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Constitutional outreach doomed

THE political principals of the inclusive government launched the erratic constitution-making outreach programme in Harare on Wednesday amid calls for their supporters to avoid political violence and intimidation during the process. 

President Robert Mugabe said the people have a right to air their views without hindrance. He said there should be “no violence or conflict”. Mugabe even claimed that there was no tension between him and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai as claimed by media reports.

Tsvangirai said there should be peace and tranquility during the constitution-making process. He said police should ensure people are protected from violence and intimidation during the exercise. Tsvangirai promised that the principals would accept the outcome of the process.

Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara said there should be a popular purchase into the process, which he described as the “ultimate expression of national sovereignty” by the people so that in the end they would embrace and defend the product – the new constitution.

Stirring words indeed from the principals. However, the reality is very different. Although the principals wish people were able to express their views freely during the process, the conditions are such that this would not be possible. The political environment and the general situation are not favourable to a free and fair constitution-making process.

The state security institutions, including the police, the army and intelligence, remain decidedly on Mugabe’s side. Police continue to arrest and harass people, including MDC activists, seen as opposed to Mugabe and Zanu PF. Dissenters remain under pressure from the instruments of coercion which Mugabe still firmly wields.

The climate of fear in the country, particularly rural areas, still exists. The MDC officials themselves have been complaining of late about resurging violence around the country.

The prevailing atmosphere of fear has been captured by many civil society groups in their various reports. Those spearheading government’s national healing effort have come across evidence of fear among the people who have been brutalised by the state from 2008 up to now. People are still not able to express themselves freely, without fear of reprisal. Mugabe and Zanu PF have not come out in the open during the so-called national healing process to assure the people that they regret their atrocities of the past and would not engage in similar evils against their own people going forward. There has not been the creation of a terror-free environment to allow Zimbabweans to express themselves without fear.

Besides, the media environment has not changed significantly to support an informed and progressive constitution-making process. ZBC and Zimpapers remain firmly in the clutches of Mugabe and his cronies. They still operate as exclusive Zanu PF mouthpieces.
Hate speech and other hostile forms of communications still dominate the airwaves and news pages of the public media which have been illegally privatised in functional terms by Zanu PF.

Then there is the issue of sincerity among the parties in the inclusive government. Judging by their woeful failure to resolve the remaining issues linked to the global political agreement, the parties in the inclusive government have not yet found common ground to collectively pursue national interests, above their partisan and narrow ends.

Only last week the so-called principals failed to agree outstanding issues,  basic and even small things like the role of Mugabe’s spokesman George Charamba who has been savagely attacking Tsvangirai over the signing of a Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement with South Korea. From this it’s clear the relations between Mugabe and Tsvangirai are still poisoned.

In the light of all this and many other issues which contribute to the pollution of the political environment, how then are we going to have a credible constitution-making process? Is this not going to be just a monumental farce which it is already in a number of ways? What sort of a constitution are we going to get out of this discredited process?

So far the situation is not encouraging. The flawed and erratic constitution-making process is getting increasingly entangled in all sorts of problems. There is lack of leadership and cohesion, growing internal disputes including over allowances and shortage of funds.

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