Wednesday, 21 December 2011

2012: Zimbabwe’s Year of ‘Politicized Deception?'

 2012: Zimbabwe’s Year of ‘Politicized Deception?’
By Takura Zhangazha.

Predicting future events in Zimbabwe’s general cultural practice is usually the preserve of spirit mediums, prophets and scientists. Political predictions are more difficult even for ‘specialists’ in that line of work. In Zimbabwe’s case it is necessary to attempt at outlining potential key political developments for the year 2012, bearing in mind that in some quarters there is talk of a harmonized election while in others there is fear, foreboding as well as calls for electoral reform before any elections can be held. Further to this, there is also excitement in elite economic circles about the Community Share Ownership Trusts, Youth Funds and diamond sales, all of which indicate that these are issues that will take center stage as 2012 unfolds.

Whereas the Chinese have their own animal titled lunar calendar years (for example, the year of the ‘boar’ or even the year of the ‘rat’), I think that the next twelve months in Zimbabwe should be referred to as the year of ‘the people’s politicised deception’. This is because the leaders of the inclusive government will once again individually try and hoodwink the people of Zimbabwe that they are serving their best interests while they slug it out in Cabinet and Parliament over elections, SADC mediation, diamonds and allowances.   In order for this to be acceptable to their supporters, they will mix the personal with the political and the political with the economic.

The personal will be in relation to issues to do with the social and private lives of various leaders that will be made public by an eager media, while the economic will be through the partisan distribution of resources either via the Youth Fund or the community trusts that are being established via the indigenization programme. In both, there will be the cajoling of party supporters to tow the official party line on all issues as well to try and make sure that party supporters get a piece of the economic pie. In short, it will be a political party fest that will seek to undertake, on behalf of itself, the continuation of a partisan but non-people centered political narrative in Zimbabwe.

It is for this reason that 2012 will be characterized by a number of specific events that are easy to predict. The first such event is that there will be another big political dispute next year over the issue of elections which will once again involve SADC. As in March 2011, the parties will try and influence SADC on the matter of the election roadmap, security sector reform and sanctions. In doing so, the end result will be similar to the Livingstone SADC Troika Summit whose resolutions ended up being disputed as well as unimplemented. At best however SADC will probably seek a compromise that will lead to the holding elections at end of the five year term of Parliament, which is 2013.

In the midst of the SADC lobbying, the political parties are going to continue arguing about the contents of the Parliamentary Select Committee (COPAC) draft constitution. Whoever wins on the contentious issues of the same draft will also take comfort in the knowledge that all of the member parties to COPAC will still campaign for a ‘yes’ vote to the draft in order to save face and to continue with the contested argument that the whole process was ‘people-driven’. There shall be a well funded ‘yes’ vote campaign that will be used to test the electoral waters by the three antagonists in the inclusive government. Whatever the result of the referendum, it will be used more for partisan political interests than for broad national legitimizing of the supreme law of the land.

There shall also be serious political competition as to issues of ‘economic development’ or community economic beneficiation by the three political parties particularly due to the establishment of the various support funds to the youth, small scale business, ‘rural women’. A number of projects will be competed over and the youth ministry will be at the forefront of the greater majority of them in what will be a concerted effort to lure young peoples’ votes.

The national economy will continue to be characterized by the dictum, ‘availability of goods (foreign) and services without accessibility’ for the majority of our country’s citizens. While social services will become more expensive due to the lack of a central government plan to avail these consistently and to all. The safety and security of citizens will continue to be under threat from repressive laws and security forces habits that inhibit the enjoyment of particularly freedoms of assembly, association and expression.

So as it is, 2012 is a year in which our political leaders will appear as though they are very busy trying to resolve national problems when in fact they are resolving their own. It is up to the people of Zimbabwe to seek to bring them to account on concrete matters that cover the broad spectrum of challenges the country is facing. In doing so, we must be wary of being co-opted into false realities that appear urgent when instead they are the stuff of momentary political flashes in the pan. 

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Political Impediments that have inhibited the realization of Media Reforms in Zimbabwe.

Presentation to the Radio Dialogue-Bulawayo Agenda Civic Society Consultative Meeting.
Date: December 15, 2011
Title: Political Impediments that have inhibited the realization of Media Reforms in Zimbabwe.
By Takura Zhangazha.
The topic that I have been asked to make a presentation on, while it infers a direct analysis of the policies of the inclusive government in Zimbabwe, it remains a matter that must be of utmost concern to every single Zimbabwean. I make this immediate assertion in order to emphasize that the key issues around media freedom and media reform in Zimbabwe are all derived from the Article 20 of Zimbabwe’s constitution which gives all of us that right to receive and impart information. Indeed there are what have been generally described as undemocratic limitations to this section (public health, national security etc). 

