Zim needs regime change

I WAS in Ghana — a great country still struggling to emerge from the rubble of previous misrule — from last week for an investment conference and had useful interactions with political leaders, policy-makers and investors there.

Editor’s Memo with Dumisani Muleya

I also took the opportunity to intermingle with delegates who had converged in Accra for a United Nations World Tourism Organisation conference.

While so many issues were discussed, what caught my attention however was that Ghana is now on the move after going through a series of alternating civilian and military regimes since Independence in 1957. From 2000 it started a serious process to pass Huntington’s “two turnover test” of democracy.

Of course, democracy has many proponents, and probably as many, if not more, opponents especially in Africa where third-termists and long-serving leaders still hold sway. Its efficacy is passionately debated and legitimacy often disputed.

However, one of its many fair measures is Huntington’s two turnover test, which says consolidation of a democracy takes place if “the party or group that takes power in the initial election at the time of transition loses a subsequent election and turns over power to those election winners, and if those election winners then peacefully turn over power to the winners of a later election”.

Very few African countries have passed Huntington’s test.

President Robert Mugabe and his ruling Zanu PF have hung onto power in Zimbabwe for 35 years by hook or crook, surviving the winds of change which have been sweeping across the continent since the end of the Cold War.

The early 1990s saw a wave of multi-party elections in Africa after the end of one-party states and presidents for life in some countries. These “founding” elections marked for various countries a transition from dictatorship to democracy.

By the mid-1990s, this vast tide had crested. Although founding elections continued to be conducted, countries that were latecomers to the political-reform bandwagon morphed into what Schedler calls electoral authoritarian regimes which masquerade as pluralistic and democratic societies when in fact they are not.

Meanwhile, in countries that had experienced early regime change, expiring electoral cycles gave rise to a groundswell of “second” elections. Less glamorous than the landmark contests that spawned democracy, these events nevertheless held out the prospect that democratic consolidation was possible.

This is where Ghana comes in.

Following a series of elections, proscribed polls, coups and counter-coups after Kwame Nkrumah led the country to independence in 1957 — pioneering a process which would culminate in the freedom of South Africa 37 years later in 1994 — Ghana started passing Huntington’s test 2000 onwards. This was in the aftermath of Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings’ long rule.

A new Ghanaian constitution restoring a multi-party system was promulgated in 1992 and presidential elections were held, resulting in Rawlings’ victory. Rawlings ruled until 2000 after winning a second term in 1996. He had initially come to power following a coup in 1979 and, after at first handing the reins over to a civilian government, took back control in 1981 until multi-party elections in 1992.

After Rawlings’ departure, Ghana entered the 21st Century on a progressive note.

John Kufour of the New Patriotic Party won elections in 2000 and came in the following year. He won again the 2004 polls and remained there until 2008.

Kufuor was succeeded by John Atta Mills of the National Democratic Congress who ruled from 2009 until his death in 2012. Following Mills’ death, current President John Mahama came in. He was elected to serve his first term in December 2012, securing Ghana’s status as a stable democracy.

This is what Zimbabwe needs. The country needs electorally-driven regime change. Only credible elections — which allow citizens to choose their leaders without fear, coercion or manipulation — can rescue and take Zimbabwe forward. The current trajectory is disastrous and must be abandoned sooner rather than later.

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