In a world of almost two hundred countries, it’s not easy to come up with a uniform approach on democracy, economics, and values. There are so many cultures that creating a common set of world values becomes a complicated process. What is deemed as common sense by a group of countries, could be construed as offensive by another group of countries. Achieving equity then is not easy when creating universal rules.
In light of this, the authority to make and enforce universal rules comes with great responsibility. The rules must be clear, identifiable, and consistent in how they are applied. Any sign of selective application of the rules would not only undermine those rules but cause tension in the world. A stable world like a stable country is built on accountability, justice, and freedom to pursue your destiny. No country should ever feel it’s not allowed to pursue its destiny if that destiny is not a threat to other countries.
Countries that are deemed to have breached universal rules are often put under sanctions. Restrictive measures are put in place to stop them from participating in the highly interconnected global economic system. Such a prospect is catastrophic as the country won’t be able to do business, develop itself and realise its destiny. As such, sanctions are not only controversial, but they are a blunt instrument. Justified in some cases, questionable in other cases and unjust in others.
HISTORY OF SANCTIONS
One of the first sanctions were recorded in 432 BC. The Megarian decree levied economic sanctions and banned citizens of Megara from accessing markets in the Athenian market. As a result of this decree, the Megarian citizens suffered starvation and it’s believed this was the cause of the second Peloponnesian war.
Napoleon imposed an embargo on British exports, but they were ineffective. British businesses found a way to go around the embargo and it led to a huge underground market.
During the first world war, both sides tried to starve each other into submission.
In south Africa, sanctions achieved the desired outcome. Nelson Mandela submitted that the trade embargoes fast tracked the demise of apartheid.
US President, Woodrow Wilson said of sanctions “apply this economic, peaceful, silent, deadly remedy, and there will be no need for force.” This line of thought confirms that sanctions can do the same damage as military action. They are the preferred option when considering prohibitive human and financial costs of military force for coercion.
ZIMBABWE DEMOCRACY AND ECONOMIC RECOVERY ACT 2001 (ZDERA)
The United States imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe known was ZDERA in 2001. In imposing these sanctions, the Senate said they designed the ZDERA Act to “support the people of Zimbabwe in their struggle to effect peaceful, democratic change, achieve broad-based and equitable growth, and restore the rule of law.”
The word “support” above carries a lot of weight for the support is seen as good by those in favour of sanctions and detrimental by those against. In essence, those in government hate sanctions because they restrict their ability to do business. The ordinary Zimbabwean with no way of holding his government to account, is hopeful that the government may finally change its ways. The ZDERA sanctions clearly divide opinion in Zimbabwe.
THE REASON FOR ZDERA ACT
Under section 4 of ZDERA ACT, the senate submitted the following findings:
“Through economic mismanagement, undemocratic practices, and the costly deployment of troops to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Government of Zimbabwe has rendered itself ineligible to participate in international Bank for Reconstruction and Development and International Monetary programs, which would otherwise be providing the substantial resources to assist in the recovery and modernization of Zimbabwe’s economy. The people of Zimbabwe have thus been denied the economic and democratic benefits envisioned by the donors to such programs, including the United States.”
Those in favour of sanctions would welcome the above findings as they attribute corruption as the main catalyst for the dysfunction in Zimbabwe. The ruling party Zanu PF does not believe in strong, independent state institutions. The party is effectively above the law. They govern in their own interests as opposed to the interest of the people. The decision to send troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo should have been made by parliament but the President’s decision is often more powerful than parliament. That is not how a government should operate.
Another interesting point from the Senate’s findings is that the loans given to Zimbabwe for reconstruction and development were not used for what they were intended for. The effect of this as submitted above is that the people of Zimbabwe were “denied” the “benefits” expected from the loans given. Through economic mismanagement the people of Zimbabwe missed out on the “recovery and modernisation” of the economy. This is brutal. A government for the people would have considered the needs and interests of the people.
On the contrary, the people against sanctions could say what you call economic mismanagement, started with the seeds of Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP). The country was put off balance by the adjustments which reduced investments in key infrastructure as demanded by the IMF.
On sending troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the anti-sanctions brigade could say many countries have been to the DRC going back in history. Many more countries have been to the DRC after Zimbabwe. Why would Zimbabwe’s deployment of troops warrant sanctions when more countries are in the DRC right now? Does this mean that other countries are allowed to send their troops to DRC, but Zimbabwe is not allowed? The anti-sanctions brigade would say this is unfair.
ZDERA ON RULE OF LAW
The Senate submitted that “the rule of law must be restored in Zimbabwe, including respect for ownership and title of property, freedom of speech and association, and an end to lawlessness, violence and intimidation sponsored, condoned, or tolerated by the Government of Zimbabwe, the ruling party, and their supporters or entities.”
Most Zimbabweans would say there is no rule of law in Zimbabwe. The number of political prisoners is unprecedented. Not only are they unjustly imprisoned but they are persecuted constantly. Job Sikhala has just spent one hundred days in prison on manufactured charges. They refused him bail and yet have not provided the date for the trial. Job Sikhala is member of parliament for the opposition and he’s also a lawyer. In this case, the law was weaponised against Job Sikhala. This is standard practice on many opposition members, and anyone deemed to be against the government.
A few days ago, Makomborero Haruzivishe was acquitted but he spent ten months in prison during covid. Instead of following the rules of practice which provides for bail before trial, the Government of Zimbabwe refused bail and sent him to prison even though they knew he would be acquitted. They turned the county’s legal system into an instrument of evil works. The court system is captured and operates as an extension of the government’s arm.
On property rights, Sipho Malunga and his business partners are on trial for the farm that they legally own. Obert Mpofu a senior figure in Zanu PF Government took over their farm by force when they were preparing for harvest. He harvested all the crops and effectively reaped where he didn’t sow. A court decision found in favour of Sipho Malunga and his business partners that they were the rightful owners of the farm. Obert Mpofu appealed the case, and the trial is ongoing. Whether facts are on your side or not, justice in Zimbabwe is not guaranteed.
Political violence is standard practice in the Zimbabwean political landscape. Many people die because of politics. Recently, Moreblessing Ali, an opposition activist was found murdered with her intestines in a plastic bag after she had gone missing for two weeks. The person who murdered her is not in prison but the lawyer and member of parliament who fought for her is in prison. This would imply that the law is applied on a selective basis because there is no reasonable justification why a murderer is not in prison.
There are many examples of miscarriage of justice where Judges were an obstacle to justice. They are the embodiment of “perverting the course of justice” and people of Zimbabweans have to appear before such dishonourable judges. It must be one of the worst legal systems in the world. it’s a danger to citizens.
On rule of law, the anti-sanctions brigade has no legs to stand on.
ZDERA ON FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS
The Senators submitted that “Zimbabwe must hold a presidential election that is widely accepted as free and fair by the independent international monitors, and the president elect is free to assume the duties of the office.” In addition, they also provided that the “Government of Zimbabwe must sufficiently improve the pre-election environment to a degree consistent with accepted international standards for security and freedom of movement and association.”
From capturing the courts, the Government of Zimbabwe captured the electoral organisation. Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) which is responsible for manging the election process is effectively a government instrument designed to ensure no other party can govern apart from the Zanu PF government.
The reforms that are needed for free and fair elections have not materialised since the sanctions were imposed in 2001. There is a saying within the Zimbabwean system that the government will not reform itself out of power. The inference is crystal clear that there is no hope of the government winning a free and fair election.
All the essential preparations expected of a free and fair election never happen. The registration process which is meant to get people excited about voting is not fit for purpose. The number of polling stations has been reduced from the previous election. Many people will have to walk long distances in order to vote. The registration centres are not easily accessible. It is clear that the electoral commission is not interested in getting as many people registered to vote.
The government does not want people to register to vote because huge numbers are not easy to manipulate. The pre-election environment essential for free and fair elections will not happen under the current government.
There is no ascertainable way of verifying the election results because the server is held secretly by the government. Opposition parties have demanded that the server with the election results should be available for scrutiny, but the Government of Zimbabwe will not allow anyone to scrutinize the results.
It is believed that the Government of Zimbabwe has never won an election after the year 2000. Their rigging and manipulative strategies are always deployed at the detriment of democracy. Morgan Tsvangirai won the election in 2008 and Mugabe acknowledged that Tsvangirai received 73% of the votes. The government frustrated the process, and the results were announced after 3 months. They told the country that there was no clear winner which was false. A re-run was done, and more than three hundred people lost their lives in which the government ended up regaining power.
This violation of people’s will in which the leaders of their choice are not allowed to assume power has to be one of the reasons why Zimbabwe is struggling. In its 42 years of independence, Zimbabwe has not had peaceful transfer of power. Only two presidents have governed in the same period.
On free and fair elections, the anti-sanctions brigade has no arguments to push back.
ZDERA ON LAND REDISTRIBUTION
The senate provided that “Zimbabwe should commit to equitable, legal, and transparent land reform program consistent with agreements reached at the International Donors’ Conference on Land Reform and Resettlement in Zimbabwe held in Harare, Zimbabwe in 1998.”
The land redistribution program is a controversial matter given the way it was carried out. It was not an orderly process. However, Zimbabweans from all political persuasions acknowledge that though the process could have been better, the land issue is a done deal. They see the land as their inheritance.
Robert Mugabe through the Lancaster House agreement in 1979, agreed with the British Government that The British would pay compensation for the land after 20 years. At the time Margarete Thatcher was Prime Minister. Twenty years later, Tony Blair was Prime Minister. Constitutionally, he was not bound by the decisions of a previous Prime Minister. Clare Short, international Development Secretary wrote a letter to the Zimbabwean Government saying, “there is no money.” The Zimbabwean Ministers were livid.
The war veterans had been putting pressure on Mugabe to get the land issue resolved behind the scenes and when all efforts failed with Tony Blair, they took matters into their own hands. There is nothing Mugabe could have done to stop the war veterans. They had been waiting for 20 years. They told him they went to war to fight for land and they were living like third class citizens in their own country. If Mugabe had resisted, they could have easily removed him from power hence the process did not manifest in an orderly fashion. Mugabe lost complete control of the land issue hence he felt bitter and betrayed by the British.
Historians will ask themselves, did Britain have a duty to honour the Lancaster House agreement? Did Tony Blair have a duty to honour such an important agreement? Did Thatcher make the agreement in good faith? or she was kicking the ball in the long grass knowing she would not be Prime Minister in twenty years later? Is it fair to say, Britain had no intention of honouring that agreement from day one?
ARE SANCTIONS A PUNISHMENT FOR LAND REDISTRIBUTION?
Those campaigning against the removal of sanctions believe sanctions are a smokescreen. They say sanctions are not really for rule of law and free and fair elections but a punishment for taking back the land. As the first country in the world to take back land after being colonised, they allege it is a precedent that terrifies powerful countries. As such, sanctions on Zimbabwe are designed to deter other countries from taking back their land.
