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  • Zimbabwe trending towards the past, while Kenya looks to the future
    Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition
    March 07, 2013

    The writing is on the wall, and it is written in a foreboding bright red colour almost akin to blood. While other nations are trending towards the future, it is clear that Zimbabwe is looking and heading backwards - trending towards the past. Any self-serving perceptions of reform, change and betterment that we have been holding on to because of the formation of the inclusive government and the interregnum provided for by the GNU are fast fading, as the beast of repression rears its ugly head yet again whilst attempts to ensure that Zimbabwe returns to the commonwealth of nations through norm compliance, fall flat on their face.

    Over the last couple of years, we have watched and revered in the ability of our fellow African nations to move their countries in a positive democratic trajectory. We have celebrated with the Zambians, toasted the Ghananians and now, hope with the Kenyans. We have marveled at the democratic revolutionary zeal of our brothers and sisters in North Africa, and complemented their abilities to stand up to the bullies who dictated in their countries, in pursuit of a better future, which so many sacrificed their lives for, knowing that the path they would be taking would be hard and difficult. We have showered praises on every country in the SADC region (except for Swaziland) for their successes in moving beyond the first post independent republics, their abilities to change guard at Presidential and government levels, and the ability of the revolutionary liberation movements to transform themselves into modern, fairly democratic, adaptable political parties – not lost in the past but looking to the future.

    The democratic progress on our own continent has made sure, that those of us looking for good examples no longer have to cross oceans and seas for them, at the risk of being labeled imperialist lap dogs, but only have to cross the Zambezi into Zambia, the Limpopo into South Africa or make the much romantic trip to Ghana to find good case studies of democracy at work, in African countries. These are countries we should learn from since they nurtured our own struggle for independence, and gave us refuge, counsel, training and arms during our own struggle for liberation.

    But in terms of contemporary politics, perhaps closest to our hearts, because of both imagined and real parallels, is Kenya. To a lot of people, Kenya’s political development is mirrored by Zimbabwe, because of myriad of reasons. Not least amongst these is our shared colonial heritage, and more recently, disputed elections which led to “Unity Governments”. Though the models and modes of intervention by the continent were different in both cases – easy parallels can be drawn. But the comparisons basically end there, and any attempts at likening political developments in Kenya to those in Zimbabwe, will be at worst, an exercise in futility, and at best, akin to high school science experiment, with Zimbabwe being the control experiment, where conditions for possible success are not put in, and where no hope of success exists.

    Kenyans went to the polls on the 4th of March 2013, and are eagerly and anxiously awaiting the final results of that election. As they do so, the horrors of December 2007 and January 2008 are foremost in their minds, and everyone is decidedly keen on not repeating that episode. They have counted the costs, and decided consciously and unconsciously that the country deserves better than that and are better than that. In stark contrast, in Zimbabwe the refrain, by ZANU PF supporters, that “ Zvikanetsa toita zvaJune” (If it becomes hard we will do what we did in June – a clear reference to violence perpetrated in the run up to the runoff election of June 2008), has been used far too often, and repeats of what happened during that gory period worth forgetting, have been commonplace during the life of the inclusive government. This trending to a past worth forgetting, instead of looking to future with the nation at heart is beyond disturbing. What makes it possible however, is the fact that indeed what happened in June of 2008 is still not a closed chapter. In Kenya, many people have been held accountable for their actions in the violence that characterised the December 2007 post-election period. As we speak, the front runner in the Presidential Election, Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta of the Jubilee Coalition and his running mate William Ruto have been indicted by the International Criminal Court for sponsoring part of the tribal based anarchy that visited that country. In addition to the ICC process there have been national Peace processes including, the Truth Justice and Reconciliation process, National Peace meetings led by the Lutheran Church and the Kenya national; Dialogue and reconciliation processes. In Zimbabwe you will be hard pressed to find someone who has been charged and or found guilty even by the Magistrates Court. The Organ on National Healing was rendered dysfunctional, while something akin to a truth, justice and reconciliation commission is only envisaged in a New Constitution, which is being promulgated days before an election.

    The conduct of the polls in Kenya, so far, has been a source of pride not only for Kenyans, but for the continent. But how did they get there? Well, their Grand Coalition (Unity) Government was formed in April 2008, through facilitation by the African Unions envoy, former UN Secretary General, Koffi Annan. They went through a constitutional reform process led by a committee of experts tasked with putting together outputs from previous attempts, incorporate best practice and engage a broad spectrum of Kenyans. They prioritised this task, and did not see it as necessary evil to election, and by August of 2010 after 4 months of debate they had adopted it as the new constitution of Kenya, with an impressive 72.2% turn out. They then went about the process of realigning their laws to the constitution, putting in place an independent and credible Elections Management Body, and by September of 2012, even those of us who were not Kenyan knew that the Kenya election would be on 4 march and if there is no clear winner there would be a runoff on April 11.

