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By Mutumwa D. Mawere

LAST week saw President Robert Mugabe opening the last session of parliament before the 2008 elections. As expected, the agenda for this last session will include the 18th constitutional amendment as well as the enactment of an indigenisation and empowerment legislation.

If anything, President Mugabe made it clear in his speech to parliament that no external party or power’s intervention will be welcome in deciding any constitutional question that confronts Zimbabwe after 27 years of independence.

While many may have expected that MDC and Zanu PF will, through the SADC initiative, have an opportunity to discuss in camera the necessary constitutional and electoral reforms, it is clear that the position of President Mugabe has not shifted and, therefore, any misplaced hope that President Thabo Mbeki’s mediation would assist in advancing the cause of a regime change has been dashed.

Any rational mind informed by President Mugabe’s consistent thinking on issues of sovereignty would not have even included constitutional questions on the agenda of President Mbeki’s mediation initiative. Rightly or wrongly President Mugabe is yet to be convinced that the last 17 amendments to the Lancaster Constitution were not in the national interest and equally that the Constitutional Referendum provided a vehicle for Zimbabweans to directly express themselves on constitutional reforms if this was the burning issue.

What is striking is that there seems to be consensus between President Mugabe and the MDC/NCA that constitutional changes must be people driven. However, there is no consensus on who should drive the process and to what end.

To the extent that the two formations of the MDC plus Professor Jonathan Moyo are represented in Parliament, the argument advanced by President Mugabe and apparently accepted by SADC is that there is no other legitimate body to discuss any constitutional changes than a duly elected Parliament of Zimbabwe.

While some may argue that President Mugabe was not legitimately elected, it has been difficult to advance the argument that only representatives of MDC in parliament were legitimately elected and all Zanu PF representatives are not legitimate. If the Parliament of Zimbabwe is not a legitimate body then it is argued that MDC representatives should walk the talk by resigning than seek the assistance of external powers to do what they can’t do using constitutional means in Zimbabwe.

After 27 years of independence it is ironic, notwithstanding the acute economic crisis confronting Zimbabwe, that the debate about the future of the country seems to centre only on political issues. I have often advanced the argument that even if the constitution was changed in line with what the opposition and NCA is agitating for, it is unlikely that the economic crisis will end. Equally even if sanctions, however defined, were to be lifted, it is also unlikely that Zimbabwe will get out of the woods.

I presented a paper last week at a meeting organised by the Friends of Zimbabwe Coalition (“FOZC”) whose theme was: “The root cause of the Zimbabwean crisis” and I left the meeting convinced that unless there is a determined and focused attention on understanding this defining question, the prospect of resolving the crisis is doomed.

It emerged at the heated meeting that no consensus exists on when Zimbabwe went off track and what were the root causes. There are as many opinions as the people discussing the Zimbabwean problem at any one time to make the issues digestible and a way forward developed. Any friend of Zimbabwe will come to the conclusion that Zimbabweans are not yet ready to do what any rational person would consider obvious.

What was interesting was that the room was equally divided among those who support President Mugabe and the proposition that Zimbabwe is a victim of unjust sanctions and the current policies of the government are in the national interest. In fact, President Mugabe’s anti-market posture resonates well with many academics and some sections of not only Zimbabweans but even South Africans.

Some passionate arguments were presented in support of the government of Zimbabwe and some went further to suggest that there is nothing unique about the price freeze and the threat of nationalisation against companies deemed to be operating against national interest. In advancing such arguments, a position is made that as long as the economy is not democratised and whites are in control, the end justifies the means.

I came out of the meeting convinced that it is important for any friend of Zimbabwe to speak to these sentiments if their input on the Zimbabwean crisis is to be meaningful and effective.

What is clear today is that Zimbabwe is at the crossroads and urgently needs to make some tough policy choices. We now know that the policies of the last 27 years have not worked and, if anything, they have left Zimbabweans more poor and vulnerable. Many of the able bodied Zimbabweans have elected to externalise their brain power than be exposed to personal risks with no mitigating factors.

Arguments may be advanced on questions of political legitimacy but what Zimbabwe requires today is a fundamental shift from policies that have been universally proved to be ineffective in dealing with poverty and advancing the transformation agenda. Even President Mugabe will agree that change is required in Zimbabwe and the economic thinking that has informed post-colonial programs and initiatives have not worked.

It is important that we locate the Zimbabwean problem in the broader African context. The Africa of today is not a monolithic bloc of one size fits all. We have to recognise that Africa can be divided into two categories of nations i.e. those that are on the growth path and those that are stagnating and failing to meet their own development challenges.

What is clear is that the countries that are registering positive growth in Africa are not pursuing policies that the government of Zimbabwe is pursuing or has pursued since independence. It is also evident that countries that are pursuing market unfriendly policies are not doing well. Some of the growing African nations faced the same challenges that Zimbabwe is currently facing and fortunately they had the courage and maturity to make the hard developmental choices.