They use South Africa as a reference on why the land issue is such a sensitive matter. In the South African political landscape, there is an argument that if land is taken, South Africa will become like Zimbabwe. The argument is given more weight by the fact that Zimbabwe is currently struggling economically under sanctions. In essence, a prosperous Zimbabwe gives other countries appetite to take back their land. A poor Zimbabwe is a bad advertisement for taking back land. There is a battle being fought in Zimbabwe which could determine the destiny of many countries if not the whole of Africa and other developing countries in the world.
DO SANCTIONS WORK?
Nicolas Mulder the author of a new book: The Economic Weapon – The Rise of Sanctions As A Tool of Modern War said, sanctions have always proved controversial given their capacity to immiserate, impoverish and injure citizens. In addition, he said, “sanctions have often failed to achieve their desired political outcome for all the damage they cause, and the history of sanctions is largely a history of disappointments.”
Nicolas Mulder cited Russia as a reference saying the United States sanctioned Moscow’s central bank and other financial institutions were kicked off SWIFT, part of the global payment system. PayPal, Visa and Mastercard are no longer working in the country.
He submitted the implications for the liberal Russians who are fleeing the country can no longer access their money and their savings. Many fled to Central Asia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan & Finland. None of them can access their money anymore because their cards don’t work. The private sector response is hitting the Russian society hard.
According to the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights, a vigilant effort must be made to ensure that the sanctions regime of restrictive measures must both secure respect for human rights and foster accountability. Human rights cannot be adequately protected if they are profoundly undermined by sanctions that are violently enforced.
WHAT IS THE BEST WAY FORWARD FOR ZIMBABWE?
Zimbabwe is caught between a rock and a hard place. It is suffering from external sanctions and internal sanctions. There are those who don’t agree with ZDERA sanctions imposed by the United States, but they see the internal sanctions caused by the Government’s misgovernance as the worst sanctions on Zimbabwe. They claim that the biggest sanction on Zimbabwe is the Zanu PF government.
Former Vice President, Professor Mutambara said his bone of contention is that “we must address these sanctions we impose on ourselves – misgovernance, corruption, rigging of elections, murdering of our people.” He went further, I am not interested in discussing the external sanctions because we are not solving sanctions, we impose on ourselves.” Shame on us he added.
“Why would you want others to remove sanctions on you when you are busy imposing sanctions on yourself? Let’s answer this question first then look at other sanctions afterwards. I acknowledge the sanctions from external players undermine the prosperity and the progress of our country.”
He concluded by saying “I am not prepared to have this discussion. There is no moral basis, I have no moral authority, no basis to discuss the sanctions imposed by other people. Let us remove sanctions we are imposing on ourselves then we can discuss the sanctions imposed on us by others.”
President Cyril Ramaphosa made a call for sanctions to be removed as part of SADC heads of state decision. According to Clayson Monyela, The SADC position is not reflective of South Africa’s position on the matter even though President Ramaphosa says so. He said South Africa does not believe that Zimbabwe’s sanctions are the genesis of the problem of Zimbabwe.
Even if ZDERA sanctions were removed today, there is no hope that Zimbabwe will change. Zimbabwe needs a new kind of politics. A politics based on accountability, separation of powers. Respect for individual rights and most importantly, a government of the people for the people and by the people.
Although Zimbabwe is not in the same group of countries sanctioned for threatening the use of nuclear weapons, the state of politics does not allow anything good to come out of Zim. If the politics does not work, nothing works. If Zim leaders are serious about addressing the country’s problems, they need to look at themselves. They cannot resolve a problem they do not acknowledge.
External sanctions are disproportionate but internal sanctions are destroying the country. The Government of Zimbabwe cannot blame external sanctions for lack of development when more than $100 million in smuggled gold leaves the country every month. No one is coming to help Zimbabwe. Only Zimbabwe can help itself.
The famous Constitutional Law Professor A.V. Dicey submitted that the rule of law in its practical manifestation must contain the following elements. First, “that no man is punishable or can lawfully be made to suffer in body or goods except for a distinct breach of law, established in the ordinary legal manner before the ordinary court of the land.” In essence, if anyone is to be penalised, it shouldn’t be on account of a fictitious rule dreamt up by some authority.
Second, “no man is above the law; every man and woman, whatever be his rank or condition, is subject to the ordinary law of the realm and amenable to the jurisdiction of the ordinary tribunals.” There is no special law or court which deals with the elite in the country. The law applies to everyone.
Rule of Law in Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe’s rule of law is selective on how it operates. Those aligned to the government never really go to prison unless they are out of favour with their bosses. The natural course of things is that when they get caught, they get released. This is done to give a fake appearance that there is due process. The truth is prison is used to silence and persecute those in the opposition political party or anyone deemed to be against the government.
Job Sikhala, a member of parliament for the opposition party and practising lawyer has been in prison for almost three months without trial. The case is based on frivolous and vexatious charges. He has been arrested in similar circumstances more than sixty times since he was elected to parliament in 2000. Essentially, the case has no legs to stand on.
Job Sikhala is not an ordinary politician. Fire burns in his belly. He’s a force to be reckoned with. In a hostile political environment, he stands out as brave and courageous. Not many politicians speak truth to the military government in Zimbabwe. He’s radical and won’t be silenced like many politicians who fear the consequences of speaking their minds. It’s this attribute that brought persecution from his government for more than two decades. They fear his energy, his ability to articulate people’s challenges. People easily connect with him for when he speaks, they seem ignited.
The force with which he speaks and his impact on the people is the reason why his government won’t stop persecuting him. They are constantly weaponizing the law at his detriment. The general elections are less than a year away and the government is desperate. They are out their depth. There is no realistic prospect of the ruling party winning given how dysfunctional the country is. Sending Job Sikhala to prison is a well known government strategy of stopping effective people from taking part in elections.
Facts of the case
The facts of the current case are horrible in that he was arrested while assisting a family in his constituency. A mother of two, Moreblessing Ali was abducted in May and her body was found two weeks later mutilated in a well. Her intestines were in a plastic bag. She was an effective and well-known activist. Before her murder, she was knocking on doors giving people advice on how to register to vote.
In a letter written by Job Sikhala from prison, he said, he was given instructions by MoreBlessing’s family to “ask the authorities the truth about her whereabouts and to demand justice for her.” He further alleged in the letter that “the government in an attempt to conceal the truth about the circumstances around the depressing abduction, went into hysterical public campaign against myself, through statements issued by senior government officials and its propaganda mouthpieces inciting and calling for my arrest.”
As a result of this campaign, he was arrested on 14 June 2022 at 20:00pm. He highlighted that the government dispatched a swarm of its paratroopers, secret security agents and the police totalling over a hundred who raided his house. From that day, they kept him in Chikurubi maximum prison where they keep murderers and those who committed horrible crimes. He depicts the prison as resembling Hitler’s concentration camp and Stalin’s Siberia.
A member of parliament for a close-by constituency, Godfrey Sithole was also arrested for helping Job Sikhala. By the time, the government was done, a total of sixteen people had been arrested. They are all in the maximum prison with Job Sikhala and have been refused bail. No one has any idea when the trial will be done. This is a clear case of violation of human rights and exposes the deficiencies of the rule of law in Zimbabwe.
A fair observer can deduce that it’s unreasonable for the government to arrest a member of parliament and a lawyer more that sixty times. This is not about upholding justice but political persecution and harassment. In the previous case in 2019, he was charged with treason for plotting to overthrow the government using unconstitutional means. He was tried and acquitted of all manufactured charges.
In another case, High Court Judge Justice Erica Ndewere was put under pressure by the government to reach an unjust judgment against him and she refused. She lost her job, and no one knows where she is today or whether she is safe or not. The manner in which Judges have been denying him bail in the current case is influenced by the harassment that Justice Erica Ndewere faced.
Judges fear that if they give him bail, they could lose their jobs. When bail was refused two weeks ago, the judge could not give reasons why bail was refused. The judge said reasons will be given later. Job Sikhala is effectively “persona non grata” in his own country. If they could take away his citizenship, they would have done it.
In his letter, he also made a very serious allegation that senior opposition leaders, prominent journalists, civic society leaders and social media activist are being dragged to a special court called the Corruption Court. This court was introduced by president Mnangagwa when he came into office to deal with corruption cases. He said the court has been turned into a persecution court by the government.
All those deemed to be opponents of the government, are diverted from criminal courts, and brought to the Corruption Court and given corruption court reference numbers. This court functions outside the provisions of the country’s established laws where selected Judges are instructed to impose the government’s unfair judgments.
Strengthening the rule of law in Zimbabwe
(i) The law must be accessible and as far as possible intelligible, clear, and predictable. If anyone is arrested for doing or failing to do something, that person must easily know what they did wrong. People cannot be discouraged from breaking the law if they don’t know what the law is or if they do not know what they shouldn’t do. In addition, people need to know their rights or obligations so that they can claim their rights and perform their obligations. One cannot claim rights he is not aware of or perform obligations when he does not know what he is meant to do. In a nutshell as submitted by the European Court of Justice, “the need for legal certainty demands that the rules by which the citizen is to be bound should be ascertainable by him or more realistically by a lawyer advising him.”
(ii) Questions of legal right and liability should ordinarily be resolved by application of the law and not the exercise of discretion.
(iii) The laws of the land should apply equally to all unless differences can be justified. Equality before the law is the cornerstone of any society. The idea of one law for the elite and one law for poor people is a recipe for disaster. In his book “Rule of Law” Lord Bingham used a reference from the Bible in which Paul refused to discriminate on the grounds that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male or female: for you are all one in Christ. Every person in Zimbabwe should enjoy the equal protection of the laws of Zimbabwe.
(iv) Ministers and public officers at all levels must exercise the powers conferred on them in good faith, fairly, for the purpose on which powers were conferred, without exceeding the limits of such powers and unreasonably. Although the citizens empower the government by electing them to make laws which bind the whole country, it falls on the government and its ministers to carry the laws into effect. In so doing, they should do it strictly according to law. A government that gets into power through a coup or ministers who plunder the country’s resources through corruption are essentially breaking the foundation on which the country is built on. It creates unnecessary complications for the country.
(v) The law must afford adequate protection of fundamental human rights. Zimbabwe’s law should incorporate The Human Rights Act 1998 which provides fundamental rights that no one living in a free and fair democratic society can live without. Every Zimbabwean should be guaranteed “the right to life.” This is the most fundamental of all rights. Furthermore, Zimbabweans should not be subjected to torture. They should be guaranteed the right to liberty and security. Moreblessing Ali and many people lost their lives because human rights are not given the attention they deserve.
