Zimbabwe: 2011 in political retrospect — by Takura Zhangazha
The passage of time is a rarely considered element in our national political discourse. A year begins and a year ends and we are all afflicted by short memories. Momentous political events are not easily remembered even in the wake of their occurrence. Instead they are left to the academic historians or the now rare village griot to recount many years after.
2011 might however not be an easy year to forget. As it comes to a close, it must be remembered as an internationally momentous year. From the “˜revolutions’ in Tunisia and Egypt that were phenomenal in their occurrence and somewhat not as significantly defined in their aftermath. Close on the heels of these revolutions was the removal from power of Ivory Coast’s Laurent Gbagbo and Libya’s Muammah Qadafi from power via direct liberal intervention by France and NATO respectively. These interventions left the African Union’s weak standing in international relations literally confirmed while the long awaited independence of South Sudan brought fresh hope for that country’s civil war to come to a final end.
Other events such as the assassination of Osama bin Laden and the riots by young British citizens were felt more in the West than elsewhere, while the Global Financial crisis though epitomized most tellingly by the events and change of government in Greece, is only beginning to be felt in Zimbabwe via the reduction of donor funding to government programmes on health such as the Global Fund to combat HIV/AIDS.
But to be specific to Zimbabwe, we began the year 2011 with a lot of what was then considered serious political tension. There were disputes over outstanding issues in the inclusive government and SADC made interventions via a still very disputed Livingstone Troika summit in March. The issues that were considered “˜outstanding’ by the three parties in the GPA which included an election roadmap, the expansion of JOMIC, the role of the military and human rights violations remain outstanding as we approach the end of 2011. At the time they were being presented, there was a sense of urgency which has turned out be a false urgency. And this is what has come to be the definitive character of our national politics in Zimbabwe via the inclusive government.
Throughout the whole year we have been threatened with a referendum and elections. Where the three parties have held congresses or conferences, the language has been that of creating a sense of urgency that is not grounded in political reality and therefore has been false. And as 2011 comes to close, we should expect the cycle to continue in the aftermath of the Zanu Pf conference which predictably will insist on elections in 2012, a year short of the government and parliament serving out its constitutional five year term. And as the political parties continue with their false senses of urgency, there is the continuation of repression of the media, human rights activists and ordinary members of the public.
When it comes to reviewing the socio-economic problems that the country faced through 2011, limited little changed significantly. The government economic reform programmes have a broad neo-liberal framework that, judging by the policy pronouncements and speeches of cabinet ministers, wrongly places emphasis on private-public partnerships (PPPs).
In the course of the year, the only real evidence of these PPPs has been the government’s policy of economic empowerment and indigenization via Community Share Trusts. Whether these CSTs become of any public benefit, is yet to be seen but it is evident that due to the political contests over the matter together with the politicization of the entirety of the process, these CSTs are more likely to have a trickle down effect on the lives of the communities they are intended to benefit.
As in 2010 the government still does not have comprehensive health, transport and education (including tertiary) plans. Its approach has been to douse out fires, if it does so at all. To be specific, in the health services there is the perennial challenge of over-dependence on international partners, who should they decide to move elsewhere or say they have run out of funding as with the Global Fund, the country is left high and dry. In relation to education, the government continued to grapple with teachers salaries without taking a holistic review of the entirety of the education system to make it work. This essentially means once again, come January 2012, we will be faced with a teachers strike, high tertiary and school fees.
As regards, transport, the government has done next to little to improve public transportation systems. The National Railways of Zimbabwe works intermittently and there is still no visible evidence as to what the road tollgate revenue is being utilized for. More often than not the Ministry of Transport is threatening car dealers and owners with a banning of one thing or the other as regards motor vehicles. Similarly the ministries of Youth and Women’s affairs, who have misunderstood the young people and women of Zimbabwe by assuming that all they want are “˜projects’ yet none of them have offered a comprehensive public works framework to deal with the high levels of unemployment in the country.
As it is and as the year 2011 comes to a closure Zimbabwe and its citizens are running the risk of continuing with a political cycle that has become less about the people and more about the people in government. Their disputes and actions have largely been partisan not only on behalf of their political parties but also on behalf of their “˜comfort zones'( to which they have demonstrated an unfortunate sense of entitlement to via their purchase of luxury vehicles, unclear mineral and iron production deals, numerous trips abroad). And as the new year approaches, it is hoped that civil society, members of the public shall at some point begin to hold the inclusive government to account with regards to its performance legitimacy, and not just the politics of elections.
Takura Zhangazha is the Executive Director of the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ)