Democracy has become one of the most widely adopted political systems world over and Zimbabwe's Government is also a product of this dominating political system.
It comes in different forms and shapes and above all it is interwoven with civil liberties and human rights, amongst them is the right to demonstrate and to petition. All these rights are clearly articulated and protected by international statutes under the Bill of Rights.
Zimbabwe's Constitution guarantees the right to demonstrate and to petition. Section 59 of the Constitution expressly states that every person has the right to demonstrate and to present petitions, but these rights must be exercised peacefully.
In light of this, various pressure groups, civil societies and opposition political parties, among others have been racing to demonstrate and to petition over various political, social and economic issues in Zimbabwe.
Precedence has it that demonstrations have done more harm than good in Zimbabwe, not to say that demonstrations are bad, but protesters have crossed the line thereby tarnishing the image of their demonstrations. Whilst the Constitution requires the demonstrations to be peaceful, protesters have defied the odds, violence has become one of the salient features of demonstrations in Zimbabwe.
On August 26, 2016, 13 political parties under the banner of the National Electoral Reform Agenda (NERA) embarked on a demonstration, which brought turmoil and anarchy as property which was valued at about US$1 million was destroyed by the protesters.
The August 1, 2018 demonstration degenerated into a hullabaloo which also resulted in the loss of lives. It is eventually a cause for concern when demonstrations act as a stumbling block to the realisation of the rights of other citizens which are constitutionally enshrined. Demonstrations must further the enjoyment of human rights and not to suppress them.
The violent January 14 "fuel protests" (framed as such in the media) also negatively affected the nation, hooliganism and theft dominated the acts surrounding that protest. Traffic lights were stolen and shops were looted among other atrocities were all committed in the name of demonstrations. If demonstrators promote theft and other criminal acts what image do they portray?
Demonstrations in the Zimbabwean context have been a misconception phenomenon. Numbers or the masses who would have graced the demonstration are used as a yardstick to measure the success of the demonstration.
However, the success of a demonstration must be measured by weighing the objectives of the demonstrations versus its outcome. If a million people throng into the streets to protest over certain pressing issues and leave the streets without attaining its objectives, that demonstration will be a complete failure.
Demonstrations in a bid to solve these temporary economic problems which the country is facing are not the way forward as far as investment is concerned. In fact, demonstrations are detrimental because they choke investment.
No investor would want to invest in a country where demonstrations are the order of the day. In the same vein foreign direct investors are critically essential to unlock Zimbabwe's economic prosperity, especially in the mining, agricultural and manufacturing sectors. Peace is one of the pull factors that lure and attract these foreign direct investors which Zimbabwe needs.
Tourism, which is also one of the country's top foreign currency earners, will also be affected negatively by demonstrations, especially is they degenerate into violence. Zimbabwe will not be a favourable tourist destination. High productivity, the bottom-up approach fight against corruption and innovation are some of the steps that all citizens from grassroots level up to governmental level must undertake in order to unlock the economic prospects of the country.
Zimbabwe needs long-term solutions in order to effectively deal with its problems, now and for all and the journey starts with the ordinary citizens up to the policy makers and Government officials and agencies. It is not a one man show hence all citizens must play their part in building Zimbabwe.
In addition, it is imperative to note that demonstrations have been used to further the political mileage and personal scores of various politicians globally. The masses have been manipulated, used as scapegoats to cover the interests of power-hungry individuals.
Lest we not forget, the wave of demonstrations has shaped and changed the political discourse of North Africa through the famous Arab Spring. The demonstrations resulted in the fall of Ben Ali in Tunisia, and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.
However, the demands of the protesters are still unaddressed in countries like Libya even after almost eight years of regime change. Infringement of human and civil rights is the order of the day even after successful demonstrations were carried out.
It is important to go beyond demonstrations in order to create lasting solutions which can be put in place so as to ensure a paradigm shift of Zimbabwe's economy. Dialogue is the way to go, various stakeholders in the politics and governance of Zimbabwe must meet and speak in one voice so as to reach a consensus pertaining the roadmap and the way forward which the country must take in ensuring that all the obstacles which the country is going through will eventually be a thing of the past.
Wallace K. Musakanyi is a University of Zimbabwe Political Science student and writer. He can be contacted on [email protected]