(vi) Right to a fair trial. Adjudicative procedures provided by the state must be fair. Sending people to prison without trial and refusing them bail is a serious violation of rule of law. Court proceedings should be fair on both sides. The prosecutor or defendant must be given a fair chance to make their case or defend it. The rule of law must guarantee the independence of judicial decision makers. A captured judicial renders the country’s legal system defective and detrimental to everyone. Job Sikhala and the 16 arrested have not even gone through a trial, they were denied bail and are in maximum prison because the government can do so. It’s unacceptable.
(vii) Rule of law requires compliance by Zimbabwe with its obligations in international law as in domestic law. The Secretary General of the United Nations once said that “the rule of law is a concept at the heart of the organisation’s mission. He went on to say, it refers to a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions, and entities, public and private, including the state itself, are accountable to the laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced, and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights and norms and standards. It requires, as well, measures to ensure adherence to the principles of supremacy of law, equality before the law, accountability to the law, fairness in the application of the law, separation of powers, participation in decision making, legal certainty, avoidance of arbitrariness and procedural and legal transparency.”
(vii) (i) Zimbabwe must address its domestic laws first because they are applied selectively. There is also an ignorance in which leaders seem to be oblivious to the fact that violation of certain domestic laws amounts to violation of international laws. Leaders who don’t appreciate the rule of law will never make an effort to strengthen them. Zimbabwe could do with good leaders as a country with no rule of law, often struggles to attract investments.
What Job Sikhala is going through is what Nelson Mandela experienced under the apartheid system. What is difficult to comprehend is that it’s his own government subjecting him to apartheid oppression and discrimination. The government of Zimbabwe should govern in the interest of its people instead of persecuting them when they complain.
Zimbabweans want their government to take responsibility for its actions and do the job expected of a government. Sending Job Sikhala to prison without trial will make him more popular among the suffering and hard-working families.
Between 1940 and 1945, Winston Churchill was the most popular Prime Minister ever. After the second World War in 1945, his approval rating was 83%. Many politicians and commentators were convinced that he would win the 1945 elections and continue as Prime Minister. He was a hero who had mobilised countries and resources to defeat Hitler.
What materialised is that he led the conservatives to their worst defeat ever. He was blamed for the defeat on the grounds that the very qualities that made him a great war leader were not suited to domestic politics in peacetime. After the herculean task of winning a World War, he became redundant.
Imagine if Churchill had refused to accept the results on account of his achievements in the second World War? Imagine if he had conjured up some bizarre idea that he should be allowed to rebuild the country before another leader could replace him? Imagine if he had instructed the army to intervene and make the elections of no effect so that he could carry on as Prime Minister?
Judging by standards in failed countries, Churchill would have been justified in causing havoc on the basis that the people were not appreciative of his sacrifices in the World War. This is what separates functional democracies and failed states. The people who voted him out of power in 1945 after the World War victory, were grateful for his efforts. However, they felt he was not the right leader to take the country forward after the war.
Almost every country in the world has a special day dedicated to honouring all those who sacrificed their lives while fighting in wars and conflicts. The freedoms enjoyed by many countries today came at a price. A blood price.
Today, Zimbabwe is remembering its heroes who fought in the liberation war against colonisation. The fighters who survived this war, tell us every day about how they suffered in pursuit of our freedoms. Some spent more than a decade in prison. Some were tortured badly. Some were hanged. Many fighters who could have contributed positively to a free Zimbabwe paid the ultimate price. It’s right that they should be remembered and honoured.
Josiah Tongogara, one of the heroes who died during the liberation war said, “the fight was to remove the oppressive system so that everyone could enjoy the new Zimbabwe.” Unfortunately, the opposite is true. 42 years after independence, people don’t feel liberated. The new government meant to be for the people continued with the oppression of its people.
There is a class system in Zimbabwe in which those who claim to have fought for the country are at the top while majority are in the lower class. The ruling class monopolised all the resources and opportunities in the country while majority of people struggled to make ends meet. This ruling class has more rights than most people.
There are Zimbabweans who are questioning whether the sacrifices made by those who fought in the war have done them any good at all. This may seem like an offensive inquiry, but Zimbabweans are referencing the state of the country after 42 years while considering reasons submitted for fighting colonisation.
What Does Heroes Day Mean To You?
Zimbabweans were asked to respond to the above question and none of the responses were positive. One submitted that “Majority of Zimbabweans are living in abject poverty while millions left the country in search of better opportunities. So, when there is a call to celebrate Heroes and Independence Day, what exactly are we celebrating?” The same person went further and said “if you live in Zim with no access to clean fresh water every day, no decent wage/income, no access to a well equipped public health facility, or you left Zim in search of better opportunities, just park for now celebrating anything associated with liberation struggle.”
A reference point was made about heroes in other countries and how they fought for something tangible while Zimbabweans find the benefits of freedom elusive. Another added that “if the fighters who died during the war were to come back, they would be hugely disappointed that their sacrifices are only benefiting just a handful of thieves”
Romeo Romulus was of the view that “independence connotes absence of rule of law, systemic corruption, dysfunctional governance, and infrastructure.” There are no fruits of a free country he added.
Bruce Dormice submitted that Heroes Day means nothing to him. He said “I feel angry on behalf of those who made ultimate sacrifices, The Chinhoyi 7, Tongogara, Chitepo. He went further and said, many who fought and are alive today have lost the ethos of liberation war. He added greed and looting is the order of the day and the liberation war has been personalised in a bad way.”
Most people highlighted that Heroes Day used to mean something but not anymore. They see it as another day they don’t have to go to work. Proud-africa weighed in and said “our heroes must be turning in their graves, their hard-earned efforts to liberate the country have turned into a murdering and looting spree by monsters in Zanu PF. There is a general feeling that the country must be liberated from its own liberators.
One man, one vote
The first President of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe said repeatedly that he went to war for “one man one vote.” If one man, one vote was real in Zimbabwe, Morgan Tsvangirai would have been president in 2002, 2008 and 2013 but the ruling party would not let power transfer peacefully.
The humiliation and utter powerlessness of the people to choose a governing party or president of their choice must be the worst betrayal of the ethos of liberation war. The leaders who fought the Rhodesian government for their dignity are now refusing to extend the same dignity to their own people. The country is effectively governed like someone’s private property.
When people demonstrate or highlight how difficult life is, those in authority respond by deploying the police or army as if the people are trespassing. There is a disconnection between the people and the leaders, and it is pushing the country backwards. When leaders refuse to observe straight forward principles like fair play and rising on merit, they choke the country from making the essential progress it needs. Refusing people their rights is not only detrimental to them, but it affects the country in lost investments and opportunities.
Betrayal of the Liberation War Legacy
The two worst events that our heroes gave the country were the Gukurahundi genocide and the 2017 coup which kicked the former President Robert Mugabe out of power.
The Gukurahundi genocide massacred more than 20 000 people and no one has been held accountable for it. The idea that the government could deploy the army on its people a few years after independence is unacceptable in all the circumstances. This was an early warning that the leadership was operating contrary to the interest of the people. This event makes it impossible for people who lost loved ones to celebrate Heroes Day. No leader has uttered a word about it or how it should be addressed.
Another event that shook the world and potentially brought more problems for the country is the coup that was carried out by the army in 2017. In this coup, President Mugabe was forcefully removed from power which brought in the current President Emerson Mnangagwa. In response to his critics, President Mnangagwa once said, “we are the prisons, we are the judiciary, we are the army, we are the armed forces and no one can do anything to us.” This statement shows that his faith in governing is not in his leadership skills but in using force to govern. Again, this is contrary to the reasons given by Tongogara on why they went to war.
All the sons and daughters who died for Zimbabwe would be horrified by the lack of discipline in government. Leaders who should know better and lead by example behave in the most reckless and irresponsible way. The late Vice President Joshua Nkomo once said “what Zimbabwe fought for was peace, progress, love, respect, justice, equality, not the opposite and one of the worst evils we see today is corruption. The country bleeds today because of corruption.”
Heroes Day is a very important day, but it has been rendered meaningless by leaders who lead contrary to values expected of leaders running a country. Not all leaders who fought in the liberation war have the credentials to lead in domestic politics. As Churchill found out at his expense that his war time leadership qualities were not suited to domestic politics.
Zimbabwe needs a new political system so that common sense can prevail in government. Liberation war politics cannot address matters that require different expertise and technical skills. The world is constantly changing that holding on to one strategy on modern challenges is a futile exercise. There should be room to accommodate fresh blood and new ideas. That is the way of the world. Holding on to a system that manifest as an obstacle to political and economic transformation shows leaders are out of touch with modern realities.
The President of Zimbabwe Emmerson Mnangagwa is facing a huge scandal that could potentially topple his government. Serious allegations have been made that he had a sexual relationship with a minor. Susan Mutami alleged that she was 15 years old when she started having sex with the current president and it went on for several years. On Twitter spaces, she had a record number of 13 500 listeners who were captivated for 4.5 hours. She gave a chronological explanation of her encounter with the president beginning in the early 2000s.
In the early 2000, her father passed away and the current President of Zimbabwe offered to help her with her school needs. This gesture was meant to alleviate the burden caused by the passing of her father.
Eventually she moved into the president’s family home where she helped the house maid with house chores. She didn’t need to worry about her school fees anymore. She said the sex continued and she knew of other women the president had relationships with.
At times, she would breakdown while narrating her story. She mentioned many names in government or connected to the government who she said took advantage of her.
Years later, the then President Robert Mugabe, heard of the story and he was horrified. He instructed senior investigators in government plus his wife to meet with Susan. Mugabe feared for Susan’s life in case word got out that investigations were being done. As such, he made provisions for the meeting to be done in China. Susan gave her version of events to investigators who drafted statements from her testimony. She said the first lady, Grace Mugabe, could not believe that she went through such a dreadful experience and the story made her cry.
Politicians from the governing party in Zimbabwe are never held accountable. They practically operate above the law. The few that end up in court are often under punishment from their superiors. There was one exceptional case in which the current President took away the Vice President post from Kembo Mohadi. The Vice President’s phone call was leaked to the media in which he could be heard asking a young woman for sex. This case is rare because proper accountability measures were enforced. President Mnangagwa thought his Vice President had fallen below the expected standard.
Now it’s the president who is facing extremely serious allegations as compared to his Vice President who lost his job over a phone call. Many Zimbabweans on social media were saying the President must resign as the allegations could not be ignored or swept under the carpet. We live in the days of the #metoo movement which shook Hollywood when women reported how powerful men were sexually abusing them. The #metoo movement has spread around the world and is making men think about how they behave. The downfall of powerful men in Hollywood sent a message to the world that sexual abuse must not be tolerated.
The magnitude of the allegations are so serious that President Mnangagwa cannot possibly carry on as President without clearing his name. What the President must do is address these allegations directly and immediately. Susan shared her story on Friday afternoon, but the president has not responded. This is not a matter that he can view as beneath him or as not worthy to be taken seriously. He must give it the seriousness it deserves by stepping down and commit to a process where justice can prevail.
