Reflecting back, looking forward: ZDI

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1.Tell us a bit about the work of the ZDI Trust

 The Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI) is a politically independent public policy think-tank based in Zimbabwe.   We generate and disseminate innovative ideas, cutting-edge research and policy analysis to advance democracy, development, good governance and human rights in Zimbabwe. We also aim to promote open, informed and evidence-based debate by bringing together pro-democracy experts to platforms for debate. The idea is to offer new ideas to policy makers with a view to entrenching democratic practices in Zimbabwe. ZDI are driving towards a democratic Zimbabwe in which citizens fully participate in all matters of governance, and realize and assert social economic and political rights.

2. Looking back at 2013, what do you think were the most promising developments in your field? Do you think they will be sustainable into the next year and beyond?

On the 16th of March 2013, the people of Zimbabwe voted in a historic Referendum for the New Constitution: 95% of voter supported the adoption of the draft constitution. Unlike the previous Lancaster House Constitution, the enactment of the new constitution involved some civic engagement at varying but limited stages of formulation. However, the main constitutional body, the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), which has since transformed into a political party, boycotted the process arguing that it was a hostage to political negotiations by the main political parties: ZANU PF and the formations of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

On 22 May 2013, the Constitution was signed into law, marking one of the most promising developments in the field of democracy and governance.  It has been argued in some respects that the new constitution curbs the powers of the executive — especially the previously contentious presidential powers —  has an extensive and justiciable bill of rights, and establishes independent commissions to support and entrench a culture of democracy and respect for human rights. These bodies include, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission, Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, Zimbabwe Gender Commission, Zimbabwe Media Commission and the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission). Unlike most democracies in Africa, the new constitution puts limits on the tenure of leaders in the security sector: the heads of the army and the police, for example, are now limited to two terms of five years in post. Furthermore, the parliament appoints leaders of the country’s security apparatus. Under the previous constitution the president would continuously re-appoint incumbents without any checks and balances.

However, it is one thing to create a sound Constitution. It is another thing entirely to implement it. As it stands there is a lot of work to be done to realign the country’s laws with the new constitution and educate the public on new constitutional provisions so that they can hold government to account. The sustainability of the new constitution is also in question: ZANU PF has more than a two thirds majority in parliament, which is enough to change the country’s constitution in line with its political agendas. Therefore, any gains could be obliterated if ZANU PF so wishes.

3. What do you think were the most worrying developments in your field? Do you think that they have been, or will be, successfully tackled?

Failure to carry out security sector reforms and holding the harmonized election on 31 July 2013 without the necessary reforms dealt a big blow to the efforts of the democratic forces in Zimbabwe. The electoral environment was compromised because the Global Political Agreement was not adhered to and feared pieces of legislation like the Access to Information and Protection Act (AIPPA), the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act remained in force. ZANU PF utilised this legislation to carry out systematic intimidation, threats, violence as well as the arbitrary arrests and detention of human rights activists and opposition party members. As such, ZANU PF’s election victory is argued by some scholars to have been a harvest of fear, evoking memories of the brutalities of the 2008 election.

The inclusive government era provided the best platform for implementing the much-needed reforms. The fact that this period passed without the necessary reforms being made makes it even more difficult for opposition parties and civil society to demand and expect reforms during the ZANU PF tenure. It is highly likely that there is not going to be any more efforts made with regards to implementing the remaining media, security, and electoral reforms. ZANU PF’s two thirds victory in the elections could be the worst development last year for democracy. It could mark the return of the country to one-party state politics, which dominated the first two decades of independence. The few gains that have been made in the past five years are not placed in jeopardy.

4.  What new trends/events/challenges do you think that people should be looking out for in 2014?

The consequence of having ZANU PF back at the helm of government, following five years of an inclusive government, is that we are seeing democracy stagnate and backslide as corruption and violation of human rights both increase. In 2014, ZANU PF has full authority to implement its policies without any restraints. As such, the people should expect a continuation of the indigenization and economic empowerment policy, for two reasons. Firstly, to regain legitimacy in the eyes of the economically constrained citizens and secondly, as a way of gaining increased social base in preparation of 2018 elections. ZANU PF will also seek to reestablish itself as the legitimate party and as such will work towards fulfilling its election campaign promises. However, the realization of its promises will be difficult and in the long run we should expect to see increasingly coercive measures being taken against dissenting citizens.

President Mugabe is turning 90 next month, February. There is no clear succession framework in Zanu PF . His health has been a subject of considerable speculations in the past year. Should his health deteriorate, the succession problems in ZANU PF could hamper the progress of democracy even further and encourage the re-emergence of overt governmental violence and increased security sector interference in governance issues.

ZANU PF’s election victory weakened and divided opposition parties in Zimbabwe and as such opposition politics in Zimbabwe has been considerably diminished. The MDC-T, which has for the past decade stood as a major contender for power against ZANU PF has, since July 31, been wrestling internally with rumors that factions are proliferating within the party. Should the MDC-T fail to resolve its internal political issues, ZANU PF — despite its own failings — will not have a noteworthy contender in the 2018 elections, and will enjoy a landslide election victory. In fact, the strife in the opposition camp is such that even a weak or divided ZANU PF could still win the coming elections.

Internal politics is not the only hurdle that opposition parties face. It is possible that the failings of the MDC-T during the inclusive government, and its repeated failure to seize power from ZANU PF, could have demoralized and diminished support for opposition parties in Zimbabwe. As such, new and emerging parties such the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) could face great challenges in mobilizing citizens’ support.

5. If you had the chance to put one issue on the region’s agenda in 2014, what would it be and why?

Given the chance, the ZDI would want to bring to the region’s agenda the issue of compliance with SADC’s Principles and Guidelines Promoting Democratic Elections.  In Zimbabwe, the SADC Election Observer Mission (SEOM) endorsed the Zimbabwe’s 2013 harmonized elections as ‘free, peaceful and generally credible,’ in the absence of an  updated and accessible electronic voters’ role and with virtually no  compliance with  eight out of  fifteen SADC principles and guidelines for democratic elections. Following this worrying development, there is a need to interrogate where the region stands with regard to enforcing and legitimizing democratic elections. The SADC commendation of Zimbabwe elections was a blow, which gravely compromised the region’s democratic integrity. It brought to question the sincerity of SADC leaders’ commitment to the provisions of the charter. We need to challenge such undemocratic tendencies as they will have dire consequences for the region as a whole.

 

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