Reform prescription for Zimbabwe

Guest Column: Pearl Matibe

In present day public policy-making, all that Zimbabweans wish to see is an honest process that leaves no one behind.

On March 25, the Centre for Applied Legal Research (CALR) said at a media reform policy workshop held at Mont Clair Nyanga in Zimbabwe’s Manicaland province that working with the inter-ministerial taskforce (IMT) on the alignment of legislation to the Constitution co-ordinated by the Attorney-General’s (AG) office had “come to an end”.

CALR stated it had held “constructive discussions with the Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services ministry permanent secretary Ndavaningi Mangwana, directors from the AG’s legislative drafting department and constitutional and parliamentary affairs representatives”, adding that: “platform is set to translate policy into legislation, focuses on having the approved principles transformed into law. It is a platform facilitated by the IMT and the AG’s drafting department which also incorporates input from key stakeholders who were involved in processes of aligning media laws to the Constitution.

The inclusive approach will enable all key stakeholders working with the AG’s drafting department to possess finer details and input enabling for translation principles into legislation. The Information ministry is seeking to have three Bills from an unbundled Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA). The proposed three new Bills are:

• Freedom of Information Bill

• Protection of Personal Information Bill

• The Zimbabwe Media Commission Bill

Attending the policy event, in addition to Mangwana, was director of the AG’s drafting department Jameson Mupariwa Mukaratirwa, the director of constitutional and parliamentary affairs, Charles Manhiri, ICT ministry, Zimbabwe Media Commission, CSOs and representatives from various government departments.

CALR suggested that policy is already decided and only needs legislating.

The effort is supported by the European Union (EU) mission in the country.

Zimbabweans are hailing the efforts of intergovernmental organisations; the United Nations (UN), foreign governments in regional blocs like the EU and grant money for coherent actions from Sweden. While it appears like a good deal, more appropriate steps are required in the decision-making process to raise the reform programme bar, in particular, with respect to the presence of women and the diaspora at every step of the public policy reform exercise.

The government, International Finance Institutions (IFIs), foreign governments and their interlocutors must engage constructively with the Zimbabwe diaspora, and the people who left the country in a mass exodus, particularly between 2000 – 2019. There must be immediate collective response to protect their civil rights. Left unresolved, these challenges threaten Zimbabwe’s emerging democracy and its security and integrity. How well the reform process begins and ends is fundamental for a President who has, in the past, berated the diaspora, women, and diaspora media firms and professionals. It’s worth noting that many in the diaspora actively work in the media, broadcasting and information environment from their host countries.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s reform programme presents serious, authoritarian stumbling blocks to its diaspora citizens and women’s civil rights.

The illness

Finance and Economic Development minister Mthuli Ncube and Mnangagwa must show government’s positive progress and that Zimbabwe is making efforts to address structural reforms by repealing AIPPA and aligning laws to the country’s Constitution.

However, a contradictory policy reform process has already been set into motion from Harare. While it appears that a predominantly Zanu PF-led reform process may have begun domestically; it remains mute and now a huge obstacle to diaspora engagement, inclusivity and participation and may even end in authoritarian regime resilience.

The West has called on Zimbabwe to live up to its commitments to implement structural reforms. This matter is no longer simply about a massive debt to IFIs, but about beastly failure to protect constitutional civil rights — IFIs and inter-governmental blocs are slow to realise the ground has shifted.

It raises all sorts of questions and three critical points emerge from the current, unfolding policy reform debate.

Diagnosis

Problem One: What is the relationship between the drafters of the proposed legislation and authoritarian rule?

Zimbabweans, domestically and abroad, commonly hold a bias on a process that has actors they cannot trust in an environment of deep-seated corruption. Mnangagwa’s reform programme appears disinterested in diaspora and diaspora women stakeholder ideas. Who knows, veritably, if the policy drafting process is under the influence of the military-controlled government?

The media reform meetings, including those held in the AG’s office in November 2018, suggest that the country’s political regime, through its institutions, will affect the policy outcomes without full-scale democratisation. Not many innovative policy changes will be implemented.

The problem is that anything different is an existential threat to the Mnangagwa-reform model.

The fact that a policy-writing workshop took place does not mean a draft Bill concluded with inclusive participation.

