Rocky start presaged bumpy constitutional process

FROM the ominous all-stakeholders conference characterised by violence last year, the constitution-making process, which has stalled, was predestined to travel a rugged and narrow road.

After the violence at the all-stakeholders’ conference in July last year, many observers had a premonition that the road to a new constitution was never going to be easy and this is slowly becoming a reality as problems continue to rock the process.

 

To many, the issue of political polarisation was going to be a major problem and this was understandable because the parties were spearheading the constitution-making process.

However, at that time, it was the political contestation between Zanu PF and MDC-T mainly that threatened to derail the process, but 18 months later, other issues have cropped up.

As the Parliamentary Select Committee on the Constitution (Copac) takes stock after the outreach programme, there is a realisation that administrative and financial problems now saddle them at a time when they have to do a massive public relations exercise to exorcise the ghost of violence that was witnessed.

Copac has to quicken its steps if it is to meet the deadlines and timelines set under the Global Political Agreement (GPA) in September 2008. However, 27 months later, reality has dawned for those driving the programme and after pouring around US$17 million into the constitution-making process, there is still a US$6 million deficit as participants involved in the outreach are yet to be paid and hotel bills are still to be settled.

At least US$6 million is needed for data analysis leading to the drafting of the constitution which, together with a report would be presented to parliament. The draft would then be approved or rejected by a referendum, for which government allocated US$1 million.

The failure to adequately finance the constitution-making programme has stalled the process which was already running behind schedule. Analyst said the stasis was likely to have an impact on the final document.

It came at a time when it was announced that the country would hold elections by mid next year, further derailing the already staggering process.
Zanu PF appears to have used the outreach as a political dip-stick to measure the depth of their support and what their chances were in the event of an early election, even without a new constitution. Since then the call for polls have been growing louder as the party prepares for its annual conference.

An analyst, Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni, a professor at the University of South Africa, said the genesis of the problems the constitution-making process faced could be traced back to the first all-stakeholders’ conference.

“The constitution-making process has been hit through and through by bad political weather of Zanu PF and MDC feuding and manoeuvrings,” said Gatsheni-Ndlovu. “This was clear during the inaugural meetings where Zanu PF-rented groups disrupted the process from its birth.”

Gatsheni-Ndlovu said Zanu PF supporters interpreted the constitution- making process as a “regime change” project while MDC members took it as a continuation of their agenda to fight from within.

“My take therefore is that the otherwise noble constitution-making process became a political ball played by political gladiators with the aim of scoring political points rather than making sure the people of Zimbabwe participated freely to produce a credible national document,” said Gatsheni-Ndlovu.

Tapera Kapuya, another analyst and political activist, said political parties seemed convinced that a new constitution, “no matter how bad the process that gives rise to it or how bad its contents”, was a critical precursor for a general election.

“As such, constitution-making is viewed not as a fundamental national issue but only as an enabler for electoral contest and ultimately political power,” said Kapuya. “This view limits possibilities for a national consensus on objective constitution-making that would give Zimbabweans a real opportunity to input in the writing of their country’s supreme law. The only way left for a genuine people-driven constitution to be realised in Zimbabwe is through rejecting the document of convenience that will be brought to referendum next year.”

Another analyst, Trevor Maisiri, who is the director of the African Leadership Reform Institute, acknowledged that the current problems would impact negatively on the final document.

“The failure to get enough finance may have an impact on the final document,” said Maisiri. “We still have a number of processes to be finalised and these may need financing.”

Gatsheni-Ndlovu said he was convinced that the country was destined to have a deeply flawed end product called a constitution.

The constitution, Gatsheni-Ndlovu said, would reflect its problematic birth and chequered history mediated by political tutorials that are prisoner to either regime change agenda or regime security agenda. 

Maisiri said he would go for a radical approach as there was no way the current constitution-making process would be saved.

“The whole constitution-making process would be addressed after free and fair elections as the current process is burdened by the way we started and what we are doing,” Maisiri said.

 

Leonard Makombe

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