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Mugabe must take responsibility

FORMER president Robert Mugabe’s argument Zimbabwe should peacefully work itself out of the current situation triggered by last November’s military intervention in Zanu PF’s succession battle and ultimately national politics — a coup in short — makes sense.

Editor’s Memo,Dumisani Muleya

His postulation is that there was a military coup — which many, including senior army commanders in private but not on public platforms, agree with — and hence President Emmerson Mnangagwa must engage on the way forward that does not include him coming back to power. This is also sensible.

An opportunity for a transitional arrangement wasted after the event, but there is still room for engagement before or even after elections by July.

Zimbabwe badly needs peace and stability to ensure economic recovery and development. Mnangagwa is trying his best, but is limited by his circumstances; he has no mandate from the electorate, thus no legitimacy. That is why he himself says Zimbabwe needs free and fair elections. It’s important to close this chapter of uncertainty and open a leaf on the road from dictatorship to democracy.

We must accept the removal of Mugabe was necessary, but not the method used. For he had ruined the economy, reduced the country to rabble and impoverished the nation in one of modern history’s classic cases of misrule.

We in the private media spent decades arguing this, sometimes with the current government leaders and their supporters who blindly followed Mugabe. They only saw the light when Mugabe’s systematic repression and scorched-earth policies visited them like all of us. Mugabe’s regime committed so many excesses and atrocities, although he still refuses to take responsibility.

Yet these issues must not blind us to reality. Conventional wisdom tells us that progressive societies are built on the principles of constitutionalism – adherence to a constitutional system of government. This entails upholding the constitution, separation of powers and rule of law. Zimbabwe must be built on principles of law, not men.

Social contract theorists say people must live together in society in accordance with an agreement that establishes moral and political rules of behaviour. Philosophers grappled with this question for centuries.

That is why in the 1990s after the fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of the Soviet Union, African states, following flirting with one-party states, started reinventing their political systems and constitutions to entrench democracy to prevent arbitrary government.

So what Mugabe is saying, without any sense of irony, of course, is important for Zimbabwe to progress and not relapse into unconstitutional rule, military dictatorship or president-for-life syndrome. We have to move away from authoritarian models of the past to embrace a constitutional political order and representative democracy.

Although military coups have been receding in Africa, those who subvert constitutions now mainly resort to constitutional coups: third-termism. It recently happened in Burundi and Rwanda, among other countries. There is currently a standoff in the DRC over that. Mugabe was one of the culprits of prolonged rule.

Most Africa countries have as a result been taking progressive steps to ban “constitutional coups” through two-term limits.

Besides, the African Union had until the Zimbabwe situation taken a firm stance against regime change through military coups. Regional bodies, including Sadc, were also against unconstitutional change of elected governments. The AU and Sadc still are, but their handling of the Zimbabwe situation has compromised them. Ecowas showed the way in Gambia.

While military coups are increasingly going out of fashion, many African leaders have yet to appreciate that constitutional rules matter. This doesn’t take away the incentive for coups or introduce the democratic dividend. Establishing democratic dispensations reduces the prospect for coups.

Mugabe and Mnangagwa, as well as other stakeholders, must help Zimbabwe get out of this current contested terrain into an inclusive democratic dispensation. But for that to happen, Mugabe must first take responsibility for his mess and engage Mnangagwa with clean hands.

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