Towards the National Transitional Authority

Academics: Ibbo Mandaza & Tony Reeler


In 2016, the Platform for Concerned Citizens (PCC) warned that the country was heading into deep trouble and a possible coup. This was the only possible outcome for the disintegrating securocrat state.

In 2019, we now have a dysfunctional state, made worse by a crisis of illegitimacy, and in desperate need for re-engagement with the international community. This re-engagement grows more remote by the day with reports of gross human rights proliferating, prompting some to term these crimes against humanity.

Underpinning all of this is infighting within the state and party that seems without end, going on since 2013. It is now common cause that the state and party has completely lost the consensus and confidence of the citizenry, and is incapable of either political or economic reform. We now have the hard landing that the PCC tried to avoid in 2016 by calling for a soft landing and a National Transitional Authority (NTA).

Why the NTA?

This state of affairs is the reason for the calls for a national dialogue and a NTA. Accordingly, the NTA is urgent because of the following factors:

λ A dysfunctional party or state conflation: this is incapable of reform (except at the risk of involuntary abdication), neither politically nor economically;

λ The burden of an incurable illegitimacy: this is exacerbated not only by the absence of a constitutional order, but also a heavily disputed presidential election. There is consequently continuing political and social unrest in which, since August 1, 2018 to the present, at least 23 citizens killed, scores injured, many abducted, a number of women raped, and the apparent sense of permanent siege against the opposition and civil society;

λ The compelling evidence, therefore, that there is a party or state conflation that has lost the people, with little or no hope of recovery in the foreseeable future; and

λ The compelling and urgent need for an agency (the NTA): This will provide the basis through which constitutional rule and the requisite separation of powers restored, characterised by an accountable executive, a vibrant legislature and a fiercely independent judiciary. Thus, confidence, at home and in the Diaspora, will be restored and re-engagement with the global community can take place, without which the economic recovery programme cannot succeed.

It seems obvious in all the discussion about a national dialogue that there must be an end goal. In the current crisis, a national dialogue cannot be merely a talk shop. All who are talking about the national dialogue clearly are thinking about a process that resolves the legitimacy crisis, initiates a substantial process of reforms, and takes the country through to an undisputed election.

There are two important points to bear in mind here.

Firstly, neither of the political parties wants to give up political power. Zanu PF claims political power by virtue of the disputed 2018 elections. The MDC Alliance claims political power by virtue of being the majority party in reality.

Secondly, the Zimbabwean NTA does not have to produce a constitution as part of its work. Zimbabwe has a highly operable constitution, a sitting parliament, and a functioning judicial system. Since all these are in place, there will be no need for complex negotiations about a constitution and the nature of the state.

Constitutional arrangements:

Since the constitution remains in force, and, remembering the Global Political Agreement (GPA), the constitutional basis for the NTA is relatively simple.

The legal basis for the NTA will require the suspension of Chapter 5 (Parts 1 & 2) and its replacement by a schedule outlining the powers of a Transitional Executive Council (TEC). This TEC would be time-limited, but, given the depth of the problems facing Zimbabwe, would probably need at least two years in order to implement the reforms, and a “rescue package” to take effect.

There will undoubtedly be those that will object, as they have done in the past, to any suggestion of amending the constitution, but the point here is that the only amendment envisaged will be to the clauses on the executive.

This will be temporary, for the duration of the NTA, and will be necessary. We can all remember the problems of the GPA and the manner in which the executive was able to block all reforms.

Legislative arrangements

Parliament remains in place as currently constituted, since its role of oversight and legislative powers will be critical for the implementing of the constitution, amending past laws and instituting new law, and authorising policies.

Parliament will have such an important role during the transition in its general oversight function, most particularly if it can demonstrate to the citizenry that parliamentarians can work together in the national interest. This is another reason to replace the executive by a more inclusive body, the TEC.

