A human life over debt arrears

ON Saturday, Chalton Hwende, deputy treasurer-general of the MDC Alliance confirmed an attempted abduction of the party’s president, Nelson Chamisa after a ‘thank you’ rally for their supporters at Rudhaka Stadium in Marondera.

Guest column: Pearl Matibe

This as President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s August 1 Commission of Inquiry continued in Zimbabwe’s eastern city, Mutare where witness 12, Chrispen Dube, stated that postmortem reports of the August 1 deceased were falsified by the State to cover up the shootings. This week, Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Mthuli Ncube will travel in his ongoing debt arrears payments work and prospecting for lines of credit and investors. Last week he told the pre-budget summary presentation to Members of Parliament in Bulawayo that he was determined to repay debt arrears to the World Bank by December 2019.

While I commend Ncube’s presentation to MPs, I condemn any attempt to whitewash a commission of inquiry as disinfectant for Mnangagwa, and conscious that a need exists to amplify the style of those doing business with Zimbabwe despite miscarriage of human rights; international financial institutions (IFIs) such as the IMF and World Bank.

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” says United Nations Article 1 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Elsewhere, yes.
It’s still not so in Zimbabwe. To protect human rights; the ideal that stemmed out of nations against the Nazis when they had a universal realisation—Universal Declaration of Human Rights—“the magna carta of all men everywhere.”

As various stakeholders meet, deliberate and conclude on Zimbabwe’s debt arrears, we need to acknowledge the looming, continuing threat to respect for human rights and take action so important progress made thus far is not undone. In the publicly broadcast inquiry, Zimbabweans across the world, are hearing the personal testimony from women, men and youth who knew those who lost a loved one, succumbed to injury or have knowledge about the circumstances surrounding the deaths of seven unarmed civilians on that fateful day.

Sadly, they speak for the families of those men and women who did not survive to tell their own version of how events unfolded.

Even as Zimbabwe’s debt repayment and flailing economy takes centre stage, the precise yet delicate question at the back of many minds is: has Mnangagwa really changed?

Human right activists might respond that this is not the time to take the foot off the accelerator pedal. Besides, Zimbabweans want and deserve far much better, while others could reflect on whether or not Zimbabwe is an experiment for the West.

Meanwhile, we do know the IMF’s feelings.

After Bali, Christine Lagarde, managing director for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) tweeted “I was very pleased to meet with Zimbabwe’s Finance minister Mthuli Ncube today at the #IMF meetings, and discuss with him the country’s economy and global economic developments.”

That’s no comfort for a child whose parent succumbed to the August 1 fatal shootings.

Two days later, the inquiry began hearing witness testimony in Harare following the July 30 2018 elections—a myriad of multimedia and news reports had published live pictures of uniformed soldiers kitted-out in army camo, balaclavas carrying bayoneted AK-47s shooting live rounds in its central business district.

Finance minister Ncube after Bali hopes of paving the way to clearing Zimbabwe’s gigantic debt arrears had been a resounding success. What’s truer about his success so far is that if Chiwenga was the kingmaker last November, Ncube is the saint-maker this November. The usual retort from Mnangagwa loyalists is that legitimate criticism of Mnangagwa, is disloyal to the ruling Zanu PF party.

Problem one: International endorsement — the 2018 presidential, general and local elections have not received the seal of approval from the Commonwealth Observer Group, the EU and the US. The eminent group of experts from different regions of the Commonwealth said, “the acute bias of the State media in favour of the governing party, persistent allegations of intimidation reported to the group, and the unfair use of incumbency privileges, tilted the playing field in favour of the governing party. The post-election violence, which resulted in fatalities, and the behaviour of security forces, marred this phase of the elections. For these reasons, we are unable to endorse all aspects of the process as credible, inclusive and peaceful. ”

This affirmation deficit is an issue of fundamental importance that could become a battleground on which Zimbabwean rights and freedoms depend because at the IFI financial negotiating table some may want to quash the human rights discussion.

For now, the election observer final reports spotlight the primary deficiency in Zimbabwe; the nod from the key election observers remains absent for Mnangagwa.

