Over the past three years Zimbabwe has been experiencing a transition. Although transitions are difficult, they are not impossible. Any government that wants to change the course of history needs to make difficult political choices and work hard at implementing them.
Several analysts have written about the Government of National Unity’s (GNU) shortcomings and disappointments,especially with regards to outstanding issues in the Global Political Agreement (GPA) that have not been implemented. Zimbabwean politicians also sometimes talk about the GNU as if it is a “marriage of inconvenience” or more scornfully, an “unholy trinity”. However, failure to reflect on some of the processes and important moments since the formation of the GNU in 2009 would mean failing to recognise that Zimbabweans have shaped important values and institutions that can be built upon.
The economy has stabilised partly as a result of dollarization, but also because of the formation of the GNU. It signalled to businesses and investors that there is the potential for a more stable economic environment. After years of economic stagnation, the Zimbabwean economy grew by more than 9% per year in 2010 to 2011 before it slowed down to 5% in 2012.
At a political level, the GNU has exposed the main political parties to several intense processes of negotiation. Importantly, the GNU gave birth to several new mechanisms and institutions, including the Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee (JOMIC) and the new Constitution. Working on developing these institutions helped former enemies to become one another’s opposition. As political parties are moving ever closer towards the upcoming elections, one hopes that they will continue to respect and treat one another as opposition members.
The Constitution making process, especially over the past two years, was characterised by several moments that are worth mentioning. The Second All Stakeholders Conference (ASC)in 2012 was a merry event. At the opening, President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Tsvangirai danced to Tuku. When Minister Eric Matinenga opened the ASC, he stated that he felt “a sense of political tolerance” and argued that the Constitution Parliamentary Committee (COPAC) draft was “a product of a collective effort”. Deputy Prime Minister, ArthurMutambara, emphasised that the new Constitution will be a matter of “posterity”.
During their addresses at the ASC, Mugabe and Tsvangirai both called for “peace”. Near the end of his speech, Mugabe stated, “violence is primitive and here I would like to speak to ZANU-PF; Tsvangirai is your neighbour and to the MDC; Mugabe is your neighbour … Let us shame our detractors who think Zimbabweans cannot resolve their differences without resorting to violence.”
When the Constitution was introduced in Parliament, COPAC co-chairs Douglas Mwonzora and Paul Mangwana cracked jokes across the floor with one another. They called each other “twins” and one of them remarked that the Constitution making process was a form of “national healing”. The fact is that COPAC forced political parties, as well as Zimbabweans,into an intense conversation about the country’s past, present and future. One would like to believe that this has not been in vain and that many of these negotiation processes have fostered a culture of compromise and dialogue.
The above moments throughout the COPAC process stand out because it is in stark contrast to the image of the violence that characterised Zimbabwe in 2008.
Following the Referendum in which people overwhelmingly voted in favour of the new Constitution, Zimbabweans now have new lenses to judge one another’s conduct. The new Constitution redefined the relationship between the state and the individual. After Mugabe signed the Constitutional Bill into law, Minister Welshman Ncube remarked, “We finally have a Constitution that we can truly call our own…. As we move forward to rebuild our Zimbabwe, let the challenge be of ensuring that our political and governance practices measure up to the letter and spirit of this Supreme Law.”
In the Preamble of the new Constitution, it is written, “We the people of Zimbabwe are united in our diversity by our common desire for freedom, justice and equality, and our heroic resistance to colonialism, racism and all forms of domination and oppression.” These values embedded in the new Constitution were created, not by one man or one party, but by many Zimbabweans for the benefit of all Zimbabweans.
Chapter 4 of the New Constitution consists of the Declaration of Rights. Many of these rights are well crafted but they will not bloom by themselves. Constitutionalism goes beyond having a new legal framework; it is about its implementation. Albie Sachs, an ANC liberation hero and former South African Constitution Court judge, argues, “It is easy to have beautiful principles when they aren’t being tested, but isn’t it when they are tested that they really matter?”
As Zimbabwe moves forward politically, so have relations with the Western world improved since 2008. In fact, many of the multi-party processes, including the Constitution making process and JOMIC, have been supported by the Western world. In recognition of the GNU’s commitments and implementation of the GPA, the European Union removed and suspended a host of measures against a number of top Zimbabwean officials and the regional bloc said it would work with any government formed as a result of a free and fair election. The United States also recently sent a long-time friend of Zimbabwe, American civil rights activist Andrew Young to deliver a strong message from Secretary of State John Kerry: the United States is ready to normalise relations with Zimbabwe following free, fair and credible elections.
When politicians fight with one another, it is people who suffer. Today Zimbabwe has an opportune moment to capitalise on the momentum of the work that it has done since 2009. Many Zimbabweans from across the political divide simply want liberty, peace, and economic prosperity. The power is within this government and the next to deliver this to the people by focusing on implementation of the new Constitution as well as by hosting free, fair and credible elections.
*Leon Hartwell is a senior policy adviser at the Netherlands Embassy. He wrote this article in his personal capacity and the views expressed are his own.