By Pedzisai Ruhanya
SINCE colonial rule to date, Zimbabwe is a country mired in asylum debacles. This situation is a microcosm of a country facing monumental democratic and human rights deficits that need u
rgent attention by both the citizens of Zimbabwe and part of the international community that cares.
Because of the situation threatening the democratic existence of the country, there is need to refocus the whole issue of asylum status in Zimbabwe and define who among Zimbabweans should seek political asylum if necessary.
The Zanu PF leadership and President Robert Mugabe in particular should seek political asylum because of their failure to govern the country in a civilised manner as expected by those they govern. This political minority has no legitimate cause to drive millions of Zimbabweans outside of their motherland.
According to the 1951 Refugee Convention, “a refugee among other things refers to a person, owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, who is outside the country of his nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it”.
In my view, this is the way in which the recent decision by Asylum and Immigration Tribunal (AIT) of the United Kingdom ought to be understood. But it is not an endorsement of the AIT’s judgement against some of the legitimate Zimbabwean asylum-seekers in that country and I do not seek to refute the well-established international law position on refugees and asylum-seekers as enunciated by the 1951 Refugee Convention which is the key legal document in defining who is a refugee, their rights and the legal obligations of states.
That the Zanu PF government and its militia and members of the security agents such as the army, the police and the Central Intelligence Organisation have since Independence from Britain in 1980 been involved in human rights abuses against perceived enemies is not in doubt.
The prevalence of lawlessness in the country cannot be contested as Zimbabweans are witnessing during the currency transition where the youth militia, an extra-legal institution, are involved in confiscating people’s money and manning the country’s borders.
If Zimbabweans were to run away from the country after such kind of harassment by the infrastructure of violence created by the Zanu PF government that even Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono, who purports to be attempting to bring law and order in the financial services sector, is using illegitimate law enforcement agents, they could have a legitimate claim to asylum under the 1951 Refugee Convention.
While it is without doubt that Zimbabweans who have been victims of state violence deserve to be granted asylum status, I want to make a plea to my fellow Zimbabweans that the time has come for us to make a stand and deviate from the orthodox definition of an asylum-seeker and define the real people who should seek asylum outside of Zimbabwe.
This view is informed by the fact that since the 1965 Unilateral Declaration of Independence by Ian Smith to the current administration led by Mugabe, a minority group in Zimbabwe has been allowed to define the destiny of the millions of Zimbabweans.
During the war of liberation, Zimbabweans under Zapu and Zanu and other citizens fled the country and sought asylum in different parts of the world including our neighbours such as Zambia and Mozambique because of the brutal nature of the Smith regime and its racist policies.
Immediately after Independence in 1980, Mugabe seemed to emulate the violent nature of his predecessors and was not ashamed to see one of the most celebrated if not the leading national hero of his generation and the Second Chimurenga, the late Vice-President Joshua Nkomo, fleeing the country and seeking asylum in the UK.
Seven years after the death of Nkomo, a man who was humiliated by Mugabe and sought refuge in a country his fellow Zimbabweans perished fighting against its Rhodesian proxies, the situation has gone out of hand and it needs to be redressed.
In this regard, Zimbabweans must take a political and sovereign stand and refuse to be driven out of the country just like Nkomo refused to stay in the UK forever. It is time for Zimbabweans to join brave compatriots like Lovemore Madhuku of the National Constitutional Assembly, Heneri Dzinotyiwei, Paul Siwela and John Makumbe of the University of Zimbabwe and thousands other Zimbabwean political and civil society leaders who have refused to throw in the towel and stand for their legitimate and constitutional rights to remain in Zimbabwe.
The same applies to many brave Zimbabweans who have soldiered on against this brutal dictatorship.
My understanding of a democracy is that a leadership is elected to administer the affairs of the country in a responsible and accountable manner and the election of that leadership calls for a transparent electoral process that produces legitimate outcomes. Let’s suppose this was the case in Zimbabwe — which of course it is not — Mugabe would be answerable to the people of Zimbabwe and ultimately Zimbabweans would determine his future at State House.
To show that Mugabe and his leadership have lost the legitimacy to continue running the affairs of the state, they are not ashamed to see millions of Zimbabweans running away from those that should serve them.
The situation in Zimbabwe could be compared to a company. A company is made up of shareholders; it has a board of directors and an administration run by either a chief executive officer, a general manager or whatever the structure could be.
As is the norm, the board of directors on behalf of the shareholders appoints a chief executive officer to administer the company on behalf of the shareholders. In the event that a chief executive officer who is the servant of the board and its shareholders fails to run the company by either making losses, being involved in corrupt practices or other activities that do not enhance the growth of the company, the chief executive officer is fired or asked to leave. This is the situation that should happen in Zimbabwe.
But Mugabe and Zanu PF have the temerity to fire the shareholders of Zimbabwe, the sons and daughters of our country to all places in the universe where they face humiliation, scorn and have lost the concept of humanity, ubuntu.
It is in this spirit that I sought to argue that it is not the ordinary Zimbabweans who should seek asylum but Mugabe and the entire Zanu PF leadership because they cannot be allowed to hold the whole country hostage.
Recently former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor, before he was flown to The Hague, sought asylum in Nigeria and the same should happen to political managers who fail to administer the political affairs of their country in line with the demands and expectations of the shareholders, Zimbabweans in general.
To our African brothers and sisters in countries such as Zambia and Mozambique, particularly the leadership of these countries, my question is: why should your countries continue to keep Zimbabwean asylum-seekers in perpetuity?
You looked after us during the war and we are very grateful about that but do you still have any cause to continue doing the same 26 years after Independence?
The solution is to tell your brother, Mugabe, and his leadership that, in the words of British Home secretary John Reid, “they are not fit for the purpose”.
* Pedzisai Ruhanya is a Zimbabwean journalist studying in the UK.