16 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Copac Owes Zim an Apology


Zimbabwe's constitutional reform process under the aegis of the inclusive government has now come full circle to an unceremonious and elitist stop.

The Parliamentary Constitution Select Committee (COPAC) that had been tasked with overseeing Article VI of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) is to all intents and purposes now a lame duck. In fact the negotiators and principals to the GPA have augmented this "lame duck" status of COPAC by establishing at least two other committees to resolve issues that have been referred to as "outstanding".

True to the character of the inclusive government, these other committees have also failed in their tasks (for reasons which surprisingly include being unavailable for meetings) . It is now the principals (and primarily the President) who have to decide on what to do about the disagreements and a referendum as well as harmonised elections scheduled for this year.

It is a development that has recently seen some spokespersons of the same said principals falling over each other to defend such an undemocratic state of affairs simply on the basis of "executive authority" or alternatively the provisions of the current Constitution. Such overtures can only be seen as attempts to paper over the cracks of a political process that has gone wrong and which is evidently no longer in the best interest of the people of Zimbabwe.

It would be easier, in analysing this stalled and flawed COPAC process, to argue around how all of these developments point to power contestations within the inclusive government. And depending on your political preferences, defend to the hilt one of the signatory parties to the GPA while blaming the rest for failure. That would however, be to miss the fundamental point about how important constitutional reform should have been as a priority for the country. As it turns out, the very fact that the Prime Minister is busy with meeting the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission as a priority and not COPAC is indicative of how the inclusive government has a short attention span about its own roadmap to elections.

In the three or so years that COPAC has formally existed, it has time and again failed to demonstrate an understanding of the historical importance of constitutional reform, even if it is set up was and is still dominated by three political parties and therefore fundamentally flawed.

Against better advice from some much maligned civil society players the select committee, like the inclusive government, dismally failed to capture the national imagination over and about constitutional reform.

It also failed to garner any popular legitimacy over three years even though it had millions of United States dollars at its beck and call, a development that led to its being viewed as nothing more than a gathering of the power interests of President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. Hence it is now lorded over by two other (ineffective) committees and waits on the word of the principals. In such an undemocratic context, COPAC has also failed the popular legitimacy test that would be a pre-requisite of a peace-time constitutional reform process. Its work and its disputed end product draft constitution have not captured any progressive political sentiment in Zimbabwe, save for the power-centric ones of sitting Members of Parliament and those that are paid to get angry on behalf of any or all of the three parties in the inclusive government.

As a result, where the COPAC co-chairpersons and their committee members sought to be writ-large in Zimbabwean history as having ushered in a new democratic constitution, they can only be viewed via partisan party lenses and not national ones. And even in being viewed that way, they do not pass the test. It is only their principals that still stand a chance at doing so and only at party, not national level. What the principals cannot do, however, is to give the COPAC process any semblance of national legitimacy, no matter the number of rallies they hold or the number of threats they issue. It is beyond salvation in a manner akin to the proverbial spilled milk. It has regrettably become an infamous example of how "to embarrass an entire nation and attempt to walk away smelling like roses".

This brings me to my penultimate point concerning COPAC's monumental failure. Because the constitutional reform process was politicised beyond reasonable measure, it has come to be emblematic of the failure of the inclusive government to understand what its principals back in late 2008 referred to as an 'opportunity' to move Zimbabwe forward. The reality of the matter is that there has only been forward movement in the ability of the principals and members of the inclusive government to sit around a table every Tuesday in Cabinet while time plays itslef out toward another election.

What was referred to as "opportunity" was never fully defined although occasionally there would be vague references to our country being a "transitional" society. Well, if COPAC was meant to be the harbinger of that transition, it has been a thoroughly flawed and wasted one. Not least because of its undemcoratic character but more because of its inability to turn 'opportunity' into democratic reality. And this is true for the entirety of the inclusive government, which in the four years it has formally existed has limited little to demonstrate by way of its performance legitimacy.

Finally, it is imperative that COPAC publicly apologises to the nation for having failed to make the constitutional reform process "people-driven" and for having wasted their time and the State's and donor resources only to have such an undemocratic outcome as is apparent today. It must also apologise to those citizens it persuaded to attend its meetings; those that it enlisted to mobilise (or parrot party principals wishlists); the civil society that it vaingloriously co-opted on the basis of dishonest promises of equal participation; to the media for giving conflictual and ambiguous statements that never reflected the true realities of the process; and finally it must apologise to its own Members of Parliament for ensuring that the latter would merely rubber stamp instructions from the executive. When that apology is done, and as an act of contrition, the Speaker of Parliament and the Standing Rules and Orders Committee, must disband COPAC.

Takura Zhangazha writes in his personal capacity takurazhangazha.blogspot.com

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