Editor’s Memo: Reform Agenda Stalled

NEXT week the inclusive government will complete its first year in office. It was a dramatic period characterised by a historic agreement between bitter political rivals; infighting; pulling out and coming back; and continued internal strife.

There was however some modicum of progress in restoring a measure of political and socio-economic stability, although beyond the façade of change the situation remains fundamentally the same.

When the inclusive government came, expectations were high that things would change for the better and far-reaching reforms would be introduced during the transition to lay the ground for full recovery and prosperity. The reforms were supposed to underpin an irreversible transition from dictatorship to democracy.

Unfortunately, the past still remains with us. The dictatorship has not disintegrated. In fact, there is a growing danger that we might slide back to the dark days of repression.

The inclusive government was expected to restore economic stability and recovery. But only cosmetic economic reforms followed the introduction of a multi-currency regime. Although the economy has started showing signs of recovery, structural reforms and huge financial outlays required to revive the economy and put it on a sustainable recovery path remain elusive.

Zimbabwe is still looking for up to US$10 billion to fund economic recovery but has only managed to secure paltry sums to kick-start an economy devastated by extended periods of leadership and policy failures, mismanagement, corruption and incompetence. The social structure is still dislocated. The provision of essentials including water, electricity, health and education is still as erratic as ever. Unemployment, poverty and attendant problems abound. Not much has changed. Zanu PF is resisting change.

In terms of the bigger picture the situation is worse. No serious reforms to set the country on a broader and sustainable path towards recovery have been made.

The inclusive government has so far failed to restore the rule of law, end human rights abuses, stop farm disruptions, promote civil and political liberties, and rebuild ruined democratic institutions, while introducing new ones. Repressive laws are still on the statute books and are being used ruthlessly to stifle freedoms of association, assembly and expression.

Prospective newspapers are still being denied licences to operate. Those which were closed at the height of repression have not been given the opportunity to reopen. Investors waiting for radio and television licences to introduce new broadcasters are still being blocked as well. Zimbabwe has the most repressive media environment in the region.

Although members of the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) have been appointed, the process is in limbo. Applicants for newspaper licences, including NewsDay, one of the papers waiting in the wings to enter the controlled market, are unable to file their applications for licences because the ZMC is practically non-existent. ZMC does not even have offices and a physical address.

The introduction of the ZMC, which wields dangerous powers to punish journalists for whatever reason, on its own is also a problem. The constitutional body is dominated by partisan political appointees mandated to do the bidding for their parties and not really promote press freedom. They would be guided by the interests of their parties and not those of the media and the public.

The constitution-making process, the central reform premise, is also stalling. The new democratic system will require a constitution that establishes the desired framework of governance. The constitution would set the principles of government, limit state power, establish a mechanism for elections, outline fundamental rights, and define the relationship between the national and local government.

A clear separation of powers must be established between the executive, legislature and the judiciary.
Strong restrictions should be imposed on activities of the police, intelligence services, and army to prohibit any political interference. One of the mandates of the inclusive government was to ensure security sector reform but nothing has been done.

In the interests of preserving the new democratic order and preventing the ever-present risk of the rise of another dictatorship, the constitution-making process should be inclusive, transparent and democratic. The current process is anything but this. In fact, it’s a disgrace.

It is incomprehensible why the MDC factions are part of such a discredited and chaotic constitution-making process when they always claim to stand for genuine democratic reform. Despite clear evidence that the process is badly-flawed, the two parties –– whose now barely credible claims on democratic reform are becoming increasingly hard to believe –– are still participating in the charade.

History teaches us that although the disintegration of dictatorship is a cause for major celebration, it does not lead to democracy by itself. People who would have suffered for a long time and struggled for change ought to be proud of themselves. The living and the dead will be remembered as heroes who helped to shape the history of freedom in their country.

However, precautions must be taken to prevent the rise of a new repressive regime out of the ashes of the old. Aristotle warned long ago that “tyranny can also change into tyranny”. People may claim to be struggling for democracy when in fact they seek only to impose a new refurbished model of the old one.
Reforms are critical for Zimbabwe to move forward. Since China launched its own reforms and opened up to the outside world in 1978, it has achieved measurable political stability and incredible economic growth. But when reforms are blocked there will be no meaningful recovery or progress.

 

Dumisani Muleya

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