The two main structural issues are the institutional architecture as the central vehicle driving government policies and programmes, and power dynamics within the polity in Zimbabwe. Institutions are governance structures based on rules, norms, values and
systems of cultural meaning. They are the set of working rules used to determine the ruling elite; action allowed and constrained, aggregation rules applicable, procedures allowable, available information, rewards for performance, creating checks and balances, facilitating political cooperation and reducing political uncertainties.
The rules include characteristics such as the public degree of access to decision-making, availability of information from government agencies or sharing of power between national and provincial authorities. The institutional architecture, in creating constraints and facilitating success for given actions, tends to determine outcomes through institutional organisation of the polity while economic structures tend to privilege some interest while demobilising others.
Historical institutionalism is grounded on the assumption that political institutions and previously enacted public policy significantly structure political behaviour of bureaucrats, elected officials and interest groups during the policy-making process. Institutional configuration of governments and political party systems condition politicians and social groups’ behaviour, defining institutions as the formal and informal procedures, routines, norms and conventions embedded in the organisational structure of the polity or political economy, emphasising also the asymmetries of power associated with the operation and development of institutions.
Historical institutions attempt to explain in relatively explicit terms how power is currently configured in the GNU – by elaborating how institutions give some groups or interests disproportionate access to decision-making processes, stressing how some groups of interests lose while theirs win. They also emphasise the contextual features of a given situation often inherited from the past, mediate and influence outcomes and as such ZANU PF is better placed to gain as its interests are well captured by the existing
Susan Boyden (2009) defines state institutions to compose of legislative bodies and parliamentary and subordinate law-making institutions, executive bodies including governmental bureau and departments of state, judicial bodies (primarily courts of law), located at national regional and local level. The continued grip by ZANU PF in these spheres particularly at bureaucratic levels ensures that ZANU PF intentions see the day.
As already elaborated through my emphasis on the historical assumption that institutions and public policy structure bureaucratic behaviour, there exists tilted institutions favouring ZANU PF, directing decision making at national, regional and local level. The GPA signed on September 15, 2008, created consensus on the need to build
institutions that support and consolidate democracy in Zimbabwe through attaining commitment from the three main political parties in the country.
These institutions are supposedly intended to create a framework for easy development of policies that deepen democracy “in multi dimensional, incorporating the effects on public policy, on citizenship and social justice, extending effectiveness, responsiveness, accountability and capacitating to resolve conflicts among competing interests” (Ingram & Smith 1998).
The envisaged policies are intended to foster the goals and rationale through the implementation structure, rules and tools, effect on values, beliefs and social constructions correcting existing imbalances amongst political actors and society and Zimbabweans as a whole. It would appear as if the policy-making process within the GNU (which should have been placed in the Prime Minister’s Office after the reconfiguration as per the GPA), has remained plugged mainly within Cabinet and has tended to emerge within a context of degenerative pluralism, characterised by hyper
competitiveness, strategic and manipulative behavior, hidden agendas, a focus on “winning” and gaining credit or “placing blame” discrediting one’s “opponents” without a willingness to search for common ground.
In particular, ZANU PF continues to capitalise the existing legal framework to advance and guide illogical, deceptive, divisive constructions of targeted persons, systematically over-representing, undeserving of its supporters, disregarding democratic political rationality and instrumentality rationality (Ingram & Smith 1998). The institutional framework propagated by the GNU also reconfigured power dynamics within the government structure to the effect that decision-making within institutions at national level was significantly changed.
The provision for the creation of a Prime Minister’s Office responsible for policy formulation, the establishment of a Council of Ministers and the envisaged establishment of a Security Council and Council of State all help to demonstrate and elaborate the case in point. Robert Dahl (1957) defines power as when “A has power over B to the extent that he can get B to do something B would not otherwise do.”
Bacharach & Banta (1962) assert that “power is exercised when A devotes his energy to creating or reinforcing social and political values and institutional practices that limit the scope of the political process to public consolidation of only those issues that are comparatively innocent to A”. Within the Zimbabwean context, power can easily be traced through decision-making processes that in this case continue to reflect ZANU PF
positions, while suppressing those of the MDC.
The unilateral appointment of Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) Governor Gideon
Gono and the Attorney General Johannes Tomana, governors, permanent secretaries and ambassadors are cases in point. Further, the continued arrests of opposition MPs, activists and arbitrary detentions through invoking Section 121 subsection 3 exposes that ZANU PF continues to do what MDC does not want.
