HomeCommentEditor's Memo: Let’s get our priorities right

Editor’s Memo: Let’s get our priorities right

I WAS taken aback last week to read a Human Rights Watch statement calling on Western Countries to withhold developmental aid to Zimbabwe until there are what the rights organisation calls “irreversible changes on human rights, the rule of law, and accountability”.

Equally, I was surprised by the group’s assertion that “humanitarian aid that focuses on the needs of Zimbabwe’s most vulnerable should continue”.

In essence Human Rights Watch is saying Zimbabwe’s poor are fine as long as there are receiving food handouts and rudimentary services from donor states for them to survive.

The statement from Human Rights Watch then makes a dangerous assumption that developmental aid can wait –– as long as there is humanitarian aid coming in –– while the government sheds another layer of demagoguery and repression.

There is the supposition that withholding developmental aid is a way to punish the ruling aristocracy and not the poor who can always find their way to the soup kitchen.

To Human Rights Watch, not much has changed since the formation of the unity government. They see outstanding issues, which the principals to the GPA are still grappling with, looming larger than the positives to date.

The route to take therefore is to forget about rebuilding this country. This position –– despite its past attraction to many Zimbabweans who would love to see the back of President Mugabe and Zanu –– is fast losing its lustre.

I am not under any illusion to suggest that Zimbabweans have made peace with Mugabe as leader of the unity government. What has changed about Zimbabweans is that they want to get on with life and start living normally again. Gone is the era when business people thought investing in industry and commerce was an endorsement of Zanu PF rule.

Zimbabweans have their heads up.

This applies to everyone; from the struggling subsistence farmer to well-heeled business magnates. They are aware of the deformities in the political settlement between Zanu PF and the two MDC formations.

They are all keen to see a stable and peaceful country where there is fairness and equity in the distribution of resources. Zimbabweans agree that there must be rule of law and respect for property rights.

To achieve these, however, Zimbabweans today are not saying that processes meant to achieve social development should be suspended as the country addresses the democratic deficit to achieve what Human Rights Watch calls “irreversible changes on human rights, the rule of law and accountability”.

The process of achieving the desired change is not an overnight event of sculpting the designed image. It is therefore incumbent on Zimbabweans to lead this process of change using realistic timeframes and yardsticks.

There are pitfalls in trammelling the “democratisation” process in order to suit donors’ requirements. There is the danger of the unity government making shortcuts in amending laws without proper consensus-building. We see the government being pressured to fast-track the writing of a new constitution to satisfy the agenda of financing the country’s recovery.

Erasing traits and hangovers of the dictatorial Zanu PF administration will take more than just setting up institutions and amending laws. It requires changing the collective conscience of the nation.

This is not achieved by impositions. Human rights defenders should therefore not confuse building democratic institutions with generic notions of stability and good governance. Many of Africa’s more effective and economically reform-minded leaders, from President Yoweri Museveni in Uganda to President Paul Kagame in Rwanda, have demonstrated autocratic tendencies.

In pushing for change in Zimbabwe, human rights groups should not just focus on the ruling elite but also look at the lower rungs of our social ladder. If the rights promoters are not frightened by the unemployment, disease, collapse in health, education and basic infrastructure, then this is the time to be.

Poverty is a human rights issue, so are education, health and shelter. Poverty is a huge threat to stability and the longer this economy takes to mend the more the country is susceptible to a return to yesteryear moments of madness.

Financing is key and efforts must be made to mobilise such instead of pretending that Zimbabwe can make do with humanitarian aid whilst sorting out the outstanding issues.

I take heart in AfDB President Donald Kaberuka’s position on what is required here. He said:  “I don’t think the strategy of making Zimbabwe dependent on foreign aid is the right one. What we need to do with Zimbabwe is to work with them to establish business confidence, rehabilitate their infrastructure and ensure that skilled Zimbabweans come back to their country.” He added: “I very much welcome the political arrangement in Zimbabwe. It may be imperfect but it represents a chance for that country’s recovery and return to its previous prosperous status.”


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