In the natural course of things, a 42-year-old country should have some reasonable accomplishments under its belt. They don’t have to be extraordinary, but they should show signs of progress, improvement in people’s lifestyle and a sense of order. If the country is in a worse situation than when it started, it will raise questions about the quality of leadership governing the country.
Zimbabwe’s 42 years as a free country is essentially a story of two halves. It inherited a fully functional country and economy in 1980 and was struggling by the year 2000. The second half from 2000 to 2022 saw the manifestation of bad leadership, corruption, and lack of accountability. The effects of this are a dysfunctional country and breakdown of trust between leaders and the governed. The premise on which the country became free is detached from the reality on the ground. Clearly, the country has been going in the wrong direction. What Zimbabwe needs is to go back to the drawing board and start afresh.
Before any country can select who will govern, it’s expedient to build a foundation on which the country is built upon. The foundation will determine whether the country can navigate the vicissitudes of politics and government. A weak foundation could lead to horrendous experiences as is the case in Zimbabwe.
The mistake that Zimbabwe made when it became independent in 1980, was not constructing a constitution right away. This could have clearly defined who Zimbabweans are and what they stand for. It seems with hindsight that the leaders had no intention of accommodating everyone in the new country. The country was theirs and their few friends. Governing the country without a constitution and for the few, meant the seeds of Zimbabwe’s dysfunction were sown at inception. These seeds, from the year 2000 up to now, have been producing a harvest of thorns.
The current constitution was made 9 years ago, and it has not been fully ratified. There are elements within the constitution that the governing party (Zanu PF) had problems with even though they were vital for governance purposes. Drawing inferences from their reluctance, it appears as if the governing party did not want to be restricted by constitutional provisions they did not adhere to before. Presidential term limits were an issue that the previous president Robert Mugabe struggled with. At the time he had been president for 33 years. He could not see the logic of term limits while professing the country to be sovereign and democratic.
The current president Emmerson Mnangagwa who became president in 2017, told the country he’ll still be president in 2030 contrary to the term limits provided by the constitution. He has already contradicted the constitution by extending the Chief Justice’s tenure beyond retirement age. He intends to grab more power and extend his own time in power. In 42 years, Zimbabwe had 2 presidents. In functional democracies, they normally have 4 presidents in the same period.
The way constitutionalism is currently structured in Zimbabwe is detrimental to the country. It allows personal ambition to override the interest of the country. The term limit provision must be written in stone for it allows fresh blood to come in regularly as compared to the damage caused by one unaccountable person, with the intention of ruling forever.
It is not a coincidence that countries that give their people real freedom, tend to do well. Humans are born with a sense of freedom, a desire to live life without restrictions. The idea that you can do whatever you want, dream big, pursue your goals and be as ambitious as you want is a powerful driving force for the advancement of a country.
Zimbabweans don’t really experience freedom in its pure sense. They exemplify the saying that they are “born free but everywhere else they are in chains.” Many countries are reaping the rewards of talented Zimbabweans who cannot fathom living in a country that stifles their aspirations. Many gifted Zimbabweans are seen as a threat by their own government. How is it that a country can create a system where the least competent, can rise to the top and dominate while the gifted are chased out?
Zimbabwe must respect its people’s rights and stop using the legal system to persecute them. Sending people to prison without trial in 2022 shows how backwards the country has gone. Leaders who find pleasure in the misery of their own people should never be close to power. The number of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in jail shows how intolerant the government is of different views. Government is about ideas and freedom to express those idea.
The government should bring people together. The country has not been united in a long time. There is a sense of one man for himself. There is no sense of community anymore. The village does not raise children anymore. People have been pushed to be selfish by the government’s dividing strategy. This needs to stop. Other countries are flying high by uniting and empowering their people and giving them incentives to be innovative.
Zimbabwe needs human rights grounded in the constitution and all the leaders must uphold them and respect them. A country cannot achieve anything of significance when its people are not free. It’s impossible.
