High Time Zimbabwe starts discussions to Implement the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance

The Zimbabwe harmonized elections came and went with their plethora of contestations. A myriad of challenges that marred the July 2018 harmonized elections included limited transparency and accountability in election administration and that did undermine the independence of the Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) and the current government will always be weighed down by the yoke of legitimacy emanating from the disputed outcome of the 30th July 2018 election outcome.

As has become custom with all our previous elections, this year’s elections were not smooth sailing, owing to a myriad of problems amongst them accusations and counter accusations of impropriety, suspicion of rigging with plans to aid the incumbent, threats of ‘stopping the elections’. One of the enduring criticisms is that we held the 2018 harmonized elections on the basis of an Electoral Act that remains unaligned to the Constitution of Zimbabwe.

If we interrogate the pre and post July 30th harmonized election developments that unraveled, it won’t therefore be a misnomer to say that Zimbabwe was partially ready for the harmonized elections. There are fundamental gaps that will continue affecting the credibility, freeness and fairness of future elections in Zimbabwe. President Emmerson Mnangagwa this week laid out the legislative agenda for the Ninth Parliament with 27 Bills expected to be tabled and a new era is beckoning. Promises have been made of a ‘New Zimbabwe’ and we are now in an era known as the ‘new dispensation’ and in this moment we stand on the cusp of history. In light of that, it is imperative that we talk and reflect on the society we want and forge a new paradigm ahead.

The onus is on the new government as an African Union member state determined and desirous to address the electoral anomalies that arose before, during and after the 30th July 2018 and align the Zimbabwe Electoral Act with the new Zimbabwean Constitution, SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections, The African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance Charter and The African Governance Architecture (AGA) interrogating which provisions did the recent elections missed or fulfilled and put into place mechanisms for application so as to promote and strengthen good governance.

Chapter 6 Article 15 that deals with Democratic Institutions, talks about the need for State Parties to establish public institutions that promote and support democracy and constitutional order. It further goes on to call state Parties to ensure that the independence or autonomy of the said institutions is guaranteed and that these institutions are accountable and competent national organs and the question on many lips is whether ZEC is independent and its management of elections in Zimbabwe is credible.

The institutionalization of transparency, accountability and participatory democracy must start now to avoid knee-jerk reactions in elections because anything other than that will be a death knell to our already fragile democratic foundations.

The African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG) is an instrument enacted to call and hold upon member states to promote adherence to the universal values and principles of democracy and respect for human rights in promoting the holding of regular free and fair elections to institutionalize legitimate authority of representative government as well as democratic change of government. The ACDEG charter was adopted by the 8th Ordinary Session of the African Union Assembly, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 30th January 2007 as a link to the African Union Agenda 20163: The Africa We Want.

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Zimbabwe only became a signatory to the charter on 21 March 2018 in Rwanda, at the African Union (AU) Extraordinary Summit. Before that, Zimbabwe had stood out as one of the few countries in Africa that had neither signed nor ratified the Charter, hence this was a welcome development in the country’s efforts to hold democratic elections that were penciled for 30th July 2018 as Article 44 reaffirms that state parties should initiate appropriate measures including legislative, executive and administrative actions to bring state parties’ national laws and regulations into conformity with the charter.

Simply what the ACDEG Charter calls for, is for President Mnangagwa’s government to speak truth to power and be politically accountable because in essence what is apparently evident in African governance matters is the lack of political will in nurturing, supporting and consolidating good governance through promoting democratic culture and practice, building and strengthening governance institutions and inculcating political pluralism and tolerance. To all intends and purposes, political will does not exist but what should exist is political accountability and governments should be forced to be accountable by the instruments that they would have signed.

Political accountability must be forced to exist by law and to give effect to the commitments contained in this charter, ACDEG Article 44:1:c lays down the gauntlet that, “State Parties shall promote political will as a necessary condition for the attainment of the goals set forth in this Charter.” Lack of political will has been the Achilles’ heel and albatross slung across our necks that has hampered development in Zimbabwe and Africa at large. The new government has its work cut out and must give greater impetus to bringing the charter into line with the country’s constitution and more particularly since the then president Robert Mugabe did not act in good faith by not signing the charter since its enactment in 2007.

As defined by various scholars, Democratic governance is the rule “by, for and of the people” and president Munangagwa has been on record preaching that the voice of the people is the voice of God. Democracy needs voice in order to work and freedom of expression to provide for the constant checks and balances. Voice enhances democracy because voice is the tool to express concern in policy influence. In that endeavor, there must be accountability because governance can be the rule with or without the consent of the people. The first point of departure was certainly signing the charter and should now be followed hot on the heels with aligning the ACDEG as a binding continental architecture to inform the Zimbabwe constitution.

