New constitution no magic bullet

HARARE - The general sense of relief which greeted the agreement on a draft constitution by the three political parties is understandable because the process had become a source of unending wrangling.

We cannot, however, escape that the process gobbled up $45 million which was eventually wrested from Parliament by the Principals, raising questions about the legitimacy of the final draft.

Furthermore, the concessions made to defer some critical issues have given credence to criticisms that the draft has become a product of elite camaraderie rather than an embodiment of people’s views.

Such criticisms suggest that the concessions made have been tailor-made to suit the personal and party political interests of the elites vying for leadership.

The fact that some parties are already contemplating changing the constitution when they get into power illustrates that the draft is hardly a product of any genuine consensus among the three parties.

Be that as it may, the question of its legitimacy will be settled through the referendum.

The three political parties will campaign for its endorsement against a lobby of civil society agitating for its rejection.

The civil society movement succeeded in the campaign for the rejection of the proposed draft in 2000.
It is unlikely these groups will succeed this time around because the dynamics have since changed.

The MDC, which, as a newly-formed party, partnered the civil society groups in 2000, will now be part of the campaign for the endorsement of the new draft.

A new constitution has been held as the precondition for elections.

MDC supporters will, in all likelihood, vote for the draft to facilitate the polls because the next elections hold the promise for change.

On the other hand, Zanu PF supporters are traditionally an acquiescent and unquestioning lot; they will follow any orders without moral judgment.

Zanu PF too is keen on an election which it is confident it will win.

Hence, its supporters also believe in change that will end the coalition which it blames for obstructing implementation of its own policies.

The civil society movement, weakened over the years is, therefore, up against united political players eager for elections.   

The need for a new constitution has been premised on, among other reasons, its capability to usher in a new political culture.

Morgan Tsvangirai stated: “We must build a culture, not of changing the constitution at willy-nilly to suit our whims, but of allowing the constitution to transform our political culture.”

Putting aside the irony that even before it is changed, the draft is already seen as suiting the whims of these elites, the point against routinely amending the constitution is well stated.

While the agreement on the draft has understandably brought relief, the optimism about its capability to transform a political culture, however, needs to be tampered with realities.   

The new constitution is no magic bullet. A constitution stipulates the separation of powers, the rule of law, a bill of rights and so on.

But reposing faith in a document to alter a deep-seated culture is overstating the role of a constitution, particularly under Zanu PF rule.

A political culture embodies values, beliefs and practices of a political community.

Zanu PF, a dominant member of that community over the years, has presided over a toxic political culture that a mere document may not change; it will require proactive engagement.

But by endorsing the draft, we are led to assume Zanu PF embraces the draft’s principles.

Are we to believe that the draft will now silence the security chiefs who are given to utterances bordering on unconstitutional change of government?

Supposing Zanu PF wins the next election, will we suddenly enjoy the freedoms we have been denied for the past 32 years; where the old constitution which, by the way, enshrined freedoms, failed?

Will we be able to march in the streets and express ourselves freely without persecution, being beaten to pulp or arrested?

To the ordinary man yearning for change, these are some of the $45 million-dollar questions.

Failure to facilitate such rights will render the expensive constitutional reform exercise a waste of money and time.

I remain unconvinced that constitutionalism matters much under a Zanu PF regime. - Conrad Nyamutata

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