Problem two: Respect for human rights — this is the force multiplier. One of the most devastating things is, reliving violent abuse. Yet, the IFIs are from the same nations that often tout the words of caution for defending nations that give sanctuary to terrorists. What of Zimbabwean citizens that may live in terror in their own country? Zimbabweans continue to face human rights abuses. As Ncube celebrates debt arrears success, it puts a spotlight on the human rights violations of the August 1 killings and beyond, including any debate on a Chamisa attempted airport killing, the recent abduction incident or yet-to-be resolved Itai Dzamara disappearance. If we cannot question the legality of killing seven unarmed citizens, then any smile and handshake with IFIs is a double standard.

Where is the indignation?

Implicit in the sound bites from IFIs or the commission of inquiry and its appointer are sentiments to sweep the real issues under the rug. The lure of getting lines of credit opened by IMF and international creditors and the abuse of the rights of citizens is pervasive; it’s an outright denial of rights.

Some call it sanitising; as does the UK and Sadc regional leaders in consistently supporting Mnangagwa. Are we so invested in the idea of debt arrears clearance that obvious comment or denouncing of abuses is not at the forefront; a human life over debt arrears payment?

What’s more important?

The tragedy is every single effort by Zimbabweans to promote rule of law, upholding of human rights continues to be repressed. It should be raised to the forefront in all international community re-engagement efforts.

True, human rights abuses happen in other parts of the world. But, as one August 1 witness to the tragic loss of life said, “…giving Mthuli Ncube money without him and his colleagues in the Zanu PF government showing genuine reform by resorting to the rails of the rule of law is akin to the international community sponsoring these atrocities and also catering for the expenses of covering up the crimes. …”.

Zimbabweans are looking for a better life where freedom of life is respected.

Problem three: The promise and peril of the networks of IFI power — outrage refuses to tread on this topic. The World Bank and others like African Development Bank (AfDB) are banks; you can’t claim to be a “development bank” and yet lay the groundwork for consequences of human rights violations of military-run governance. We have to tell the banks that human rights is us “doing our business”; don’t shut your eyes to miscarriage of human rights.

There lacks stakeholder inclusivity to the final solution. What needs interrogation is how Zimbabwe’s women face repeated cycles of State-sanctioned violence and are not part of the solution.

When millions are living, moment-to-moment, the impact of an economy in crisis is not the easiest of tasks to bring divergent views together for a full and free exchange of information, views and ideas about the issue of external debt payments.

One significant concern that the UN Human Rights Council ought not to ignore is that by shaking hands, smiling and sitting down at the table with human rights perpetrators, IFIs legitimise and foster violations by State actors. Zimbabweans deserve to know what due diligence measures the IMF, World Bank and AfDB have conducted including human rights impact assessments and human rights safeguard policies, which are consistent with international human rights laws and standards. As many Zimbabweans go through a deep emotional journey with the August 1 hearings, on the heels of the IMF-World Bank meetings, a question that could be asked is do IFIs use their power to engineer their interests over the condition of human rights and limits of civil society rights in the countries they do business with?

IFIs ought to stop marginalising Zimbabweans to subjugate their 38-year trauma in favour of buying into the idea that Mnangagwa has good intentions.
Human rights abuses that come with a smile and a handshake are just as bad as when it is overt. The context that the perpetrator has demonstrated “commitment” is an element to be overcome and not have wool pulled over their eyes. If IFIs maintain their defence of the demonstrated “commitment” it only further compounds the human rights harm.

Neither are police brutality and mistreatment of citizens the only restrictions on personal freedoms citizens are experiencing today. But, poverty.

Poverty is a human rights abuse; the right and access to minimum levels of food. Millions of Zimbabweans are living under sub-par conditions inconsistent with human dignity. Not having work that provides an adequate standard of living to take care of one’s self is a violation of basic human rights as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Whatever your viewpoint, the impact of IFIs on human rights is a matter of national concern in Zimbabwe and it should be an irreducible goal.

Eighty days into the Mnangagwa-led government, Zimbabwe’s citizens are not applauding.

What, if anything might inspire Zimbabweans that help is (or may be) on the way?

Here’s the view on backlash from a domiciled Zimbabwean on-the-ground:

August 1 witness, Makomborero Haruzivishe says, “…as a precondition to lending Mthuli Ncube money, a comprehensive audit of these domestic and sovereign debts that run into billions must be accounted for first…”

The UN and others through their international bodies, the World Bank, IMF, AfDB and Paris Club lenders not only influence the debate on Zimbabwe’s policies, but also contribute to a discourse filling an inadequate upholding-of-human-rights gap between Zimbabwe and its citizens—citizens in hope for a solution. Therefore, IFI participation in the clearance of debt arrears has a significant impact on (re)producing power dynamics between the State and its citizens traumatised by repressive policies security sector use of excessive voice.

