THE MUTUMWA MAWERE COLUMN
Africa: Republicanism or Dictatorship?
With a majority population still exposed to poverty, Africa continues to provide a fertile ground for dictators to assume power and extend their hegemony with little or no prospect for transformation.
The last ten years have seen some movement in terms of creating space for pluralism in many African countries but the African brand continues to be characterised by unaccountable systems of governance in which the state and its head assume a personality that undermines the fundamental democratic promise of independence.
We have often confused republicanism with democracy in Africa and seldom have we reflected on what kind of governance Africa should have to deliver hope and prosperity to its inhabitants. The concept of republicanism has to be understood in its historical context. It was revived in medieval Europe to fight against the claims of natural rights to rule by monarchs and churches and its key proposition was no different from that of the liberation movements i.e. self government.
The colonial state was accountable not to the subjects but to the mother country and most post colonial states were founded on the premise that a government should answer to no one other than the community of people that it governs. The basic idea of sovereignty of citizens is an important contribution of republicanism to contemporary Africa. The second critical proposition of republicanism is that government power should be derived from a great majority of the people, not from God or other supernatural forces, nor from a small cabal of privileged individuals. A republican government as many African states profess to be is constructed on the basis that its power is derived from the community as a whole and accountability is located within a community framework.
Classical republicanism is founded on the notion that in order for a government to be legitimate and stable, it must have a mixed constitution and governments that are in the exclusive control of "the one" (monarchy), "the few" (aristocracy) or "the many" (democracy) are illegitimate because none of the groups can represent the community as a whole. Under this construction, only a government that incorporates the interests of all groups can be truly legitimate. Such a government is worthy of being called a republican government and it should be stable because few people can complain that their voices are not heard.
Many African governments call themselves Republican and a President typically presides over such a state. Rarely do we question why a country is called a Republic and take for granted that for instance the Republic of Zimbabwe is indeed a republican government that adheres to the principles on which republicanism is constructed.
Many African governments are neither republican nor democratic. It is important that the two concepts are unpacked because the propensity for abuse is high. Republicanism typically emphasises the importance of a mixed government that is stabilised by incorporating the preferences of the majority in a society while democracy focuses on participation of the people in political processes and focuses on the ideals of liberty and political equality. Most African governments are at one in drawing a distinction between "the government" and "the people."
Machiavelli is among the first to foresee the modern distinction between "the public" and "the private and he maintained that it is the task of "politics" to create order in the world, and the objective of politics is to strive to gain, maintain and use power. Many African leaders exhibit the Machiavellian outlook to politics and concur with his views that collective and national interest should be above individual liberties, and Africans should be concerned more with national strength and pride than with individual happiness.
While republicanism should be an ideology of governing African nation states as republics with an emphasis on liberty and ruled by people, the experience in Africa suggests that the very people who found a colonial dispensation abhorrent to democratic and republican values have ended up becoming the custodians of oligarchic and dictatorial regimes.
In as much as most post-colonial states are founded on a desire to create political systems that protect citizen liberty especially by incorporating the rule of law that should not be arbitrarily ignored by governments, we find that many African governments regard the rule of law as a luxury. It is important to evaluate the context and content of the post colonial system’s value set and try to locate the kind of behaviour that is required of Africans if the promise of a republican government is to survive and flourish in an environment where African leadership is at best feudalist, monarchical and to some extent aristocratic without the attendant class and finesse.
Many observers have been surprised at why repressive African governments who penalise their citizens using nationalist and patriotic language have managed to survive and sustain themselves. Supporters of republicanism argue that it demands a citizenry that puts a premium on civil virtue and opposes corruption. Many have argued that republicanism in Africa is incompatible with office holders who use public power for personal gain. Many African dictatorships continue to call themselves "republics," without even attempting to protect liberty or the rights of their citizens.
Being a contributor to the Zimbabwean conversation, I have no choice but to use Zimbabwe as a case study on the kind of governance architecture that Africa needs if its peoples have to emerge from the current economic and political quagmire. Yes Zimbabwe calls itself a Republic with an Executive President who is elected universally by the people of Zimbabwe. The president like any Republican president derives his power from citizens but it is in the accountability arena that Zimbabwe is found wanting.
Some have argued that Africa does not need an Executive President while others have argued that the extent of civic participation in governance in Africa is at such a weak stage that it is meaningless for anyone to expect Africans to get governments they deserve.
There is no better case to demonstrate the complexity and contempt with which most of the African governments regard African citizens that the manner in which the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe under Governor Gideon Gono has been transformed into a government within a government. The President who claims that his legitimacy is derived from the people in as much as the Parliament of Zimbabwe is of the view that his Minister of Finance, Dr. Herbert Murerwa, an elected member of parliament, is wrong in trying to bring transparency and accountability to the fiscal operations of the government.
Mugabe used a meeting with traditional leaders in Matabeleland last week to criticise Murerwa for pursuing "bookish economics". He was reported to have said: “They have this word they like using; ‘quasi, quasi, quasi’. But I tell them that this is expenditure that we need. We are under sanctions and there is no room for the type of bookish economics we have at the Ministry of Finance."