The office of the President is already in disrepute. There are criminal law hurdles that the President must overcome and only the criminal court is fit for such a case. No right-thinking person would say it’s normal for a President to discharge his constitutional obligations while on trial in a criminal court.
This matter is about the standards people expect from their leaders and the duty they have to the country. This is not an ordinary duty, but a higher duty by virtue of the responsibilities given by the constitution.
It’s impossible for any President to go round the world representing his country under such circumstances. It’s a story with an international factor that the President could potentially get arrested abroad, face demonstrations or humiliating protests. That’s why he should take some time out by resigning and come back once cleared by a court of law.
It’s not normal in Zimbabwe for a President to be held accountable. The politicians in the President’s party have a duty to tell the president that he cannot carry on without clearing his name. It can’t be business as usual. If these politicians or parliament protect the President from accountability, it will reflect badly on them and on the country. Who would want to come and do business in a country where leaders are above the law and not accountable for their actions?
In a democracy, the governed give their consent to be governed so that those who govern them can exercise that power responsibly. Hence there are checks and balances to ensure that abuse of office does not happen. Zimbabwe cannot afford to look the other side when serious allegations have been made against the president. The law must take its full course and justice must be seen to be done. There is a case to answer. Zimbabwe must ensure that Susan is heard and that no harm will come her way.
The Parliament of Zimbabwe must create a code of conduct that is designed to address the issues raised by Susan. A code of conduct where reporting abuse is easy and where action can be taken swiftly. This requires a new way of thinking. A new kind of politics. Modern and transformative leadership
Joshua Nkomo, the late Vice President of Zimbabwe spoke prophetically when he said, “Zimbabwe will not die, the young will save it.” These are uplifting words, feel good words which have inspired the young. They’ve been recited over and over again. They show great faith in the future generation that they can prevail where previous leaders failed. He uttered these words after acknowledging that his fellow leaders, advanced in age, had badly let the country down.
What no one explained to the young generation was the magnitude of the problems they must overcome in order to save the country.
Army v Democracy
The idea of a government of the people, by the people, for the people is yet to be realised in Zimbabwe. The proximity between the ruling party Zanu PF and the army has been an obstacle to strong and independent state institutions. They are so close that a senior government minister declared recently that the army is part of their political party. Such utterances do not only reflect that they have no hope of winning free and fair elections, but they are prepared to use the army to govern against people’s will.
In the 2008 presidential elections, former president Robert Mugabe said the opposition got seventy-three percent of the votes, but the army cooked the figures and forced a re-run. More than three hundred people were killed during the re-run. In 2018, the army was deployed the day after elections, and it’s alleged as many as eight people were killed. This led to an inquiry which made recommendations, but they’ve been ignored. In 2019, during the internet shutdown, the army was deployed and the number of those who died is believed to be between fifteen and twenty-one.
The way in which the army operates is contrary to democratic principles. By forcing people to be governed against their will, the army is effectively saying it cannot change its ways through logic and reasonable steps. It is essentially saying, you have to overpower us if you want free and fair elections. That’s not a responsible way of operating in a country of peace-loving people.
The young were born in a free country, have never been to war and they subscribe to non-violence politics. They don’t understand why the army is causing such havoc when it preaches everyday about gains of the liberation struggle. This is why the government is complacent and out of touch. It has the power to deploy the army against the people. There is no hope of holding the government to account.
Mission for Young Zimbabweans
Frantz Fannon said, “each generation must discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it.” Democracy ought to be the mission pursued by young Zimbabweans. The main objective must be a politics without the army and creation of strong state institutions. This mission is so vital that the country cannot function properly unless it’s addressed. No investor or company is going to invest in a dysfunctional country. Unless the politics change, the country will continue with an economic system that is based on dishonest principles and a dodgy currency. Civil servants won’t get the living wages they desperately need. The infrastructure will continue deteriorating.
This mission is not a walk in the park especially in a military state. Freedom as shown by the liberation war, does not come easily. Prisons are full of political prisoners and the persecution against opposition members is unprecedented. It’s a different matter to be liberated from a foreign power but the need to be liberated from your own government must be soul destroying.
Although this is a huge challenge, there is a feeling that enough is not being done. There is a lukewarm approach in terms of formulating an effective plan against the oppressive government. In a country where it’s illegal to demonstrate, no alternatives have been seen. Does this mean that this is the end of pushing back against oppression? The government would want it that way, but it shouldn’t be that way!
The fight for democracy has been going on for twenty-three years. People seem tired for it has been a long struggle. It could be they believe there is no reasonable prospect of the situation changing. The violation of human rights is getting worse and it’s designed to shrink political space. The current case of Job Sikhala is a shocking example of a government that has lost the plot. The government is terrified of his ability to inspire people during election campaigns that they jailed him without trial and denied him bail. Selective application of the law is the guiding principle in the courts.
A mission of this magnitude does not just happen on its own. It requires teamwork, a shared sense of purpose, direction, and a clear plan. The plan should be able to inspire those executing as well as inspire the public. The team should be made up of thinkers, strategists, and competent people. There is no lovely way of pursuing this mission as highlighted by Nelson Mandela’s life or Gandhi. The oppressor will never set you free willingly. It may take some sacrifice as Mandela’s 27 years in prison. Many people have been jailed and some have died and yet there is still no democracy. It is not for the faint hearted. This is a matter that each person must ask him/herself. No one should feel forced or pushed. This is for people driven by the strength of their convictions. You don’t choose your country and the political landscape it provides. You find it however way it presents itself. It’s up to you to shape it, or it will shape you.
Leadership and Vision
The young generation must understand that when the mission of democracy has been achieved, the hard work of rebuilding the country must begin. Zimbabwe needs visionary leadership that can do the complex work of transformation. Trying to fix the current system without turning the country upside down wont work. It’s imperative to have a new foundation clearly defining what the country is about and what the country stands for and most importantly, who Zimbabweans are.
It requires an ambitious vision that has an appreciation of both Zimbabwe’s and the world’s history, modern realities, and Zimbabwe’s place in the current world, and Zimbabwe’s place in the future of the world. This kind of thinking is different to what has been displayed in the last 42 years. A country is bigger than a village and to impose village standards on a country that must operate in a world of eight billion people is counterproductive. A leader can keep his village philosophy as long as he can rise to the challenges of a country in an intricately linked world.
You can’t address a problem without acknowledging that it exists. The way current leaders address problems is by sweeping them under the carpet or pretending they don’t exist. This is because they are not affected by the impact of their inaction or incompetence. There are people in government who hold powerful positions, but they are not qualified to be in those positions. What this does, is subject the country to mediocre standards and often at the expense of the country in the long run.
The young generation must understand that Zimbabwe needs a new leadership culture in which those interested in serving their country, must be committed to higher standards. The difference between functional countries and failed countries is the leaders. It’s the leaders who make decisions that advance a country or decisions that hurt a country. It’s leaders who are comfortable flying abroad for their medical needs instead of building local hospitals that benefit everyone. It’s leaders who make space for an independent judiciary or a captured judiciary
The question that young Zimbabweans must answer is, are they going to pass the Joshua Nkomo test? Are they going to save Zimbabwe or not? Answering this question fits neatly with Frantz Fannon’s submission that each generation must discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it.
“A constitution is not the act of government, but of a people constituting a government, and a government without a constitution is a power without right… A constitution is a thing antecedent to a government: and a government is only the creature of a constitution.” Thomas Paine 1792
“If a constitution means a written document, then obviously Great Britain has no constitution. In countries where a document exists, the word has that meaning. But the document itself merely sets out rules determining the creation and operation of governmental institutions, and obviously Great Britain has such institutions and such rules. The phrase British constitution is used to describe those rules.” – Sir Ivor Jennings author of The Law and the Constitution.
The UK’s constitution is unique in that it’s not codified like most constitutions in the world. It’s the product of many centuries of continuous and, mostly, gradual, peaceful evolution. It has an unbroken history of constitutional development starting in 1066. It’s based on conventions, not law. This unique constitution relies on politicians doing the right thing as not doing so would be disastrous. The politicians are still expected to operate in the interest of the public.
Another unique element of the UK constitution is the role of the crown. Before the 18th century, a King or Queen could choose a Prime Minister of his/her choice. Now, politicians are still deemed to act in the name of the crown, but they answer to parliament. Decisions like going to war, appointing, and dismissing Prime Ministers are subject to parliamentary approval. The crown does not have real power anymore even though the government is called Her Majesty’s Government. The real power is in parliament. The crown has ceremonial or discretionary powers.
As submitted by Lord Sumption, so much in British Constitutional law, “the label on the bottle has little to do with the contents.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson
The outgoing Prime Minister, Boris Johnson is deemed to be unconventional given his idiosyncratic approach to politics. Commentators say he’s the politician who defies political gravity. They expected him to spend at least 10 years in power and transform the conservative party forever. He was London Mayor for 10 years, delivered Brexit and went on to be Prime Minister. He wanted to be world president from a young age. Since the UK does not do presidents, he had to settle for Prime Minister.
He had political capital that his predecessors could only dream of. Unfortunately, it could not stop politicians from his own party from getting rid of him. His fellow parliamentarians recited trust issues, integrity, and a general problem with adhering to rules. As such, they wanted him gone less than 3 years after becoming Prime Minister. It seems harsh considering what he achieved for the party. He would not go without a fight though. He told them that he had a colossal mandate from 14 million people who put him in power, not them. It took an unprecedented strategy in which 58 ministers resigned from his government in 2 days for him to finally resign.
Some constitutionalists were shocked by how the whole process of getting rid of Boris Johnson materialised. They felt he should have gone way earlier when his colleagues in parliament told him it was time go. By resisting and refusing to resign, they felt Boris was effectively pushing the unwritten constitution to breaking point. This constitution which relies on politicians doing the right thing, encountered Boris who felt the people, not parliament could only get rid of him. Constitutionalists could not believe that a Prime Minister was refusing to resign even though there was evidence suggesting sufficient grounds for resignation.
Margaret Thatcher won 3 general elections and spent 13 years in power, but her own party got rid of her without elections. Tony Blair was Prime Minister for 10 years and his party got rid of him without elections. In these instances, parliament was discharging its duty on behalf of voters when it felt leaders had acted below the expected standard or lost confidence in them. It seems brutal but that’s the system where parliament is the only instrument by which government can be held to account. This is different to a presidential kind of system where there are checks and balances to ensure the president does not operate beyond his powers or take the country in the wrong direction.
The manner in which Boris resigned resulted in people talking about the need to have a UK written constitution. They are of the view that if a similar event were to arise in the future, the system might not survive the push back. A written constitution would address the problem swiftly without threatening the principles on which the country is built on. Lord Sumption suggested that an independent body with constitutional powers must be created so that it can step in should the Prime Minister “run amok.” He went further and said, if someone like Donald Trump was Prime Minister, he would have brought the whole system down given it’s built on conventions.
