Zanu PF wants democratic regression

HARARE - The subsistence of political transitions are marked by political infighting, partisan positions and attempts to revert back to the old authoritarian rule especially if the undemocratic elements within the elite power arrangements read that a full scale democratic norm compliance could result in regime defeat.

Zimbabwe has been grappling with a political transition whose primary aim is to return the country to democratic legitimacy premised on the rule of law through a democratic process via credible elections.

After the country, through its electoral and political institutions, failed to administer a credible electoral process in 2008, the Inclusive government through the Global Political Agreement was supposed to address both software and hardware issues attendant to the holding of credible future elections with the supervision of the African Union (AU) and Sadc.

Since 2009, there are still disagreements over the role of the security apparatus in political and electoral matters, the democratisation of the public media and issues of impunity associated with Zanu PF vigilant groups, sections of the war veterans and the partisan elements in the security establishment.

The constitutional review process, the role of electoral institutions such as the Zimbabwe Election Commission (Zec) and the registrar-general’s and the partisan nature of the personnel in these institutions need to be audited and democratised ahead of new polls.

Both the administrative and environmental issues related to the electoral process and most critically the restoration of law and order in Zimbabwe are glaringly absent yet one political culprit; Zanu PF that is arguably responsible for this mess is calling for elections without reforms.

In trying to understand the strategy by Zanu PF and its security apparatus hardliners ahead of possible election in 2013, it is important to appreciate what human rights scholars describe as the spiral model in the study of regime transitions.

The spiral model builds upon work on transnational advocacy networks in the field of human rights such Amnesty International, local groups like the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), ZimRights and the  Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights among others whose activities are meant to bring democratic rule and respect for human rights in norm-violating states such as Zimbabwe.

It is argued through the work of such organisations, a boomerang pattern of influence exists when domestic human rights groups in a repressive State such as Zimbabwe during crises, bypass the State and directly search out international allies to try to bring pressure for the State from outside.

National opposition groups, civic groups and social movements link up with transnational advocacy networks and Inter-Governmental organisations who then convince international human rights organisations, donor institutions and powerful states through the UN system and regional blocks such as Sadc and the AU to pressure norm-violating States such as is the case with Zimbabwe.

There are critically five stages that a regime in crisis goes through before it relinquishes political power during a transitional process such as the one that Zimbabwe is grappling with.

Democratically relinquishing power is not a given unless the democratic elements in that transitional arrangement are awake to the political machinations of the political cabal that wields coercive power and respond decisively through political mobilisation among other methods.

It is important to understand and appreciate the spiral model in order to come up with strategies to block the democratic reversal agenda that Zanu PF hardliners, the security apparatus and their attached intellectuals are crafting with the hope of succeeding.

The first stage is associated with massive repression and egregious human rights violations by the norm violating regime. It is also a stage that is associated with activation of advocacy networks to expose human rights violations and inform the international community about the abuses.

It is argued as can be validated in the Zimbabwe example that this stage might last a long period because many regimes such as the Zanu PF one took long for the transnational groups to put it on its agenda.

This explains the silence of international human rights groups to the atrocities of the regime in the 1980s during the Midlands and Matabeleland massacres and the 1990s election related violence.

The double standard behaviour of powerful liberal states can explain the silence in the massacres of the 1980s as well.

In any case, some very oppressive regimes such as the one in Zimbabwe, it is argued sometimes do not become the subject of international campaigns by advocacy networks because information gathering on human rights violations requires at least minimum links between the domestic opposition and the transnational networks in order for advocacy groups to gain access to norm-violating regimes.

I argue here, that the NCA, ZimRights, Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights started in the late 1990s and at the turn of the 21st century managed to filter information of massive human rights violations to the international arena for scrutiny.

This leads to the denial stage, the second aspect of the spiral model. In this stage information about massive rights violations becomes public among foreign governments and transnational advocacy networks.

The information is compiled by local advocacy networks and assists to shape public opinion and policy makers and national governments abroad making them to inquire and respond to these violations.

However, like we have witnessed for a long time in Zimbabwe, denial means the government refuses to accept the validity of international human rights norms and that it opposes the suggestion that its national practices are subject to international jurisdiction.

Zanu PF sings the tired song of sovereignty despite the fact that Zimbabwe as a State is party to international human rights treaties and a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

This is a critical stage because the fact that the State denies human rights violations means that the process of norm socialisation is taking root and indeed in Zimbabwe it has.

Because of the continued pressure from local and international bodies and governments, the government moves to the third stage of tactical concessions.

This involves releasing prisoners from jail or some cosmetic changes such assigning of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) without necessarily implementing the provisions of those agreements for freeing total regime collapse and full scale democratisation.

The government can revert to the denial stage once it realises that the opposition and local advocacy networks have been exhausted by pervious violations or are going to bed with politicians or are weakened with divisions.

However, faced with fully mobilised domestic advocacy networks and opposition parties linked up with transnational advocacy networks, the proponents of the spiral model argue that norm-violating regimes such as the Zanu PF have few choices but to comply.

In the case of Zimbabwe it would mean complying with all the provisions of the GPA. This has not happened because of local advocacy groups are not fully mobilised, others have gone to bed with politicians while some are suffering for a glaring lack of strong leadership.

If the advocacy groups in Zimbabwe were fully mobilised and the domestic opposition fighting as before, we could move to the fourth stage, the prescriptive stage where Zanu PF for instance would fully accept the validity of the reforms enunciated in the GPA.

A political regime at this stage would also accept the validity of human rights norms when ratifying international human rights conventions, the norms are institutionalised and domesticated into law.

Validity can be accepted while for example people continued to be tortured.

Continued pressure from below; by domestic actors and from above; through the work of transnational advocacy networks can lead to the final stage of rule-consistent behaviour.

At this stage international human rights are fully institutionalised domestically and norm compliance because habitual as actors especially the government enforces the rule of law.

When the GPA is fully implemented, repressive laws such as Aippa and Posa are repealed, there is an end to impunity and constitutional reforms put in place, then Zimbabwe could have followed this framework.

It has proved impossible. It remains the aught to be; definitely not what is. True that a democratic ideal is impossible but politics being a continuous search for the ideal, democratic players must insist on the best standards for governance in Zimbabwe.

Political transitions are sophisticated and complicated, they are bumpy and thorny, they are like rivers infested with crocodiles and swimming in such uncharted waters is not any easy exercise.

Nothing should be taken for granted and trusting another political player especially Zanu PF is the last thing to do on the part of the MDC formations and the democratic political players.

Guarded caution is required as the country moves towards a decisive election in 2013.

The greatest lesson from the spiral model is that in political transitions such as the one in Zimbabwe, it is important to remain focused on the broader democratic goals and never to go to bed with political players on the part of civil society.

A robust, coordinated and research based civic response to democratic transgressions accompanied concerted lobby programmes is required ahead of the elections this year.

On the part of political players; insisting on norm-compliance without compromise should be the game plan to avoid democratic regression from the hardliners. The struggle continues. - Pedzisayi Ruhanya

*(Ruhanya is a PhD candidate and director of Zimbabwe Democracy Institute)

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