New political elite must midwife a new republic

New political elite must midwife a new republic

MY previous instalment revelled in the hope ushered by the generational transition in both the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) and Zanu PF as more younger politicians got nominated for the upcoming election.

The transition is a refreshing source of hope. The thing with hope though, is that it can be naïve. It is audacious, yes, but naïve still. Hence, the emerging generation will have to signal its intention and commitment to deliver on the promise of a better Zimbabwe.

It is the role of pundits to accompany politics and draw the contours of contestation to frame what is at stake within the ambit of a particular political event. In this case, the upcoming 2023 election.

The tragedy of arrivalists

In the same instalment, I problematised the seeming lack of public content in the generational transition of our politics. What would be most disturbing and unfortunate would be for the younger generation to have an ‘arrivalist’ mentality. The destructive consequence of “it’s our time now” mentality of arrivalists has been well documented.

Those who think they have “arrived” have a simple routine. They unpack their baggage, find a comfortable seat, and start eating. This is not farther from reality, where the endgame for many a politician in Zimbabwe is just to secure a spot at the feeding trough.

Our politics has been reduced to spaces for eking out a livelihood in the form of a paltry parliamentary or council allowance. Most politicians are content with meagre material trinkets accompanying their position, and, the pathological see it as a prime spot for corruption and theft as the level of access tends to facilitate.

The new generation must not be a generation of arrivalists. That would be an unmitigated tragedy for our generational mandate.

Marketing gimmicks

For keen readers of our politics, it is not difficult to frame our generational national question. In 2018, the ruling class presented the political transition that ousted Mugabe as the birth of a “second republic.”

Of course, there was nothing second-republic about it as it did not carry any public content that would frame a clear and broad transition in all facets of society.

For all intents and purposes, it was a Zanu PF factional succession triumph resulting in a new government, not a new republic.

The government spin doctors were being extravagant with nomenclature. It is an unpolished branding gimmick for which I would not leave my day job.

Instead of it being directed at policy shift, it is rather a fishing expedition directed at the West in a bid to drive re-engagement. Any foreign policy effort not anchored on sound domestic policy is a fool’s errand. As such, the anatomy of a genuine second republic is best projected from the domestic policy front!

For the povo (commoners), the anticipated far-reaching structural transformation in our domestic socio-economic and political matrix did not materialise.

Both in policy and practice. The same ills of yesteryear did not abate, in some instances, they got even more entrenched. Without fundamentally shifting the pillars and orientation of the political economy in any substantive manner, the Second Republic narrative and its reform persona is condemned to a case of all froth and no beer.

A rare consensus

In a telling, and likely unintended convergence with the “Second Republic” characterisation, Nelson Chamisa’s CCC is reportedly crafting a policy titled, “A New Great Zimbabwe,”.

This is expected to anchor their campaign manifesto. What can be drawn from the political lexicon on both sides of the aisle is that we need to birth a new social and political order that can deliver on the promise of progress.

This is a rare consensus from the two political rivals. The emerging generation in both camps must therefore demonstrate that it is clear-eyed about this need to reconstruct the pillars of statehood.

The promise of the new generation must be to birth a new republic and, with it, a new social and political order. That is the national question. It is the mission that our generation must fulfil and not betray.

The need to deliver a new social and political order is easier said, but what does that mean in substantive terms? Any idiot at a bar after a sip of opaque beer can proclaim the need for social and political reconstruction.

But to avert the invasion of idiots, we must unpack what that means, and the content that must accompany it, otherwise, it will remain just empty political rhetoric without meaning or effect to our collective national consciousness.

A new social and political order

The national question that must frame our political consciousness and influence our responses across the divide is about reconstruction of our social and political fabric. There is a need to galvanise society towards a new national project anchored on a far-reaching structural, ideological, and moral transformation. Forging a new Zimbabwe, so to speak. 

The obtaining power shift from the older political elite to the younger generation must carry with it, the promise of progress. It must birth a new era defined by the advancement of the interests of the plebeian.

It must locate and centre in its mission, the common person at Madlambudzi, Kariangwe or Chitekete. Upon the bulwark of the new order, in my view, must be a reconstruction of three key pillars of our political economy.

Consent and consensus come first

Firstly, at the centre of any republic is the consent of the governed. Beyond the normative manufacture of consent through elections, there must be a genuine commitment to social dialogue anchored on democratic values.

The new generation of politicians must commit to the legitimation of the moral right to use state power in a justified and lawful manner. The relationship between the state as a powerful hegemonic construct and the individual as a weak and vulnerable being is sacrosanct, and so is the relationship between the individuals themselves within a civilised commonwealth. This forms the basis for consent and consensus.

Consent must be forged on the anvil of consensus. In this case, consensus means common acceptance of laws, rules, and norms, and a regard for the institutions that make and apply those rules.

It also means a broadly shared sense of identity and belonging underpinned by citizenship as a political concept. This will repair the currently broken social contract, cure the sense of exclusion, and heal society after several crises from the Gukurahundi to the chaotic land reform, political violence, operation Murambatsvina, hyper-inflation etc. which has created a vicious cycle of human and social insecurity.

The problem with lack of consent and consensus in our society is that those who feel disregarded, or worse still stifled by the policy and practice of government, organize themselves outside of the formal systems.

