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Ethnolinguistic Federalism or Restoration (Secession): What's the More Credible Alternative for Matebeleland Part II

20 Aug 2017 at 13:51hrs | Views
Experience throughout history and the world shows that there has not been a single country that was established by a "mere motion" (pronouncement), without things descending into anarchy, as Abraham Lincoln warns. To declare independence is at the same time to declare war, for one cannot declare independence successfully unless they have the superior military means to defend that independence.

Also, certain Mthwakazists would have us believe that they can negotiate an exit from Zimbabwe by reference to certain documents from the early 1900s. One is left wondering, apart from superior military firepower (if not literally an armed nuclear warhead already pointing at Harare), what exactly will force the Government of Zimbabwe to enter those negotiations?

Only a war, and perhaps a mutually destructive civil war, can force the Government of Zimbabwe and the Mthwakazists to the negotiating table. Whether the Mthwakazists secretly have such military firepower, let alone support of the Matebeleland masses to wage a war against Zimbabwe, is a matter only they can answer.

A wide treatment could be made of this subject matter, but for limitations of space, I shall leave it here. What is likely to be concluded though from an exhaustive study of the Mthwakazists' Secessionist/Restorationist movement is that not only do they have no means to effect their desires of secession (peacefully or through war), but they can, equally to the Gukurahundists (the Harare-centric, Zezurustani, Zanu enclave), pose the 21st Century's biggest security danger and existential threat to Matebeleland.

The above words are from a conclusion of Part I of this series of articles that seeks to answer the Matebeleland Question. Building on the previous article, the present one posits an alternative to Secession (sanitized as Restoration), an alternative that this writer not only believes is attainable, but indeed can be attainable apart from bloodshed and loss of lives and livelihoods.  

Ethnolinguistic Federalism: A More Credible Alternative for Matebeleland (and Zimbabwe)

The Brookings Institution quotes Professor Martin Diamond's essay in which, concurring with Dr. Maru, he argues that Federalism, as a political system permitting a large measure of regional self-rule, presumably gives the rulers and the ruled preservation of their liberties, reduces conflict among diverse communities and provides them "a flexible response to their problems".

The institution further points out, "nations face a stark choice: allow regions to federate and govern themselves, or risk national dissolution." A scan of the scholarly literature in the field of federalism reveals that this warning by the Brookings Institution is now taken seriously, and federalism is seen as a good compromise for diverse countries if they are to remain intact.

But are there any examples of federalism successfully helping to resolve the governance problems of diverse countries like Zimbabwe? Let us once again turn to The Brookings Institution. The Institution writes,

"Clear examples where federalism is the answer exist. Belgium would probably be a partitioned state now if Flanders had not been granted extensive self-government. If under Italy's constitution, Sardinia, a large and relatively remote Italian island, had not been granted significant autonomy, it might well have harbored a violent separatist movement—like the one plaguing a neighboring island, Corsica, a rebellious province of unitary France."

Of course, we can add more examples to the list of ethnolinguistically countries in which federalism has helped resolve governance problems, ensured peace, prosperity, unity, ended civil wars and ethnic discrimination, and put an end to overt cultural and linguistic imperialism. These are South Africa, India, Ethiopia, Switzerland, Austria, etc.

This is not to suggest that Federalism is a perfect system of government for, like any other man-made system, it does have its own flaws. In fact, as The Brookings Institution states,

"Where truly profound regional linguistic, religious, or cultural differences persist, however, federating is by no means a guarantee of national harmony. Canada, Spain, and the former Yugoslavia are well-known cases of federations that either periodically faced secessionist movements (Quebec), or have had to struggle with them continually (the Basques), or collapsed in barbarous civil wars (the Balkans). Iraq seems headed for the same fate. The Sunni minority there is resisting a draft constitution that would grant regional autonomy not only to the Kurds in the north but to Shiite sectarians in the oil-rich south. So far, proposed federalism for Iraq is proving to be a recipe for dis-accord, not accommodation."

