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January 22, 2019

Zimbabwe needs coalition government to craft a new Constitution

The so-called government of Emmerson Mnangagwa is making a big mistake. The mistake is for the independence party to assume it won the recent presidential election and that its opponent, the Movement for Democratic Change led by Nelson Chemisa, should comfortably sit in the opposition and wait for the next election, whenever it will be held. It won't.

I am saying this because I do not believe in what passes in Africa as "democratic" elections as reflective of the true meaning of democracy as "government by the people, for the people and of the people." If we add to this Abraham Lincoln's definition, George Bernard Shaw's insistence that in a democracy, we must not only choose our governors but also be able to control our governors, then the lie in Zimbabwe becomes obvious. The people as a whole have not chosen the Mnangagwa-type government, nor are they likely to control it. The lie is already out.

Robert Mugabe had become a one-man band over the years, calling elections and deciding who votes and who wins, when, how and whence! Through an internal palace coup d'état, carefully orchestrated to avoid any resistance, there was a true change of the guards, putting Mnangagwa in State House, and giving him the opportunity to do exactly what his boss used to do before: Decide when, how and whence the elections would be held which, no doubt, he had to win. As a friend of mine put it, "The Crocodile would have to have been a herbivore to organise a feast of fish for men to feed on!" A very unlikely event.

Let's face it. There is a difference between competitive elections meant to produce democratic results, and those held simply as a formality to legitimise political tyranny already in existence by the very manner in which it assumed state power in the first place. This is called legal tyranny notwithstanding the numbers that are thrown around as a reflection of so-called majority votes. So between Mnangagwa and the opposition candidates, who really won the recent presidential elections in Zimbabwe? By dint of so-called majority votes, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has decided that a difference of less than one per cent, arrived at through an extremely opaque system, is enough for the so-called majority party to form the government in Zimbabwe. I beg to differ.

That kind of argument can only hold where forming a government after an election makes very little difference in the behaviour of the state regarding how resources are distributed and used. For example in Britain. A version of Brexit which departs substantially from the expectations of Britons, whether Conservative or Labour, will never see daylight in the Commons. The differences between the Labour and Conservative parties are marginal. In any case, the two parties are spread all over the country, where even families differ on party lines. In Africa there is a big difference. Fortunes of whole communities can rise or sink depending on which party ascends to power. Politics is a zero-sum game.

Take the example of Sierra Leone, where former President Siaka Stevens once uprooted a whole railway line because he regarded it as "the axis of power for the rival Sierra Leone Peoples Party", an opposition party.

Stevens, originally elected by so-called majoritarian principle, took the "winner take all" principle a notch higher: The opposition was literally to be vanquished so as not to be in any position to contest for power again.  Mugabe has been the master of that art; and Mnangagwa has been his student. These obviously are cases where the so-called loss of an election removes the identity of "the people" from the opposition, as far as Lincoln was concerned. As old Jomo Kenyatta used to say to the opposition:  "I will crash you like locusts". In the real sense of the word, were the "government of the people, for the people and by the people" be truly upheld, those who triumph in elections in Africa under the simple majority principle would neither regard the opposition as criminals nor disenfranchise them in so many diverse ways. But they do. Hence the simple majority principle serves to legitimize tyranny rather than democracy. What then is the solution?

Very simple. In the case of Zimbabwe, the election has not really solved the legitimacy issue; it has merely placed it wide open for contestation. Close to half the population cannot be denied the legitimate right to debate and decide how national resources are used simply because a tyrannical state crafted some figures to determine who rules.

The legitimate rule over the people, and the manner in which the people control their rulers needs to be defined by a more just and democratic method. And this method can be nothing less and nothing more than providing the people as a whole with the widest latitude to debate their destiny without the rather artificial boundary of political party identity, as ephemeral as this is in highly multicultural and multiethnic developing societies like ours. Here, the democratic political culture is still in its infancy; so are democratic institutions, including political parties. When individuals or groups of individuals are hell bent on using state power purely for self aggrandizement then it is unlikely that they will tolerate the nurturing of democratic institutions which presuppose a political culture of self restrain, the promotion of "other regarding" acts, promotion of the public good and respect for the rule of law.

The first act that the Mnangagwa team engaged in was the violent and wanton repression of the opposition. So much for self restrain and respect for the rule of law. The other is to blindly accept that a so-called majority of less than one percent provides sufficient power base to rule society and very easily deprive the other 50 per cent the right to have a say in the use and distribution of national values through the "winner take all mentality." This will not wash. Zimbabwe finds itself actually at cross roads with itself where the Zanu-PF brigade knows just too full well that it cannot govern society on its own and the MDC knows just too well that sitting in the Opposition will just give room for Zanu-PF to alienate them from being part of "the people" through negative propaganda, false accusations of lacking patriotism, deliberate marginalisation from politics through repression and enforced economic deprivation.

This state of affairs is good neither for Zanu-PF nor for MDC since it leads Zimbabwe nowhere except to political and economic underdevelopment in a globalized political economy. I therefore come back to my pet subject. That under such circumstances, a country like Zimbabwe needs the services of an intermediate regime to nurture national development while giving the people "as a whole" an opportunity to deal with daily politics democratically and to shape their future. What would such a regime look like?

It would be crafted along the lines of a broad coalition government given one specific mandate of crafting a new Constitution based on consociational democracy.

Such a constitution would make it possible to have a government where the people are truly represented beyond the artificial division of political parties. It would be a government constituted by all modern social forces in society based on gender, social class, culture, region, faith, profession, and ideology, and driven by the principle of democratic consultation. These criteria, indeed, when put together, are identical to who "the people" really are nationally.

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