But the key point in my observation and in relation to this important topic that I have been asked to present, is that this right to receive and impart information  has existed since our national independence in 1980 and therefore it is a right that precedes as well  as surpasses the Global Political Agreement of 2008.
It is from this fundamental premise that I wish to examine the topic in question. I am sure that the conveners of this conference have a particular urgency in seeking to understand the political impediments that have inhibited the realization of democratic media reform in Zimbabwe. 

This urgency would be one that has emerged in the context of the processes around the licensing of free to air national radio broadcasting licences by the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ). The controversy has been about the legality of BAZ as well as various perceptions around the companies that have been awarded the licenses. As recently as Tuesday 13 December 2011, the matter has taken a further political twist with MDC-T members of parliament moving a motion that these licenses be rescinded altogether. So as it is, there is limited reason to assume that there will be collective resolution within the inclusive government  of the emerging contestations around broadcast media reform as was seen with the print media.  
But broadly spoken for and within our current political context, the issue of democratic media reform in Zimbabwe is one that is generally misunderstood by our political leaders in the inclusive government. Initial evidence of this misunderstanding was demonstrated during the negotiations that led to the formation of the inclusive government. During these negotiations, there were amendments that were made to the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) in what some negotiators called ‘necessary compromises. 
They however did not define the extent of the necessity of these compromises in direct relation to the enjoyment of the right of the people of Zimbabwe to receive and impart information.  Instead the issue focused on getting concessions that largely included the participation of parliament and eventually, in the aftermath of the appointment of the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, the same particular office into the appointment processes of various persons to become commissioners or board members of BAZ and of the ZMC. 
Against better advice from civil society players, the political parties of that time and of present day chose the path of looking at media reform from a highly politicized perspective as opposed to one that takes into account the right of the people to receive and impart information.  In this too, the political players made the grievous political mistake of assuming media freedom to be a privilege and therefore not a right. And the end product of this approach has been the maintenance of laws that criminalize freedom of expression via AIPPA, POSA and read with both these acts the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act. 
Indeed some might argue that within the context of the inclusive government , it is one political party more than others that has persistently undermined media reform. I would not necessarily disagree with that point because since our national independence it is indeed Zanu Pf that has yielded the executive authority that comes with government all of the time. But in the aftermath of the GPA and formation of the inclusive government itself, it is evident that a key political impediment to media reform has been found in two particular components of the policy approaches of government actors and political leaders. These are: 

a) An incremental approach to media reform
b) A politically expedient  lack of knowledge and understanding (either deliberate or non-deliberate) of the media, media freedom and freedom of expression by policy makers.
The first point is self explanatory in the sense that it is apparent that any form of media reform has been slow and highly politicized. This is true in relation to changes in legal and policy frameworks. A tacit example of this is the decision to not only retain the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) and AIPPA, BSA, albeit with slightly different terms of reference, but with greater roles and influence (e.g. the ZMC is now a constitutional commission).   

Further to this, the inclusive government has fought over the people that sit on media related constitutional and statutory boards more than they have sought  a holistic and fundamental democratization of our media policies and media environment . This is a particularly telling point because it re-affirms the ‘politics of benevolence’ that now informs the approach of government to the issue of freedom of expression. 
The second point I refer to is that of a lack of knowledge or understanding  of the media by government on media issues. This lack of knowledge is not because the knowledge does not exist or that policy makers do not have access to it. Instead it is based more on matters to do with political expediency and a desire to maintain some sort of hegemonic presence via control of the media by all political parties in the inclusive government. 

This was initially demonstrated through the amendments to media laws and the maintenance of the criminalization of freedom of expression curing the negotiations that led to the GPA and the formation of the inclusive government. Even in the aftermath of that there has been a tendency by government in its collective responsibility element to continue with processes that are inimical to democratic media reform such as arrests of journalists, media freedom activists as well as limited progress in the diversification and editorial independence of the media.
A final political impediment to the key national question of media reform is also to found in those, like me, who are activists in the struggle for media freedom. We have tended to be too subservient to the incremental and sometimes partisan interests of those in power. And this has included over-compromising on what are democratic media freedom principles in the hope that we will gain the ear of government or those that have vested interests in the same, be they international donors, business interests or partisan political considerations. We have occasionally lost sight of the goal and in the process  have tended to have to react to events after their occurrence.

It would however be necessary to conclude by providing a way forward framework. There must be a consistent understanding on our part that media freedom is not a privilege but a right as enshrined in Section 20 of Zimbabwe’s constitution, Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is this fundamental point that must inform how we approach any strategic way forward.

We must not over compromise on this principle, and this is one of the main reasons why organizations such as the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe  (VMCZ) continue to exist. At the VMCZ we have been asked many questions as to why we are not asking to be members of the ZMC and our reply is that we do not believe in being complicit in the criminalization of the journalistic profession. 

And also  because while it may have seemed convenient in the euphoria of the early stages of the GPA, we remained focused on the democratic value of freedom of expression. The challenge therefore over the Christmas holidays is to review, reframe, re-strategise re-struggle ourselves back to the platform of democratic value and democratic principle.
Thank you.

Friday, 9 December 2011

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.