While constitutional issues may have been paramount in these countries on defining legitimacy, the developmental agenda took centre stage and politicians that were not willing to change became redundant. In many of these countries, citizens with the support of their external partners were able to decide on the role of the state in a national democratic revolution. What works and does not work was rationally discussed in most cases and the consensus among the winning African nations was that the state cannot be a better citizen that natural citizens. Accordingly, any state that believes that solutions will come from corridors of political power is doomed to fail and in so doing betray the interests of the nameless and voiceless majority.

If Zimbabwe is at the crossroads which direction should it take? I may not be alone in holding the view that the belated policies on indigenisation and economic empowerment, coming 27 after political democracy, are doomed to fail not only because the target beneficiaries have been systematically alienated during the period from the resources required to acquire the potential shareholding but also because the policies appear to be opportunistically conceived.

Why did it take the government 27 years to put the legislation in place? If Tony Blair had accepted to help finance the land reform programme would the indigenisation bill have been on the agenda? If blacks have not benefited in terms of democratising the economy, who has the government been serving for the past 27 years? If targeted sanctions were not imposed, would President Mugabe remember this constituency? Would it not make sense for the government to expose those that have used independence to deny the majority of the fruits of freedom? Can the government be trusted to do what it failed to do for the past 27 years? Can anyone trust the government to select the winners? Is there any country that has succeeded in transforming its economy through legislation or rule by law?

Those who have followed Zimbabwean economic history cannot be mistaken of who President Mugabe’s business friends have been. Many will recall President Mugabe’s close relationship with Tony O’Reilly, former CEO of H.J. Heinz, and now a media mogul and Algy Cluff. President Mugabe has not been known to have black business friends and his attitude to business people has not been positive.

Some will remember that during the first 10 years of independence, Zanu PF had a leadership code whose emphasis was to create a crop of poor leaders presumably with unquestionable loyalty to the great leader. As a result, the party became allergic to wealth creation and individual enterprise. It is not surprising, therefore, that for a party that has been in power for 27 years, it has failed to produce graduates in the economic market with an equivalent track record to that of President Mugabe in politics.

Most of the founding fathers of the Zimbabwean national democratic revolution have been deliberately prevented from benefiting economically from the revolution leaving the status quo ante untouched and assisting in its entrenchment under President Mugabe’s watch. Any regime change or empowerment is unlikely to change the class relationships in Zimbabwe. Should President Mugabe be held accountable for failing to use his leadership to democratise the economy for the last 27 years of his reign?

There are a few examples of Zanu PF office bearers who have an independent economic mind and can claim to have assets of their own. The majority may be classified as parasites of the state system and now rely on Gono to dispense stipend and favours to compliant cadres.

The case of Dr Chris Kuruneri who as expected was acquitted last week after being disabled by a government that he passionately sought to serve because he had made the mistake of investing in a house in Cape Town and holding a Canadian citizenship needs to be understood in its broader context. If President Mugabe was willing to sacrifice a cabinet minister (or rely on suspect intelligence) using trumped up charges, how many of Zanu PF members would be willing to openly engage in business with the prospect of being harassed by their own government?

It is not clear who the intended beneficiaries of the so-called empowerment initiative are when President Mugabe has distinguished himself as the most unfriendly person to the entrepreneurial black business sector. Like ordinary helpless Zimbabweans, they are not expected to have a mind of their own but be converted into patriotic entrepreneurs. It is no wonder that of the 5,000 businessmen arrested; more than 99% are black.

On land reform, the nationalisation of land has unfortunately not led to any meaningful supply response and it is not clear what the belated empowerment drive is meant to achieve other than target perceived enemies of the state.

The importance of meaningful conversations among Zimbabweans and anyone interested in the future of not only Zimbabwe but the rest of the continent cannot be overstated. What we can say is that if the theme chosen by FOZC to locate the root causes of the Zimbabwean crisis becomes the basis of enlightened conversations about this complex problem, the solution will be nearer and Zimbabweans can be assisted to choose the right path than going nowhere slowly.

It is also important that the mediation by President Mbeki be focused on identifying the root causes of the crisis with a view to addressing the fundamental policy questions that can only be resolved by none other than Zimbabweans themselves. All I can say is that where there is will there is a way.

Finally, I cannot help but emphasise that the only power people who do not have power have is the power to organise. Zimbabweans are lacking in this dimension and it will not help Zimbabwe’s cause to focus on the fate of an 83-year-old leader only without focusing on what kind of society Zimbabwe should be and what kind of policies and programs should inform it.

The departure of President Mugabe will not assist in addressing the policy bankruptcy that has characterised the past 27 years. Will Zimbabweans have the maturity and sense of purpose to prove Ian Smith wrong that independence has been a disaster to the poor, or will they allow recycled and failed policies and programs to pollute the future?

Mutumwa Mawere's weekly column appears on New every Monday. You can contact him at:

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