Conventions by their nature are fragile, they don’t have teeth. Relying on the honour of politicians to do the right thing is risky. The UK Parliament created a ministerial code which parliamentarians should abide by. It does not seem to have the deterrence factor as it’s not grounded in law.
There are some leaders who naturally don’t believe rules apply to them whether they are in a written constitution or not. If someone is determined to push the rules to breaking point, they are likely to fold as they often do in countries under dictatorship.
Although the UK constitution was tested recently, it also showed that it works because in the end, Boris Johnson had no choice but to resign. The unwritten UK constitution was able to get rid of Boris Johnson while the strong and powerful US constitution could not get rid of Donald Trump. The rules don’t work by themselves, they need moral and ethical people who believe in them.
When Austria was ejected from Italy in 1859 and from Germany (then Prussia) in 1866, its focus on foreign policy narrowed and resulted in a dual monarch with Hungary to become the Austria-Hungary Empire. The empire was ruled by the House of Habsburg from the compromise of 1867 to 1918 where it was consumed in the first world war.
Henry Wickham Steed wrote about the ten years he spent in the Austrian-Hungary Empire up to 1913. He said he left the empire “with a feeling that I was escaping from a doomed edifice.” In Tomas Masryk Czech’s nationalist memoir “The Making of a State” Henry Wickham Steed provided a foreword in which he submitted that the word “Austria was synonymous with every device that could kill the soul of a people, corrupt it with a modicum of material well-being, deprive it of freedom of conscience and thought, undermine its sturdiness, sap its steadfastness and turn it from pursuit of its ideal.”
The Hungarian Scholar Oszkar Jaszi concluded an ambitious study of the Empire in 1929 in which he said the “world war was not the cause of the empire’s destruction but only the final liquidation of the deep hatred and distrust of the various nations.” However, in 1949, after the second world war, calamitous period of dictatorship and genocide in his home country and living in American exile since 1919, Oszkar Jaszi changed his mind. He wrote, “in the old Austria-Hungary Empire, the rule of law was tolerably secure, individual liberties were more and more recognised, political rights continuously extended.” He added the “free movement of people and goods” to the remotest places was happening.
Some people who despised the Empire before it stopped existing were regretting that it had ended. The Hungarian writer Mihaly Babits said “we now regret the loss and weep for the return of what we once hated. We are independent, but instead of feeling of joy we can now tremble.”
Emmerson Mnangagwa v Ian Smith
An almighty debate erupted recently in Zimbabwe between the Zanu PF government and supporters of the opposition party, “Citizens Coalition for Change” (CCC). The debate was on whether life was better under Ian Smith’s Rhodesian colonial government or under the current Mnangagwa government which is based on liberation war credentials. On the outset one might think this is a straightforward debate with an obvious outcome. However, on closer inspection, one could be forgiven for thinking that the script on life under smith’s rule and under Mnangagwa’s rule is the same. This is because there isn’t much of a difference.
Despite Zimbabwe enjoying freedom from colonial rule for 42 years, some members of the CCC are of the view that Smith was better than Mnangagwa. This is deemed to be highly offensive by the government considering it’s made up of people who fought in the Zimbabwean liberation war. They contend that they liberated the country and lost friends and loved ones. It’s fascinating however that the former Vice President of Zimbabwe Joshua Nkomo, who fought in the same war said, he realised later in his life that “a country can have freedom without its people being free.” This is a loaded statement which appears to question the credibility and substance of whether Zimbabwe is free at all.
Joshua Nkomo was persecuted by the Zimbabwean government in the early years of the country’s independence. It’s understood he was forced into merging his political party with the main political party to form a one-party state. He lived in a region that suffered the Gukurahundi genocide where between 20 – 30 000 people were massacred, again in the early years of Zimbabwe’s freedom. What is difficult to understand is how a country of brothers and sisters can go to war together and fight as one, then come back home as victors, end up butchering their fellow brothers and sisters within two years of attaining freedom? The reports of soldiers going from house to house and killing people are well known. No one was held responsible for this genocide. Former president Robert Mugabe called it “a moment of madness.”
The premise of going to war was that the people of Zimbabwe wanted “one man, one vote” which the Smith government refused to extent to black Zimbabweans. When it materialised for the first time in 1980, the black majority government swept into power and replaced Smith’s government. Naturally, a war fought to achieve rights, would have seen the creation of a democratic state with separation of powers and a constitution to signal the birth of a new country.
No constitution materialised in Zimbabwe until 2013, that’s 33 years after Zimbabwe gained its independence. Why so long if the war was fought to liberate people from colonisation? Even the rights within the constitution don’t carry much weight because Zimbabweans cannot derive any benefit from them. For instance, demonstrating is illegal even though it’s a constitutional right.
When Zimbabweans vote in elections, their votes are not recognised hence Mnangagwa’s political party has been in power since 1980. There is no difference between Ian smith denying blacks the right to vote and the black Zimbabwean government not recognising the votes of its own black population. From 1980 to 1999, Zimbabwe was a one-party state. Although they preached democracy, they destroyed other political parties or brutally incorporated them into their party.
The government has never won an election since the year 2000 but power has never transferred to the real winner. Elections are often followed by violence where the army is deployed to stop the citizens from resisting stolen and rigged elections. It’s these experiences that make some Zimbabweans say life was better under the Smith government. They acknowledge that there was oppression under Smith, but the standard of lifestyle was not as bad as compared to a Zimbabwe with inflation of 426% and 90% unemployment. Instead of the Zimbabwean government building an economy that works for everyone, they designed an economy for the few elites at the top while citizens struggle on their own. The biggest contributor to the Zimbabwean economy is not money generated from the country’s economy. It’s money sent by Zimbabweans who live in the diaspora to their loved ones, in order to make ends meet in a tough economic environment.
There is an intentional disregard for the well being of the people considering the wealth in the country. Through mismanagement and corruption, Zimbabwe seems like a poor country. It has been put on the hunger watchlist. However, Zimbabwe is not a poor country. It’s one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Zimbabwe has diamonds, gold, lithium, platinum, and many other mineral resources plus good land for agriculture. It was reported that Zimbabwe is losing $100 million worth of gold every month. That’s more than a billion dollars a year just on gold. There is no accounting for other minerals that are reported to be smuggled out of the country.
Rule of law and Human Rights
It would be absurd to expect justice under an oppressive colonial system. Some members of the CCC say the Zimbabwean government became the new oppressor after Smith’s government. The way the judiciary is deployed against innocent citizens is appalling. It results in deliberate miscarriage of justice. There is no separation of powers that allows the courts to function independently. The courts are captured contrary to democratic principles. The Supreme Court Judges and lower courts are essentially an extension of the government’s arm.
Job Sikhala, a lawyer, and member of parliament for CCC and another parliamentarian Godfrey Sithole are currently in prison for representing a family whose mother had gone missing. The mother’s body was found dumped in a well. They were denied bail because the courts fear they could incite violence. They’ve been in prison for almost a month. They walk around in chains and leg irons. The treatment is designed to degrade them. Selective application of the law is standard practice, and the law is weaponised to cause maximum damage. This is not Smith’s government but Mnangagwa shrinking political space a year before the 2023 presidential elections.
Hopewell Chin’ono spent 45 days in prison after reporting on a corrupt deal in which money donated for Covid vaccines was diverted from its intended use. He also reported on a government connected person caught at the airport trying to smuggle gold out of the country. Exposing the government’s corruption will bring persecution. This persecution is executed with the gestapo kind of ruthlessness. The conditions in prison are horrible. They are overcrowded and a serious threat to life in a time of covid.
There are many members of the opposition CCC, who have been in the court system for years because the captured courts won’t give them trial dates. Even when a trial date is given, the ball is kicked in the long grass because evidence is always missing, or a key witness can never be found. When all that is happening, they are expected to report every week at the police station. The government and the courts are essentially torturing these people and harassing them by keeping them in the court system, without prospects of a trial or freedom. These people are not criminals. They are professionals from lawyers to journalists, teachers, and students. The government treats its people as if they are under colonisation. This is one of the reasons why people are saying Smith is better than Mnangagwa.
One of the points pushed forcefully against the government is that the country is still using Smith’s infrastructure which was built long before Smith left power in 1980. The argument is Smith left a fully functional country which Zimbabwe inherited. There are houses today that have not had running water through their taps for more that 10 years. Today the government goes around drilling boreholes in the capital city. What people don’t understand is with all the mineral resources in the country, the government cannot afford to fix the water system.
Lack of modern infrastructure in cities can be attributed to the fact that the government has never won parliamentary seats in cities since the formation of the first opposition party in 1999. Corruption is also a massive factor when ministers divert money from the needs of the country for their personal use. People are dying from curable diseases because hospitals are not equipped to the expected standard. Some hospitals don’t even have thermometers, painkillers, or cancer machines to screen patients. The potholes on Zimbabwean roads are frightening. These are signs and symptoms of failure of leadership. The transport system needs to be modernised. In essence, the whole country needs to be modernised. Police officers are still using uniforms that were used under Smith’s government. No one realised that the uniforms look like those used by the British army in World War 1.
There is no doubt that Smith’s style of government was detrimental and horrible to Zimbabweans. If it wasn’t, no one would have gone to war. What doesn’t make sense is that the leaders who went to war to fight Smith’s oppression, came back home and have been oppressing their own people from day one. That’s unacceptable.
The current government must be extremely bad to be compared to Smith’s government. That discussion should never arise at all. There should be no room for it. What Zimbabwe needs is a country built on democratic principles, with separation of powers for accountability purposes and a constitution that provides citizens with tangible rights. When a country does not progress, it will decay. A country must evolve so that fresh blood, new ideas can come. The new cannot be born if the old does not give way.
More than 70 years ago, the Council of Europe (not European Union) created The European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedom (ECHR). This was set up after the second world war with the intention of protecting human rights, the rule of law and promoting democracy. Winston Churchill was instrumental in the creation of ECHR and spoke about the “strength derived from our sense of common values” grounded in legally binding obligations. The experience of the second world war had ignited a desire to structure governments “owned by the people and not governments owning the people”.
In April 2022 the UK government entered a memorandum of understanding with the government of Rwanda for an asylum partnership worth £120 million. This arrangement would ensure that “asylum seekers whose claims were not considered by the UK would be relocated to Rwanda”.
As a result of this partnership, the UK government wanted to send seven asylum seekers to Rwanda. One of the asylum seekers was an Iraq national who travelled to Turkey and across Europe before crossing the English Channel by boat. Upon arrival in the UK, he claimed asylum alleging that he was in danger. A medical doctor in the Immigration removal centre issued a report highlighting that the Iraq national might have been a victim of torture.
