Editor’s Memo: Democratisation now without delay

PRIME Minister Morgan Tsvangirai on Monday received the W Averell Harriman Democracy Award in Washington DC where he spoke of Africa’s need to replace the “Big Men” of the continent with “democratically elected leaders and strong democratic institutions”.

Tsvangirai noted the difficulties his party faced before taking the decision to join the unity government and maintained that the arrangement of the GNU is not a comfortable one.
The MDC compromised, he said, as the GNU represented “another step in Zimbabwe’s difficult but certain transition to a true democracy”.
“In Zimbabwe today the Movement for Democratic Change has formed a coalition government with the former ruling party. This was not an easy decision, nor is it a comfortable arrangement,” Tsvangirai lamented.
“This has exposed us to criticism from outside the country where observers mistake the sharing of government portfolios with the sharing of visions and objectives with our partners in the new administration.”
Tsvangirai said the sad rule of the “Big Men” of Africa is also reflected in Zimbabwean politics and since his party is faced with a ruthless opponent they are willing to use peaceful and democratic agents of change. They had “to be patient –– separating long term objectives from short-term tactics”.
While this makes sense to any observer, a critical analysis of what is happening in the GNU points in a very different direction.
It makes sense to separate the long term objectives (presumably a full democratisation of all political processes in Zimbabwe) from the short-term tactics, but one is left wondering what the latter would achieve.
The agenda of the global political agreement is not only to usher in a GNU, but also to have institutional reforms. These reforms should touch on elections, the media, the economy and other governance-related issues.
These are areas where Zimbabwe has scored so poorly since Independence.
Zimbabwe’s democratisation process was stalled immediately after Independence and it would be a clear sign of foolishness on the part of Zimbabweans to delay it now that there is a window of opportunity.
Zimbabweans are not stupid and this explains why they are impatient with what is happening in the GNU and the near total failure of the MDC to stamp its authority and create space for its agenda of democratising all institutions.
Zimbabweans’ impatience comes from the false hope raised last year and while it is understandable that the economy, which went through a decade of recession, may take time to shape up, the same cannot be said about institutional reforms.
There is an entire generation of Zimbabweans which has grown up under the threat of an intolerant state which uses its apparatus to silence and crush dissent.
The only way to push back the big crushing foot of the state from the people’s skulls is by democratising all its institutions making sure that they play their intended role.
Zimbabweans yearn for that day when they will wake up to seeing the Attorney-General’s office, the police, the army, the Central Intelligence Organisation and the media playing their constitutional role, not a partisan one.
A total democratisation of institutions now is a strong foundation on which to launch the reversal of Zimbabwe from a weakening state to a strong one.
Zimbabwe was on the verge of becoming a collapsed state and this was a result of the weak institutions which were totally dysfunctional by last year. The people know very well that these have to be strengthened or else we find ourselves in the same situation even after a change of political actors.
Tsvangirai should also note that if the MDC’s agenda is to transform Zimbabwe from what it is, then there is need to start strengthening the institutions now as a guarantor for developing Zimbabwe.
As the United Nations Commission on Global Governance noted in 2005: “Strong democratic institutions are needed at all levels to regulate corporations, protect public and human rights, eliminate poverty, and manage markets –– all components of a just and sustainable model of development.”
While Africa needs to get rid of the archaic “Big Men” to be replaced with “democratically elected leaders and strong democratic institutions”, the question is which one should come first.
In Zimbabwe, it is no chicken and egg affair as we are now agreed that the GNU gives an opportunity to build strong democratic institutions which will be the foundation for democratically elected leaders.
This equation cannot go the other way around as it has been proven not to work as the “Little Men” in opposition soon evolve into “the new Big Men”.

Constantine Chimakure
 

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