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Why the Zimbabwean Government is broken: The inherent flaws of democracy

15 May 2023 at 11:13hrs | Views
Welcome to the land of opportunity, or rather, Zimbabwe. This country, located in southern Africa, is blessed with a diverse range of natural resources, cultural traditions, and historical heritage. However, it is also cursed with a political system that is so broken that it cannot even fix a pothole, let alone tackle poverty, corruption, or human rights abuses. I will try to explain why the Zimbabwean government is broken and why democracy, which is supposed to be the best form of governance, has failed to deliver its promises.

First of all, let me clarify that I am not anti-democracy per se. I believe that democracy, which literally means "rule by the people," is a noble and necessary concept that should be embraced by all nations. However, I also believe that democracy is not a panacea, a magic wand, or a silver bullet that can solve all the problems of a society. Democracy is simply a tool, a means to an end, a way to facilitate the exercise of power, authority, and decision-making by a group of people who have the right to do so. Democracy is like a car: it can take you to your destination, but it also requires proper maintenance, fuel, and direction. Democracy does not guarantee success, efficiency, or fairness: it only offers the possibility of achieving them, provided that certain conditions are met.

One of the conditions for a functioning democracy is the presence of a strong and independent judiciary. The judiciary is the branch of government that interprets and applies the law, resolves disputes, and safeguards individual rights and freedoms. In a democracy, the judiciary must be impartial, competent, and accountable: it must be able to check and balance the power of the executive and legislative branches, and to protect citizens from abuse or violation of their legal rights. In Zimbabwe, however, the judiciary is far from being independent, strong, or competent. It is often influenced, if not controlled, by the ruling party, which uses it as a tool of political repression and manipulation. Judges are appointed or removed based on their loyalty to the regime, not on their merit or integrity. Court orders are ignored or overruled by the government if they are deemed unfavorable. Lawyers and activists who challenge the government's actions or policies are harassed, arrested, or tortured. The judiciary in Zimbabwe is a mockery of justice, a rubber stamp of tyranny, a disgrace to democracy.

Another condition for a functioning democracy is the presence of a free and professional media. The media is the fourth estate, the watchdog, the public voice that informs, educates, and entertains the citizens, and holds the government accountable to its actions and policies. In a democracy, the media must be free from censorship, intimidation, or propaganda: it must be able to report the truth, expose the lies, and criticize the mistakes of those in power. In Zimbabwe, however, the media is not free or professional. It is often owned or controlled by the ruling party, which uses it as a tool of propaganda and brainwashing. Journalists are harassed, arrested, or killed if they expose the truth or challenge the official narrative. State-owned media outlets, such as the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) and The Herald, are notorious for spreading fake news, hate speech, and partisan views. Independent media outlets, such as NewsDay, Daily News, and The Zimbabwean, are often censored, raided, or sued for defamation. The media in Zimbabwe is a victim of self-censorship, a hostage of repression, a danger to democracy.

A third condition for a functioning democracy is the presence of a vibrant and diverse civil society. Civil society is the realm of voluntary associations, non-governmental organizations, and grassroots movements that represent the interests and aspirations of different groups of citizens, such as women, youth, workers, farmers, entrepreneurs, artists, and activists. In a democracy, civil society must be free to organize, express its views, and engage in advocacy or protest: it must be able to influence the policy-making process, monitor the performance of the government, and provide services or support to its members. In Zimbabwe, however, civil society is not vibrant or diverse. It is often harassed, restricted, or banned by the ruling party, which sees it as a threat to its monopoly of power and authority. Human rights defenders, such as Jestina Mukoko, Beatrice Mtetwa, and Evan Mawarire, are persecuted, abused, or kidnapped if they speak out against injustice or repression. Trade unions, such as the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), are often suppressed, infiltrated, or co-opted by the government if they demand better wages or working conditions. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), such as the Election Resource Centre (ERC), the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, and the Counselling Services Unit, are subject to onerous regulations, fees, or audits if they operate independently or monitor elections. The civil society in Zimbabwe is a voice of the voiceless, a target of repression, a hope for democracy.

