5 December 2012

Zimbabwe: Civil Society Regional Lobby - Legwork for MDC-T?

ZIMBABWE'S civil society organisations (CSOs) have of late been criss-crossing the Southern African Development Community (SADC), pushing regional leaders to ensure that partners in the inclusive government fully implement the Global Political Agreement (GPA) ahead of next year's polls.

CSOs under the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition banner were in Tanzania and Mozambique last week where they met their counterparts and government officials to bring to their attention the political crisis in Harare.

They also explained to their hosts why they believed Zimbabwe was still not ready to have elections whose outcome would be universally accepted, citing the lack of requisite political reforms ahead of the polls.

With the new constitution expected to lead to fresh elections, the stalemate on the draft charter dominated proceedings in Tanzania and Mozambique amid fears among the CSOs that Zimbabweans could be forced to stage fresh polls under the compromise Lancaster House document which ushered in Zimbabwe's independence in 1980 due to the squabbling over the draft charter.

The present Constitution was amended 19 times. Critics say it favours ZANU-PF by giving its leader wide-sweeping Executive powers before, during and after elections.

ZANU-PF opponents are therefore pressing for the dilution of Presidential powers with President Robert Mugabe's party fiercely opposing such moves.

As such, ZANU-PF and the two formations of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) are deadlocked over several sticky issues, among them Executive powers, devolution of power, citizenship and the establishment of both the constitutional court and a national prosecuting authority, among other issues.

In a bid to find common ground, President Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara agreed last week to set-up a Cabinet taskforce to recommend the way forward.

CSOs have smelt a rat and have asked regional leaders to impress on the Zimbabwean principals not to hijack the writing of the new supreme law of the land.

In October, the CSOs dispatched delegations to Malawi and Zambia to highlight the political situation in Zimbabwe, particularly the resurgence of politically-motivated violence in some parts of the country ahead of polls.

The delegations also pointed out that the country's voters' roll was in shambles and that nothing much had been achieved in reforming the media.

The CSOs are however, being accused of doing the bidding for the MDC-T and taking advantage of the generosity of the international donor community to enrich themselves under the guise of advancing democracy. ZANU-PF deems most CSOs' activities as regime change projects bent on pushing for the removal of President Mugabe from power.

Representatives of the CSOs deny these allegations saying there were merely demanding democratic leadership in Zimbabwe through free and fair polls.

Bekithemba Mpofu, a political analyst based in the United Kingdom, said CSOs were within their mandate to further Zimbabwe's democracy.

He said some of the CSOs were now questioning the moral campus of the major parties in the GPA to push for the implementation of SADC resolutions in the wake of the constitutional stalemate.

"The fact that Mutambara continues to attend meetings as a principal in the presence of two major parties provides some level of credibility to these views. Given this perceived lack of cross party willingness to implement SADC resolutions particularly those that do not benefit each party, engaging and convincing SADC leaders could present a challenge this time around.

"With cross-party commitment questioned, it is appropriate that parties encourage sympathetic non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to lead any push for the implementation of SADC resolutions," he said.

There are also some who believe that CSOs should let politicians and their respective political parties do the lobby, instead of leaving such an important function to NGOs accountable to their foreign funders.

Fiery MDC-T critic, Psychology Maziwisa, described the regional lobby as part of a well calculated plan to discredit ZANU-PF.

"And that's why their continued desire to see restrictions on our diamonds was recently shunned by South Africa, Tanzania, Namibia and Botswana at the diamond conference in Victoria Falls three weeks back and in Washington DC recently. They are wasting their time and should instead be advising the MDC-T to refrain from corruption and empty economic policies," he said.

"But I wonder on what basis they will do that because the next election is most likely going to be endorsed by many as free and fair. I say this because President Mugabe's call for non-violence appears to have been taken very seriously by all stakeholders," added Maziwisa.

While CSOs have the right and mandate to lobby SADC ahead of polls, Trevor Maisiri of the International Crisis Group, said it was the content of the lobby and advocacy that determined if the activities were political party driven or non-partisan.

Maisiri said issues to do with free and fair elections; economic justice; democracy building; extractive mineral resources equity; and human rights promotion were all justifiable agendas for all broad and genuine civil society and NGOs to lobby and advocate for.

However, civil society and NGOs must ensure that they carry a message on behalf of the citizens and ordinary people of Zimbabwe and not individual political parties.

"They must carry issues that serve the state and not political parties. However, and unavoidably there will be instances where issues highlighted by NGOs or civil society will concur with those raised by political parties and vice versa.

"The key, however, is for NGOs and civil society to ultimately avoid the temptation of being political party spring boards. Political parties must also desist from manipulating civil society and NGOs or forming their own NGOs and civil society organisations for that matter; that is the hallmark of poor governance," he said.

Lawton Hikwa, a Bulawayo-based political analyst, said CSOs were inevitably interested in the political processes in countries in which they are domiciled, given that their objective is to complement the efforts of their host government.

In this particular case, CSOs are concerned that the GPA has not been completely implemented; raising doubts on whether or not the constitution referendum and the elections would be free and fair.

Hikwa said while it was expected that some of the CSOs would be viewed as appendages of this or that political party, "nevertheless, one should also point out that there are those NGOs whose political inclination is not apparent and consequently whose intentions are almost genuinely for the betterment of the environment before and after the referendum and elections".

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