Nick Mangwana View from the Diaspora
There was no surprise in the BBC programme Hardtalk when one of our sad compatriots spewed bitterness, intense antagonism and hostility towards the current Zimbabwean Government.
The loss of office pushed him to not surprisingly even question the legitimacy of the Government. A lot has already been written to explain the constitutional position. It has been asserted on many fronts, but let’s talk a bit more about it.
Legitimacy is said to be the popular acceptance of a regime or governing authority. It is the recognition of a political order. It is the absence of or presence of legitimacy that makes a political order to stand or fall. Now when it comes to President Mnangagwa’s administration there is very little out there to make one doubt its legitimacy unless one is a malcontent. Of course we have a very fringe minority of those. These are mainly a small group of politicians who attempted to use an incumbent’s spouse to pave their own way to the highest office and discard her once their way was cleared. Of course their plan failed dismally.
The phrase, outsmarted and out-gunned is used when some are in an ungracious mode. So one would give a bit of leeway for those that have decided that bitterness and questioning of legitimacy is an appropriate reaction. It is with this mind that this piece is set to argue that the issue of legitimacy in Zimbabwe is not a substantial issue as it does not really arise.
It might be an issue of academic interest and value, but for the people of Zimbabwe it’s a non-issue.
This is because the people have shown loyalty and support to the system of government that emerged out of the processes that took place in the second week of November 2017, thus giving full legitimacy to the Government that proceeded there-from.
Today if one was to call for a political protest contesting the authority of the current administration over Zimbabwe, there will be very few people on the streets. So the Bitter Duet, which thinks that the people are crying out for the former leader and would prefer him to the current one are free to put their false theory to the test. Let them call for Zimbabweans to take to the street against the current set-up and see how many would heed that crazy call. This is because the people have conferred legitimacy on the new administration. They did this through the application of the Constitution and via their consent to be governed by the said government.
The State is a legal persona that acts through its government. It is like an instrument for paying bills or buying such as cash or a cheque. If the person giving and the person receiving and everyone around them recognise them as a legal or legitimate tender then that settles the matter.
So, in the case of Zimbabwe and any other country for that matter, a legitimate authority is one which has the entitlement to speak or act on behalf of citizens. Coming to President Mnangagwa’s administration; Can he sign treaties on behalf of Zimbabwe? Yes he can. Can he represent Zimbabwe at the highest level on the international platform, yes he can. In the third week of January 2018 he will be in Davos, Switzerland, attending the world’s most powerful networking event, the World Economic Forum (WEF). He was invited in recognition of his position as the legitimate leader of Zimbabwe. This is an event even his predecessor struggled for invitations in recent times. He will pitch Zimbabwe’s investment case at an international stage. So for some (now) peripheral Zimbabwean political player to sit in some bolt-hole questioning the legitimacy of this international statesman is just the antics of an attention seeker.
Right from the beginning President Mnangagwa had the consent and goodwill of his people and the world to govern Zimbabwe. His inauguration was arranged in about two days, but regardless he had many current serving statesmen and former statesmen in attendance.
This means the entity called Mnangagwa Government has international standing and its power is recognised. If President Mnangagwa sends delegates to any international arena they will be recognised and accredited. If he decides to send delegates to CHOGM in the UK in April 2018 watch them being feted. In short that entity has legitimacy.
There are governments which win landslide majorities and somewhere along the way start to subvert their national constitutions and its institutions. Such governments may have the tenure of office, but would have lost that legitimacy, all the same. This loss of legitimacy comes from their inappropriate employment of power.
Legitimacy is not a monolithic conception. Neither is it an individual’s state of mind as the Annoying Duet thinks. It is a functional position. Right now President Mnangagwa has it. So do the people of Zimbabwe recognise and accept the validity of the rules coming from the current political system? If they do, that makes the system legitimate. And they do.
We have recently seen some doomsday writings from the naysaying nephew discharging venomous predictions of blood on the streets of Zimbabwe and doom sayings of Armageddon. The Think Tank has just turned into a Dip Tank.
It’s not going to happen. Does this political system have resilience of surviving a political crisis? The answer to that question is affirmative. It is a system that came out of a political crisis. The last regime was fast losing its legitimacy even though it had source legitimacy.
But the perception of the people regarding that regime was being fast eroded because of economic issues, destructive rallies and its lack of progressive functions. This was a regime that was holding rallies in the middle of the week where it expected tens of thousands of unemployed youths to attend. Any government that leverages on the unemployed as a rent-a- crowd pool to prove its legitimacy has a questionable legitimacy. This is not to say that there was no legitimacy at the beginning.
There was. But that legitimacy was not subsisting in the views of the people. This created the need to continue to seek perceptual validation by proving popularity through absolutely embarrassing “solidarity this or solidarity that gatherings.” In contrast, the current administration does not need to try to validate itself except through scheduled harmonised elections.
Part of the tests of a regime’s legitimacy is whether it has support from the local political community. One of the masterstroke moves taken by the new government was inviting all significant political players to President Mnangagwa’s inauguration.
As they filed through, every congratulatory handshake and the accompanying message was an endorsement of his legitimacy. Now even President Mugabe’s legitimacy from the 2013 landslide victory was not endorsed by his rivals. But that of President Mnangagwa was. This is what makes all the bitter words of former Cabinet colleagues of his pass-out for typical antics of a spurned spouse.
Locally the institutions of this Government and State are well supported by the governed. This is another thing that counts for legitimacy. This scenario cannot be compared to the last one where the spouse of a legitimate leader had taken control of virtually all institutions of the State and had everyone groaning. While a lot might have obeyed the commands and directives of this structure, it did not get the legitimacy of the governed.
Senior civil servants were being given public dress-downs, MPs were being mortified in front of constituents and military commanders were being challenged to come and shoot. That is what would pass for a “Somalia” scenario and not the tranquil and serene environment that came with the new dispensation.
And even at the height of the intervention itself the people’s consent was loud and clear. In fact the level of solidarity with the unfolding changeover of government was so surreal that even criminals held back their activities and the ominous demons on Zimbabwean roads desisted as there was no carnage, despite the absence of the usually ubiquitous police checkpoints.
So the naysaying nephew should stand back because the direction things are going in Zimbabwe is convincing the people that they are receiving a good return for their compliance. This is when citizens comply with a government not out of fear, but out of both a constitutional pact and an unwritten social contract. Now, that is the hallmark of legitimacy.
The people are the ultimate source of political authority in a democratic set-up. They will be given an opportunity to pass a referendum on this legitimacy in a few months’ time. And there is no doubt in the mind of this writer that the Government will deliver a policy direction the people of Zimbabwe will identify with and they will back it up.
The green shoots are already sprouting. Let us water them with more reforms. But to the doomsday prophets let this be clear; legitimacy is not only created on the input side of the political system ledger. It is mainly created, maintained and revalidated on the output side of that book.