Successive UK courts upheld the decision to send him to Rwanda and he was pursuing Judicial Review scheduled for July. The UK government wanted to send him to Rwanda before the Judicial Review and submitted that if he were to win, he would be sent back to the UK from Rwanda.
The case was taken to ECHR in Strasbourg where the court threw a spanner into the works by deciding against UK courts and effectively blocking deportations from going ahead last night. The ECHR was influenced by the concerns raised by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that asylum seekers transferred from UK to Rwanda “will not have access to fair and efficient procedures for determination of refugee status.” In addition, the ECHR considered the finding by the UK High Court that the question to treat Rwanda as a safe third country was irrational or based on insufficient inquiry which gave rise to “serious triable issues”.
As a result, the ECHR was not convinced that the asylum seekers’ rights would be protected in Rwanda considering that Rwanda is not within the ECHR jurisdiction. Furthermore, the partnership between the UK and Rwanda is not legally binding which implies Rwanda cannot be compelled to comply with it. It can also be inferred from this decision that the ECHR Judges did not have confidence that a win in the Judicial Review would bring back the Iraq national from Rwanda. In light of this, none of the seven asylum seekers were deported.
IMPACT OF THE ECHR JUDGMENT
This matter is not over, the seven asylum seekers could still go to Rwanda if the Judicial Review is decided in favour of the UK government next month. It’s a significant policy issue with profound implications. The Judicial Review will have to establish whether the policy being pursued by the UK government will protect all those sent to Rwanda. The decision by ECHR will obviously come into play and it will take courage to contradict it. The argument against this UK government policy is that it’s not workable in all the circumstances. However, as controversial as it may seem and with no clear policy in decades, some politicians believe it can generate political capital.
If the Judicial Review were to allow the asylum seekers to be deported to Rwanda, it will mean that the UK has made domestic laws that go against the obligations it signed up to in 1951 after the second world war. This could further open the door for the UK to leave the ECHR which it was instrumental in setting up. Leaving the ECHR is construed by the UK government as fulfilling Brexit objectives even though there are legal and moral obstacles. The Church of England and all the Bishops said the idea of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda “shames us all”. Prince Charles who is not meant to comment on political matters said sending asylum seekers to Rwanda was “appalling”.
The question being asked often is whether deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda would stop traffickers from crossing the English Channel? An international response is needed since this is an international problem. It could be worth considering going to countries where these traffickers operate from and arrest them in their backyard. For now, all the attention is on the Judicial Review next month.
When Neil Kinnock resigned as Labour leader after losing the 1992 general election, John Smith was seen as the obvious successor. He was deemed to have “immense credibility born out of natural integrity and years of public service.” He was head and shoulders above his colleagues. Although he was “quiet, modest manner and his politically moderate stance, he was a witty, often scathing speaker.” Gordon Brown said he had no doubt that John Smith had the strength, ability, and desire to face John Major in the 1997 general election and win.
Labour had been out of power for 18 years. Margaret Thatcher and the Conservatives had dominated British politics while Labour struggled to modernise. There were toxic and militant elements within the Labour party who resisted reforms. John smith’s mission was to transform the Labour Party and reform the constitution.
As time went on, The Conservatives became so unpopular that John Smith was expected to be Prime Minister in 1997. Unfortunately, he died suddenly in 1994 of a heart attack which saw the young Tony Blair become leader and went on to become Prime Minister in 1997. Even Tony Blair acknowledged that had John Smith not passed away, he would have become Prime Minister.
This week I was reminded of John Smith when I saw the outpouring of grief by people mourning the death of Dr Alex Magaisa. Dr Magaisa was an intellectual powerhouse who was part of the team that crafted the Zimbabwean 2013 constitution. He went on to be Chief of Staff in the then Prime Minister’s office, Morgan Tsvangirai and advised him on strategy and policy formulation.
After his time as Chief of Staff, he returned to Kent University where he resumed his work as a lecturer in Public law, Company Law, and International Financial Regulation. The messages submitted by his former students testify that he was a gentle giant, had passion for ideas and loved empowering his students.
Zimbabweans were devastated by his death especially the young people he mentored. He had the ability to connect with people from all walks of life. In a country where power has never transferred peacefully, young people felt disconnected from the political system. Dr Magaisa took it upon himself to encourage young people to register to vote and to get involved in the political process. He often reminded them that the country and the future belonged to them. He was a shining star in a country blanketed by political darkness.
His death shocked so many people given that he was only 46 years old. He was seen as one of the people who would have taken Zimbabwe to its greatness. There is a feeling of Moses not making it to the promised land after sacrificing his life for his people. Now that he won’t be there to take Zimbabwe to its glory, his work was certainly preparing the way for the one who will do so.
He exemplified the famous words uttered by JFK on his inauguration “ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.” Dr Magaisa did not need invitation to contribute to his country. His life’s desire was to see a fully functional Zimbabwe built on democratic principles, rule of law and human rights. Although Zimbabwe appears to be a mess now, Zimbabweans have never stopped believing that their country will come good with the right leadership.
At heart, Dr Magaisa was a patriot, a hardcore Zimbabwean. Through his genius, he was able to disprove and nullify the government’s delusion that patriotism could only be expressed by strictly supporting the government or aligning with liberation war ethos. As absurd as it may seem, the government had monopolised patriotism. He must have been one of the few to take the government head on and push back on their governance shortcomings.
One of his well-known articles on the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe’s “Farming Mechanism Scheme” sent shock waves across the country. The US$200 million scheme was designed to help farmers in the early stages of land redistribution. Instead, politicians were the beneficiaries, and they did not pay back the loans. An Act of parliament was passed which took over the debt. It was effectively paid back by taxpayers.
There was pandemonium when the public realised the magnitude of the abuse considering the state of the economy. The politicians were not used to such scrutiny especially their names in the public domain for corrupt acts. They felt exposed and it was uncomfortable for them. In a country with no investigative journalism, his blog was more influential than newspapers, tv and radio.
People admired him for his diligent work on holding the government to account. He had a massive following with more than a million followers on all his social media platforms. His critics would give him the nickname “Bishop” for galvanising a broad church against ideas which he thought were contrary and detrimental to democracy. He embraced the name Bishop which I thought was apt given the loyalty people showed him and indeed they crowned him their Bishop. His blog “The Big Saturday Read” effectively baptised Zimbabweans and other African countries into born again democrats. Every Friday midnight, people would stay up for his weekly offerings on his blog and would engage until early hours of the morning.
Metaphorically, his blog was a class where he taught the country democracy and all matters of statecraft. He had the dexterity to decipher the most complex of constitutional and legal matters into simple and straightforward language. He enlightened so many people who often commended him for igniting their interest in politics. Though he’s gone, I foresee his blog being used as a point of reference and potentially taking the form of commandments essential for a robust system of government.
Dr Magaisa’s Legacy
Labour leaders in the 1990s said John Smith would have made a good Prime Minister had he not passed away. A Conservative MP submitted it was terrible that he passed away but hated that his death unleashed Tony Blair and Gordon brown who created New Labour. He went on to say Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were a formidable force who blew his party out of government for 13 years.
Dr Magaisa would not have necessarily become President, but any President would have wanted him in his inner circle. It’s sad that he won’t be around to see a transformed Zimbabwe. However, through his mentoring and engagements with the public, Dr Magaisa produced thousands like him who possess his intellectual DNA and passion for democracy. It’s highly likely that young leaders who will transform Zimbabwe, will stand on the foundation of the work he did.
Although he left a huge void in the political landscape, people need not lose heart. They should be inspired by his dedication and commitment to democracy. They should be inspired by his purpose driven life and inspired by his sense of fairness. The democratic fire he started must stay ablaze. Those inspired by him should step up and ensure that his work goes on. They should rise to the challenge and take Zimbabwe to the promised land. History has always shown that when your leaders die, it’s your time to step up and lead. The best way to honour his legacy is to uphold the ideas he believed in and for Zimbabwe to become a democratic state.
Dr Magaisa will be missed by many people around the world. He left Zimbabweans wanting more but he did more than enough for Zimbabwe. He instilled a great culture and respect for democracy among Zimbabweans. In this culture, Zimbabwe will find its salvation. We should learn from his work that democracy does not happen on its own. It requires good leaders to survive. Leaders who are crystal clear about their objectives and in touch with the realities of their people.
May His Soul Rest in Peace.
The SADC region is generally known for Presidents who help each other rig elections. They invite politicians from each other’s country to monitor elections under the guise of regional observers. No matter how controversial the elections are, the drill is well known. They are always fair. These cowboy observers make a tidy income because power hungry dictators will always find money to stay in power as compared to investing in the economy or health. Some observers are in demand on the continent of Africa for their exceptional dexterity at manipulating the ballot box. They made rigging elections an art. If they keep going at the pace they are going, they will soon come up with a SADC doctrine of rigging.
It is this conduct that has undermined democracy in Africa. Voters have lost confidence in their electoral systems’ ability to conduct free and fair elections. Elections take the form of going through the motions. The outcome is fixed and known well in advance. Voters know this but they have been through these fake elections for a long time. They don’t know how to remedy their corrupt politics. There is no credible separation of powers or state institutions that function independently to uphold democracy.
In the SADC region, the President is effectively King. State institutions operate to advance the president’s agenda which is often at the detriment of the country and citizens. Disputed elections are allowed to go to the Supreme Court for Judicial Review to give the impression that there is rule of law, but it is all a farce. The appearance of wheels of justice in motion could not be further from the reality of the rot which is contained in the judgments delivered by the same justice system.
It is disheartening for citizens to see their highest court in the land, made up of people who swore to uphold the law and advance justice, utter shocking judgments devoid of the expertise, fairness and reverence expected of the institution. Dictators have no time to consider the damage caused by corrupt judges. The idea that the Supreme Court can be influenced to declare a winner against the people’s will does unprecedented damage to the country’s reputation. This damage can be seen everyday in the economy for investors will never put their money where there is no order or stability. This is the behaviour that has made the SADC region a security risk for its people.
Zambia went into August 2021 elections with all the signs of a SADC masterclass in managing elections. For an outsider, Zambia was destined for disappointment. To its credit, it has experienced smooth transfer of power before but its President at the time, Edgar Lungu, exhibited traits of a typical SADC President. The day before elections, he gave a brief speech saying he was expected to win, and he was looking forward to transferring power to himself. On the day of elections, he gave another speech saying the elections were not free and fair and his supporters had been killed by opposition members.
It was bizarre that an African president in control of the army, police, judiciary would give a speech complaining that elections were not free and fair. It’s unheard of. For a president to insinuate that there was violence which killed his supporters made people fear the worst. This unusual behaviour seemed to imply that the president knew he had lost. As such, there was a risk that the president would use the alleged violence to send the army to beat up people on the pretext of restoring order. In such circumstances, pandemonium would grip the country as people run away from the army. In this chaos, the captured electoral organisation would cook election results and essentially impose a defeated candidate against people’s will. That is the typical SADC election process. Fortunately, and through some miraculous intervention, Zambia avoided the SADC calamity.
