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The voice of the people must be heard
Kate Hoey
May 03, 2007

I've made several undercover visits to Zimbabwe since the crisis began. As chairperson of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Zimbabwe in the United Kingdom Parliament, it's important for me to see conditions inside the country for myself even though Mugabe's regime bans such visits.

It has been tragic to experience first hand the accelerating downward spiral of the economy, healthcare, education and every aspect of civic life.

Travelling through Matabeleland, Mashonaland and Midlands, the prices of daily essentials rose daily. The economic decline became an everyday reality, not just statistics on a page. Women bear the brunt of the crisis, yet what amazed me is the way they manage to eke out resources and provide for their families.

Runaway inflation, massive unemployment and the destruction of the economic infrastructure easily lead to a sense of fatalistic resignation and undermine the foundations on which a democratic system can be built.

Good government has to be of the people, by the people and for the people. All these elements have been lacking under the sad, dark days of Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF dictatorship.

All the people of Zimbabwe, not just the new political leaders, need to take control of their own destiny. Minority groups, women, those in rural areas and urban dwellers must all have confidence that they can influence the decisions that affect their lives.

Anna Tibaijuka, the under-secretary general of the United Nations, visited Zimbabwe as the UN secretary general's special envoy to assess the effects of Operation Murambatsvina, the cruel demolition campaign that left a million people homeless. She believes that lack of an effective civil society is holding back development across Africa. She doesn't mean highly paid professionals working for NGOs. Women at grassroots level must be able to make their voices heard. They must be involved in the decisions that affect their daily lives.

I agree. I was in the country during Operation Murambatsvina and physically helped to load on to trucks the possessions of those fleeing before the army came to chase them out and burn their houses to the ground.

One Sunday morning in Makokoba, I saw residents complying with orders to demolish their own buildings. There was no community network capable of coordinating resistance to the illegal diktats of the regime.

Women of Zimbabwe Arise (Woza) has done great work helping women to make their voices heard. It has shown that there are intelligent and articulate women across the country eager to help shape a new country.

Jenni Williams of Woza took me to meet a group of widows dying of Aids. They pledged to look after each other during their remaining days and care for each other's orphans for as long as they could manage. Those women were determined to preserve all they could of their dignity as individuals, as a group and as women. Through their solidarity they had also found a collective voice. Woza has nurtured a determination among women in many such groups to make their voices heard.

New leaders must listen to those voices. MPs should make themselves accessible to their electorate. In the UK, nearly all MPs hold regular weekly "surgeries" in their constituencies where anyone, regardless of political affiliation, can meet them and raise issues of concern. Rent increases, problems with housing, education or employment -- these are all issues MPs need to hear about so they can keep their fingers on the pulse of what is happening in their constituencies and reflect voters' interests in Parliament or make representations to officials.

Such engagement will lay the foundation for accountable democracy in Zimbabwe. Too often international experts are flown in and hand out prescriptions dealing only with symptoms, not causes.

The people of Zimbabwe are well-educated and highly trained; they have the necessary skills to rebuild the infrastructure and institutions of their own country. They will need massive international assistance, but the process must be led and implemented by Zimbabweans. Above all, it must be commissioned by local people and be accountable to them.

Only at local level can respect for the rule of law be re-established -- and that will be one of the major challenges to face the nation where breaking the law has been a daily necessity simply in order to survive. Returning sons and daughters bringing skills and resources home must be welcomed by their local communities and reintegrated even though this won't always be easy for those who have stayed and fought on the frontline throughout the struggle.

I'm longing to visit the friends and comrades with whom I have fought for change to celebrate the new Zimbabwe rebuilt by Zimbabweans for Zimbabweans.

*Kate Hoey is a Labour politician in the UK Parliament. She is an MP and chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Zimbabwe

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