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National Question: What constitutes common good?


Last month I listened to wise counsel from Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) chairperson, Retired Justice Simpson Mtambanengwe, on two critical subjects: the rule of law and what constitutes common good.

His comments at a Zec media workshop in Kadoma followed a panel discussion I shared with Zimpapers CEO Justin Mutasa and ZBC’s senior executive Allan Chiweshe.

In the panel discussion all three panellists had spoken about the common good and issues done in the public interest.

I had, however, questioned whether Zimbabwe had an agreed position on what constitutes public interest or common good.

Justice Mtambanengwe’s intervention sought to encourage the media to initiate dialogue on the issue of common good and the national interest.

He prefaced this idea with his views on the rule of law. He said oftentimes government officials interpreted the rule of law to mean what they believed in as individuals and not what the law says.

The judge’s views are vital in so far as African leaders’ regard for good governance and popular participation are concerned.

The concepts of the common good and the rule of law are fundamental tenets of democracy.

In the country and on the continent in general the two ideals have, however, been subjugated by retrogressive thinking which has seen national leaders seeking to redefine the two precepts to mean political entrenchment.

Heads of State at the African Union summit this week missed another opportunity to address the fundamental issues around the rule of law as they raved against the West and exhibited grave fear of being booted out of office.

“Well, well, that was Libya. Who will be next?” asked President Robert Mugabe.

President Mugabe led from the front in the charge, accusing France of killing Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. He said Nato had now discovered that African leaders were “toothless bulldogs”.

“This is not what our founding fathers would have thought would happen. We don’t certainly represent them properly if we take that stance,” he said.

The President should be reminded that his views are not necessarily representative of the modern ideals of the continental body. African leaders seeking to work for the common good in their countries respect the rule of law.

They ratify and implement international conventions, especially those penned by the AU. In recent years the AU has been advancing the notion of shared values among member states, but there is no movement.

Shared values are conceived in terms of the collective interests and aspirations of the Union and African people to facilitate the process of regional integration, especially in the areas of democracy, popular participation and improved governance.

To fulfil this mandate, President Mugabe should use the platform of the AU to demonstrate his government’s commitment to these African shared values.

We have not heard his views on the AU Convention on Democracy, Elections and Governance which comes into force, for states which are party to it, on February15.

According to the parliamentary watchdog Bill Watch, the Convention which was adopted by the AU Heads in January 2007 has only been signed by 38 out of 54 African states, but ratified by only 15.

The conduct of elections in this country has been a contentious issue largely due to legislative and policy failures which the government of President Mugabe has failed to address holistically.

Zimbabwe has neither signed nor ratified, nor acceded to the Convention. “It seems contradictory that Zimbabwe says it has a strong commitment to the AU, but has not signed this convention,” says Bill Watch.

It is true, Mr President, that the founding fathers of the continental body fought colonialism and imperialism. They fought against social injustice. They fought for freedom and for popular participation in governance.

The major shortcoming of President Mugabe and his colleagues is the belief that they have patents to these fundamental freedoms and that ordinary people cannot share in these liberties.

They have to be fed the freedoms in carefully prescribed dosages.

President Mugabe sees a “foreign hand” whenever people seek self-determination.

With a leadership caught in a time warp, the AU will struggle to be taken seriously as a body mandated to safeguard collective interests of the African people.

Is it not worrying that the summit whose theme was Boosting Intra-African Trade failed to come up with anything tangible on the issue; not even a communiqué at the end of the summit?

So much for African unity!

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