Hakainde Hichilema’s victory in the Zambian 2021 presidential elections sent shockwaves across the continent of Africa. Not only was it a David and Goliath battle but in this instance, Goliath acknowledged that he was defeated. It’s unheard of in Africa for a seating president with the army and police at his disposal to acknowledge that he had lost. It goes against the dictator script. The defeated president received 1.8million votes and Hichilema got 2.8million votes. A strong mandate.
Although the numbers are huge and difficult to manipulate, some dictators are not phased by that. Robert Mugabe submitted that his opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai, received 73% of the votes in the 2008 presidential elections. This was way above and beyond the majority needed to form a government. But the system never allowed him to become president. It took more than 2 months for the results to be announced and they were cooked. They said there was no clear winner which opened the door for a run-off. The run-off was a violent process with more than 300 people losing their lives unnecessarily. In the end, a government of national unity was formed by the government and the opposition. If there was democracy and rule of law, Morgan Tsvangirai should have been president of Zimbabwe in 2008.
The dictators’ club which the former Zambian president belonged to, expected the result to be overturned through some dubious electoral gymnastics like what happened in Zimbabwe in 2008 and 2018. Peaceful transfer of power was a betrayal of the club. A breach of the dictators’ code of conduct. The losing president was meant to keep thy torch ablaze by driving a truck through the country’s constitution and disregard the principles on which the country governs itself.
Their leadership strategy derives its inspiration from volumes of the great tribulation. That is their prescription for majority of Africans who want democracy. A depressed and demoralised population is easy to control than a population with options. As a result, policies are designed to disempower citizens in order to put them in a position of weakness instead of empowering them and risk an uprising or revolution. Put simply, leading in bad faith. This has been Africa’s story after attaining independence from colonial powers. The liberators have stepped in the oppressive shoes left by colonial powers and are now oppressing their own people.
Fortunately, a precedent has been set at the heart of the dictators’ paradise. It left them fearing future elections because the whole region is excited and inspired to repeat what happened in Zambia in their own countries. It is a precedent they cannot ignore or diffuse with the army. The enthusiasm generated in the region is like a great fire, a democracy fire that is spreading from Zambia to surrounding countries and the whole continent. It seems this fire has an appointment with every dictator in the region.
Although these dictators have faith in their armies to stay in power, one would have expected them to at least prepare for the unthinkable like what happened in Zambia. They don’t understand that time and ideas change, they don’t believe in society evolving for the better. History has enough examples of leaders who thought they could never be moved but were eventually humiliated. There is a hubris which tends to accompany leaders with lack of foresight. Instead of getting out of power in an orderly fashion, they often have to buy one-way tickets out of the country at great risk to their lives and loved ones. All this could be avoided if common sense is given a chance. Unfortunately, power is an intoxicating drug. The African continent has suffered from that power addiction.
Hakainde Hichilema ran his campaign based on a vision of a “united and prosperous” Zambia. This was complimented perfectly by the national motto of “One Zambia, One Nation” which he’s determined to make a reality and not just a slogan. He highlighted rebuilding the economy as the top agenda given the debt the country is under. There is a sense of inclusivity in that there is a strong desire to build an economy that provides opportunities for everyone and to make Zambia a prosperous middle-income country. The poor and vulnerable in society who are often forgotten in the harsh politics of Africa have been promised “social protection” in his endeavour to transform the fortunes of his country.
There is an overwhelming sense of change. A determination to create a new way of doing government. There is talk of diversity, liberty and change of behaviour. To set a new standard that is different from the previous government. Selection of ministers is based on merit and competence. Media companies that were banned under the previous government were given their licences back. Those who lost their jobs through discrimination have been given their jobs back. As someone who got treated unjustly by the previous government, Hakainde Hichilema is acutely aware of the effects of violating people’s rights. His experience has driven him to ensure that the rule of law prevails and that no one should suffer from injustice.
He showed great magnanimity by not revenging the horrible experiences he endured. His first speech after confirmation of his victory made it clear that violence was not the way to do government. He wasn’t going to imitate the deeds of the previous government. He was arrested 20 times by the previous government since 2010. His longest stretch was 100 days in prison with 8 days in solitary confinement. It took a court order to release him from prison. The harassment was designed to sabotage his campaign. There is no sign of bitterness or talk of settling scores even when 300 police officers invaded his home and destroyed his property. His main mission is to transform the country.
“We are not about to copy those who treated us badly” he said. “We are going to show a higher moral ground, we have been given a strong mandate to correct the ills and violence of the last government.” He urged his supporters to put the past behind them and focus on the future. There is always room for improvement especially in giving young people a fair representation in government. The victory was driven by young people who were tired of not having opportunities. However, a ministry was set up to help small and medium size businesses. There is a drive to promote entrepreneurship especially from young people as well as a ministry to address the country’s technological needs and a ministry for environmental protection.
There is a dangerous disconnection between the large populations of young people in Africa and their leaders. Leaders are of touch with modern realities. It’s stifling progress and causing brain drain on a frightening scale. Some of the effects can be seen in high numbers of unemployment, weak state institutions and dysfunctional ministries.
What happened in Zambia is a wake-up call. There is hunger for democracy and competent leaders. Even the armies that impose dictators against people’s will, are tired of suffering when their bosses are living in luxury. Zambia has shown its neighbouring countries and the whole continent what is possible. It is a massive boost for the oppressed opposition parties in Africa. They believe what happened in Zambia should also happen in their countries. Most African countries are one leader away from transformation. For that to happen, the old must give way so the new can be born.
A week before World War II began, 22-year-old JFK was in Berlin after taking a year from Harvard. He used his time to travel to the Middle East as well as working in the US embassies in London and Paris. During his work, he encountered reports that Hitler was preparing for war. He wasn’t fully convinced so he set out on a fact-finding mission to establish the veracity of the reports. As such, he used his father’s network to “speak to officials and diplomats” and made notes on the “gravity of a world in crisis”. This is highlighted in a book “JFK” By Fredrik Logevall.
In Germany, he saw the ferocious Nazi machinery in action but thought war would be irresponsible in light of World War 1. As the propaganda got worse, he wrote a letter to a friend saying Hitler might not be able to pull back from war with the way he is going. When Germany signed a Non-Aggression Pact with the USSR, JFK knew he had to get out of Berlin. It was only a matter of time before war began.
A few days later, he was in the House of Commons listening to then Prime Minister Nevile Chamberlain confirm that Britain was at war with Germany. Chamberlain was angling for peace negotiations with Hitler while Hitler was preparing for battle.
World War II did not come as a surprise to Churchill. He saw Hitler coming and warned the government, but no one believed him. He had seen the storm gathering while the Prime Minister was utterly complacent. He knew how ambitious Hitler was. On account of the war, Churchill became Prime Minister and could not have painted a darker picture when he said, he had nothing to give but blood, sweat and tears. The situation seemed hopeless in all the circumstances, but it was a situation that Churchill was born for.
There were two diametrically opposed visions fighting to shape the world. A Hitler vision designed to dominate every country to satisfy his delusions of grandeur and a commonwealth vision submitted by Churchill.
SOUTH CHINA SEA
75 years after World War II, it seems there is a dangerous storm gathering in the Indo Pacific involving the world’s superpowers. 40% of trade goes through the Straits of Malacca and up to a third goes through the South China Sea. It is the busiest shipping lane in the world, and it is rich in oil, gas and fish. It seems China wants control of the shipping lane and other superpowers say they have rights to the shipping lane too. The US trade in the region is worth over $100 billion a year. Annually, 3.5 trillion worth of trade passes through the South China Sea.
Shipping laws have been in force for centuries, but they seem to be causing friction between China and its neighbours plus western superpowers. Western superpowers adhere to international law and freedom of navigation while China is disregarding such laws and building military bases on islands deemed to be in international space.
In 2009, China submitted a new map to the UN claiming sovereignty over the entire South China Sea, at the expense of legitimate claims within the rights of other nations. The neighbouring countries affected by redrawing of the map are Taiwan, Vietnam, Philippines and Brunei. The Philippines went to an international tribunal and won but China ignored the ruling and is using the new map.
In the book, “The New Silk Roads” by Peter Frankopan, James Mattis, former US Secretary of Defence is highlighted as having said, “China’s long-term designs is to recreate the existing global order based on a return to the past.” He went on to say their preferred global order is based on the “Ming Dynasty” through force and “muscular manner by demanding other nations to become tribute states, kowtowing to Beijing, espousing many belts and roads and attempting to replicate on the international stage, their authoritarian domestic model.”
James Mattis believes there are 3 ways to address this matter. First, by building a more lethal force. Second, by strengthening military alliances. Third, by building new partnerships and reforming and modernising the Department of Defence. He referenced a key point from history which is that “nations with allies thrive”. This point reflects how Churchill galvanised the “Great Alliance” to defeat Hitler. World War II would have been impossible to win without the US and the USSR switching sides.
China has antagonised its neighbours the way Hitler did in Europe. This could unite them and essentially see Asia replicate how European countries came together against Hitler. In addition, the EU, UK and US have interests in the region. However, China has its allies. In Russia, it has an ally who is constantly undermining NATO. Their interests are closely connected. But, can history repeat itself and see Russia switch sides or should the EU, UK and US try to get Russia to come on their side? Can Russia trust China to play fair in the future given how it is treating its neighbours? These are intricate and complex matters for experts to consider.
The EU is understood to be deploying a new strategy for the region with a French naval force already present in the region. Germany sent its first warship to the region in 20 years. In May the UK sent its largest contingent of warships to South China Sea. The UK Ministry of Defence said it was “the largest concentration of maritime and air power to leave the UK in a generation.” Could this show of strength result in unintended consequences or is it sending a message that if diplomacy fails, they are prepared for the worst-case scenario?
It seems the world’s superpowers are uncomfortable with China’s intentions for building the world’s largest navy. Xi Jinping submitted to the national assembly of the Chinese Communist Party that “our country’s current security situation is largely unstable and uncertain”. The Chinese Defence Minister added that “China had entered a high-risk phase.” It appears that China’s solution to the uncertainty and perceived risk is to build “a world beating fleet.”
What is the worst that could happen should the idea of freedom of navigation fail? China has the largest navy in the world and other superpowers have demonstrated their strength by sending their warships to South China Sea. It is hard to envision the EU and the US giving up control of shipping lanes worth over 3.4 trillion to China.
Should China insist on excluding other superpowers, then war is unavoidable. Given the latest technology in weapons, this could potentially involve nuclear weapons. The South China shipping lane could alter the world’s power dynamics. Whoever can control that shipping lane is guaranteed to reap unprecedented economic benefits. It is an interesting conundrum considering no superpower is known for giving away its advantage without a fight.
