By Leopold Munhende l Chief Correspondent
A LOCAL research unit, Democracy Institute’s (ZDI) latest report titled ‘Civic Space Contestation Ahead of 2023’ has noted a series of reforms aimed at cementing President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s ‘dictatorship’ since his ascent in 2017.
ZDI, which is based in Harare, sought to investigate the nature and key players in closing democratic space in the country, consequences of doing so and possible solutions for civic society organisations (CSOs).
It noted that Mnangagwa’s machinations to consolidating State power through authoritarian means and highlighted the worsened closure of civic space as compared to the era of late former president Robert Mugabe.
“The study found that Zimbabwe in the post-Mugabe era has witnessed a sequence of political reforms designed to consolidate authoritarian rule,” said ZDI.
These include political appointments and programmes that intensify militarisation of key State institution and Zanu PF to buttress Mnangagwa’s stay in power, regulations and statutory instruments that muzzle opposition parties and amendments of legislation and the Constitution to narrow political participation of opponents of the ruling Zanu PF party and widen the power of the executive branch of government.
“This authoritarian consolidation policy has been very injurious to the democratic gains of the 2009-2013 power sharing reforms. The most injured being judicial independence, separation of powers, constitutionalism, political participation and role of civil society.”
The report adds; “The study found that the attitude/behaviour of government of President Mnangagwa towards Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) has been more hostile compared to what was there during Mugabe’s era.
“(A significant) 84% of the respondents noted that government’s attitude towards civil society in Zimbabwe is hostile, 10% of the respondents highlighted that the attitude of government towards civil society is friendly, while 6% said they do not know how the government operates with civil society.
“The findings of the study indicate that the political landscape of Zimbabwe is characterised by tensions that exist between the government of Zimbabwe and CSOs. 81% of the participants said the government has increased its surveillance and interference in the operations of civil society in Zimbabwe, 16% indicated that there is no increase, whereas 3% revealed that they do not know about it.”
Without predicting a similar scenario, ZDI’s report noted that countries that usually stifle civic society operations experience the rise and spread of violent demonstrations, and uprisings.
Added the report: “Findings of this study reveal that closure of the public space has had many outcomes in other country studies that include proliferation of violent protests and social movements, revolutions and mass uprisings, and loss of international image.
“Civil unrest is the worst-case scenario usually associated with closure of the civic space as people tend to turn to the streets and violence as an alternative way of expression.
“It is imperative that CSOs speak with one voice against the government’s attempt to close the civic space (unity of all CSOs in the country). This is against a background of discohesion within CSOs themselves.
“For instance, one of the CSOs’ meetings in Mutare was disrupted by the military and rumour said a certain fellow CSO had alerted the security forces of the meeting.”
The report also suggests a coalition of CSOs.