Constitution, elections — priority for wider reforms

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Many are very disillusioned by the slow pace of reforms in Zimbabwe especially after the exhibition of skewed characteristics by the fractured Global Political Agreement (GPA) that was signed more than 18 months ago.
The GPA had been anticipated to provide an effective projectile into a transition period that would subsequently lay ground for expected reforms. However, the heckling among the signatory political parties has not delivered any hint of direction towards the evasive reformation agenda.
The failure to execute the terms of the GPA still causes political obstacles to the totality of national development and a general despondence against the institution of the unity government.
In our hope to ultimately see reforms being enacted, we must also understand the contextual political road that Zimbabwe has found itself in the last couple of years. There is always temptation to assume conventional trajectories in unfolding political events across Africa. However there is a need to consider each political arising in the context of its complexities, political cultures, historical dispensations and the overall national political matrix. In as much as many expected the GPA to deliver the outcomes that they dreamt of, caution must also have been exercised in consideration of the reality of our political dynamics.
The GPA was only an initiation of a reform process that will otherwise take many other shades thereafter; way into the future. Given the background from which the GPA was instituted and the extent of political polarity that existed, it would never have been able to deliver total reforms in its lifetime. In that regard, there are other anticipated political steps that need to come after the Government of National Unity (GNU) for Zimbabwe to ultimately experience a full transition and therefore display the expected reforms. It is therefore wise to identify political possibilities and impossibilities in the lifetime of the GNU and curtail political expectation to what is feasible rather than what is not.
In assessing the Zimbabwean situation with sobriety, the GNU period must strictly be influenced to pursue priority areas and not exactly be expected to work on broader reforms, as political dynamics may not allow such expansive insinuations. Some of such priority areas are constitutional and electoral reforms.
Zimbabweans must realise that political coalitions rarely work where they are entered into by circumstantial enforcement rather than open willingness. The nature of political coalitions is such that the basis of coalescing is not just outright political pressure as is the case with the GNU, but rather it must be a common base of shared values and principles that would allow serenity of co-existence.
Political parties must primarily identify areas where they have a converging understanding on core issues; this then leads to the creation of hybrid existence in a government.
However in situations where political parties are forced to come into co-existence without a common platform of values, the sustainability of such existence becomes fragile. The situation of Zanu PF and the MDC parties is purely one such mischievous existence. However given that this is the only option that the country had at that time, we must therefore work with the knowledge of the realities of what such existence can or cannot produce. Expecting total reforms to then be instituted by the GNU, given the highlighted background only becomes over-ambitious political abstraction.
Zimbabwe’s reforms must therefore follow another prescriptive pathway that considers transition beyond the lifetime of the GNU. What I believe we have in the lifetime of the GNU is a prospect to institute the foundations of reform. The substantive government that then comes after the GNU will then have the task of building upon this foundation and perpetuate the process towards total reforms. The painful truth may really be that the GNU will never afford Zimbabwe the total reforms that the country requires.
It will be paranoid to ignore the reality of its shortcomings and continue to enforce it beyond what it can deliver. What we would rather do is craft some exclusive and foundational issues that the GNU can deal with now, and use these as reform launch-pads in the future. Political transitions are never known to be a straight and time-specific process, unless if they result from revolutions or open elections. By nature they are slow in unfolding but with eventual capacity for sustainability.
As political parties, civil society, churches and the generality of the populace, Zimbabweans must focus and put effort in two fundamental processes for now; the constitutional and the electoral reform processes. I believe that a free and fair election leading to a democratically-established government in Zimbabwe will be the basic foundation for sustainable reforms. An enforced coalition government such as the current can never deliver sustainable reforms given the divergent political value systems and polarisation. By lumping an expectation of wide reforms on this GNU, this only serves to dissipate our efforts towards sustainable reforms. In essence, I believe that a constitutional process must be pursued and this must then lay a framework for a democratic election.
If every Zimbabwean, Southern African Development Community (SADC), African Union, United Nations and whoever has genuine interests for the county all put effort in ensuring the commissioning of a credible constitutional process and the holding of democratic elections thereafter, this will eventually release us into the second stage of transition.
This second stage will be characterised by a substantive and democratically-elected government which can then widen the reform spectrum given the latitude that may exist then. It is however important to note that this era must be characterised by political maturity and sanity.
The government then must walk-away from polarised politics and the alienation of other opposing and checking voices to its reign and discharge. It will also be important for whichever government that comes in at that time to be able to bridge the two extreme divides of the current political spectrum.
It is therefore critical that Zimbabweans focus on streamlining their expectations of the current GNU as there is no evident capacity for it to engage the wider reform landscape. There must be deeper and louder voices, locally and globally to prioritise democratic elections in Zimbabwe which must arise from the constitutional process. Political agreements of the nature of the GPA do not always discharge the full context of the reform agenda. They however allow restricted space and opportunities to lay a foundation for a progressive transition process which may even transcend beyond the lifetime of the said agreement.
The GPA allows a framework for limited reforms. In that light we need the wisdom to concert efforts for foundational reforms and then expect total reforms in the post-GNU period. Of course the current political environment in Zimbabwe does not allow the full measure of constitutional and electoral reforms, but I am sure we will make more progress if we are to streamline the GNU’s engagement to this assignment for now.
As we move ahead with the politics of Zimbabwe, we must always remember the contextual nature of reforms and political transitions. They are never generic but are dictated by on-the-ground realities driven by both historical and projected scenarios. We must relate our strategies, approaches and priorities to our context.
l Trevor Maisiri is the executive director and co-founder of the African Reform Institute (ARI), a political leadership development organisation which also functions as a political “think-tank”.