TAIWAN AND CHINA
The tension between China and Taiwan goes back to the civil war which ended in 1949 but left matters of statecraft unresolved. Despite the unresolved matters, the idea of “One China” is deemed to be sacrosanct. China sees Taiwan as a province that broke away but will in the end, come back and join China. On the contrary, the Taiwanese do not see themselves as part of China. They believe that they have their own country separate from China. This, in a nutshell, is the crux of the China and Taiwan hostilities.
There was a significant event that shaped China before the civil war, and it is partly responsible for the current state of affairs. In 1895, Japan won the first Sino-Japanese war and the Chinese government at the time had to give up Taiwan to Japan. After the second world war, Japan surrendered and had to give back Taiwan and the Republic of China began ruling Taiwan. A civil war broke a few years later which resulted in Mao Zedong’s victory over Chiong Kai-Shek’s army which fled to Taiwan in 1949.
Since then, Taiwan gradually moved towards democracy and in 2000, it elected its first President Mr Chan-Shu. It sent shockwaves in Beijing as the president backed independence from China. In response China passed an Anti-Secession Law in 2004 prescribing China’s right to use “non-peaceful” methods if Taiwan decided to become independent. In 2016, Taiwan elected its current leader Tsai-Ing whose party, the Democratic Progressive Party believes in independence from China. She was re-elected in 2020.
Although Taiwan is a thriving democracy, only 15 countries in the world have diplomatic relations with Taiwan and they are small countries. According to Jenka Oertel, most countries including France, Germany and Britain switched from Taiwan and now have diplomatic relationships with China. She went on to say that the only country in Europe with diplomatic relations with Taiwan is the Vatican with a population of 825. Jenka Oertel was surprised by the fact that, as a thriving democracy with values aligned to the EU, Europe did not have a strong relationship with Taiwan.
The fact that only 15 countries recognise Taiwan as a democracy exemplifies China’s strong influence in the world. This is seen in international organisations like the UN and WHO where Taiwan is blocked from participating. In 2018, China came up with strong measures that demanded international companies to specify that Taiwan is a part of China on their websites. They were threatened with loss of business in China if they didn’t do it.
All hope is not lost though for Taiwan. Though isolated, it has a friend in America. Even though America has diplomatic relations with China, it also has strong informal relations with Taiwan. When Jimmy Carter formalised relations with China in 1979, the US passed the Taiwan Relations Act in the same year which guarantees support for Taiwan. The ACT says the US must help Taiwan defend itself hence it sells arms to Taiwan.
There is some ambiguity in the help that the US is meant to offer Taiwan. It is not crystal-clear what “help Taiwan defend itself” means. According to Bonnie Glasser, the US said it would “provide defences to Taiwan” but did not specify what those defences where. When Jo Biden became president, he said the US commitment to Taiwan is “rock solid.” However, no one can quantify what the commitment amounts to.
It is worth pointing out that there seems to be a change of US foreign policy as confirmed by Jo Biden after the end of war in Afghanistan last week. He said, “it is end of an era of America remaking other countries after Afghanistan.” These words and the manner of evacuation from Afghanistan are likely to make Taiwan feel slightly vulnerable. Furthermore, there are 79 000 US citizens in Taiwan. It will be interesting to see how the US will respond if China were to invade Taiwan. Whether Taiwan is taken over peacefully or through war, it will be monumental with global implications.
As a strategic location, China taking over Taiwan would mean less power for the US in the region. The complexities of the shipping lanes in the South China Sea and the tension between China and Taiwan, makes this decade (2020 – 2030) the most dangerous and likely to produce conflicts that could result in a horrible world crisis. If China invades Taiwan like Russia did in Crimea, would the US defend Taiwan? If yes, then nuclear war becomes a realistic prospect.
China’s desire for global domination is not a secret as demonstrated by the “Belt and Road Initiative.” It links countries in Europe, Asia and Africa together. There is an intensity in its mission which saw Hong Kong becoming part of China after some riots and demonstrations. This is seen as a move towards a unified China with Taiwan expected to go the same way and become part of China.
There are two visions fighting to lead and shape the world. The US vision that started after the end of World War II and the Chinese vision which is trying to replace the US. These visions could not be any more different with one based on democracy and the other based on communism. Every person in the world, would ideally want the world to be shaped by someone or a country they can relate to. This could be through values, way of life, religion or language. As such, power has consequences.
Churchill understood that Hitler’s victory would be horrible for the world. We can deduce by the passion, tenacity and determination that it was his life calling to ensure Hitler did not win. Imagine if Hitler had won which he almost did? It would have subjected the world to serve Hitler. All countries of the world working to enrich Hitler. When it comes to power, there are no rules unfortunately and it can be a messy process with catastrophic consequences. It is the way of the world. It is survival of the fittest. It requires a bulldog spirit. Who has the bulldog spirit today?
When building a new country, it’s imperative that the foundation on which the country stands, is strong enough to withstand all kinds of storms. The foundation could be in the form of values, beliefs and way of life. In essence, the people must set out clearly who they are and what they stand for. In addition, they should set out how they intend to govern themselves with regards to exercise of power and accountability.
Once accountability is established usually through separation of powers, the country needs to formulate a plan on how to build a sound economic system. An economic system that gives its people a fair chance of making a decent life. Such a system is desirable than a system that empowers a few at the expense of the many. Hence every country whether successful or a failed state, reflects its leaders’ thinking.
But there are countries that have not followed this natural course of action through no fault of their own. Some through duress. Others, through malicious advice and an element of ignorance. Most African countries started building their countries from a position of weakness after taking power from colonial masters. The negotiations they engaged in left their countries at a disadvantage. It’s not a secret that corruption is a massive problem in Africa. This is made worse by incompetent leaders who are out of touch with reality. However, many African countries were set up to fail.
What they agitated for and went to war for did not materialise when they became free. Throughout Africa, the economic power hardly shifted from colonial powers to the natives. The impact of this artificial freedom is seen in failed democracies that are struggling to meet the aspirations of their people.
For instance, there are more than 7 countries in West and North Africa that are effectively French territories. Only last year, the French parliament signed and ratified a law which stopped African countries from depositing their taxpayer money in the French Central Bank. This should have stopped in the 1960s when colonisation was coming to an end. It’s difficult to see how these countries could have developed without control of their money. In addition, they had to pay colonial tax. These African countries have been economically hamstrung for a very long time. It would be impossible to have democracy with a sound economic system under such circumstances.
In the last few weeks, South Africa displayed how it is hamstrung by its past. More than 330 people died in the riots and looting after former president Jacob Zuma, was sentenced to 15 months in prison for contempt of court. The sentence is seen as disproportionate considering former apartheid president W.P Botha was fined R175 000 for refusing to appear before The Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He paid R50 bail for contempt of court and went back to his care home.
It would be wrong to attribute the protests and looting strictly to Jacob Zuma’s prison sentence. There is something big and more serious at play. South Africans have always protested, it’s in their DNA. But this time it’s different. It’s on a scale never seen before. The protests and looting are driven by the deep social inequality that continued after apartheid. No democracy can fulfil its objectives with an economy grounded in an apartheid system.
The examination needed to establish why an apartheid economic system is still in place makes for uncomfortable reading. It brings into spotlight the handling of the transition from apartheid to democracy. One cannot fully comprehend the problems at hand without appreciating what unfolded in that transition. ANC has been in power for almost 30 years but it hasn’t delivered on its promise to eradicate poverty. There is still privatisation of education, health, housing and access to essential infrastructure.
In building the rainbow nation, they should have addressed the pain suffered by black people under the legacy of apartheid oppression. It was paramount to highlight structural racism, the implications of segregation and discrimination of black people. A dialogue would have made people understand the magnitude of these problems and outline expected behaviour going forward. The omission of this crucial element from the nation building process implies there is no demand or expectation to change behaviour.
Nelson Mandela’s experience in apartheid jail for 27 years and his ability to forgive, elevates him to a class of his own. This was captured perfectly when he said “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and achieve. But, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
This unique Mandela spirit was behind the truth and reconciliation which was designed to put the evils of the past behind. What a noble idea this was for history shows that such matters are normally resolved after the obliteration of one side through war. South Africa is unique in that no war was needed to resolve its democracy although the apartheid system killed millions of black people. It could only have been done with Nelson Mandela’s fortitude.
It’s interesting however that a former apartheid president was made Nelson Mandela’s Vice President. It was exceedingly generous. It would be absurd to expect De Klerk to advocate for justice needed for atrocities committed under apartheid. There is a feeling among South Africans that the transition from apartheid to democracy whitewashed the pain suffered by black people.
It’s difficult not to draw comparisons between Hitler and apartheid. Hitler and his country conducted themselves in an outrageous manner that their acts had to be accounted for. The Nuremberg trials were held under international law for the “prosecution of prominent members of the political, military, Judicial and economic leadership of Nazi Germany who participated in the Holocaust and other war crimes.” Most of them were found guilty and Germany had to pay reparations. It caused frightening levels of inflation. It was humbled. Its economy was destroyed. It took a long time to recover. A precedent was set which demonstrated that breach of international law is unacceptable.
But in South Africa, it seems no lessons were learnt and no reparations were paid for how the apartheid system operated. The Truth and Reconciliation was a good start but what has it achieved by way of addressing racial problems, inequality and democracy? There isn’t anything tangible to refer to and this void is materialising at the detriment of South Africa.
In Germany, students are taught about the implications of their country’s past. South Africa could have benefited from a similar approach by highlighting the perils of apartheid. You cannot address a problem that you do not acknowledge. ANC is rightly getting blamed for its leadership but most of the problems flow from unresolved problems under apartheid.
The rainbow nation was meant to accommodate people from all walks of life. It could have done more on substance. But it focused more on appearances. Awarding a joint Nobel Peace prize to Nelson Mandela and F.W de Klerk for the “peaceful termination of the apartheid regime,” was counterproductive. This was not well thought out. FW de Klerk acquired undeserved political capital by standing next to an Icon like Nelson Mandela. Again, this implied everything was going well but the reality on the ground was completely the opposite.
The looting and devastation of the economy that happened after Jacob Zuma’s prison sentence was caused by people living in extreme poverty. Those left behind. The forgotten. Those receiving grants from the government. The lower class. The unemployed. The marginalised. Those cut off from the democratic process. Those who lost faith in the system. Those dismissed as criminals in order to divert attention from real problems. Those who say they are still under an apartheid economic system.
There is no avoiding that the root cause of South Africa’s problems is still apartheid. It must be addressed. One hopes that a new generation can pick up where Mandela left and embrace the privilege of shaping their country’s destiny. It requires sober heads. It must be done in a manner that unites the country for it’s a delicate matter. The sooner it is done the better.