Sunday, 15 February 2009

Zimbabwe: Back to halcyon days!

Zimbabwe: Back to halcyon days!

WHILE I agree with JOMIC’s call for some forbearance in respect of the newly inaugurated inclusive government, I hotly oppose any attempt to privilege this new arrangement.

Or to turn JOMIC into some kind of "policeman" over the media.

And JOMIC’s meeting with journalists did not do much to dispel this apprehension. For a start, there was no one from the Information Ministry, as if to suggest a new, supra-governmental regulatory layer was being inaugurated.

Secondly, the remarks from the speakers were pretty hackneyed and even intimidatory, in fact reminiscent of Zimbabwe in the early eighties.

The whole event would have been more useful if JOMIC had sought to achieve greater media understanding through a very detailed, off-the-record brief on the whole political process and its prospects.

Much worse, the format of getting representatives of political parties to speak rotationally, in equal measure, suggested exactly the opposite of what the speakers were asserting and sought to project.

Mis-governance by consensus?

But there are more substantive reasons for keeping media regulation off JOMIC’s limits. Politically, after the inauguration of the inclusive government Zimbabwe will not have an official opposition.

It will be governed by consensual politics worked out by the hitherto warring parties.

This raises the spectre of consensual mis-governance to which we have to find institutional cures by way of countervailing alternative power points.

Needless to say the media is one such. JOMIC was set up specifically to review or audit the political agreement of the three parties.

That does not quite give it a blank cheque over larger societal institutions.

While the media, alongside other countervailing institutions normal in a democracy, have to defer to the new kid on the block, they do not have to doff to it.

Whatever adjective comes before it, the new creature to emerge out of the September 15 Agreement is still a government whose work or lack of it impacts variously on citizens.

As it makes decisions, implements them, it will draw reactions — some happy, some quite unhappy — from various interest groups who will seek ventilation through the media.

Bringing views of citizens into the public domain is the reason for existence of the media which profits power by communicating feedback to it.

The bicker from within

More practically, politicians themselves will be the first ones to scald the inclusive government.

Not the media.

We are already beginning to get a foretaste of this: by way of larger pronouncements and visions purveyed before the new creature launches its inaugural meeting by way of cabinet.

There is impulsiveness.

There is perfect confusion regarding party agendas and governmental policies and programmes.

What is worse, one sees an uncanny attempt to answer to outside interests before the views of Zimbabweans — themselves the owners of this thing — are consulted.

Noticing this propensity, outsiders have not wasted time in setting parameters and benchmarks for the new government.

The British have done so, in the process exhibiting their disavowal of this settlement. The Americans are being made to have said so, much as I know better.

The European Union is still keeping a façade of unanimity to placate Britain, much as I know that a good number of member countries are already putting feelers on how best to break out of the straitjacket of British government hatred of Mugabe, which daily pretends to pass for "a policy".

It is a pity that a country that seeks to "mother" another, shows such spiteful fixation with mere individuals, while the "child" shows such remarkable precocity.

Surely a whole big country whose roots in international relations span over centuries cannot obsess over Mugabe, Tsvangirai, Gono, etc, etc?

It suggests a certain infantile outlook which strikes one as backward.

And of course as politicians in the inclusive government jockey and bicker, they will seek the support of different sections of the media, in the process entrenching the polarisation which already exists.

Usurpation of power?

What is more, the Zimbabwe Media Commission, itself a constitutional body, is set for launching.

All the parties agreed to its formation, and even set clear parameters for its operations. Is it not better suited for the kind of role JOMIC sought to do last week?

Does it not have a better claim to leadership in the media industry?

And when members of JOMIC go to serve in different ministries of the inclusive government, can they make demands on the media without appearing to want to put themselves above scrutiny as performers in the inclusive government? I think the idea of creating a media subcommittee under JOMIC is ill-advised.

It must be shelved before a situation of conflict pitting it against the parent Ministry and the proposed Zimbabwe Media Commission.

Media impertinences

I said I agree with JOMIC in so far as the new experiment needs to be nurtured. Or rather in so far as the media need to understand the new political arrangement.

Already, there is abundant evidence that the media have not understood the moment.

For instance, does it make sense to describe the new Prime Minister as taking "charge"?

Taking charge of what?

And this said before the full cabinet is in place?

And this said before the first Cabinet meeting? This said before the Prime Minister has even got staff?

You can see an outdated media working in old mould, in pre-inclusivity mode.

Does it make sense to put the new prime minister under pressure in respect of accused persons already under the charge of courts?

Why instigate the prime minister to undermine the courts on the very first day of taking office? Does it make sense to ask him what he will do on the economy?

What he will do for workers?

What the new Finance Minister will do with the Zimbabwe Dollar; will do with the Governor of the Reserve Bank?

And this from journalists who have copies of the budget on their desks?

