Nigerian author Chinua Achebe once diagnosed his country’s tragedy as simply “the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to responsibility, to the challenge of personal example”.
Rewind to 1995. By then, Nigeria, Africa’s most populous state, had a record of coups, countercoups, misrule and corruption on an epic scale since gaining independence from Britain in 1960.
In 1995, the military junta jailed political foes and, in a most outrageous act, secretly hanged the respected writer Ken Saro-Wiwa along with eight other Ogoni dissidents (not armed dissidents) from the restive south-east where communities were seeing nothing of the wealth from the oil being extracted from their region, but only massive environmental damage.
The then South African President Nelson Mandela rose to the occasion in condemning the execution in no uncertain terms, resulting in Nigeria being suspended from the Commonwealth.
Fast-forward to 1998, General Abusalami Abubakar, virtually unknown outside Nigeria, was thrust into leadership.
“He could have been just another soldier determined to stall democratisation and carry on much as usual. Instead, the 55-year-old career officer surprised just about everyone by pledging one reform after another and, more importantly, by keeping his word and moving on from kleptocratic military rule when millions from state oil revenue disappeared,” wrote journalist James Walsh.
Said Abubakar: “It is clear that Nigerians want a country where fairness and justice and equity are not mere slogans, but principles put into timely practice,” he declared on assuming power to replace military strongman General Sani Abacha who had died suddenly of a heart attack shortly before presidential elections which Abacha had unilaterally called for after he declaring himself the sole, but now conveniently civilian candidate.Abubakar’s bold, decisive move quickly filled the power vacuum and put Nigeria on the path to institutional democracy, which is still being enjoyed today.
This reference is made to illustrate that any country can emerge from dark times with people of courage and principle.
It’s also to make a point, a strong one, that we can retrieve something, in fact, a lot, from the Global Political Agreement (GPA) of September 2009 which saw the then ruling Zanu PF and the two opposition MDCs come together in a forced marriage after a protracted political crisis which brought Zimbabwe to brink of socio-economic collapse.
The GPA is essentially a democratic document of give-and-take.
That is why Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara, in their separate speeches after the signing of the accord, optimistically embraced it even though in measured tones. Their endorsement of it was clearly expressed.
When his turn came to address the gathering, President Robert Mugabe initially stumbled. Instead of looking forward, he harped back to the past, inferring all his troubles had been brought about by the former colonisers.That was indeed an inauspicious start; it was going to be hard road to travel.
The main problem in Zimbabwe is that power is routinely exercised behind the scenes. In such a scenario, constitutional practice and the rule of law are the biggest casualties.
These tactics and methods make no sense by regional standards when every nation around us has embraced the same liberal economic system and multi-party democracy.
The ruling class is only committed to elections and other trappings of democracy only so far as they serve their interests.
That’s why they have been making threats, from the very top, to the voters of dire consequences if they don’t vote for them, with the military roped in to state categorically that they won’t accept anything other than a Zanu PF victory.
That is the perfect setting for a parallel government, not one the MDC is accused of running.
The ruling class still can’t believe they gave up and gave in so much, that’s why the language is hardening.
Why don’t they listen? “No” still means “no”.
They make disconnections where there are connections, like they don’t want to accept that for the moment the MDC is the party of choice as can be seen through the unflagging support for it over the past 10 years.
They prefer to see dissonance where there is resonance.
Maybe had the GPA been driven by Thabo Mbeki’s predecessor Mandela, the outcome could have been vastly different. In Mandela’s lexicon, political correctness does not loom large.
Mandela strongly and directly made it clear he opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
He publicly and personally expressed his gratitude to Fidel Castro for Cuba’s role, including heavy sacrifices, in the demise of apartheid, much to the chagrin of the West which was now belatedly lionising him. And he pointed out the African Union’s tendency of turning a blind eye to injustices unleashed on citizens by oppressive leadership.
It’s not as if he was an unguided missile; he made the right noises at the right time; he expressed anger without being scornful or pejorative.
He showed that diplomacy and candour can co-exist as they are two sides of the same coin. African leaders should criticise each other publicly when the situation necessitates it. Those uncomfortable with criticism have something to hide.
But they have been positive spinoffs from the GPA.
The first one is the economic dividend that has come to the country. Before the GPA, everything has spiralled out of control, with prices rising several times a day and the Reserve Bank printing money 24/7, resulting in worthless currency when all that was needed was economic orthodoxy underpinned by sound fiscal and monetary policies, but all this was lost in cheap but costly politicking.
The GPA has also done wonders to Zimbabwe’s political culture. The fact that the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Mines and Energy, led by a Zanu PF MP, played no small part in exposing the shady goings-on at the Chiadzwa diamond fields and stood up to the Executive is another dividend. This week, Zanu PF MP Paddy Zhanda cautioned fellow MPs at a post-Budget seminar:
“The issue of the Budget should never be an issue of Zanu PF or MDC. When we talk, we do not want situations where Zanu PF MPs criticise the Minister of Finance because he is a minister of Zimbabwe and his Budget would have been discussed in Cabinet,” he said. The GPA has put political parties on the same page.
The other spinoff is that the MDC itself is coming under increasing scrutiny as its role in national affairs grows bigger.
Home Affairs co-minister Theresa Makone found this out when she reportedly tried to bear on the police to release the son of fellow minister Didymus Mutasa (Zanu PF) from custody.
These faults we see today are not confined to Zanu PF, but cut across humanity. So people, no matter their clamouring for change, must never lose sight of the fact that the MDC, like any other human institution, is not spotless.
What is needed is to keep leadership on its toes, to be accountable.
At this rate, Zimbabwe is fast-maturing politically. Now we have strong elected leadership fighting issues ranging from HIV and Aids to corruption in high places. Zimbabwe can only emerge more prosperous and stronger given such developments which have been accelerated by the GPA as people will internalise edifying beliefs and values that will improve society morally and intellectually. The political sands have certainly shifted. These small steps will build into great strides.
That we have come this far against all the odds is a miracle of sorts. The cat-and-mouse game continues, with setbacks and reversals. Yes, they do occasionally make concessions, including significant ones, but to lull their opponents into a fall sense of sincerity. But, as they say, the best place to keep an enemy is within sight.
The GPA is potholed with compromises which seemed reasonable when the principals negotiated them, but are now perceived with suspicion and hostility. Yes, there is no room for complacency and over-optimism in this country going by the major reversals of the past 10 years.
But life is always work in progress. There is never a time when conditions are ideal to act so there is need to respond to situations as and when required.
In 1988, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran’s spiritual leader who was also the de facto secular leader, said that accepting a United Nations resolution calling for a ceasefire in the Iran-Iraq War was “worse than drinking poison”, but that Iran’s political leaders had recommended that it be done.
He asked Iranians to accept his decision and said people should be thankful that so many Iranians were, in his view, martyred fighting for Islam.
One million people were killed, among them thousands of troops gassed to death by the retreating Iraqis (the pursuer became the pursued), in the eight-year war, started by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s thuggish and expansionist regime.
Khomeini, who had previously rejected all calls to end the war, saying Iran would continue fighting until Saddam was overthrown, said accepting the ceasefire “did not mean that the problem of the war has been solved”.
So it is with the GPA. People should take the GPA as something to work around, a compromise document.
A people-driven Constitution is the final peace treaty which will produce a democratically elected government with a fixed term, at the end of which it can be re-elected or voted out, by the very same electorate.
The GPA can’t be worse than drinking poison.