The Sunday News
“TOO often, government leaders fail to adopt and implement policies that they know are necessary for sustained economic development. Political constraints can prevent leaders from following sound technical advice, even when leaders have the best of intentions”, so, writes the World Bank Report titled Making politics work for development: Harnessing transparency and citizen engagement. This path breaking report places politics at the heart of the development dialogue; exactly where it belongs as confirmed by the celebrated economist Asli Demirguc-Kunt, the director of research at the World Bank.
In relation to the development arguments I want to posit today, the report provides constructive ideas for harnessing the centrality of what can be termed “good politics”; a phenomena of government’s active and expedited facilitation of positive change to improve individuals, communities and the nation’s lives.
Here, we shall focus on the discourse of “change” as both a consequence and a process of “good politics”. While domestic, local and national-level considerations are critical to the definition of the process of change, external factors and international actors also continue to play an important, even, at some conjunctures, determinant role in shaping outcomes.
The changes which have taken place on the Zimbabwean political landscape over the last decade and half have been multi-dimensional. They have occurred as much at the level of formal politics as in the arena of the informal processes that underpin the political system suffice to say, new ethno-power dynamics are emerging and are a threat to progress.
They have also been generated by factors internal to the political system and those external to it, necessitating a close attention to their implications to any form of development at either communal or national scale. The persistence of settler colonialism in the greater part of Zimbabwe and the institutionalised racial discrimination that went with it constituted the most important challenge to Zimbabwean nationalism and its agenda of the total liberation of the country from foreign domination.
Beginning with the independence of our country in 1980 the end of colonial rule and its collapse unleashed new political forces and possibilities in our country; within rest of Zimbabwe; this development also unleashed new processes and alliances. If there was a perception that the unfinished business of national liberation prevented Zimbabweans from giving full attention to the challenges of overcoming their underdevelopment and dependence, the end of colonial rule has been interpreted as marking the end of an important phase in the history of the country and the beginning of a new one in which concerns about Zimbabwean unity and development would pre-dominate.
Understandably, much of the attention which has been focused on political change in Zimbabwe has been concentrated on the formal institutions and procedures of politics because these are both more visible and measurable.
The past year in Zimbabwean history was ushered in with street protests or pressures which in many cases culminated in concerted efforts at reforming the institutions and procedures of politics and governance. Among the most interesting developments which occurred as part of this reform effort were the convocation of sovereign ideas and assurance of nationalist goals pursuing 2013 promises.
We cannot overrule widespread constitutional draft participation that resulted in the adoption of an entirely new one; the existence of multi-party politics and the organisation of multi-party elections; the embrace of the notion of independent electoral commissions; the adoption of widespread electoral reforms such as the new Biometric Voter System, including mixed list and proportional representation systems whose intention is to stimulate a gender-balanced political and policy culture.
Successfully, as was agreed upon attainment of independence, Zimbabwe has had the organisation of repeat elections that have been identified by some as a critical indicator of democratic consolidation.
These changes were designed to open the political space, and in so doing, allow for greater competition in the struggle for political power. The ambition has been to create a level playing field for all political actors, make Government more representative and accountable, allow for greater popular participation in national governance, and enrich the public space as an autonomous arena for the articulation of popular aspirations and or the canvassing of policy and political alternatives.
Almost without exception, and as an integral part of the pressures for the opening up of the political space, the monopoly on media ownership alleged on the State was broken in 2015 through the licensing by the Government of private radio stations (mostly FM stations).
While this has happened, the raging debate still proceeds on localising broadcasting through community radio stations and multiplying television broadcasting as a dispatch of visual information.
In enhancing development, information access and the speed at which it reaches the masses is critical. Through this necessity, there is no doubt that we notice that the politics of information are also part of the changes to “good politics”, nevertheless more is needed.
Needless to say, that inroads have also been made by digital satellite broadcasters and private internet service providers despite the exorbitant charges of data, of which in access of a critical commodity by those in dire need of it amounts to poverty.
Apart from representing a radical departure from the situation that prevailed previously, the development has marked a new and important element in the promotion of political pluralism, governmental accountability, and popular participation.
In seeking alternative interpretative frames for understanding the new patterns of politics in Zimbabwe, it is important, as a starting point, to keep in mind that change is a continuous process. Change is also not always radical — indeed, in most cases, it is gradual, often incomplete, certainly far from being total, and is sometimes even imperceptible but nevertheless occurring. It is precisely because of the permanence of change that much of the processes integral to politics, economy and society across the world constitute pieces of work in progress, arenas where, whether it be the management of diversity, the construction of the state, the negotiation of citizenship, etc., the best models which are available or which correspond to the social equilibrium of the moment still represent, in a historical perspective, an unfinished business. That is why, wherever there is change, elements of continuity also abound: change is more-often-than-not unfolded in the womb of one form or another of continuity.