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Lessons from Scotland key

THE recent Scottish independence referendum was such a remote issue in Zimbabwe in terms of proximity of interest to the public and media.

Zimbabwe Independent Editorial

That’s why it was only peripherally covered, although some people followed the debate and campaigns closely, especially in the last mile of what appeared like a dead heat.

Yet there are powerful lessons for governments and citizens of any diverse and multicultural country which considers itself a democracy.

Despite differences with Scotland, Zimbabwe can draw lessons from it given Harare’s authoritarian political system and leadership style that have triggered a low-intensity battle between centripetal (gravitating towards the centre) and centrifugal forces (pulling away).

Nationalism and citizenship issues are relevant not only to the British, but also to any people living in a country that considers itself civilised and democratic.

Although the majority in Scotland rejected independence, the holding of a referendum was in itself progressive as it allowed people to determine their fate and future without resorting to rebellious agitations against the state.

The debate and campaigns in Scotland were civilised. There was no inflammatory rhetoric, extreme tensions or hate, although from time to time unsavoury things were said and happened. Issues, not emotions, decided the outcome.

People in every country, including Zimbabwe, want to feel they have some degree of control over their future and that their state guarantees equality, stability, equal opportunity and security for all.

This is the imperative for most citizens everywhere, not just in Britain, but also Spain and its Catalans, Canada and the Qubecois and, of course, Israel and its Arab community, among other countries.

Although often ignored, Zimbabwe has some regions with vocal local pressure groups, aggressive ones pushing for greater autonomy and some militant fringe agitating for secession.

Uniqueness is important for the majority and minority as well, but the key to nation-building and social cohesion is inclusivity and equality, not alienation.

There must be fairness in the democratic distribution of power and state resources among citizens and different regions.

Justice, freedom, equal opportunity and merit must be central to governance, not cronyism and patronage.

Where rulers govern as a dictatorial ethnic cabal and exclude other citizens on a regional and tribal basis or such other considerations, there will inevitably be feelings of exclusion and marginalisation, leading to centrifugal agitation. This is true in Zimbabwe and elsewhere.

The toxic politics of race or ethnic classification and exclusion destroy nations.

In Zimbabwe, there is evidence all over the country people are frustrated and even angry with Harare-centrism. They want to run their own affairs and determine their futures.

Just like the Scots dislike centralisation in London, most Zimbabweans don’t want concentration of power — both geographically and politically — in Harare.

That’s why devolution was popular during the constitution-making process. Power should be devolved in terms of the new constitution.

Failure to do so will eventually result in rising demands for greater autonomy and even separation.

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