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Comment: Reforms Must Bring Better Governance

PHEW! What a week of reforms.

We were told this week government will now allow international news channels BBC and CNN to report from Zimbabwe; police will now allow people to hold demonstrations and the National Security Council proposed under the Global Political Agreement was yesterday expected to hold its first meeting while a date to interview applicants to be considered for appointment to serve as commissioners on the Zimbabwe Media Commission has been set for Monday. All announcements in a space of five days! Soon we expect to hear measures to license new media titles.

Before that, Zimbabwean leaders led by President Mugabe solemnised the Peace Days by attending commemoration events. Mugabe then took senior politicians from the two MDC formations to the Smart Partnership Dialogue shindig in Uganda to perhaps demonstrate to his peers and all those who cared to observe that the inclusive government was working well. How convenient it was, especially with DPM Thokozani Khupe parroting Mugabe’s line that Zimbabwe can “go it alone”.

There are a number of theorems to explain this feverish activity in the quest for reform: Two of them are most plausible.

First President Mugabe would like to demonstrate to his peers in the region that the GNU project is working well ahead of the Sadc Summit in Kinshasa next month.

The other is that aid from donor countries is now linked to the GNU’s ability to demonstrate tangible reform. The government has moved quickly to put together a raft of measures which if viewed collectively may convince donors that the country is on the road to reform.

What better way of doing so than throwing on the table a copy of a new daily title to demonstrate the extent of media reform and government’s commitment to press freedom. This week Andrew Harding became the first BBC correspondent to enter the country on an authorised assignment since 2001 –– another milestone to demonstrate the opening of media space?

Mugabe can also brief colleagues at the Sadc summit and diplomats on the meeting between the co-Home Affairs ministers and senior police chiefs held this week culminating in the new brief to allow Zimbabweans to demonstrate without interference from the police. This will also demonstrate to Sadc that the experiment of having two interior ministers was bearing fruit and there were no contestations.

Co-Home Affairs minister MDC-T’s Giles Mutsekwa led the PR show this week telling us that the police were jolly good fellows whose role was misconstrued in the management of public order during demonstrations. Really?

“It is never the intention of the police to use minimum force willy-nilly,” he said. “Only on rare occasion will police resort to the use of minimum force to deal with unlawful public gatherings…” How pleasant for an MDC-T minister to expound the virtues of the police in crowd control. So what is the need to agitate for the repealing of the Public Order and Security Act which was Zanu PF’s weapon of choice in crushing dissent and closing the democratic space”?

I recall Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa’s statement six years ago defending Posa. He told me in an interview:  “We cannot amend Posa when we are under an onslaught from institutions which are causing mayhem and anarchy in the country.”

We cannot loosen up and let the MDC and other puppets of the United States and Britain run around bombing bridges and shops. Get it from me, Posa will not be amended. We are not doing that and we make no apologies.” The law was amended last year but we need to see a change in the mindset of those entrusted to implement the law.

The “reforms” announced this week could be a good start but they must be done in the spirit of ensuring that this country is governed better and that there are greater freedoms instead of them being billboards to advertise to the outside world the extent of reform with a view to enticing aid.

Pronouncement by Mutsekwa about the police and demonstrations has little to do with ensuring there is professional conduct in the force and that security laws, including the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act are not used selectively on perceived political opponents.

The challenge for Mutsekwa and his Zanu PF colleague Kembo Mohadi is to ensure that the current crop of police officers and their commanders can execute their duties under the dictates of the new political dispensation.

For that to happen there is need for reform of the police, including depoliticising the force. We want to see the police helping to fulfill a key GPA facet that there should be freedom of assembly, association and expression.

We also expect to see media reform moving beyond licences and allowing foreign news channels to set up shop. But we must also attend to draconian laws littered all over the statute books. The government’s commitment to media freedom will be demonstrated next week by its nominees to the ZMC. The presence of denizens of the the old order will send a wrong signal.

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