The government must now take the necessary steps and procedures that includes the ratification and domestication of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance together with the African Governance Architecture (AGA) as continental instruments that informs and give contextual domestic guidance on the holding of democratic, transparent elections conducted by competent, independent and impartial national electoral bodies in preparation of the next electoral cycle due in 2023. Yes, it is pre-determined by the Zimbabwean constitution that after every five years we go for elections to choose office bearers but it is very imperative that we keep track of the electoral cycles and ask ourselves what is being or can be done to the promotion, nurturing, strengthening and consolidation of democracy and governance in running elections along the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections, African Governance Architecture and the ACDEG charter.

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Now that Zimbabwe signed the ACDEG Charter, what should we expect, what should we demand from our government? The government of Zimbabwe should provide the lead role in facilitating discussions that informs the nation on steps and other procedures to be taken into account to contextualize the charter so that it speaks to our domestic issues at the same time situating the roles of women, youth, the disabled etc. Now is the right time to interrogate the role and participation of women and young people who have been inhibited by historical disadvantages to integrate them into governance processes and more needs to be done to empower these demographics into governance processes being advocated for so as to make them feel part of the programs that promote sustainable development and human security.

The ACDEG Charter speaks a lot on youth participation in governance as a catalytic means to accelerate the rapid transformation envisaged by the Agenda 2063 of the African Union. Issues that have affected youth and women such as unemployment and patriarchal dominion may best be addressed if we do away with hierarchical dominion and establish equal and anti-authoritarian relationships in socio-economic and political matters, particularly so in relation to Articles 3 and 4 of the charter that emphasize the significance of good governance, popular participation, the rule of law and human rights. Women have been proven the world over to be drivers of sustainable development. Investment in women yields significant returns especially when considering population statistics for the development of communities and nations. The government must shift its policies and create safe spaces for women and youths and also adopt gender neutral approaches to stop breeding a dependency syndrome.

The media are a key stakeholder in the furtherance of these objectives and already ActionAid Zimbabwe has done the groundbreaking process of developing a training curriculum and a 3 year advocacy and media strategy to bring Zimbabwean journalists on board to run with the charter. ActionAid in April 2018 held a week-long training workshop for journalists in both the print and broadcast media to kick start discussions and conversations on ACDEG and AGA to popularize and customize the instruments so that they speak to our domestic issues so as to elicit the necessary support from all the concerned stakeholders. The Media plays a critical role in democratic societies by informing citizens, facilitating and building freedom of expression, and fostering access to information. ActionAid Zimbabwe through its flagship Activista Zimbabwe movement has also trained young people to speak to the ACDEG charter and become active social change-makers.

In that same essence, the government must open up democratic spaces for dialogue through harnessing the limitless potential occasioned by advancements in Internet Communication Technology to integrate the youths, women, the disabled into discussions that speaks to those provisions of the ACDEG Charter that relate to them, situating the issues that affect them and dovetailing them into the national issues for policy formulation and implementation processes. People should be capacitated to speak truth to power and take a perspective view that is sceptic for example when chiefs are being given luxurious cars while hospitals and clinics are overwhelmed by a lack of basic medication.

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The government needs to work hand in glove with the ActionAid Zimbabwe’s Advocacy perspective to inform, communicate and mobilize taking into cognizance the transformative power of education as key to development. Democratic education is critical and much more than knowledge and has a major role to play in social, economic and political aspects of human development. People must be active and state parties in furtherance of this objective; must ensure the unrolling of a systematic and comprehensive civic education program in order to encourage full participation of people in democracy and development. Creation of dialogue is key and the adoption of a Radical approach to development Participatory Paradigm is fundamental because if you are going to change/impact someone’s life, give them the tools to do that so that they can claim ownership. The recipe is simple, make it relevant to them. It has been proven as an effective method to development and emancipation to make people believe in themselves and realize their full potential.

Development can be predicated on the basis of inclusivity and non-discrimination. We can only change things by acting together and adopting a Human Rights Based Approach that alludes to the fact that respect for human rights is sacrosanct and is an approach to development. President Emmerson Mnangagwa has made clarion calls for unity but those calls must be accompanied by an unwavering commitment to relentlessly deepen and consolidate the rule of law, peace and security to unify the people and foster nationhood. This calls for a deep consciousness rooted in selflessness in the top military leadership of the country to exorcise the political violence ghost that has marred previous elections especially the post-election violence that rocked Harare on 1st August 2018.

The African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Good Governance, is one of the key instruments that will advance democracy, peace and security in Zimbabwe, the region, and the continent as a whole. Considering Zimbabwe’s well documented history of electoral irregularities such as hate language, violence and intimidation of voters amongst others, the decision to domesticate the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, will be a progressive step to take to promote democracy in Zimbabwe. If indeed this is a new beginning, a new chance to make this country come right is beckoning. Will things really ever change? Can this country still be fixed or we have slid down too deep into the abyss? We have some unanswered questions but once again we remain optimistic and we have our work cut out for us as a nation for the next 5 years. This is within our reach to forge a new Zimbabwe together, a Zimbabwe we want.

Alfred Towo is a mid-career media professional, social entrepreneur, independent analyst and opinion writer with extensive advocacy and communications experience. Alfred is a young leader, youth advocate, human rights champion and an Activista Zimbabwe network member with a very keen interest for community development.