Are the IFIs doing business with Zimbabwe despite miscarriage of human rights — a human life over debt arrears payment? You decide. I contacted the IMF and will give them every opportunity to comment given that the US has a current public holiday. As I didn’t elicit a response to my initial contact, I will contact them again. If they decline to comment, I will proceed from there.

To date, accountability has not been one of the Zimbabwe government’s strong points — but that can change. Zimbabweans elected representatives some of whom now sit in standing committees in Parliament. They must support the bipartisan efforts to tackle unsustainable debt, government spending and sustainable development.

Inclusivity to the final solution

Despite the promotion of the narrative of including women in every step of the democratic process, the financial power networks and Mnangagwa team can be inclusive, democratic spaces to open exchange of information in determining policies will one day be the critical analysis that reveals where power was housed in Zimbabwe’s healing process. Where they issue statements, take positions or choose not to, any action or inaction is their contribution to the discourse and the human rights lens will both expose and justify how Zimbabwe arrived at paying the debt arrears.

A serious option for Mnangagwa to demonstrate his sincerity and gain credibility is to announce that from now on Zimbabwe is going to be totally open and transparent in every conceivable way. He should invite representatives of human rights organisations and anti-corruption promoters into Zimbabwe for a month-long transparent investigation with no constraints. He can choose to allow them to give him governance recommendations as to how to make things better.

This would send a signal that he is now serious.

And so…

People may fear that the questions we ask may turn into the ones we battle. Is this the time to hide? Even if it’s complicated, it must be faced head on.
This falls squarely at the foot of the Mnangagwa team. A need exists for the Mnangagwa debt arrears negotiators, and all the IFIs to provide a clear, transparent social contract with the people of Zimbabwe. Such inclusive contract must:

 Be the instrument that identifies, recognises and encompasses that they are reconciled to the truth of suitable inclusion on the arrival at debt arrears payment and respect for human rights; it ought to be universally accepted by the people of Zimbabwe.

 Build upon commitments already made

 Be implemented with the active involvement of women, rose in the diaspora and marginalised groups. Zimbabwe is in urgent need of improving policy frameworks particularly that respond to development, growth and a free market economy. It has to begin with robust, comprehensive economic, social and political reforms in an environment of inclusive, deliberative debate by all stakeholders including its diaspora.

 All relevant, internal stakeholders

It’s time for human rights activists and foreign policy experts to lean in on respect for human rights, not shy away from it. Zimbabweans simply want a better life with dignity. To defend Zimbabwe human rights interests at home and abroad, interested stakeholders will have to stay disciplined and united—and use the powers the Constitution grants them in ways they have not done in years.

Importantly, I call on governments to protect the human rights of women, men, people with disabilities, marginalised groups and Zimbabwe’s diaspora where there is a clear risk to dignity of life.

I call for even more. While my call-to-action commitments are important, it is time African governments be held accountable for failing to meet the needs of their Zimbabwean fellow Africans.

No Zimbabwean should live repressed.

In any conversation with IFIs on Zimbabwe we should continue to ask the tough question: are basic human rights abuses being conveniently ignored?

The reality is that the obligation for the protection of human rights lies with the State. On Zimbabwe, the question remains, what real and sincere safeguards can IFIs put in place and will they? Nevertheless, IFIs influence has the ability to re-traumatise every facet of Zimbabwean life.

Nearly one year since last November’s military coup, guaranteed continued progress until debt arrears are paid off and to protect the respect of human rights, the legacy whose operation we need to store is that of the ordinary people of Zimbabwe — it’s of utmost importance to at least 50% of those who voted. Success at the polls may very well depend on it. It is time for the governments and leaders of Zimbabwe to honour their citizens.

It is time for IMF, World Bank, AfDB and Paris Club lenders to ensure that no Zimbabwean should die at the hands of a repressive State. You may fail to reflect on my opinion, but it is from a woman, a diaspora and a stakeholder that promotes changing the climate of ideas.

1 Comment

  1. garira kunze kwauri ikoko,nekuti urikusanganisa nyaya.

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