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The People’s Convention

July 1, 2009

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

Just Arrived in Zimbabwe

June 25, 2009

I arrived in Harare last night on a full South African Airways flight from Johannesburg.  The fact that the flight was full on a Wednesday night caught my attention because a few months back many were wondering whether SAA would keep its two daily flights between Johannesburg and Harare.  That immediately told me that I was coming to a changing Harare, different to the one I saw six months ago when I was last visited.  Harare International Airport itself, though the fourth largest in Africa, was deserted and dimly lit.

As we drove from from the airport into downtown Harare, I was disappointed to find out that little had changed in terms of infrastructure improvement since the inclusive government was formed four months ago.  Street lights that have been out for a long time now are still not repaired.  The same with traffic lights on most intersections.  While the city has started filling pot holes, the roads are not anywhere near as good as the roads that once served this city in its sunshine days.

I spent my first morning just walking the streets, going in and out of shops, observing as much as i can and talking to regular folks to get a good sense of the situation on the ground.  Everyone says things are a lot better compared to the time before the inclusive government when inflation was in the billions, and shops were empty.  Now the supermarkets are full with goods and prices are much lower compared to December when i was last in Harare.  For example,  10 pounds of the staple corn/mealie -meal was going for US$12.50, but now it has come down to US$4.50.  Also noticeable is how goods from the local industry are slowly coming back into supermarkets.  Back in December almost all products in shops were from South Africa, but now half of the goods are from Zimbabwe industries.  This suggests a slow revival to Zimbabwe’s, once formidable manufacturing sector which, at its height, contributed 45% of GDP.

While people are acknowledging improvements and seem more optimistic about the future, the conditions of living for most Zimbabweans remain dire.  It is exceedingly difficult for people to access foreign currency.   The salaries that workers are getting are no where near matching their monthly bills.  The government is broke and is only giving paltry allowances to civil servants.  Civil servants have given notice they will go on a nation-wide strike in July if the government does not start paying decent salaries.  Many young people remain unemployed as industries are not yet hiring.  This is fueling crime in Harare and other cities.

On the political side the situation remains fragile.  The partners to the inclusive government are sharing and contesting power at the same time and as a result the progress is slow.  There is still a lot of mistrust between the political players.

Tomorrow I will start consultations with civil society players on the new constitution, ahead of the Civil Society Leaders Conference on Constitutional Reform, at which I will be speaking.   Everyone I have talked to so far, regards the new constitution as the most important project in terms of consolidating Zimbabwe’s transition towards democratization and economic recovery.

Stay tuned,

Briggs Bomba, Africa Action

Mugabe and Zanu PF now Constitute a Coup

April 8, 2008

Mugabe and Zanu PF now Constitute a Coup

By Briggs Bomba

 

The unfortunate, yet predictable drama unfolding in the wake of Zimbabwe’s March 29 elections resurrects Josef Stalin’s ghosts reminding us of his uncanny words that ‘Its not who votes that counts, its who counts the votes’. Mugabe’s crafty actions since the elections evidently show that he is determined to win the count after losing the elections.

 

Seven days after peacefully casting votes in the most anticipated election since 1980, Zimbabweans still await the official announcement of the results. The profound sense of hope that characterized the voting day is now turning into downright bewilderment as it becomes clear that President Mugabe and his Zanu PF are doggedly bent on disregarding the people’s sovereign will as expressed on March 29.

 

The revelation from State media that Zanu PF ordered the Zimbabwe Elections Commission (ZEC) not to announce the presidential election results is baffling to anyone with a sense of how the Zimbabwean elections process must work. ZEC is a constitutionally mandated body tasked to independently administer elections. For such a body to take orders from Zanu PF whose legal status in this case is a mere contestant demonstrates what is wrong not only with elections but with everything in Zimbabwe. It is this rotten state of democratic institutions and the subordination of state bodies to the ruling party that is at the heart of the country’s decay.

