HomeAnalysisPolitical freedoms just as important

Political freedoms just as important

We live in interesting times. In just 60 days, President Emmerson Mnangagwa has rolled out a policy agenda which appears centred on transforming Zimbabwe from a tinpot dictatorship to an authoritarian developmental state

Editor’s Memo Brezhnev Malaba
bmalaba@zimind.co.zw

This week’s Davos jamboree showcased the stark contradictions at the heart of the Zimbabwean state. While the international community is generally eager to see reform, it is almost as if some major players on the world stage are willing to give Mnangagwa carte blanche to proceed as he pleases.

When you watch his Davos interviews, it becomes clear that whenever he is asked an economy-related question, he tends to answer convincingly but, when human rights-related issues are raised he is swiftly unnerved and all the composure disappears.

The self-styled doyens of liberal democracy in Europe and North America are alive to the power of Zimbabwe’s party-military complex and why a credible election under current conditions is near-impossible. Despite this, and for reasons of political and economic expediency, they are willing to accept lower governance standards in fulfilment of a curious post-Mugabe agenda.

The country has a right to lure foreign direct investment and Mnangagwa’s team has done commendably well in that regard. If European and North American governments and companies want to invest in Zimbabwe, they should go ahead and grab the opportunities before it is too late. However, they must not seek to deceive the world by feebly demanding a credible election during the day while cutting sweet deals at night.

Zimbabweans deserve a clean election. There are those who peddle the idea that autocracy-led economic development is better than political freedom. Economic development must move in tandem with the strengthening of democratic institutions and constitutionalism.

Having risen to power on the back of a de facto coup, Mnangagwa knows that he is wearing borrowed robes. He lacks electoral legitimacy. Political analyst Professor Eldred Masunungure says Mnangagwa’s rapid results transitional government — which has made the 100-day quick-win template a strict guideline for delivery — is hoping to translate “performance legitimacy” into electoral legitimacy.

Perceived for a long time as unelectable, he is desperate for a veneer of respectability. This explains the frantic rush to call an early election. He inherited a dangerously volatile economy which has immediately given him a baptism of fire by ratcheting up prices of basic commodities.

A thorny question has emerged from Davos: why is it so difficult for Mnangagwa to apologise for the Gukurahundi atrocities?

What baffles me is that although Zanu PF leaders are ever-willing to compensate commercial farmers who lost land at the height of the fast-track land reform programme, they are stubbornly resolute in their refusal to apologise for the Matabeleland killings.

Is Mnangagwa failing to see the dire ramifications of Gukurahundi? Does he not see the marginalisation of Matabeleland, which is a direct legacy of the 1980s pogrom?

Yesterday, news filtered through that a total of 29 primary schools in Matabeleland North recorded zero percent pass rate in the 2017 Grade Seven public examination. In a province with 590 schools, only 20 pupils out of 20 291 candidates that sat the examination last year scored five units. Nothing new there. In 2016, the number of dismally performing schools was 31, so the government’s apologists will celebrate an “improvement” of sorts. What shocked me are the expressions of feigned surprise and the mock indignation from members of the public — especially on social media platforms dominated by Harare-based mobs.

The stark reality is that Gukurahundi has not ended at all — it continues unabated, in all manner of ways.

Political freedoms should not be sacrificed on the altar of economic reformism. We must demand both prosperity and liberty.

In a televised interview beamed across the world on Wednesday, President Mnangagwa appeared somewhat composed until the BBC’s Mishal Husein asked a question that threw him off balance: when will you apologise for Gukurahundi? Visibly irritated, the President blurted: “What is your problem?” That kneejerk reaction tells the story of a million words.

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