This demonstrates that ZANU PF holds the power within the GNU. There are no existing examples where MDC has exercised power, without consent by ZANU PF. Where announcements by MDC on policy issues were made, ZANU PF has tended to quickly countervail them through outrageous statements. ZANU PF does not even hide its intention to undermine the GPA and GNU through overstatement of its powers for decision-making through non-decision making, and manipulation of dominant community values, myths and political institutions and procedures.
ZANU PF’s blatant refusal to abide by the court-directed abolishment of the Media and Information Commission (MIC) and its provisions and the continued dominance by the Public Service Commission, both of which are manned by pro-ZANU PF cadres and the presence of similar individuals in other government departments, ministries, commissions and parastatals at bureaucratic level tilt decision making in its favour, much to the frustration, disadvantage and embarrassment of the MDC and the broader democratic contingent, resulting in protest actions such as the recent Cabinet boycott.
Perhaps, in attempting to establish the feasibility of institution building for the re-establishment of democracy, it may be prudent to establish how power is distributed in the country: whether power is up for grabs; whether it is fragmented; or whether the situation is closed with power already controlled by one group. Institutional reform or reconstruction is difficult in a closed situation, such as that of Zimbabwe where despite the GPA, ZANU PF continues to have better leverage and control of state institutions.
Zimbabwe is both a de jure and de facto state, as it enjoys international recognition and the ruling elite exercises power over the people, but does not uphold the rule of law and therefore fails to attain the Weberian status due to weak institutions. The GPA presupposes a failed state in its prescriptions, focusing on setting up democratic institutions, political reconstruction based on a new people driven constitution, new electoral laws, deepening of independent electoral framework/infrastructure, election monitoring mechanisms, strengthening of parliamentary institutions, independent judiciary, strengthening of civic society organisations, upholding of rule of law, accountability and police and military accountability to civilian authorities as applied by
multilateral organisations on collapsed states.
The construction of power and its location within the Zimbabwean context probably point to the fact that it may be premature to emphasise institutional rebuilding. The over-reliance by ZANU PF on “raw power” for governing points to the fact that the MDC will need superior powers to enforce institutional transformation in Zimbabwe.
The MDC needs to focus on grabbing power en-route to institutions and state reconstruction. Institutional building may be good in the long run but perhaps not in the short term, because in the short term power trumps institutions. The entrenched power of ZANU PF seems only susceptible to the strong countervailing force of the international community, because clearly there is no incentive for ZANU PF to limit its hold on raw power by developing
Examples elsewhere in Africa demonstrate that regimes easily survive in the absence of institutions for long periods. Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire (now DRC) stayed in power for 30 years and Emperor Haille Selassie in Ethiopia for 50 years without institutional support. The rush for institutional reconstruction may easily lead to the ruling elite, controlling the whims of power, retaining authority or consolidating their hold to it using the institutions as was the case in Uganda where leadership retained control of central government but constructed local government institution to consolidate their hold.
The fear for quick construction of institutions is that it increases chances of creating hollow institutions of democracy without significance due to irrelevance and lack of establishment, due to lack of time for consolidation through problem solving.
The challenge within the Zimbabwean experience cannot be separated from the very basis of the negotiations that led to the inclusive government (GPA), which was itself a result of a failed electoral process, where the people’s voice could not determine the ruling elite.
The Pretoria negotiations were a negation of the people’s will, a reversal of democratic gains, centred now on the views of a few individuals, and disregarding the aspirations of the majority of Zimbabweans. The intended purpose of deepening democracy through institutional architecture that promotes such reform needs to be underpinned on the desire for economic development, growth and stability, necessary for the attainment
of a developmental state.
A developmental state is essentially one whose ideological underpinning is developmentalist, in that it conceives its mission as that of ensuring economic development, usually interpreted by high rates of economic growth and structural change in the productive system, both domestically and in its relationship to the institutional economy.
At institutional level, emphasis is placed on the state’s capacity to implement economic policies unencumbered by the claims of private interests. Do existing institutional arrangements support economic policies for development in Zimbabwe?
This by far is the relevant question today within the context of the inclusive government. Strides have been made through the Short Term Economic Recovery Programme (STERP) launched by the inclusive government, to engender currency stabilisation, inflation control, economic growth, reviving production, restoration of social services and business confidence.
The response by multi-national institutions will either spur growth or constrain it. Yet such a response is based on political processes either perceived as developing democracy or retarding the exercise of human rights by citizens. By and large the international community’s view is that no major progress has been made to develop democracy. Institutional support and tilt of power dynamics continue to favour ZANU PF and this needs to come to an end.
Toendepi Shonhe is the Director General of the MDC-T. He writes in his
personal capacity – ZimOnline