 

The important point that must be made now is that President Mugabe’s continued hold on power, after an election he visibly lost, now constitutes a coup. Zimbabweans, supported by the international community must immediately act to thwart this violation of the people’s democratic will. The unprecedented and unconstitutional move by Zanu PF’s to bar the ZEC from announcing the presidential election results is clear evidence of mischief and unwillingness by hardliners in Mugabe’s regime to respect the sovereign will of the people of Zimbabwe. By heeding this illegal request, ZEC has failed the crucial test of independence, thus confirming the longstanding fears by Zimbabwe’s civic society that the elections body will sacrifice Zimbabwe’s democracy at the alter of partisan interests.

 

Zanu PF’s calls for a recount and already ongoing preparations for a presidential election rerun, before the results are known, is not only bizarre but also evidence of utter contemptuous disrespect to not only Zimbabweans but also the whole world. With the current machinations, the Mugabe regime has reached the height of illegality because they have in actual fact staged what is essentially a ‘veto coup’. By definition this is when ‘people’s mass participation and social mobilization to govern themselves’ is vetoed.

 

By refusing to bow to popular will Mugabe is daring the people of Zimbabwe who have demonstrated legendary restrain and patience under the most unbearable living conditions. The March 29 elections presented a singular opportunity for many to peacefully speak out and entrust the future of the country in a leadership of their choice. The consequences of frustrating and thereby rendering irrelevant such a democratic arena of struggle are dangerous not only to Zimbabwe but, potentially to the whole of Southern Africa. Mugabe’s reckless actions risks destabilizing the whole region by provoking people to extra democratic means in Zimbabwe with certain adverse spill over effects in the region. As such the responsibility to defend the March 29 vote goes beyond Zimbabweans. SADC, the AU and the United Nations, as bodies with longstanding commitment against illegal usurpation of power must play a key role in breaking the impasse in Zimbabwe. If these bodies are to remain relevant it is they speak out now to pressure Mugabe to release and accept the election results, otherwise they will be faced with a serious crisis of legitimacy.

 

At this very late hour, statements by South African President Thabo Mbeki that ‘the situation in Zimbabwe is manageable’ and that ‘it is time to wait’ are not only unhelpful but a slap in the face for long suffering Zimbabweans, who at considerable risk and sacrifice went out to vote on March 29. There cannot be any plausible reason why results are not known seven days after voting! No, Mr President, this is not ‘a time to wait’; neither is it a ‘manageable situation’. This is more like a time bomb that can only be defused if the people’s vote is respected.

 

President Mbeki’s unfortunate statements and the deafening silence from other African leaders in SADC and the AU raises serious problems of accountability with the current crop of African leaders. Where is the moral outrage in this clear case of daylight robbery? Diplomacy seems to have been redefined to ‘see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil’ within the old boys club. Africa is not helped by this blind, uncritical support amongst its leaders.

 

The opposition in Zimbabwe must now show decisive leadership. While it is commendable that we have not seen ‘Kenyan style’ violence in the post election period, Zimbabwe’s opposition must learn from Kenyan opposition that the business of appealing to an incumbent’s courts does not work. There are pending cases in courts from the 2000 elections. In fact, with a compromised judiciary, such as Zimbabwe’s, court appeals only serve the purpose of disarming people’s vigilance by creating a distracting sideshow and reinforcing illusions of mitigation. Already a dilly dance has started in the courts with all sorts of delaying tactics meant to buy Mugabe time until its too late, rendering the court challenge academic. The opposition is best advised to resort to peaceful mass mobilization of people power to defend the vote. The opposition must lead unions, students and the full range of civic society in defending the people’s vote. Mugabe will only pay attention if he is convinced that he can no longer govern in the old way, therefore the strategy must be to paralyze the state through effective, peacefully direct action. I personally hope that Professor Masunungure will be proved wrong on his recent assertion that Mugabe will get away with mischief and fraud because Zanu PF is ‘risk taking’ whereas the opposition is ‘risk averse’.

 

The despicable levels of suffering by many Zimbabwean make resolving the current impasse in Zimbabwe an urgent matter. Having been on the ground myself for two weeks around election time, I can attest that the humanitarian disaster I witnessed is heartbreaking. An old man I talked to in one of the rural areas told me that “now we wait to see which bush the goats are feeding on, and we eat that because we know it will not be poisonous”.  Their village had always voted Zanu PF, this time they voted out one of Mugabe’s ministers despite all their fears of what could happen. They voted to restore their dignity.