One root cause of the brokenness of the Zimbabwean government is the culture of impunity. Impunity is the practice of getting away with wrongdoing, without fear of punishment or accountability. Impunity breeds corruption, abuse, and lawlessness, and undermines the rule of law, the respect for human rights, and the trust in public institutions. Impunity is the oxygen that fuels the dictatorship. In Zimbabwe, impunity is pervasive, systemic, and institutionalized. The ruling party, ZANU-PF, has been in power since 1980, and has mastered the art of impunity, by using violence, coercion, and patronage to maintain its grip on power, and by ensuring that its members are immune from prosecution or investigation, regardless of their crimes. The system of patronage, whereby loyalists are rewarded with jobs, contracts, or favors, and opponents are punished with dismissal, exclusion, or violence, has created a class of powerful and corrupt elites, who are above the law and beyond the reach of justice. The absence of accountability and transparency has led to the plunder of national resources, the mismanagement of public funds, and the decay of public services. The impunity in Zimbabwe is a cancer of governance, a poison of democracy, a curse of development.

Another root cause of the brokenness of the Zimbabwean government is the lack of leadership. Leadership is the art of inspiring, guiding, and serving others, by setting a vision, a mission, and a strategy, and by adhering to ethical and moral principles. Leadership is the fuel that drives democracy, that transforms societies, and that challenges the status quo. Leadership is scarce in Zimbabwe. The political leaders of the ruling party, ZANU-PF, are mainly gerontocrats, who have been in power for decades, and who have failed to renew themselves, to groom successors, or to listen to the aspirations of the youth or the women. The opposition parties, such as the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which emerged in the late 1990s to challenge ZANU-PF, are fragmented, weak, and co-opted, by the ruling party, by foreign powers, or by their own egos. The civil society leaders, such as the activists, the intellectuals, and the entrepreneurs, who have tried to bridge the gap between the elites and the masses, are often isolated, persecuted, or co-opted, by the ruling party, by the donors, or by their own fears. The lack of leadership in Zimbabwe is a crisis of governance, a tragedy of democracy, a shame of humanity.

So, what is the solution to the brokenness of the Zimbabwean government? Is democracy the problem or the solution? The answer is both. Democracy is not the problem, but the flawed implementation and practice of democracy is the problem. Democracy is not the solution, but the renewal and reform of democracy is the solution. Zimbabwe needs a new democratic narrative, a new democratic culture, and a new democratic vision, that will reflect the aspirations, the values, and the needs of the people. Zimbabwe needs a democracy that is participatory, inclusive, and responsive, that will ensure that every citizen has a say in the governance of the country, and that will respect and protect the rights, the dignity, and the diversity of every human being. Zimbabwe needs a democracy that is transparent, accountable, and effective, that will ensure that public resources are managed wisely, that corruption is punished severely, and that public services are delivered efficiently. Zimbabwe needs a democracy that is innovative, transformative, and sustainable, that will ensure that the country is integrated into the global economy, that the environment is preserved and enhanced, and that the future generations are empowered and inspired.

Zimbabwe can achieve this kind of democracy, but it will require a collective effort, a long-term commitment, and a new mindset. Zimbabwe needs leaders who are visionary, courageous, and humble, who will put the interests of the country above their own interests, who will listen to the people and learn from them, and who will lead by example and not by force. Zimbabwe needs institutions that are independent, competent, and professional, that will serve the people and not the rulers, that will uphold the rule of law and not the rule of the powerful, and that will reform and innovate continuously. Zimbabwe needs citizens who are active, informed, and patriotic, who will demand accountability, transparency, and participation, who will respect the diversity and the dignity of all, and who will act with compassion, empathy, and respect.

Our government is broken due to a lack of strong and independent judiciary, free and professional media, vibrant and diverse civil society, culture of impunity, and meaningful leadership. Democracy is not the problem, but the flawed implementation and practice of democracy is the problem. Renewal and reform of democracy is the solution. Zimbabwe needs a new democratic narrative, culture, and vision to reflect the aspirations, values, and needs of the people. Achieving this kind of democracy will require a collective effort, a long-term commitment, and a new mindset from leaders, institutions, and citizens alike. Only then can Zimbabwe attain the democracy it deserves, one that is participatory, inclusive, responsive, transparent, accountable, effective, innovative, transformative, and sustainable.

Kumbirai Thierry Nhamo
Writer, Blogger, Poet and Researcher

Source - Kumbirai Thierry Nhamo
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