy might have its shortcomings as said above, but it has an acceptable level of maturity. This was clearly on display in the smooth way our contentious succession was managed. It is that type of maturity, which must again be on display when we manage the essence of political power being subordinate to the law.
It was not that bad in the last dispensation. But when people started being hunted like animals for expressing political disapproval through booing, then it was clear that political power was now using the law to abuse citizens. That is a place a reformed system should never lead us to. This is why in his statement of the 21st of November, President Mnangagwa said that, “the destiny of our country is in the hands of our people.” He also said in an earlier statement of the 8th of November 2017 that the habit of expelling or suspending people for holding a different opinion was “idiotic”. This means that in the new dispensation it should not be perceived as rebellious or indiscipline” to have a different opinion.
This is not a small matter. It doesn’t afflict one party. It is in all parties in Zimbabwe. Every party of substance in our polity has expelled or suspended people for daring to differ in their views of things, how they are. This does not augur well for our burgeoning democracy. So those who think that the “new democracy” is about the behaviour of the Ruling Party should think again and not have such a restricted definition.
What needs reforming in Zimbabwe is the system and framework upon which our processes rest. It is also the culture that interacts with those systems. The latter is much more important because on paper our systems are not that bad. In most cases they clearly define conventions, policies and procedures. They define who has what power and where it ends. The problem is, we just end up accepting people taking liberties with power that they don’t have and the people readily accepting it. This happens in government, political parties as well as in the third sector. We should adopt a culture of Zero Tolerance to Usurpation of Power. When we stop seeing governance as only a requirement in the national space, but in every space where humans interact for a purpose then we can say that the New Era has taken us to the place where we need to be. If we don’t do that then we are leaving all the positives the President is leading on to be vulnerable to reversals.
We have an opportunity as a country to move from adversarial politics to a consensus orientation in which having power does not mean you can afford to ignore participatory decision making processes where they benefit the country. The opposition should not be ignored. The same applies to the civic society. The only advantage of being in power is that you can take the best ideas from everyone including your opposition and ignore what’s not symmetrical to your vision.
An economic system that does not work for all, but creates a wealthy oligarchy that despises the poor should also be reformed. These are attributes pervasive in our political system and it is a responsibility for all of us to support the President’s reform agenda.