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National Dialogue in Zimbabwe

06 Feb 2019 at 11:40hrs | Views
The third window for national dialogue in Zimbabwe has opened as expressed by the President's recent tweet following his return from state visits to four Eurasian countries in mid January this year. This window follows two similar windows that in the past opened and closed to no avail following last year's 30 July 2018 heavily contested election.

In the past these windows failed to result in national dialogue henceforth at this crucial stage and point in time were another window has opened key political actors and organisations aiming to initiate and facilitate this process have to critically reflect on past failures.

As we reflect initially I want to draw your attention to the characters of the main political leaders in the country.

In doing so we are to explore how Pres Emmerson Mnangagwa and Nelson Chamisa the leader of the main opposition MDC Alliance behave as these are the key actors in the proposed dialogue process.
Without mixing words in my opinion our President has a character which I can describe as being a bit passive in his conduct. In the same characterisation context we have the leader of the main opposition Chamisa who I can also describe as being quite rush in his conduct.

Understanding these characters is quite important to any organisation or individual seeking to initiate national dialogue in the country.

For the first window President Mnangagwa initially expressed the intention to accommodate Chamisa in a press statement on the 3rd of August 2018 following his slim election victory. In the statement he went on to say "To Nelson Chamisa I want to say, you have a crucial role to play in Zimbabwe's present and its unfolding future, let us both call for peace and unity."

This was a clear acknowledgement on the President's part that recognised the level of support that Chamisa had attained hence his clear willingness to engage. Chamisa was singled out from all the other presidential candidates that participated in the election. Interestingly this willingness to engage was also confirmed by the MDC Alliance leader at the recent commission of inquiry on post election violence were he admits contact attempts were made following the election.

The first window closed when the MDC Alliance refused to acknowledge the election result and went on to launch a constitutional court application on the 11th of August 2018 thereby formally contesting the election process and result. The application led to a heated constitutional court battle that raised the political tension in the country thereby in turn delayed the inauguration of Pres Mnangagwa.

Understanding the character and communication methods favoured by Pres Mnangagwa is important as it took a relatively long period for him to extend another olive branch thus opening the second window for dialogue.

The second and most crucial window was opened on the 21st of September 2018 whereby the President expressed his government's intention on recognising and creating a Leader of the Opposition in parliament position in accordance with the British and Commonwealth system in Zimbabwe. Importantly this was through indirect means whereby Pres Mnangagwa expressed these intentions during a Bloomberg interview whilst attending the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York.

The character and communication methods favoured by the main opposition leader are also important to note as his response to this call was quite swift. The Newsday publication on 24 September carried the headline ‘I'll weigh ED's offer: Chamisa'.

Barely a week from the Newsday publication Chamisa started responding rebuffing the offer in various spheres of the media. He went to say that his involvement in the July election was not aimed at being incorporated into parliament but rather to attain executive powers. In turn the MDC Alliance leader announced his parties own framework on the proposed dialogue by unveiling a five point plan on issues the party wants addressed before considering any creation or positions in government.      
In my own opinion the position that Pres Mnangagwa had offered was a crucial position in our governance system. It would have been wiser for Chamisa to have waited for a formal proposal and explanation on what this meant for our democratic and governance systems.

In many of Zimbabwe's political circles the position of being Leader of the Opposition in parliament was widely misunderstood. The common misconceptions was that this was just a way to incorporate the opposition leader into parliament thereby limiting and silencing his political influence by settling to just receiving these proposed perks.

I will now explain the missed opportunities and positive changes that this position could have brought to our governance system.

The opposition's main role in any governance system is that of questioning and holding the government of the day accountable to the public. The opposition represents quasi-government, and is responsible for challenging the policies of the government and producing different policies where appropriate.  

As Leader of the Opposition, one is responsible for representing the Opposition in parliament, at state functions, meetings with dignitaries and other important events.

This you could tell with the lack of formal recognition and respect the leader of the MDC Alliance had at the recent state funeral of the late Dr Oliver Mtukudzi.  
In the British parliamentary system the Leader of Opposition is given the honours to speak after the Prime Minister's (PM) address on all policy debates in parliament. The roles involve responding to the definitions and setup of policy set forth by the PM, presenting the case and position of the opposition and thus rebutting the PM.

In the Dutch style parliament system that is present in South Africa the Presidential and the cabinet possess both parliamentary and executive roles. The Leader of Opposition in parliament carries similar roles to those in the British parliamentary systems.

To me the most interesting changes from creating the Leader of Opposition in parliament role was the reciprocal required changes that would have applied to the Presidential role in the Zimbabwe governance system.

The opposition could have considered advocating on increasing the frequency of appearances and accountability to parliament of the President for by creating the Leader of Opposition in parliament requires direct and consistent communications of the two roles. This is so because this new opposition role would in turn be expected to respond, rebuff and provide an alternative argument to the President or Prime Minister in that same parliament.  

These changes to the parliament would mean that the rules and procedures on how government policies are to be presented, enacted and accounted for by the parliament would also fundamentally need to be changed.

For a long time ordinary Zimbabweans, political analysts and governance expects have raised reservations on the amount of unchecked political powers the Presidium and the general executive branch of government currently possess.

Under the current laws the President is mandated to appear before parliament once yearly, to deliver a one way style of communication state of nation address where he faces no questions from parliamentarian.

Cabinet ministers have also been found on the wrong side of issues with respect to their non attendance at parliamentary meetings thus reducing the governments accountably to the public through parliament.

If the MDC Alliance had carefully considered the creation of the Leader of the Opposition in parliament, higher levels of accountability would have been achieved and other governance changes would have emerged.

On this matter the main opposition has only focused on one strategy which involved replacing ZANU PF in the current governance setup as opposed to creating systems that promote efficient, effective and accountable governance. A strategy for dialogue aimed at changing the governance rules will then in turn help the party influence and change issues they currently contest.   

Following the rebuffing of the Leader of the Opposition post by Chamisa the second window closed.
 In my view the one who has the current mandate to lead is the one who has the right to propose dialogue as opposed to the one without mandate.

Never mind all the pronouncements made by the opposition that they have a five point plan and their public utterances in press conferences to the fact that they have written dialogue request letters to the President. To me those are not windows for any form of national dialogue as the ball is only in the President's court as he is the one with the mandate to lead.

Another important issue to consider for any form of national dialogue to materialise is that of facilitation and mediation. Following the collapse of the second dialogue window several church organisations like the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC), Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe (CCJPZ) and other civic organisations have attempted to bring these main political parties to dialogue.
In my view the major problem with all these organisations seeking to facilitate this process is the lack of unity within themselves in demanding the process. These organisations have approached the two political parties as individual organisations hence are not speaking in tune with one powerful voice.

The other major problem for churches to mediate the process alone is the inability they have in dealing with many of the political grievances that exist between the MDC Alliance and ZANU PF.I have previously suggested to them that an independent unpartisan political actor who is well informed and vested in these political conflict issues needs to assist them in the process.

It is high time for members of civil society, church organisations and political actors seeking national dialogue to meet and formulate a concrete agenda with parameters for this dialogue to be successful.

In a statement after meeting the ZCC leadership the ZANU PF spokesperson Simon Khaya Moyo   who spoke to the Newsday, welcomed ZCC's proposition for talks but not without challenging the church to come up with parameters for the proposed engagement.

I believe that at this stage all our political actors desiring progress and national healing must act more responsibly. All our leaders must refrain from public utterances in the media as these only create more pre-recognition issues and condition that might hinder the goal of uniting and healing the nation.

Stay Blessed

Source - Terence Simbi
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