By Dr Mathew Nyashanu
The desperate Zimbabwean government led by President Emmerson Mnangagwa has passed the patriotic bill in a bid to suppress dissent ahead of the 2023 plebiscite. The new law is called the Patriot Act and was modelled after the Logan Act of the United States.
The Logan Act forbids negotiations between unauthorized American people and foreign governments that are involved in a conflict with the United States. The statute is designed to prevent negotiations that undermine the position of the United States government. The Logan Act was only violated by two people, neither of whom were found guilty by the courts of law in the United States.
The new piece of legislation in Zimbabwe has been described by critics as one of the most oppressive laws ever to be passed in a post-colonial state targeting its own citizens. It is now clear that the Zimbabwe government is aware of the disgruntlement and dissent among citizens and has embarked on caveats wedging to retain power in the coming elections. One would wonder what really constitutes a crime when people are responding to threats of oppression by the very government that is accusing them of encouraging sanctions.
As I alluded to in one of my articles on this space, there is no ordinary Zimbabwean citizen who would want to see the country under siege with sanctions as purported by the government. The passing of sanctions by different governments across the world is a national decision taken by a legislative body of that country and never to be associated with an ordinary citizen from another country. All people in Zimbabwe and outside would want to see Zimbabwe improving its economic fortunes to support the lives of vulnerable members of our community.
The real troublemaker in all this debacle of patriotism and sanctions is none other than the Zimbabwean government. Zimbabwe has an abundance of natural resources and arable land for agriculture which has been put to waste since the chaotic land reforms or even dating back to the early years of independence where those elected into government were busy laundering State assets and misappropriating money without any insight into developing the economy and enhancing sustainability in line with the expanding population.
The government of president Mnangagwa has been talking big about making breakthroughs with mega deals in China and Russia which have never come to pass. The influx of Chinese businesses in Zimbabwe has not benefited the ordinary citizens who were hoping for employment and sustenance through good salaries. Instead of bringing employment and hope to the Zimbabwe economy the Chinese are bringing even forklift drivers and casual workers from China at the expense of the local people. This is all happening against a backdrop of the government of Zimbabwe keeping quiet and dining with the rogue Chinese business tycoons.
When the citizens start to question all these malpractices by the government, they are then labelled unpatriotic. To date there is no Chinese company that has built a notable manufacturing industry in Zimbabwe to fully process raw materials into finished products and create economic value for the country. Instead of building manufacturing firms the Chinese business model with Zimbabwe has been to export raw materials to their homeland where they are processed into finished products and create value for their economy and employment for their own people.
Under the current government, Zimbabwe is being engulfed into a new wave of colonialism facilitated and massaged by corrupt a leadership. Just a few weeks ago there were reports that lithium raw materials were being exported from Zimbabwe without the knowledge of the government. On close analysis one would believe that the culprits were doing these shade deals with government officials since they are the ones overseeing the exploitation of minerals across the country.
The exploitation of raw materials by Zimbabwe’s companions from the east is ruthless as they leave the environment damaged. Zimbabwe is now littered with gallies, and blasted rocks left by the rogue investors who were invited by the Zimbabwe government. The government has a white elephant environmental policy which has never been translated to practice. Some government officials are known to be god-fathers of illegal miners exploiting minerals and damaging the environment.
In all this mayhem one would ask what sort of election are we heading for in 2023? Honestly, it is another shame election as the government has shown that its main objective is to pass legislation that would curtail the freedom of citizens. The government is getting into this election without any economic, social and political manifesto because it feels that it is not accountable to anyone as seen since they came into power more than forty years ago.
Advisors to the government of Zimbabwe should be sincere enough to tell the government the truth about the feelings of the citizens in terms of how they are running the country. Furthermore, the government needs to know that they are being subjected to a test by all the countries in the world through the lens of the 2023 elections.
The standard by which the government of Zimbabwe is going to hold these elections will also determine their relationship with the wider world contrary to their belief that sanctions are a result of Zimbabweans talking to outsiders. This is an opportunity for the government to make a raft of laws to free up the democratic space and usher a new political environment far from the culture of violence that has characterised all the elections in the past.
While the government of Zimbabwe needs to do more in freeing the democratic space through legislative laws, the opposition need to be visible and demand changes that are needed for free and fair elections.
Opposition parties need to show how they are different from Zanu PF government by selling a lucrative and practical manifesto to the citizens. There is need to lobby regional and international political players to mediate in political impasses that may stall discussions with the government. Sometimes it is not helpful for the opposition to take part in flawed elections only to endorse a system that is dangerous to mankind.
The opposition should position themselves as the custodians of good political practice through programmes that press for change. It is important that the opposition and the government create a platform to negotiate political reforms ahead of the 2023 elections; such a platform can be guaranteed by SADC or the African Union. For this to happen the opposition need to take the initiative to both the government and regional organisations.
The downside to African politics is that member countries are afraid of telling each other the truth. The only people African politicians have managed to tell the truth are the former colonisers.
However, they need to go a step further and apprise each other in terms of good and bad practice. It is painful to note that the African Union has become a toothless bulldog that houses dictators and criminal leadership in the region. Very little has been done to improve the political environment of member countries.
In the coming year, African regional organisations need to do more if Africa is to rid itself of criminal politicians bent on devouring resources of their countries while citizens are wallowing in poverty. Brothers and sisters, I wish you a happy new year. Let’s meet again next year to deliberate on the issues closer to our hearts.
Dr Mathew Nyashanu is a Senior Lecturer in Public Health and Admissions tutor for the MA in Public Health. He is a Zimbabwean academic based in the institute of Health & Allied Professions at Nottingham Trent University. He is a social scientist and public health specialist who has contributed widely to the strengthening of Health systems in many low- and middle-income countries. The writings are purely his views and do not represent Nottingham Trent University. Dr Mathew Nyashanu can be contacted on the following email: email@example.com