The People’s Convention

The biggest political debate in Zimbabwe today is about creating a new constitution for the country. The Global Political Agreement (GPA) which gave birth to the inclusive government stipulates that there must be a new constitution for the country within 24 months from the date that the GPA was signed (September 15, 2008). The process of creating this new constitution is already underway led by a select committee of parliament which is co-chaired by representatives of the 3 political parties in parliament.

Last weekend I traveled 300 kilometers out of Harare to Zimbabwe’s third largest city of Gweru, to witness a provincial public consultative meeting of the select committee on a new constitution. The meeting was very well attended – with over a thousand people filling the city hall beyond capacity. Passions were flaring high as different political parties and civic groups had mobilized their people to push their agendas. Similar meetings are taking place around the country and everywhere there are reports of huge attendances. In other places meetings have had to be moved from halls to stadiums to accommodate the huge numbers.

In Gweru the main concerns raised by the public were around making the process as participatory and inclusive as possible. People raised issues of representations of marginalized groups such as the disabled, women, and youth. The people also wanted guarantees that the views that they express in the consultative meetings will find their way into the final constitution. Many in Zimbabwe are seeing the constitutional making process as an opportunity to not only create a charter for democratic governance but also to enshrine the usually overlooked social-economic rights into the supreme law of the country.

The select committee has mapped out a plan to hold three consultations in every ward, initially to explain the process to the people and hear their views on the process, and the second time to gather people’s views, and finally to present a draft constitution to the people. When the final constitution is crafted it will be put before a national referendum sometime in July 2010 – where people will either accept or reject the new constitution.

Serious tensions are emerging over the process. There are some in civil society who insist that for the constitution to be people driven it must not be led by a select committee of parliament. These, led by the National Constitutional Assembly have gone as far as boycotting the consultations by the select committee and have already started a campaign to reject the new constitution. Others, who appear to be the majority in civil society are opting to engage with the process and use the space to argue for more people participation and inclusive representation in the thematic committees consulting and drafting the new constitution. The fight appears set to go all the way to the referendum next year.

This weekend, over 2000 representatives from 234 civil society organizations from around the country will gather at the People’s Convention on a New Constitution to discuss how best civil society can engage with the constitution making process. Civil society has already started civic education to ensure meaningful participation.

The People’s Convention is the biggest game in town and it promises to be a historic moment on Zimbabwe’s path to democracy and good governance.

Briggs Bomba, Africa Action

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