Zimbabwe: Time to Re- Imagine a New Framework for Democracy

Zimbabwe: Time to Re- Imagine a New Framework for Democracy

Zimbabwe has just gone through another round of harmonized elections. The outcomes were predictable from the beginning. A contested win for the ruling ZANU-PF. The opposition didn’t do so badly. They won in all major cities and towns. They also increased their representation in Parliament. The opposition has not contested any of the ward or parliamentary results. They have dismissed the presidential election results as not reflecting the will of the people. They have cited (and reasonably so) attempts at voter suppression and frustration in both Harare and Bulawayo, strongholds of the opposition. They are not alone. For the first time the SADC Elections Observer Mission wrote a somewhat scathing report about the conduct of elections. Unfortunately, the current version is limited to the conduct and not the tallying of vote numbers. Prior to the actual voting the leader of the opposition had assured voters that they have put in place an anti-rigging mechanism.

There are several others within the opposition and in broader civil society that are engaged in efforts to have the vote annulled based on the claims of rigging. The online petition seems to be gaining ground. The call for annulment if successful would be a great victory for opposition forces. However, it is highly unlikely that this will happen. Perhaps it’s time to look ahead and think through what can be done differently in the future.

For some of us democracy is not necessarily about elections. We agree that elections are a necessary but not sufficient condition for democracy. The whole democracy apparatus depends on active citizenship. Probably one of the biggest mistakes made in the last two decades has been to reduce citizens into voters. Just look at the millions of dollars poured into voter education campaigns. To what end? To get the vote out. However, this is potentially the weakest form of democracy- where all you need from citizens is their vote.

The retreat from citizenship to voters has taken place over a long time. Let’s look at events of the last two decades or so.

The waning of ZANU-PF’s popularity especially during structural adjustments days led to the congealing of new coalitions of struggle initially for social Justice and later towards to governance issues. Here is a rough schematic of what was proposed as solutions. They all liked silver bullet like solutions-

First: it was proposed that there is need for a new constitution which will fix our problems- so the citizens were told and believed. They actively participated in rejecting the ZANU-PF’s version of the constitution. In hindsight if we had accepted that constitution Mugabe would have retired after two terms (circa 2010). We eventually got a new ‘democratic’ constitution in 2013.

Second- we soon realized the need for a new political party- citizens were told and believed. No one has ever come back to them to explain the numerous splits and the harm they cause.