Checks and Balances
It is well known that “power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” There is enough evidence from the last 42 years that giving one person too much power is not a good idea, especially in the absence of a strong constitution. There should be checks and balances that ensure the president is not operating above the law. Power has a way of revealing who people really are. It’s better to be cautious, put safe mechanisms in place than to experience the effects of a president who cannot be challenged.
In this light, separation of powers is paramount. Power should never be entrenched in one person. It’s a recipe for disaster. Julius Caesar wanted to change Rome from a republic to a monarch so he could become King. His trusted colleagues felt it would be detrimental for the country. Sadly, they assassinated him. Brutus justified the assassination by saying “Not that I loved Caesar less, but I love Rome more.” He thought absolute power in one person would lead to wars, confusion and he was not prepared to lose his country.
It’s vital that state institutions should function independently without the influence of the president. The Judiciary should be able to make decisions in furtherance of its constitutional obligations, not to harm the constitution. When a president or government makes unlawful decisions, the Judicial should be prepared to challenge the government. That is its duty. When election results are disputed in the Constitutional Court, people expect Judges to be guided by their expertise, moral courage, and duty to the constitution. A compromised Judiciary is a threat to democracy. The independence of the Judiciary must be put in its right place. This is essential in rebuilding a functional country.
At the moment, the president has controversial powers to make laws through Statutory Instruments. Almost every week, the president is producing these instruments to dictate the price of goods in the marketplace. Instead of consulting parliament for the purpose of making laws, the president prefers to make laws on his own. The Judiciary should challenge this illegal law-making process.
Clearly, the president has no regard for both the Judiciary and Parliament. He never goes to parliament to answer questions. To him, Parliament is practically dead. It’s important that those in parliament should respect parliament and honour what it represents. In addition, those in parliament should endeavour to exhibit standards and behaviour worthy of parliament.
The Police and the Army should not be deployed to stop people from demonstrating. The police should rightly focus on law and order. What we see now is the police force is captured by the governing party and hamstrung by corruption. People can get away with crimes if they are able to pay a bribe.
The army should be used strictly for protecting the country and fighting wars. It should not be used in domestic politics especially when people are challenging rigged elections. The constitution should make it crystal clear that the army should not be seen to favour one political party or be an instrument of the president.
When Donald Trump challenged the results of the US 2020 elections, the army and former Defence Ministers refused to get involved on the basis that it was not constitutional. The reason why Trump did not continue as president is simply because strong state institutions stopped him. They all had a duty and they refused to be compromised. If Trump were in most African countries, he would still be president.
One of the biggest problems in Zimbabwe is leaders who don’t understand the purpose of power. They see power as an opportunity to dominate their people. The idea of an empowered people is alien to them. Zimbabwe needs space for people to speak and debate freely. In debates, people learn from each other and expand their perspectives. Competition should be encouraged, free and fair competition where people rise on merit not bribing their way to the top.
What leaders don’t realise is, it’s better to work in partnership with the people. In an ideal situation, people would choose a government of their choice in return for good governance of the country. This is a sensible approach that works in normal countries. That is how normal countries cause “brain drain” from failed states. They are attractive to talented people who feel they deserve better or those who fear being persecuted for their gifts.
What Zimbabwe has failed to do over and again is provide an economic system that allows people to take a chance on starting a small business or pursing their dreams. The economic system is restrictive and designed to empower those who don’t play by the rules. If an economic system is not designed to empower its people, then it’s not fit for purpose and those governing under such a system must not be in power. 90% unemployment is a frightening statistic.
The ideal situation is for a fully functional economy where people have a choice to get a job or go into self-employment. A high number of employed people, means more tax payments that the government can use to upgrade the country’s infrastructure, roads, sewage, water, electricity etc.
Zimbabwe needs a brand-new country, but it can’t happen without a strong constitution. The seeds of dysfunction that were planted at inception must be removed, and they should be replaced by seeds of separation of powers, rule of law, democracy, human rights, checks and balances and a strong constitution.