    In Zimbabwe, the opposite is happening. Our Constitution Making process, besides being plagued by genuine concerns around process, has been taking place for almost as long as the Inclusive Government has been in existence. Entrusted to politicians, it has been subjected to constant political haggling based not on what is best for the country, but what best suits the politicians in power. When they finally agreed on a draft that was palatable to all of them, the people where given a month to consider and pass a verdict on it. In that month, there hasn’t been any meaningful national debate on the draft. Engagements on it have been informed by parochial and partisan posturing by both those sponsoring it and those who stated from the onset that they would be against it irrespective of its content.

    The constitution has not been perceived as seminal to the country moving positively into the future based on a new constitutional dispensation. Instead, for ZANU PF it has been a necessary evil to move towards elections, which if they had a choice, would have dropped on day 1. While for the MDC T, they have romanticised it as political victory based on who introduced the agenda, and are hoping that like what happened in 1979, it will be a transitional instrument capable of ushering them into power. The MDC N, well, I think for them it is an instrument to facilitate, through its electoral mechanisms, their continued existence in the state, through attempts at proportional representation enshrined it, which favour smaller political parties have a stake in parliament, and also because of the almost even split amongst the 2 bigger political parties, some space in government by virtue of their smaller but tie breaking share of the vote. While all this is very smart from the political parties – they all get something out of this. The constitution itself has been reduced into an exclusive playbook for politicians, instead of being the binding charter and social contract between the governors and governed that it is supposed to be. One is forced to wonder, whether beyond these parochial partisan interests, this New Constitution can actually stop us from trending backwards and move towards a brighter future. Perhaps even more definitive in differentiating our political reality from that of Kenyans is in the time given to entrench the constitution before an election. The Kenyans took over 2 years to do this. Zimbabwe has given this task, at best 6 months, but more likely 3 months given all the talk about the possibility of a July Election. Zimbabwean elections? On what date? No one knows, but we are told they will be carried out this year.

    The voter turnout in Kenya’s general election has been estimated at over 70%. The turnout is credited to a real interest by Kenyans in having their say on who governs them, but facilitated by a free electoral environment. An environment in which those campaigning were free to do so, had unfettered access to the media and communities, journalists could function without fear, and civil society could engage and train citizens on voter education without let or hindrance. Kenya boasts over 90 FM radio stations plus many other independent radio stations operating on short wave and AM. It has over 14 Television stations and at least 15 major newspapers plus other regional ones. In Kenya press freedom violations have been on the decrease. Anyone and everyone in Kenya has been broadcasting results, tweeting retweeting, facebooking. Hell the IECB itself is streaming the results live. International observers from all over (an estimated 23,000 of them) are all over Kenya, testifying to the credibility of the election.

    Now contrast that with Zimbabwe. There is little appetite to engage in public political process because of the violent character that is still a part of the DNA of our political processes, and apathy is likely to be the order of the day come referendum and elections should things not change. The operating environment is shrinking at an alarming rate, with limited access to the media for those who do not preside over the state, meetings on the constitution being barred by the police, and NGOs being persecuted and raided by the police at a rate of about 1 organisation per week since the year 2013 began, with the governor of Masvingo, Titus Maluleke not appreciating that slow rate choosing instead to group over 20 organisations at a time, and reading them the riot act and placing unreasonable requirements of accountability to him. To crown it all off, the President of the Country, through his Minister of Foreign affairs, clearly thinks that the Presidents birthday party will continue until year end and that the elections are a part of it (where they can pick and choose who comes based on their affinity for the President), and have vowed not to invite observers from countries that are not their friends. We understand that only Africans will be allowed to monitor both the referendum and the elections. The Police have joined into the backward trending by engaging in partisan policing, reducing people’s access to information through banning radios. Really, who does that?

    Political violence and intimidation are on the rise and they are real. The President may be sarcastic about it and say people are blaming all and any deaths on ZANU PF, but the reality is that denying the existence of politically motivated violence and intimidation is akin to denying that the President is 89. It’s a stubborn fact, which instead of being wished away needs to be dealt with decisively in order for polls to have even a modicum of legitimacy. The above assertion, however assumes that all in government are pursuing the same objectives. Not really, save for the shared intention to take over state power from the inclusive set up to one political centre.

    Those who have a thicker microscope than mine can write acres of text on the parallels between Kenya and Zimbabwe. But the sad reality is that, while the people of Kenya are waving the white flags of peace, in Zimbabwe you can hear the loud howls of war. While the people of Kenya are writing about progress and peace on the walls, for Zimbabwe the writing on the wall is an ominous message spelling doom, destruction and political stagnation. While Kenya and most parts of the continent are trending towards the future, Zimbabwe is clearly trending towards the past. It’s eerie, but it’s not too late to change course. Zimbabwe can be great again, but at this time, the great Zimbabwean hope lies in a credible, free and fair election – which is slowly becoming a pipe dream in Zimbabwe.

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