Separately Gono, using the New Zimbabwe.com portal, unapologetically maintained that criticism of the RBZ’s "quasi-fiscal activities" had become "an anthem to some quarters who when they look at this governor see blood in their eyes".
He added: "Those who have watched World Cup Soccer matches will attest to the fact that there come extra-ordinary times on the pitch in which even the goal keeper justifiably dribbles from his post right into the 18-area of the opponents’ half, but all this with one common objective, and that is to secure victory for the whole team. It becomes rather a matter of pettiness and a boon for retrogressive procrastination to want to march in a neat single file, like lackadaisical termites, when the proverbial Rome is burning."
It is common cause that Gono is not elected and he is not accountable to the people of Zimbabwe. However, if the President of the country who has a universal mandate believes that the budget should not be the basis of allocating the resources of the country, then it is obvious that a coup de etat may have taken place in Zimbabwe. Some have argued that if the President genuinely believes that measures designed to enhance transparency, control quasi-fiscal activities, and improve expenditure and debt management not welcome, then the premise on which the republic of Zimbabwe is questionable. It does not take a genius to know that quasi-fiscal measures have the potential to defeat the signaling mechanism of prices and promote opacity by disguising the real fiscal position.
The President has argued that the sanctions regime warrant the use off budget activities for public policy purposes and the Governor of the RBZ has accepted supposedly without pay or any undeclared benefits to be the instrument of sanctions busting and suspending the oversight role of parliament. In the face of the acknowledgment by the President that there is justification to suspend the constitution in the face of a hostile international environment, it seems obvious that the role of parliament may just be academic. Clearly, parliament like many citizens has no clue about how its government is operating financially and the risks are clearly obvious and frightening for a republican government.
Many have heard the term quasi-fiscal activity (QFA) without knowing what it means. In simple terms it refers to the use of off-Budget activities for public policy purposes that can be duplicated by specific fiscal measures, such as taxes, subsidies or other direct expenditures. For example in the fertilisergate issue, the funding for the procurement of fertilizer ought to have been budgeted and the such appropriated funds would then ordinarily be used to buy foreign currency in the market.
However, the standard way in which the government of Zimbabwe has historically procured goods and services is through public tenders but now it seems that this is now a luxury and the RBZ can select suppliers without any regard to transparency. When the universe of suppliers is small the propensity for corruption is high. A republican government is constructed on the basis that public funds belong to citizens and there can be no excuse for keeping the owners of government in the dark about their resources. Ultimately even the resources allocated by the RBZ do not come from the Governor’s pocket rather they come from citizens.
Quasi fiscal activities are generally corrupt and opaque. It is difficult to understand why Minister Murerwa would consider transparency to be important while his boss and Gono think otherwise. In a republican government there are many reasons why transparency should be important and non-negotiable. Firstly, it is important even under a sanctions regime for a nation not to disguise the real fiscal position in terms of overall magnitude and allocation of expenditure.
Obfuscating the true picture can be risky, as it can lead to complacency and delays in taking corrective action while problems may accumulate. These quasi-fiscal costs can become quite large and since they are not fully collated, the extent of damage becomes evident when, for example as in the case of the Fertilisergate and selective treatment in the foreign exchange market.
Thirdly, the lack of transparency in fiscal accounts of Zimbabwe and implicit support for non transparent operation of government under a republican framework is a matter of serious concern.
Fourthly, greater openness in procedures and in the dissemination of information helps reveal public sector performance and the scope of quasi fiscal activities.
Fifthly, central banks and other public financial and non-financial institutions can affect overall public sector balance without affecting the budget deficit as conventionally measured. These measures entail implicit and explicit taxation or subsidization that should fall within the scope of the budget.
Although Gono has claimed that he has no political ambition, it is unprecedented to have a central bank governor become a sole donor of the President’s computer road show where his name is complemented to the people while the Minister is castigated for trying to enhance transparency. What is disturbing is that Gono is unapologetic about justifying the unjustifiable i.e. a republican government can operate in an opaque manner while he purports to be a champion of good corporate governance. Opaque structures breed an opaque government and undermine the values that President Mugabe should stand for. In fact, Murerwa ought to be behind President Mugabe in making sure that a governor who does has no respect for the rights of citizens after 36 months in office never comes near the till of the nation.
Zimbabwe is a critical member of the African family of nations. The developments taking place in the country have clear and direct implications on Africa’s brand building challenge. It is critical that Africans who care about the continent’s progress take note of the policy options for Zimbabwe and locate the actions of the RBZ in the trajectory of democratic processes. President Mugabe’s voice is an important voice for the poor of the world
ho are confused about why they remain at the bottom while the rich continue to monopolize and harvest the fruits of human progress. To this end, by accepting the proposition that opaque governance can be accommodated in whatever construction, he may have permanently undermined and compromised any legacy that he may enjoy.
In the final analysis, Gono’s actions penalise the poor and the sooner the President realises that Murerwa’s actions may be informed by his constituency, who deserve real and not voodoo economics, the better for everyone.
Mutumwa Mawere's weekly column appears on New Zimbabwe.com every Monday. You can contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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