Constitutionalism, Democracy and the 2018 elections

By Collins Chirinda


Winston Churchill: “History is written by the victors”

ON November 14 2017, nearly a month before Christmas Eve, the history of a young Zimbabwe was forever re-written.

Analysts called it a coup whilst the general population called it a second independence, to the international community it was a peaceful transition and a transfer of power but the situation on the ground suggested otherwise.

Robert Gabriel Mugabe and other government officials like Saviour Kasukuwere, Ignatius Chombo and Prof. Jonathan Moyo were put under house arrest, some who managed to outmaneuver the military fled to neighbouring countries and beyond, and the authority and relative autonomy of the security forces particularly the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) and the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), once dubbed public enemy number one, was usurped by the army.

On 21 November 2017, Robert Mugabe abdicated amid pressure from an impending impeachment induction by parliament, his outcries to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union went unanswered.

The streets of Harare were a hive of activity with the military being praised by the general population for bringing change through a revolution by “Restoring Legacy”- a legacy which had been tainted for four decades under the Mugabe administration.

A coup happened and the international community, particularly organisations like the United Nations and the African Union have been reluctant to call and acknowledge that the ‘November Revolution’ was indeed a Coup d’état.

Perhaps the fall of Mugabe was of his own making, Mugabe had not officially made Zimbabwe signatory to the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG) of 2007 which could have perhaps cushioned him against the coup under Article 23 of the Charter which states that:

State parties agree on the use of, inter alia, the following illegal means of accessing or maintaining power constitute an unconstitutional change of government and shall draw appropriate sanctions by the union:

  1. Any putsch or coup d’état against a democratically elected government.
  2. Any intervention by mercenaries to replace a democratically elected government.
  3. Any refusal by an incumbent government to relinquish power to the winning party or candidate after free, fair and regular elections; or
  4. Any amendment or revision of the constitution or legal instruments, which is an infringement on the principles of democratic change of government.

When Emmerson Mnangagwa came to power, he promised Zimbabweans jobs, peace and development but above all he promised the people a peaceful and democratic election.

In actuality, it might be probable that President Mnangagwa has cemented his rule against any futuristic unconstitutional challenges from the military or any other institution that usurps his rule, the President has also put himself under the scrutiny of the AU, SADC and the international community through signing the Charter which his predecessor was reluctant to.

It might also be probable that President Mnangagwa signed the charter in utmost goodwill in order to reaffirm the country’s position and his pledge in holding free and fair elections.

However, for Zimbabwe, there is little hope for achieving a democracy as ACDEG has not yet been incorporated into the law of the land.

Political analyst Dr. Pedzisai Ruhanya alluded the issue of domestication of the charter in order for Zimbabwe to reap its benefits as far as democracy is concerned.

“It is not yet ratified and it is not yet part of our domestic laws.” said Dr. Ruhanya

“So its implementation and the realisation of our fundamental principles and values governing that charter will not be realised in Zimbabwe.” he added.

Zimbabwe’s elections have to be held in a free, fair, transparent and democratic environment which is enabling for all the candidates and/or political parties contesting for public office as espoused under Article 17 of the charter:

State parties re-affirm their commitment to regularly holding transparent, free and fair elections in accordance with the Union’s Declaration of the Principles Governing Democratic Elections in Africa.

There is in actual fact little hope for change in the forthcoming harmonised elections because very little has changed politically for Zimbabwe.

Dr. Ruhanya is of the view that unless and until the Charter has been domesticated, very little can be done by the media, CSO’s and other stakeholders, except for putting pressure on the government to incorporate the Charter into law and realigning the laws in accordance with the 2013 Constitution.

“Before we go to ACDEG, the Zimbabwean government does not respect its own laws, it does not respect its own constitution and in any case it has not aligned the laws of Zimbabwe to the 2013 constitution of the republic.” said Dr. Ruhanya

Regardless of the reasons above, the signing of ACDEG is a beacon of hope in the oncoming 2018 watershed elections.

It is a step closer to the realisation of the fundamental principles of a democracy in Zimbabwe and as much as it is a longshot, the coming 2018 harmonised elections might be the most transparent and credible result in Zimbabwe in post Land Reform and post Mugabe era.



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