 

It is time to defend the vote.

 

Briggs Bomba is a Zimbabwean born Economist working for Africa Action in Washington DC, and writes here in his personal capacity. He can be contacted at briggsbomba@yahoo.com

 

 

 

Still No Official Word on Presidential, As MDC wins Parliamentary elections…

April 3, 2008

Its now five full days since voting ended in Zimbabwe’s elections yet the people of Zimbabwe and the world at large still await the official announcement of the results. Whilst the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission finally published the final house of asembly results – this took four days, an unnecessarily long time considering the current highly charged political environment in Zimbabwe. The final results from ZEC show an MDC victory in the House of Assembly elections – this is historic as its the first time since independence in 1980 that Zanu PF is a minority in parliament. The final results are as follows:

MDC (Tsvangirai) – 99 Seats

Zanu PF – 97 Seats

MDC (Mutambara) – 10 Seats

Independent – 1 Seat

The Presidential Election…

The MDC claimed victory in the presidential election saying from their own tabulation Tsvangirai  – 1 171 079 (49%) , Mugabe – 1, 043 349 (44%) , Makoni – 167 000 (7%). If these figures are correct then the election is going into a second round because the constitution requires the winner to have 50% + 1 vote.

A lot of work will need to be done to ensure that a run off is free and fair. The potential for violence is very high considering how close the vote is and Zanu PF’s past history of resorting to violence as a way of retaining power. With the constitution saying a run off must happen within 21days, there is an urgent need to immediately extend the permits for international observers so that they can remain on the ground. Asking observers to apply again will introduce unnecessary bureacracy and allow a lot to be done in darkness.

 If anything, Zimbabwe’s House of Assembly results so far indicate that people want change. Its no longer just an urban question, significant sections of the rural areas voted for change as well.  In a chocking environment of 150,000% inflation, more than 80% unemployment, and cronic shortages of food, drugs, electricity, water, and just about every other basic necessity, CHANGE is no doubt a natural top priority!

As Zimbabwe waits with bated teath for the announcement of the presidential election results one hopes that the genuine will of the people is what will prevail at the end of the day!

I am now back in the D.C. but will continue to be engaged with whats happening on the ground and with this fast internet i will soon be posting images from my Zim trip and will also respond to some of the comments posted on the blog!

Thanks for your company!

 Briggs

Walk with me in Zimbabwe…

March 13, 2008

About

The press is already heating up with stories about Zimbabwe in advance of the March 29th elections. The question is – are you getting the whole story? If you are tempted to go deeper than the mainstream press on this important issue, we invite you to journey with Africa Action and TransAfrica Forum to the region through our new blog JustZimbabwe.

You can follow the lead up to the Zimbabwean elections, read about Election Day and examine the aftermath of the elections with us through the blog. We hope that you will check in regularly and comment on the postings so that we can generate a national dialogue at this historic moment.

Africa Action has a long history in solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe. In the 1970s this solidarity took the form of supporting the liberation struggle and standing with Zimbabweans against the human rights abuses of Ian Smith.

Today, Africa Action has joined with our ally TransAfrica Forum to revive into this legacy of solidarity and reach out to support Zimbabweans as they seek to continue the unfinished business of the liberation struggle in this historic election. Briggs Bomba, Africa Action’s Program Associate in our Department of Public Education and Mobilization and a citizen of Zimbabwe, is traveling to the region with two representatives of TransAfrica Forum.

The delegates will spend time meeting up with allied organizations in Zimbabwe and then split up to go to three regions of the country to reach out to ordinary Zimbabweans. Collecting stories and testimonies and analysis from the field, the delegates will absorb the full environment surrounding the March 29th elections. On Election Day, the three delegates will informally and un-officially observe the proceedings. Through the blog, they will be able to report directly
from Zimbabwe about the lead up to the elections, Election Day and the aftermath. When they return to Washington, DC, they will de-brief their journey at a reception on April 10th hosted by TransAfrica Forum. If you are in the area, we hope you will join us. Please visit Africa Action’s website for future details of this event.