Whilst it is true that federalism has at times failed in some countries (largely resisted by majoritarian, oppressive populations), it is also true that it has done more to sustain countries for longer, ensured peace and prosperity, prevented large-scale civil war, promoted the rights of diverse and minority groups, and indeed, served as a deterrent against tyranny by the Central Government, as well as served as a means to entrench democracy.

Examples of Ethnolinguistic Federalism in Other Parts of the World

Examples can be drawn from South Africa (where Ethnolinguistic Federalism - a special type of Federalism in which states or provinces are shaped along the geographical territories of ethnolinguistic groups - is called Cooperative Governance), Ethiopia, India, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium and others where Ethnolinguistic Federalism is generally a successful system of government.

South Africa is largely organized into Ethnolinguistic Provinces (KZN for the Zulu, Eastern and Western Cape for the Xhosa, North West for the Tswana, Free State and Northern Cape for the Southern Sotho, Limpopo for the Pedi, Venda and Tsonga, with Gauteng serving as the Federal Capital Territory where all ethnolinguistic groups meet).

A similar arrangement is to be seen in Ethiopia with such Ethnolinguistic States as Tigray, Amhara, Oromia, Afar, Benishangul-Gumuz, etc, with Addis Ababa and Dera Dawa serving as the Federal Capital Territory. India is also organized into Ethnolinguistic States such as Assam, Gujarat, Punjab, Arunachal Pradesh, Kerala, Madya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Goa, etc., with the primary Federal Capital Territory being Delhi and several other territories. In Switzerland, the cantons (states) are Zurich, Lucerne, Basel-Stadt, etc., generally arranged into German, French, Italian and Romansh ethnolinguistic states, all meeting in the FCT of Bern.

What is consistent among all these Ethnolinguistic Federations is that each Ethnolinguistic Group (or group of Ethnolinguistic Communities sharing similar language and culture) are organized into self-governing territories. In these territories, they are responsible for what French political scientist and author of the famed book, Democracy in America, called the "secondary affairs" of lower levels of government, as opposed to the "primary public obligations" of central government.

The primary public obligations of the central government in the capital are generally Defense, Foreign Policy, Inter-State (National) Highways and a few other matters; with the "secondary affairs" for Provincial or State Governments being such issues as Education, Language Policy, Infrastructural Development, Police Services, Health Care, Industrial Development, etc. The central government only reaches its hand into these matters in as far as uniformity among States or Provinces is considered by many of them to be necessary and desirable.

Ethnolinguistic Federalism in Matebeleland in Particular and Zimbabwe in General

The article has argued that whilst Matebeleland Independence from Zimbabwe is indeed ideal and desirable, at this time there are no conditions that can ensure its realization. The most likely scenario would be a protracted civil war which may well prove to be an existential threat to Matebeleland as we know it. As such, proposal has been made that as a compromise between the desires of the Unitarists (who seek to maintain one uniform, centralized Zimbabwe with a so-called "one center of power") and the Secessionists/Restorationists (who seek the server the country into two) is ETHONOLINGUISTIC FEDERALISM.

Examples have been given of ethnolinguistically diverse and indeed successful countries in which Ethnolinguistic Federalism has been implemented as a preferred system of government and a compromise that has kept those countries not only intact but either ended or prevented civil war, entrenched democracy, ensured protection of the rights of minorities, established Self-Government and Self-Determination of Ethnolinguistic Communities, ensured development in almost all regions of the countries, etc.

It is concluded that these are indeed the very issues that not only the Secessionists of Matebeleland want, but have support elsewhere in the country, particularly in Maswingo, Midlands and Manicaland Provinces, which present opportunity for collaboration among these Regions. The next installment of this article series shall explore how, practically, Ethnolinguistic Federalism would look like in Matebeleland in particular and Zimbabwe in general.   

Ndzimu-unami Emmanuel Moyo can be contacted via email on

Source - Ndzimu-unami Emmanuel Moyo
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