This month marks two key milestones in Zimbabwe, a country that for over one and a half decades has attracted significant attention to itself because of an ailing economy, limitations on civil liberties and political rights and what has been described as the ”mass exodus” of its people to other countries the world over.
One, the so-called government of national unity (GNU) — a marriage of inconvenience in reality — turns four. It has been a rather long and tiring road for the political parties involved. But it is the people of Zimbabwe, arguably, who have endured surge after surge of national anxiety as solutions to the multifaceted crisis tormenting their country cannot be found.
Two, President Robert Mugabe turns 89. As usual, pomp and fanfare will accompany the birthday celebrations and, quite predictably. Mugabe will reaffirm his preparedness to represent his Zanu-PF party in the next elections — whenever they are held — and there will also be the usual tirade against real and imagined imperial forces — “Zimbabwe will never be a colony again!”
To better understand the GNU, a product largely associated with former South African president Thabo Mbeki, one has to constantly refer to what is called the global political agreement (GPA), the principal document signed by Zanu-PF and the two Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) factions. The agreement, it was hoped, would shape a roadmap towards solving the political impasse plaguing Zimbabwe in the aftermath of a violent and disputed poll.
If the GNU was a Facebook status, it would simply read: “It’s complicated.”
As I have written elsewhere, the GNU handed Zanu-PF a glorious opportunity to regroup and reassert its power and authority while at the same time ensuring that a threatening national implosion which, in 2008, could have seen Zimbabwean rise up against their government, was averted.
As part of the roadmap, Mugabe, Morgan Tsvangirai and Professor Arthur Mutambara committed to supporting a constitution-making exercise in an effort to replace the current Lancaster House Constitution, which has been amended at least 19 times. The idea was to give Zimbabwe a genuinely people-driven constitution unlike the Lancaster House one, which was negotiated and agreed upon on the eve of the country’s independence.
The Constitution Parliamentary Committee that was set up, as per GPA provisions, to administer and oversee the writing of a new constitution got an endorsement, recently, from the House on the draft it finally tabled. The word ”finally” is to be used with extreme caution here because chances exist that some amendments may still be made. Indeed, the ”final draft” that went to parliament was a ”second final draft” after the first one had to be amended.
The entire constitution-making exercise process itself has been unashamedly elitist and as all the GNU parties admit, it is a compromise document, much like the Lancaster House Constitution. Yet, Zimbabweans are expected to vote, in a referendum, and either support or reject such a draft.
To be fair, it is a constitution that has many good things that will appeal to many Zimbabweans. It also has some things that will be contested by many. The people of Zimbabwe, too, are expected to compromise and — “for the sake of progress” — endorse the charter.
As the GNU’s end looms, Zimbabweans have to take responsibility for the way things end and stop expecting earth-shattering interventions from SADC, the African Union or indeed, solidarity networks that exist globally. This responsibility should start with accepting a fact they have known throughout the ”years of the locust” and as captured brilliantly by French poet Charles Peguy: “Tyranny is always better organised than freedom.”
For stocktaking purposes, therefore, a line from Okot p’Bitek’s poem Song of Ocol may be profoundly useful:
What did you reap when uhuru ripened
and was harvested?
Media reports from Zimbabwe say cabinet ministers and lawmakers are demanding a ”harvest” of houses in leafy suburbs, vehicles and cash, among other benefits as their term comes to an end this June. It is nothing short of scandal that they have the temerity to make these demands days after the finance minister, Tendai Biti, said the country only had $217 in its bank account.
Someone should have whispered the words of Thomas Sankara to the GNU comrades: “If we always keep in mind that the interests of the masses take precedence over personal interests, then we will avoid going off course.”
What is even more scandalous, perhaps, is the reaction of Zimbabweans themselves. Beyond the predictable Facebook, Twitter and blog updates, it would appear as if there has not been much shock and anger expressed at the cabinet ministers’ and lawmakers’ outrageous demands for an ”exit package”. Has the country been that de-mobilised?
You just have to look at the divisions within the so-called pro-democracy movements — party bickering and splits, lack of coherent ideology, lack of vision and action, lack of contact with the grassroots and so on — to appreciate the depth of problem. And of course, such division helps no one except to assist Zanu-PF in entrenching its hegemony.
Zimbabwe has to be allowed to get the leaders it deserves.
But an honest question still needs to be asked: Is it ever possible to confront a dictatorship using democratic means? If it is possible then quite evidently, GNUs are not the way to go. Elections, maybe? Well, not the ones that is likely to be held this year. A Tsvangirai poll victory — the long-touted preference of many — could be more about Zimbabweans rejecting the 89-year-old Mugabe than actually endorsing him as a candidate. And, a Zanu-PF victory could be a result of a divide opposition vote.
The biggest losers, inevitably, will remain the ordinary people of Zimbabwe, betrayed by self-serving politicians and what appears to be a great deal of inactive citizenship.
How do you solve a problem like this one?