We need more than Mugabe’s exit

We need more than the exit of President Robert Mugabe from our political arena for Zimbabwe to be saved from disaster. His departure could be the microcosmic catalyst that will trigger a new era – but we need much more than that.


We need political development. By that I mean the underlying rules by which we can organise ourselves, coupled with change in political institutions, which is the evolution of the state, rule of law and democratic accountability. Changes in political institutions must be understood in the context of economic growth, social mobilisation, and the power of ideas concerning justice and legitimacy.

Social mobilisation concerns the rise of new social groups over time and changes in the nature of the relationship between and among these groups. The youth is a new political social group rising today in Zimbabwe. They are conscious of themselves as a people with shared interests or identities. One of the main distinctive features of our youth is that they are well-educated – but with no job opportunities in Zimbabwe.

Most of my political associates are the disillusioned, highly educated, displaced and unemployed youth of Zimbabwe scattered in the diaspora. We share a lot of ideas on various social network platforms. One major issue that keeps coming up on our discussions is the issue of good governance. In simple terms, governance is the system or manner of government or the act of governing a country.

The state is a hierarchical, centralised organisation that holds a monopoly on legitimate force within our borders. Most of us want a state that strives to treat citizens on a more impersonal basis, applying laws, recruiting officials, and undertaking policies without favouritism. I was in pain when one South Africa based Zimbabwean youth made this comment, “Zimbabwean youth are fed up of the current system, it’s either you know someone or you come from a rich family to make it in life. After attaining our education, our dreams are shattered. Moving to South Africa and Botswana is the order of the day. Zimbabweans are naturally hard workers, but unfortunately all our sweat is being used in other countries and for peanuts.”

We always demand the rule of law in Zimbabwe. What exactly do we mean? One school of thought defines it as a set of rules of behaviour, reflecting a broad consensus within society that is binding on even the most powerful political actors in a society. If a prime minister or president, [including political leaders from opposition parties] change the law to suit themselves, the rule of law does not exist, even if those laws are applied uniformly to the rest of the society.

To be effective, a rule of law has to be embodied in a separate judicial institution that can act autonomously from the executive. In a nutshell, rule of law must be a constraint on political power.

We need to make sure that the laws will apply to all Zimbabweans, and that there are no exemptions for a privileged few. Our future government in new Zimbabwe must be responsive not only to the elite – it should serve the interests of all citizens.

The rule of law is critical for economic development; without clear property rights and contract enforcement, it is difficult for businesses to break out of small circles of trust.

Accountability means that the government is responsive to the interests of all citizens – rather than to its narrow self interest. It has to be one that will not change the constitution to prolong its stay in power. Two terms means two terms.

We have a huge task of educating Zimbabweans post Mugabe. Government officials and civil servants must realise that they are supposed to be servants or custodians of a broader public interest and are legally prohibited from using their offices for private gain. We need to be governed by bureaucracies that are characterised by strict subordination to public purposes, technical expertise, a functional division of labour, and recruitment on the basis of merit.

Our future politicians, unlike the current crop, should not adopt the outward forms of our current state – with bureaucracies, legal systems, elections, etc – and yet in reality rule for private gain. Favours are being doled to a network of political supporters in exchange for votes or attendance at rallies.

We have to accept that we currently have a weak and ineffective state. Our current government is a very strong despotic power, meaning that its strength is in suppressing journalists and opposition politicians. But it is not strong in its ability to exercise infrastructural power, the ability to legitimately make and enforce rules, or to deliver necessary public goods like safety, health and education.

We have struggled to develop high-quality bureaucratic administrations and are mired in a social order that depends on the relations of patronage and outright corruption.

Replacing a poorly administered autocracy with an equally incompetent democracy will get us nowhere. This is something we need to debate on. But one cannot begin to understand how a bad government might become good unless one understands what needs to be done. – #@tendaikwari

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