TEC composition

The schedule to the constitution will define  the TEC’s structure and competence. Since this body will be the de jure political power, it is very important that it will have protection from narrow political party interests, and the current distribution of political party power within parliament. Hence, the suggestion is that the TEC operate according to “consensus”, and be inclusive of all national interests.

A possible structure for the TEC would involve 18 members drawn from Zimbabweans, from both home and abroad, with familiarity of the Zimbabwean political and economic process. More particularly, they should be persons about whom there is wide consensus across the political spectrum about their competence and suitability for the difficult task they will face.

The TEC (and parliament) will be responsible for designing the policies and reforms that are so necessary to move the country forward. Here it will be critical to ensure separation of powers. The TEC, as the Executive, will be accountable to parliament, and the legislature will have the very important role of holding the Executive to account.

Additionally, there should be support from an advisory body. This should have a chair from the UN, and have members drawn from the AU, Sadc, the EU, the Commonwealth and Brics. This will provide the crucial “scaffolding” that all transitions need, and Zimbabwe, especially, needs with the recent history of international incoherence about how to deal with the country.

Administrative arrangements

The administrative arrangements will be very important, need streamlining in order to efficiently and effectively undertake the many needed reforms. These reforms will be guided by an overall “reform and rescue” policy.

In order to overcome the present cumbersome and conflicting arrangements, we need to reduce the number of ministries: many countries have far fewer ministries and are able efficiently to run the affairs of the state. All ministers should be “technocrats”, with no political party affiliation, and assigned to a ministry because of proven competence in the area with which the ministry is concerned.

One TEC member can be assigned as liaison for each ministry, and there should be monitoring bodies, one per ministry, with members each chosen from civil society and the churches. The aim behind monitoring is to ensure that there is the greatest possible confidence in the NTA from a citizenry that is both deeply divided as well as distrustful of government.

A critical step for building confidence will be the disbanding of Joint Operations Command, and its replacement by the National Security Council (NSC), as already required by the Constitution. The two TEC leaders, with church, business and civil society representation, should chair the NSC.

Finally, there needs to be the setting up of a policy unit under the TEC.

Guiding principles for policy:

We have stated the guiding principles many times before in the past three years, and most are currently included in the common demands by civil society to the 2019 crisis. They are relatively straightforward:

Political principles

λ Adherence to the constitution and institutionalising the principles of constitutionalism;

λ Reform of key institutions that impede the above; and

λ Reform of the electoral process, to create conditions for genuinely free and fair elections,  and devoid of all controversy.

Economic principles

Stabilising of the economy and the setting in place of  an economic reform agenda aimed at the following:

λ Debt management, and recovery of misappropriated assets, nationally and internationally;

λ Comprehensive macro-economic fundamentals;

λ Policy consistency;

λ Land policy and property rights;

λ Revival of productive sectors; and

λ Mobilising the diaspora into the economic life of the country.

International scaffolding

Few transitions are successful in the absence of strong international support, what we term “scaffolding”. We use this term in order to point out that Zimbabweans do have the capacity to resolve our own problems, if the international community unites as a whole to support this, and avoids any sectarian interest.

The crisis over the past two decades has seen differences between the West, Sadc and the AU, and these differences must be put aside for the betterment of the citizenry. As an incentive for reform, the international community needs to create a substantial “rescue fund”.

This should aim to provide an international (and integrated) monitoring group; emergency assistance for the many problems currently faced by Zimbabwean citizens; and provide re-structuring cost support (the “rescue package”).

This “rescue package”, raised internationally, can be allied to the development of a US$5 billion Sovereign Wealth Fund, in particular repaid and replenished by receipts from mineral exports. This will provide security for the national currency and guarantee a stable national economy.

Of course, these ideas of the small group under the PCC cannot be definitive — much more discussion is needed — but the discussion needs to begin in earnest if dialogue is to have any purpose.

Ibbo Mandaza and Tony Reeler are co-convenors of the Platform for the Concerned Citizens.