BY VENERANDA LANGA
THE African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG) was ratified by Senate on Wednesday amid protest by MDC Alliance senators that wanted debate on the issue deferred to yesterday to allow them to study the charter comprehensively before contributing to debate.
The charter is imperative for Zimbabwe in that once ratified and domesticated, it compels member States to promote democracy, adhere to the rule of law and constitutionalism, promote holding of regular free and fair elections, prohibit unconstitutional change of government, promote human rights and enjoyment of citizens to political, economic, social and all other rights.
When Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi brought ACDEG for ratification yesterday in Senate, opposition MPs were quick to point out that the charter was not put in their pigeon holes on time to allow them to study it before contributing to debate, while their Zanu PF counterparts were also quick to say that since President Emmerson Mnangagwa had already signed it to be ratified, then ratification must proceed without extensive debate.
“I think we are being ambushed by the minister to debate this charter when we have not studied it, because even if the copies of the charter were distributed in the morning in our pigeon holes, we have not adequately studied it and debate can be deferred to tomorrow (Thursday),” Bulawayo Metropolitan senator Gideon Shoko said.
“These protocols have serious clauses that we need to interrogate, and let us not behave like those churches where it is only the pastor or priest that is allowed to read the Bible, while the congregates are not allowed to do so,” he said.
All other MDC senators wanted the debate to be adjourned to Thursday so that they could study the charter and contribute meaningfully. But Ziyambi refused, saying the senators had had ample time to study the charter after it was ratified last week by the National Assembly and the issue was even published in newspapers.
“It was passed in the National Assembly and I expect that senators read and they know what is happening. Last year, I even had extensive debate on the charter with members of different political parties, and the MDC even said this was one of the critical issues and that we needed to ratify the charter before elections so that some of its provisions are included in the code of conduct on elections and in the Electoral Act. It is actually that position that pushed us to ratify the charter and move with other nations. We are just ratifying the charter and are not amending it like a Bill,” Ziyambi said.
Zanu PF senators went on to call for its immediate ratification in Senate, but opposition senators called for the House to be divided so that ratification could be delayed to allow them time to air their views on the charter.
Deputy president of the Senate Michael Nyambuya, then warned opposition senators, saying: “If you want us to divide the House, we can do so, but you MDC will go down on record as having disagreed that this charter must be ratified.”
Cornered, the MDC senators had no choice, but to let the ratification process to go on without it being debated by senators.
ACDEG was adopted by African countries on January 30, 2007 and it came into force in February 2012 after ratification by 15 member States.
Mnangagwa then signed it on March 21 in 2018, four months before last year’s elections.
Legal and constitutional law expert James Tsabora said Mnangagwa’s assenting to the Charter was a show that he was committed to ensuring democracy, free and fair elections and observance of human rights.
“Former President Robert Mugabe never had an interest in the charter. Mnangagwa has shown goodwill to ensure it is respected. He is even committing to amending oppressive laws like the Public Order and Security Act and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act,” Tsabora said.
He said the mischieves that ACDEG will address are issues to do with unconstitutional changes of government that are a cause of insecurity in Africa, violent conflict and instability, and it also talks about sanctions that will be meted on those states that fail to promote democracy and good governance.
“After ratification by Parliament what is left is for Mnangagwa to sign it into law and for its provisions to be included in governance, elections and human rights laws. The weaknesses in the charter are that there is no focus on punishment mechanisms that are deterrent enough to make states to comply on human rights, unconstitutional removal of government, democracy and other provisions in ACDEG,” Tsabora said