It is not surprising that we have a huge parallel market in almost all sectors of the economy, be it foreign currency exchange, mining, retail etc.

Name a sector and I will point out its parallel market for you. Without consent and consensus, even a brilliant policy is doomed.

We have incessant factionalism and splits in our political parties, we have ethnocentric views about what it means to be Zimbabwean and the implications thereof. The fibre of our society is threadbare.

Agree to disagree

Consensus also means that even in dissent, we understand each other’s perspective well enough to respect its validity without agreeing.

The dismissal of the liberation war as a non-event by the then MDC, for instance, is a desecration of a key national sacrifice. A sacrifice, whose price was sweat, blood, limb and life itself.

The blatant dismissal by Zanu PF of legitimate democratic voices, as puppets of the West points to a problem of consensus.

This attitude must not have a place in the political enterprise of the emerging generation. We must address the polarisation, the acerbic, and toxic political culture which is socially reproducing itself in all other facets of society - sadly.

We must have consensus anchored on nation-building and on advancing the national interest.

Bakalanga say, “anogwila makwakwa zwawo makudo, koga pambatsha akalangana” (baboons may fight each other for monkey orange fruit, but on matters of survival, they are united).”

Legitimacy , credibility indispensable

Closely linked to the above submission is the urgency of rebuilding the legitimacy of the state and the credibility of its institutions.

In this case, legitimacy and credibility, over and beyond the legalistic lens, is about following a genuine, just, and moral path. It is, as Peter Drucker counsels, about doing the right things and doing things right!

Public institutions must deliver on the social contract. They must deliver for the many and not fall into pitfall of becoming corrupt and inept dispensers of patronage to a few interconnected elites who haemorrhage the state.

There is a need to renew, strengthen and depersonalise public institutions with bureaucrats as agents of those institutions serving the public interest.

The principal-agency relationship between the public as rights holders and the institutions as duty bearers must be redefined to re-orient bureaucrats as servant leaders.  This must clearly signal a break from a clientelist axis of patronage politics. The burdens and benefits of cooperation must be shared fairly and equitable. It cannot be right that Parliament for instance consents to public assumption of private debt effectively off-loading it to poor tax payers.

Over the past decades, there has been an erosion of trust in public institutions. The widely held perception that key state institutions, for example like the judiciary is captured, parliament is a rubberstamp, or Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) is partisan or outright inept further weakens their legitimacy and credibility.

This is exacerbated by the democratic deficits of these institutions at the back of seeming democratic backsliding of our country. Constitutionalism and rule of law has been undermined, but that is what should undergird the legitimacy and credibility of public institutions.

If I may appropriate Lord Hewart’s dictum, justice must be done, and it must be seen to be done, by our institutions.

The onslaught must also abate

Some of this trust is also dented by the onslaught on these institutions by civil society and the opposition, sometimes deservedly so – but sometimes not.

Respect for our institutions and the office holders therein must not be traded for cheap political scores. One does not have to like an incumbent but must respect their office created by a public institution.

To restore legitimacy and credibility, it is incumbent on the ruling party to institute

deep institutional reforms and on the opposition to abate the undue attack on public institutions.

The legitimacy of the opposition itself as an institution of democracy must also be restored for it to effectively check the excesses of public institutions.

Thirdly, deliver on the promise of progress

The emerging generation of political elites must deliver on the promise of progress. It must understand that delivery of public goods is not a favour or charity, but a legitimate expectation obligated by the social contract.

Beyond the seemingly abstract concept of the social contract, the obligation to deliver public goods is about socio-economic rights enshrined in our constitution and in various other instruments which we subscribe to. It is a matter of life and dignity.

The public sin blighting our collective conscience is that 43 years after independence, access to basic healthcare is a preserve for the elite. Civil servants, who make up most of the formal labour force, live under the poverty datum line. Thousands of graduates leave university each year, and their employment prospects in an increasingly shrinking economy are ever bleak.

The endemic poverty and entrenched inequality in our society is obscene and unforgivable.

Zimbabwe, like many other countries, is mired in multiple converging crises like climate change, the effects of wars, economic crunch etc. In the context of rapid urbanisation, without proportional economic growth, our cities are the new sites of social injustice.

It is important that the new generation of politicians develop a political economy that plausibly delivers economic progress with the benefits shared by the many. Not the few. It must deliver decent jobs. Most importantly, it must rebuild the middle class as a bulwark of a new socio-economic and political matrix.

The sober view

The new generation of political elites that will dominate our politics going forward, must realise that the liberation narrative as a frame for the national question and a central idea for national consciousness has been sucked dry.

The call to defend the gains of the liberation struggle can no longer convincingly anchor our policy direction. Likewise, the opposition rhetoric of “Zanu PF must go”, which is a dull spin-off from “Mugabe must go” is bereft of content and can no longer convincingly galvanise the public.

For both parties, there is a need to pivot the narrative and frame responses to the contemporary national question. The new generation must midwife a new republic anchored on consent, consensus, legitimacy, and credibility. A new republic which delivers on the promise of progress.

My parting shot is that this task does not need nationalists or revolutionaries, neither does it need change champions. It needs democrats!

This is my sober view; I take no prisoners!

  • Dumani is an independent political analyst. He writes in his personal capacity. —
  • Twitter: @NtandoDumani

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