13 March 2019

Zimbabwe: State of the Media Report - 2018

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Introduction

Zimbabwe held its 2018 elections on 30 July 2018 against the backdrop of previously contested outcomes amid allegations of rigging and manipulation of the results which were continuously won by former president Robert Mugabe since independence in 1980.

The 30 July elections were thus significant in that Mugabe was not a factor in these elections following his removal in a military coup in November 2017. Equally significant was that his long standing nemesis, former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, for the first time since 2000, did not contest in the 2018 elections. Tsvangirai, who was the leader of the MDC-T since its formation in 1999, succumbed to cancer of the colon in April 2018.

The absence of the two protagonists undoubtedly changed the complexion of the country's politics as his successor Emmerson Mnangagwa, who stood as Zanu PF's presidential candidate, promised to break with Mugabe's intransigence politics.

In his inauguration speech on 24 November 2017 following Mugabe's ouster, President Mnangagwa, said he would strengthen and ensure the pillars of democracy are respected in Zimbabwe.

This raised hope that he would move with speed and implement outstanding socio-economic and political reforms ahead of the 2018 elections. It is common cause that the elections came without implementation of the envisaged reforms.

Worse still, the outcome of the presidential elections, was yet again disputed with the MDC-Alliance led by Nelson Chamisa mounting a constitutional court challenge. The Constitutional Court, however, upheld President Mnangagwa's victory over Chamisa.

The elections were poignant as they were supposed to cleanse Zimbabwe of its previously disputed election results and open the country's socio-economic and political democratic space and retention of international goodwill conducive to foreign direct investments.

International goodwill and foreign investments are critical to curing the country's socio-economic ills and stagnation characterised by 90 percent unemployment, corruption and mismanagement of national resources.

Regrettably as 2018 came to a close, a year after President Mnangagwa's post-coup leadership and five months after the July elections, the outstanding reforms were still to be implemented.

Laws such as the discredited Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), used to license and regulate the media; the Official Secrets Act (OSA), to broadly embargo information held by public bodies and the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA), to hinder free establishment of private radio stations, remained entrenched in the country's statutes.

Other restrictive laws include the Public Order and Security Act, Censorship and Entertainment Controls Act (CECA), and the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act. This should also be viewed against the government's accelerated efforts to introduce the cybercrime laws, generally perceived as intended to curb free speech online.

These laws essentially curtail citizens' right to freedom of assembly and association, demonstrate and petition, including the right to freedom of conscience, as provided for by Sections 58, 59 and 60 of the Constitution as well as Sections 61 and 62 which protect the right to free expression, media freedom and access to information.

Encouraging though is that President Mnangagwa in his State of the Nation Address to the 9th Parliament of Zimbabwe, singled out AIPPA and BSA as among the laws that will be tabled for amendment.

Similarly, the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services led by Monica Mutsvangwa, in November 2018 held consultative meetings with key media stakeholders to get input into the form and shape the envisaged reforms should take.

That as it may be, the question being generally asked is whether the President will live up to his promises and whip his ruling Zanu PF with its two-thirds parliamentary majority, to play ball and not scupper the long overdue media laws and policy reforms.

Source: MISA Zimbabwe

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