What’s so wrong with pre-election reform?

Open Forum
with Chris Mhike

PRO-REFORM advocates have in recent weeks and months been under heavy fire from “conservatives” as Zimbabwe inches closer to the next harmonised election, with the latter crowd maintaining in very strong language, that the country is in no need whatsoever, of societal and structural modification.It now appears in certain Zimbabwean quarters that “refo-rm” is something of a dirty word. The latest victim of the anti-reform crusade is United States of America President, Barack Oba-ma who has lately been lampooned and blasted by Zimba-bwean government apologists over his serene call for reform, respect for civil rights, and a free and fair 2013 Zimbabwean general election.
“Harassment of citizens and groups needs to stop and reform needs to move forward, so people can cast their votes in elections that are fair, free and credible,” said Obama last weekend during his visit to neighbouring South Africa.
He went on: “Zimbabweans have a new Constitution. The economy is beginning to recover. So there is an opportunity to move forward …. but only if there is an election that is free and fair and peaceful so that Zimbabweans can determine their future without fear of intimidation and retribution.”
Relevant press coverage in the State-controlled media in the aftermath of these rather self-evident remarks was predictably uncomplimentary and defensive.  Obama pokes nose in Zim Affairs (The Sunday Mail — June 30 to July 6, 2013n), Obama’s utterances ‘hypocritical’ (ZBC Bulletins and Website – June 30 and July 1, 2013), and Obama, Zulu court controversy (The Herald – July 1, 2013), were some of the headlines seen shortly after Obama’s remarks on Zimbabwe.
In these stories, the usual “political analysts” are conveniently roped in for the demonisation of the American President. The credibility of the so-called analysts is questioned here because in the case of almost all of them — in some instances they are ZANU-PF officials, yet at other moments they are presented as independent/ objective commentators.
The reasons for their criticism of Obama’s pertinent remarks are varied. Some simply detest the fact that he is not Zimbabwean, while others submit that his views are similar to those previously expressed by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
Some of the commentators argue that any reform that may be needed is already captured in the new Constitution, and others contend that a call for reforms in the short period leading to the next election is now impractical.
However, none of the quoted commentators meaningfully add-ress the substance of Obama’s comments, that is:  the need for reform; the undesirability of pre-election violence and harassment on the one hand, and the desirability and probity of free and fair polls on the other.
The argument that Obama should have no say because he is not Zimbabwean is of course unsustainable. We live today in a globalised world, whose citizens are free to receive and impart information and opinion, not just about their respective countries of residence or domicile, but indeed about any other part of the globe.
If Zimbabweans were to be confined only to that which happens in Zimbabwe, they would certainly be a very dull lot. A former minister of media, information and publicity attempted to prescribe a 100 percent Zimba-bwe media content on citizens, but before long, he had upgraded his own satellite TV subscription, for international content.
Further, our own President and Commander-in-Chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces is charged with the duty to attend not only to domestic policy, but also to foreign policy. In executing foreign policy duties, the President attends not only to Zimbabwean affairs, but also the affairs of foreign nations.
That is why back in 1998, Zimbabwe went beyond commenting on the events in the Democratic Republic of Congo —  local troops were deployed to that foreign land for active warfare.  Obama is therefore equally entitled, at least to comment on non-American issues.
The other point made by the “analysts”, namely that Obama’s views should be discarded simply due to their congruence with those previously expressed by the MDC, is also very weak.
 The coincidence of views is common in public discourse. There have even been occasions where ZANU-PF views have coincided with MDC perspectives, for example on the acceptability of the New Zimbabwean Constitu-tion. That coincidence did not necessarily transform ZANU-PF into being MDC, or the other way round.
And of course, reform cannot end with promulgation of new law. It must necessarily extend to implementation of same.
That there may be only a few weeks left between now and the election certainly does not make reform an impracticality. If one looks, for instance, at media reform, why would the period available now be too short for the mainstream media to stop publishing hate speech, and to equalise and diversify voices from Zimba-bwe’s and the international political spectrum!
ZANU-PF and MDC primary elections have been severely flawed by politically-motivated violence. This must stop, and must not flow-over onto the national scene, as was the case in 2008. In this context, no-one in their right and sober senses should have a problem with reform, and with the conduct of credible, free, fair and credible internal and national elections this time around. 
Obama’s observation that “the promise of liberation (in Zimb-abwe) gave way to the corruption of power and then the collapse of the economy” is also accurate.
 Of course, certain observers could insist that it be placed on record that corruption has not been exclusive to one political party. Indeed, numerous MDC-led councils have been mired by corrupt practices in as awful a way as was the case with previous ZANU-PF authorities and governments.
At the end of the day, the bottom line is that all of what Obama has said, is largely — if not totally — true. Our leaders must simply take his advice and ensure that our next election is free, fair and credible, and that in the run-up to that poll, freedom and peace prevail in all communities.
Multitudes of Zimbabweans who were directly and indirectly affected by electoral violence in June 2008 will certainly not object to the sort of reform that would avert another “short-sleeve/ long-sleeve” maiming episode in the forthcoming election. No doubt therefore, there is really nothing wrong with the reform that will enable Zimbabwe to achieve the uncontestable goals of peaceful, free, fair and credible elections, and thereafter the prosperity of Zimbabwe, for the benefit of all, not just the political elite.
So, NO to elections without reform!
-Chris Mhike is a lawyer practicing in Harare. He writes here in his personal capacity.

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