Shadow cabinets can be useful

HARARE - The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), by its very name, set itself on a collision course with Zanu PF from the onset.

The words “democracy” and “change” have never been part of the Zanu PF lexicon.

Democracy is a foreign concept and agitating for alternative government has been criminalised as “regime change.”  In other words, seeking a change of government should carry some stigma.

Proponents of change have thus been turned into criminals visited by one frivolous charge after another, let alone persecution and death.

Yet a dispassionate view would recognise that as a concept, democracy is perfectly logical, and not even removed from our basic morality as equal human beings living together.  

It would seem those that resent it have agendas at variance with the common good, such as the one-party state system that, needless to say, serves the interests of one party.

Democracy only suffers the sin of origin. I have yet to come across a compelling argument that contests its philosophical justifications.

Ideated in the West, more specifically Greece, democracy has, nevertheless, become the most popular model of gaining power and governance.

Still, it is clear that democracy  is something Zanu PF struggle to come to terms with; hence the reluctance to implement reforms during the tenure of the coalition government.

Despite earlier scepticism, Africa has gradually embraced democracy, at least notionally.

The African normative framework now suffuses with democratic semantics, the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, probably the clearest indicator of a new ethos on the continent.

It will take putting all these concepts into practice — our recent elections unfortunately indicated the opposite — that we can judge the resolve for and commitment to democratic rule.

The upshot of this background is that not all foreign ideas are necessarily bad for us as Africans.

I say this after Zanu PF’s reaction to the MDC’s announcement of its shadow cabinet recently.

Rugare Gumbo was quick to pooh-pooh it as a foreign concept.  Yet the philosophical foundations of shadow cabinet are perfectly sound.

A shadow cabinet is made up of frontbench MPs from the second largest party, or official opposition party.

The opposition party appoints an MP to ‘shadow’ each of the members of the Cabinet.

A dispassionate consideration of the concept of a shadow cabinet again would find its purposes ideationally logical. The fact that it was ideated elsewhere does not make it irrelevant.

We should not find fault in the idea that the opposition can look at every part of the government and can question them thoroughly. 

Shadow cabinets mean that the opposition are ready to take specific jobs in the Cabinet if they win at the next election.  There does not seem to be anything wrong with these purposes.

But to Gumbo and Zanu PF, the idea is simply foreign and therefore objectionable.

That should be expected from a government averse to any criticism; simply stating President Mugabe is too old can land someone in jail.

Shadow cabinets can be useful to the opposition and the country. An active opposition is fundamental.

The MDC is at a critical juncture after the recent elections. It can easily die or live to fight another day.

A shadow cabinet is only part of registering a political presence. It is, of course, not an alternative to campaigning for grassroots support.

Nonetheless, a shadow cabinet is platform for creative, coherent and sound policy articulation that can appeal to such social base.

Ideally, shadowing a Zanu PF cabinet is more than necessary, and perhaps easy, given the incompetence of the party over the past 33 years.

That the new Cabinet has been popularly condemned as “deadwood” should present an opportunity to the MDC to continue to register a presence and show that it has alternative policies that can make Zimbabwe a better nation before the next elections.

Historically, the MDC has lacked a visible flagship policy or a clear alternative to Zanu PF’s prominent but controversial indigenisation and empowerment.

It is from Zanu PF’s controversial policies over the next five years that the MDC shadow cabinet will be tested.  

It will have to prove to the people of Zimbabwe that it is a government-in-waiting.

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