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Copac turns constitution-making into circus

That is why it must be taken seriously. Zimbabwe needs to come up with a credible constitution which captures and defines its character and content – based on its rich history, diverse cultures and civilisations. The new constitution should lay a strong foundation on which the country can build a progressive future.

We have to accept that we need a constitution that will endure for posterity, not a document which is a conflict-resolution mechanism like the current Lancaster House constitution. Any constitution tied to solving a conflict is by nature fragile and cannot withstand the test of time, which is why the Lancaster House document has been amended 19 times. It is purely for this reason that the current Constitution Select Committee (Copac) process, which unfortunately is now tied to the next elections, will inevitably produce a flawed document. Already the process is entangled in debate and disputes around the emotive issue of elections.

While it is desirable to go into the next elections with a new constitution which hopefully will provide a democratic environment and credible framework for free and fair polls, it is also important that we do not reduce the constitution-making process to a mere exercise  for resolving political questions. That is probably why the current process has become entangled in narrow political agendas and disputes which need not be confused with the constitution-making exercise.

If in the process of producing a new constitution the country manages to deal with concomitant political questions that would be a tremendous achievement, but it should not be the key objective. Despite that constitution-making is inherently a political process, it must not be opportunistically used as a conflict-resolution mechanism.

That is why the process needs to be managed by knowledgeable, serious and sober minds. Unfortunately Copac is run by clueless and idle minds that have no idea of what actually needs to be done in terms of the fundamental objective and vision it must of necessity embody. As things stand now, MDC-T co-chair Douglas Mwonzora and his Zanu PF counterpart Paul Mangwana have hijacked the process while sidelining MDC co-chair Edward Mkhosi, turning the exercise into a circus.

Making a new constitution is no child’s play and thus it needs serious intellectual and organisational capacity as well as sufficient logistical arrangements. Currently those in charge are failing to run and manage the process, which explains all this confusion and chaos.

Those few who have stood up to contribute to or criticise the Copac process have been threatened with all sorts of actions, including legal measures, among other gagging mechanisms.

Democratic engagement in Copac has been criminalised mafia-style. Those doing this forget their mission. Copac is a committee of parliament mandated to spearhead the constitution-making process in the country. It was established in April 2009 in terms of Article VI of the Global Political Agreement signed on September 15 2008. The new constitution is aimed at replacing the current supreme law, a product of the Lancaster House Conference of 1979. Being a ceasefire document, the Lancaster House constitution is widely regarded as flawed and woefully inadequate, hence it has been amended 19 times in 32 years.

If Copac is running a democratic process which seeks to make a new Zimbabwean constitution, why does it seem afraid of public engagement and debate on issues which affect the country and people’s future? Why is it suppressing not only debate, but also people’s views?
The basic tenet of participatory democracy, including on such processes as constitution-making, is to ensure citizens are given space to contribute to the national discourse on the process, expenditure, content and outcomes. The process should be done in a transparent and open manner to the satisfaction of stakeholders.

This is important especially given that Copac was initiated and defined as a people-driven process. It must thus allow the basic tenets of deliberative democracy to prevail and citizens to express themselves freely to shape and influence the process and its content. This should be done without conditions or attempts to use legal instruments to gag the deliberation process because the moment that is done the exercise fails the legitimate test of democratic expectations.

As a national body Copac cannot expect to be respected if it uses threats to suppress a divergence of views, or ignores people’s views. Its leaders need higher levels of competence, capacity and maturity to handle issues in a credible manner in order to have legitimacy. Those who were there from the first stakeholders’ conference to the outreach, data collation, data uploading, thematic committees, report-writing and even drafting will know this process was handled badly due to poor leadership, especially on the part of Mwonzora and Mangwana.

In fact, if truth be told Copac is a major disaster. If people really knew what is going on within the chaotic process, they would probably riot against its leadership.

Right now the country is at a standstill regarding important issues which are deadlocked, including devolution of power and dual citizenship, among others,  yet  answers to those matters are contained in the national report. This bears testimony to disruptive incompetence and gross mismanagement of the process.

That’s is why now you have actors like President Robert Mugabe and Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo working day in day out to sabotage devolution, while currently firing elected mayors. Most people want devolution to prevent such partisan politics and it is there in the national report. We must not ignore people’s views under technical arguments of whether this is a constitutional or statutory issue. What is important is that the issue is correctly captured through whatever necessary mechanisms in the current constitution-making process.

If Copac had done the right thing of publishing the national report there would be no questions about what people said during the outreach as the questionnaire was clear. For instance, the questionnaire asked whether people wanted a unitary state, a federal state or a devolved state. And their answer was unequivocal: there was an overwhelming call for devolution and similarly an emphatic rejection for a federal state.

The other question was on whether people wanted provincial governments or not, and the answer was an overwhelming yes.

The other question was on how these provinces should be constituted and the overwhelming answer was that they should have provincial parliaments and elected provincial governors. All these answers are there in the national report and if Copac had done the right thing of publishing the report then those who want to suppress the people’s views on devolution will not have a chance to do so. But now because of hidden political agendas, incompetence or both, we now have chaos which is entirely unnecessary.

Copac must not be allowed to threaten its critics and suppress people’s well-documented views to get away with murder in service of dubious agendas by anti-democratic forces.


Moyo is a lecturer at Nust and public policy academic. He is also organising secretary for the MDC led by Professor Welshman Ncube. Email:qmoyo2000@yahoo.co.uk

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