Problem two: Opportunities, yet constraints

State structures, systems and institutions, are weak, fragmented and even inefficient, which effectively decreases State capacity. All the while, efforts to increase the representation of women have been starkly absent. Resistance groups still remain; oligarchs, retired military officers, former government officials now occupying senior political party positions within Zanu PF, regional leaders, wealth seekers and individuals with close, personal family ties to Mnangagwa. This will hinder his reform agenda from being the “success story” it could be.

While CALR tweeted the proceedings, it is difficult to determine from a 280-character tweet whether or not the process is exhaustive, to see if there have been any important policy research findings, innovative-tabled ideas or scientific evidence informing the policy-making process. In a watershed year for policy reform, pressure will continue to mount for the government.

The country has multiple political parties and interest groups — excluding them is an opportunity missed. If done right, it would be the foundational building blocks for strong, sustainable, stable institutions.

Problem three: Implications of the Zimbabwe model

It will be important to consider domestic and international implications of Zimbabwe’s model of reforms.

In Finance minister’s last visit to Washington DC, Ncube told Zimbabweans at a diaspora engagement meeting that AIPPA and POSA reform would be completed by end of April. It is a possibility that the AG’s office and government actors are up against in a short timeline.

Yet still, the Mnangagwa-led government is unable to manage the expectations of its own people and those of the diaspora. It could potentially be construed as an obstruction of civil rights. Additionally, no one is making sure that no stone is left unturned. Can we expect that Mnangagwa will finally accept the underlying factual record that the Zimbabwe diaspora must be an integral part of its sustainable, structural legislative programme?

Is Mnangagwa a reform-minded leader, not fearful of losing in free and fair competitive elections? Is he supported by a team of well-qualified experts? In addition, if a sincere national dialogue is not started soon, tensions will continue and the divided country will not be unified.

The Broadcasting Bill seeks to promote national heritage, cultural values, norms, morals and the use of local languages by a public service broadcaster and a commercial broadcast service. Elements of it are, however, commendable.

In terms of precedence, charting the reform path should be done with more care.

There are numerous unanswered questions; what alternative legislative frameworks for theory, practice and innovative insights and guidance go beyond the Zanu PF orthodox in the 21st century? What research facts were put on the table to bar diaspora and women inclusion? Was a factual record amassed to demonstrate that engaging the diaspora in policy-making could not be pursued? Does anything preclude them from not leaving anyone in the diaspora behind? How was the determination made, lest judgment be substituted for meeting an impending IFI deadline? Who will be the losers and winners of the proposed legislative Bills?

The government needs complete reorganisation. Its Executive’s impact on public policy-making needs to be debated anew, examined and reformulated. In particular, fresh public policy ideas adopted to meet the needs of the 21st century socio-economics. Continued monitoring of the policy-making trends, barriers, and equal opportunity for women and diaspora will be indispensable when the time comes to retrospect.

If the Zimbabwean people are going to have confidence in this process, they need to have confidence in the actors.

Prescriptive advice

A balance of power is required during the structural reform process to protect the rights of Zimbabwe’s citizens now residing across the globe and the response should be three-pronged. Firstly, diasporas strengthen resilience domestically and can shape and influence international re-engagement. This is the best first line of defence against dictatorial rule.

Secondly, in the short to medium term, the government should form an external diaspora safeguarding consensus body that candidly addresses reform vulnerabilities, political challenges and scrutinises current authoritarian-led coercive activities.

Lastly, because authoritarian States generally thrive on misconceptions, corruption and distractions, the Zimbabwe diaspora and women ought to reassert their efforts to not be excluded, defend threats to their participation at every step of the process and counter sustained exclusion.

Diaspora alliances must be renewed where broken, strengthened where they exist and built where absent.

Greenlight

Competing for international norms is an absolute must because Zimbabwe is far from normal circumstances. It may be a hard call for some. But, a call must be made. The government, supportive foreign counterparts and Zimbabwe’s essential diaspora representatives need a positive reform agenda exercise that embraces diaspora civil rights, their women and their influence as an alternative to the unfolding authoritarian version — the rules need urgent re-shaping. Unless resolved, a reform programme exclusive of key diaspora and female players will not exonerate a Mnangagwa-Zanu PF-led government.

In the myriad of forces that drive public policy decision-making, it would be a mistake to conclude and exclude key diaspora actors.

Pearl Matibe has geographic expertise on US foreign policy, think tank impact, strategy and public policy issues. You may follow her on Twitter: @PearlMatibe

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