And this from journalists who are supposed to know how the cabinet system works; who are supposed to know the place and status of the RBZ and its Governor in terms of the law of the land?

Who appoints the Governor of the Reserve Bank?

Clearly there are sections of the media who are seeking conflict, indeed seeking to upset and ruin the spirit of inclusivity.

By so doing, they are bringing into the home logs infested with ants.

They should not cry when "JOMIC" or some such creature pays them a visit.

Well before they have educated Zimbabweans on what this new creature is all about, they are already seeking a throwback to the days of conflict.

Which way Zimbabwe?

What then is the way forward?

Last week I challenged the inclusive government by asking it to tell us under whose colours it is marching.

That challenge still stands, and will, in my view, determine what amount of harmony there will be in the new structure.

For external western powers, the issue has been whether or not Mugabe will yield to Tsvangirai.

The challenge of recovering the economy has been presented as that of Tsvangirai alone.

I hope we have got to the bottom of this whole argument.

It is an argument about the vision of the new government, specifically a demand to know how nationalistic the new arrangement will be. Or the obverse: how neo-colonial the new arrangement will be.

If it remains nationalistic, the western world has made it clear it will not move in with any assistance, whatever that means.

For any structure with a nationalistic fervour will suggest Mugabe has not given way, something quite in conflict with what I know inclusivity to mean.

If it becomes neo-colonial, aid will come flowing, whatever that aid means.

It will mean Mugabe will have given way. This is exactly what Milliband and Brown meant when they said they will judge the new government in terms of how far it provides a window for Mugabe’s departure.

A window for regime change, in other words, to the extent that Mugabe personifies the liberation government.

Disregarding coy West

Now, how do those in the new government view things? For me that is what is fundamental.

Zimbabwe has had its days of glory in the recent past. In fact until ESAP and sanctions, Zimbabwe was a vibrant, going concern.

It has, in other words, a glorious past to draw from. Zimbabwe has her own resources and a vibrant private sector tradition for exploiting those resources.

It is a rich country full of ingenuity.

While the former is God-given, the latter was achieved through a set of policies deliberately pursued at Independence.

The men and women who designed those policies are still in Government, this time renewed by a change agent called MDC.

In fact those in the MDC cannot dispute this point without negating themselves.

Almost to the man and woman, they are products of post-independence enterprise in Government, an enterprise that got fatigued somewhere, somewhat.

To be pro-people while being pro-private initiative is probably what is needed.

Zimbabwe now has more partners outside of the West. The resource world has more nations, more possibilities.

The present coyness of the West need not be a major hurdle, for as long as we know our strengths and our actual and potential allies. Western assistance may not be what begins; it could very well be what follows after we have made the first tentative steps, alone.

The West cannot afford to ignore Zimbabwe much longer, in a world of resource hungry powers always on the prowl.

Nor should we worry about Mr Brown. If we should worry at all, we should worry about a country called Britain, a people called the British. On it, in them we should dock our foreign relations politics respectively.

Not in Mr Brown. After all, it will not be long before the British people do us a favour by handling Mr Brown for us. What is critical is what we can do with what, who, follows him.

The ambiguities of South African capital

Sadc made a commitment to assist. Already, we have seen a bit of that assistance coming in by way of agricultural inputs.

Another layer of intervention is at the level of currency, specifically the co-circulation of the rand in our economy. It is a very emotive issue, made worse by the fact that the South African economy remains predominantly white and multinational.

That country’s interface with sister republics in the region has not been that edifying. Zambia’s experience with South African capital has been especially sobering.

Had it not been for Chinese mining capital, Zambia would have been reduced to a giant supermarket of South Africa, the way many countries in the rand zone are presently. South African capital only creates real wealth in respect of extractive, non-renewable sectors. Rarely does it beneficiate. Even with the best intentions, the South African Government cannot check the predatory nature of capital in South Africa, particularly its propensity to de-industrialise its hinterland. Which is why we need a properly formulated response that is deeper than Minister Biti’s frenetic, knee-jerk views proffered through Al Jazeera.

Illustratively, after the South African President said it was possible to have Zimbabwe use the rand, the matter quickly became an issue for boardrooms, away from the Government House. It tells us who our partners will be, should we decide on that course of action.

Congratulations and welcome Sirs, Madame!

Whichever way we go, one thing is certain to me. No one man, no one party, will bring Zimbabwe back to her days of glory. It will not be Robert Mugabe. It will not be Morgan Tsvangirai or Arthur Mutambara.

It will be Zimbabweans united by the three men working together. That, for me, is what inclusivity is all about: getting Zimbabweans to refocus and work. In the meantime, congratulations and welcome Mr Prime Minister, Mr Deputy Prime Minister and Madame Deputy Prime Minister. I give my peace; I give my respect and earned support. Icho!

l nathaniel

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