Constitutional journey staggers forward

douglas_mwonzora2.. diaspora still sidelined
HARARE - Number 31 Lawson Avenue is home to a unique venture seeking to reconnect the widely-disseminated Zimbabwean diaspora. (Pictured: Douglas Mwonzora)

A private online portal, the COPAC website studios are rather cramped and give off a musty whiff – an apt reminder of the chasm that exists between Zimbabwe and its 3 million-strong diaspora.

Over and above the contributions collected during the constitutional outreach exercise, some 2,397 contributions were collected via the website, most of them from the diaspora.

Every day the website gets 100 hits or more, but during the peak of the public outreach exercise, the site received over 1000 hits, says Douglas Mwonzora, the COPAC co-chairperson.

But critics say COPACs endeavours are pathetic and not representative of the huge population pushed into the diaspora by the economic meltdown and repression of President Robert Mugabe.

Most Zimbabweans scattered around the world as a result of Mugabe are fiercely proud of their roots and hope a new constitution would curb the president’s overarching powers and reinstate their voting rights.

The success of the diaspora in North America and Western Europe – where they now wield immense economic and political influence – has awakened the country to the potential benefits of a community whose gross income is worth millions and who send home more money than government has to spend on its citizens.

But much-trumpeted efforts to delicately re-engage with these exiles have so far been a sham, critics say.

On the sidelines is Sokwanele, a civic organisation campaigning for freedom and democracy in Zimbabwe. The organisation also has an online constitution resource and survey, which critics say has done a much more decent job than COPAC.

There is concern that the government programme has not been representative enough. It has also been blighted by allegations of violence, intimidation and outright manipulation.

The proposed draft of the new constitution will be put to a nationwide referendum. This will be Zimbabwe’s second constitution. A proposed new constitution to replace the Lancaster House Agreement of 1979 was approved by the Parliament in 1999, but was defeated in the 2000 referendum

According to the COPAC co-chairs, a funding shortfall has stifled the diaspora outreach. Paul Mangwana, one of the COPAC chairmen says the committee now needs $34 million to complete the constitution.

“Government and donors have committed themselves to fund this process. We want to meet the set deadline but we may face delays as they can be a number of issues arising in the country besides the issue of funding, he said.

“We have just been informed that our colleagues from MDC have a congress set for the last week of April – this will also cause a delay in the process. He deftly skirts the question on the Zimbabwean diaspora, responding: “We have discharged our mandate to the best of the ability given the resources available.

Lovemore Madhuku, who heads the National Constitutional Assembly, which has been critical of the government-led Constitution-making process, says Zimbabwe needs to re-commit itself to a people-led process.

He said the parallel process NCA has been conducting to mobilise for a No vote has taken them to every village, township, farm and the people are clear and fully committed to the same National Working Peoples Convention (NWPC) that committed Zimbabwe to democracy as well as social and economic justice.

“In the 11 or so years since the NWPC we have steadfastly maintained that true democratic change can only be arrived at via a people-driven constitution making process and this is reaffirmed in the Zimbabwe’s People’s Charter,” Madhuku says.

This is why we rejected unapologetically the inclusive government’s constitutional reform process as led by the Parliamentary Select Committee (COPAC) in terms of Article 6 of the Global Political Agreement.”

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