NGOs are often branded opposition forces because of their ability to keep government and ruling elites on their toes.
The NGO-state conflict can be healthy, especially in progressive political systems where the government responds to input from the public.
In our fluid political environment characterised by a democratic deficit epitomised by the Zanu PF leadership’s abhorrence to dissent, the NGO-state interaction has generally been poor, which has in instances resulted in open hostility, some of which is physical.
But the two parties have to work together and find the best way of doing so.
The quest to appoint an NGO focal person to work with the Kimberley Process Diamond Monitor this week laid bare this conflict between government and NGOs.
The National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (Nango) announced the appointment of Farai Maguwu to lead the effort.
This is the same Maguwu who is on remand on allegations of communicating information prejudicial to the state.
His arrest and subsequent incarceration dramatised the state-NGO fight.
To our rulers, he personifies civic interference in the diamond trade and is therefore an enemy of the state. To his peers in the NGO sector, he is a symbol of their fight and a hero who bears the scars of state excesses.
Such persons are not always the flavour of the month with President Mugabe’s minions.
His nomination as the focal point man is therefore seen as direct confrontation of the ruling order.
This has raised the question of whether he is the best nominee for the job.
The state has responded to this by recruiting Zanu PF-aligned NGOs to select Goodson Nguni, president of the Zimbabwe Indigenous Economic Empowerment Organisation (ZIEEO), as the man for the position.
Nguni was also made chairman of a 13-member committee to work with the KP monitor.
Other committee members are Paddington Japajapa and Chris Mutangadura, a government chief law officer in the Attorney General’s Office.
What we have is a perfect plot for open conflict which could have been avoided had the parties considered the situation differently, especially what the appointment of the focal person should achieve in the long run.
Nango should have been smarter to know that Maguwu would be rejected outrightly by the state and with it, the whole attempt by the organisation to play an oversight role in the diamond trade.
On the other hand, the reaction by the Zanu PF fringe to operate from the other extreme by appointing Nguni reduces the whole issue to a farce of assigning a lapdog to ensure his/her owner does not dip fingers into the cookie jar.
This is now the new battlefront in the diamond saga. The Nango-ZIEEO fight will fester while the real issue at hand – of ensuring that diamonds benefit the nation – is ignored.
The current stand-off is of no benefit at all to us. It is not for the common good. We want to know who the parties represent in this fight; certainly not a poor country in serious need of diamond dollars.