By Tapiwa Gomo
In 2023, the country will go the polls. It is one of the most prominent features on our calendar. Many look forward to elections with high expectations. In a free and fair world, it is a leadership performance appraisal moment. And for citizens, it is time to say something about how they wish to be governed.
True character of leadership is put to test and unravelled during this moment. Some will win hearts and minds through selling their ideas about how they intend to respond to the needs of the people, while others deploy State violence at all stages of the electoral process to impose themselves as elected leaders.
From whatever angle one looks at it, the world has painfully accepted that all that is democracy at play.
The outcome of the elections is conveyed as people’s choice even when the process is profoundly muddled and highly contested.
The winner of that fraudulent process begins to enjoy the protection of national and global laws and becomes untouchable.
Zimbabwe has run on that fetid script for four decades.
Critics may have something to say, but the reality is that it has been like that for four decades and has become the ruling elite’s winning strategy.
Perhaps, for purposes of refreshing our wounds, pains and anguish on how short-changing this has been, let’s remind ourselves again.
Our fore parents went to war — some lost their limbs and lives — to free the nation from oppression by settlers.
They wanted freedom, democracy and development for themselves and generations to come.
History calibrates April 18 1980 as the day independence was achieved and, therefore, marking the beginning of enjoyment of ideals such as freedom, democracy and development.
Freedom is a foundational concept at the heart of human civilisation.
Yet in our case it has long been distorted to justify its opposite — autocracy — inequality and dehumanising others, mainly those holding opposing views.
The ruling elite has been clear that ours is only freedom from colonial oppression, which is why they are deliberately silent on freedom from their own oppression.
Again, because of the ruling party’s winning strategy, this generation chooses to debate whether freedom and other ideals subsisted beyond April 18 1980.
Even when the answer is right before our eyes, debate is the route we choose anyway.
But debate is just that, — debate. And the ruling party’s winning strategy is also just that — winning elections every half a decade.
Such is the illusion of the notion of freedom as it permeates our lives, framing the most urgent issues of our time and the people’s interaction with political power in defining who we are and what we want to be and the plan of action to move forward.
Perhaps, it is time we question the inherited identity premised on the notion of freedom and independence and disentangle the limits placed on freedom by power, politics and human nature in our midst.
The more these limits are understood and used to frame our plan of action, the better placed we are to transcend them.
There is a no better way of stepping out of that illusionary space of freedom than to draw from historical logic.
Our fore parents went to war to seek freedom from oppression. Why would they resort to war in a country that prided itself in holding democratic elections?
Elections were used in Southern Rhodesia from 1899 to elect part of the Legislative Council and from 1924 to elect the whole of the Legislative Assembly which governed the colony.
There were several constitutional changes along the way but the fact remained that elections were held yet our fore parents chose war, instead.
The reasoning behind this logic was simple; elections were both insignificant and inconsequential to their desire for a free Zimbabwe.
The lesson there is that you don’t participate, invest time and belief in a system that has no intention to serve your interests.
This was the reasoning by our fore parents then, the majority of whom had no modern education, yet they still found it necessary to choose to fight, put their lives at risk, than stand in the queues — if at all allowed — to cast a vote that had a futile outcome.
The underlying question here is not how to make democracy work, but how to challenge this generation to establish what we want and how we can make it work for us.
Democracy, ideal as it may seem, has been one of the myths at the heart of the systems that dominate our lives and one of the reasons criminal cartels have been allowed to thrive as governments under the protection of national constitutions and global laws.
And this has seen power being taken from the people to autocrats.
Sadly, history has not equipped us with effective means and methods to address situations of failed democracy.
It, in fact, prescribes democracy as a cure for lack of democracy and as a way of restoring it, oblivious of the fact that lack of democracy desludges and kills prospects for democracy.
Lack of democracy takes away people’s power and ability to challenge it unless they decide to go — once again — to war.
National constitutions and global conventions — save for human rights — are never on the side of the people until the people claim power from autocrats.
They call them rebels disregarding why the people chose the route to fight in the first place. These are the intricacies of power, politics and the illusion of freedom.