Zim @ 33: Promise of life, liberty, happiness undermined

HARARE - It is official; Zimbabwe is now 33 years old.
In 1980, I was 20 and a student in the United Kingdom so I did not witness first-hand the experience and real time excitement of independence.

Notwithstanding, I am fortunate to have been a part of the entire post-colonial experience and, therefore, competent to make some of the observations that are necessary if the next 33 years of the post-colonial journey has to be different from the first 33 years.

 Zimbabwe has had only one leader since independence that has contributed to shaping and defining of the character of the country.

The liberators of Zimbabwe must have had a vision of a new Zimbabwe and as we all look back, we are compelled to compare where Zimbabwe was and where it is now but more significantly, we all can imagine where it could have and should be.

Africa Heritage Society (AHS) hosted a Zimbabwean independence celebration party on April 18, 2013, and I was privileged to share some insights into the true meaning of the country’s birthday.

When a people declare independence they surely must have an idea of what to do with it.  

Many so-called independent states are in truth and fact so much dependent on others that independence has lost its real meaning.

Are Zimbabweans truly independent in 2013? Zimbabwe finds itself unable to finance the forthcoming elections.

The right to vote was one of the fundamental driving forces of the liberation struggle and yet 33 years after independence, a peaceful election is elusive and its financing problematic.

Americans also fought for independence of a different kind.  Native Americans and blacks were not part of the deal but its beginning as the USA we know today was in the year 1776 when the Declaration of Independence was proclaimed.

It is this declaration that tells a story of men who genuinely had no wish to go back to Europe but saw in America a new home.

The most well-known phrase in this declaration that was primarily drafted by Thomas Jefferson and adopted by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776 is: “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” that was meant to exemplify the “inalienable rights” with which all human beings (in the case of Zimbabwe black and white) are endowed by God for their protection of which they institute government.

I made the point in my speech that human beings do not need government to be human but in order to protect life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, a government may serve a purpose.

As Zimbabweans look back at the last 33 years, they have to ask whether the State and its actors have done what the promise of independence expected them to do in terms of protecting the three variables.

The colonial model was premised on the rejection of the self-evident truth that the declaration of independence sought to assert that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by the creator with certain inalienable rights and the above mentioned rights are among the fundamental ones.

Zimbabwe, therefore, was born for the sake of protecting “property” i.e. a citizen’s “life, liberty and estate” and not to undermine such property through political confusion and manipulation.

State power was meant to be limited to preserving citizens’ civil interests incorporating life, liberty, health, security and the possession of material things.

Why was a declaration of independence necessary?  

In the case of Zimbabwe, no declaration was made at independence other than President Robert Mugabe’s speech whose contents may very well have reflected his own world view of what he wanted to see.

The assimilation of former liberation fighters into the State was not accompanied by any real thought about the primary reasons why a government was necessary to advance the interests of the majority who were excluded from the colonial mainstream.

To some, government was just another employer while to others it was a weapon to exclude.  

If the true purpose of the post-colonial state was to deliver the promise of happiness then the performance of the government and its actors has to be judged in terms of whether Zimbabweans are happier in 2013 than they were in 1980.

The Zimbabwean government of 2013 is bigger than it was in 1980 for various reasons and the scope of the activities that fall under the government has expanded.

 It is not surprising, therefore, that in 2013, even State actors believe that a strong government can empower people and promote the values that inspired the liberation struggle.

The thinkers behind the declaration of independence were acutely aware of the dangers posed by a strong government.  

A limited government primarily focussed on the protection of the aforesaid rights was deemed to be the best government.

George Mason in the first and second article of the Virginia Declaration of Rights that was adopted unanimously on June 12, 1776, by the Virginia Convention of Delegates spoke of happiness in the context of life, liberty and estate representing the fundamental rights of mankind as opposed to other animals.

We all know that contrary to the colonial logic, all men (black and white) are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights.

The settlers entered into Zimbabwe with a sense of superiority while natives entered into the country by birth.

The colonial constitutional order sought to deprive or divest the rights of natives namely the enjoyment of life and liberty.

The means of acquiring and possessing property was race-based and after 33 years of independence, we are compelled to ask whether the means of acquiring and possessing property for the majority has changed for the better.

The role of the post-colonial administration was to ensure that all who chose to be part of the new social contract would pursue and obtain happiness and safety yet the main issue in 2013 is whether the election will be free and fair.

The concept of property requires critical examination in so far as it is an integral part of what happiness denotes.

Property is a creature of people and the country itself has no mechanism of creating property.
However, property creation can best be advanced in a society that respects the rule of law.

Without the rule of law, property accumulation and protection is not possible.  

For a government to function, it needs resources that can only be created by citizens.

 In 2013, many Zimbabweans look to the State for salvation and this is really the tragedy of independence.
As Zimbabweans prepare for elections, they must have their own standards by which the inclusive government and its predecessor should be judged.

Has the post-colonial State promoted the well-being of all Zimbabweans?

All Zimbabweans should have the right to life, liberty and security of person.  

The 14th and 15th Amendment to the US Constitution declare that governments cannot deprive any person of “life, liberty or property” without due process of law.

What has to be asked is whether the government of Zimbabwe under the leadership of Mugabe fulfilled its mandate to the people of Zimbabwe in terms of protecting life, liberty or property of person?

My personal experiences force me to register my own views on why I feel strongly that little or no investment was made in building knowledge systems about the State and what role it should perform.
There is no doubt that even President Mugabe’s praise singers would agree that the government has failed to give people the kind of confidence and peace of mind that independence promised.

The fiscus is broke and the bank of prosperity is bankrupt.  

The fact that the country has largely failed to capture the imagination of the majority of Zimbabweans must be a cause of concern for many.

The future can best be secured when the State and its actors know that the real and sustainable creators of wealth are the people who need to enjoy life, liberty and property rights.

The need to open new conversations on how a State actor should be judged cannot be overstated.

The inclusive government actors have already claimed credit for the baby steps made in restoring the economy on a stable roadmap but in reality the real heroes and heroines are the people who with minimal state support have carried on with the business of life ignoring the political propaganda that has never been known to produce food on the table.

What kind of government do Zimbabweans deserve in 2013?

Who would have imagined that 33 years after independence, the post-colonial government and its actors would stand accused of undermining the promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? - Mutumwa Mawere

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