The Harare Spring?

This motion picture was so action-packed it kept the audience in the theatre on the edge of their seats. November 5 2017, the then First Lady of the Republic of Zimbabwe, Grace Mugabe rebukes the then vice-President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, Comrade Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa. “Who is Mnangagwa?” She shouted while punching her fist in the air.

November 6, the then President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, Comrade Robert Gabriel Mugabe, fires veep Mnangagwa. November 14, General Costantino Chiwenga stages a not–coup ‘coup’. In the theatre, we lose all decorum—nay all protocol—of watching a movie.

We murmur amongst ourselves: “What will be the next twist in the plot?!” November 16, the povo hit the streets in anti-Mugabe protests. November 19, a global audience watches the breaking news of a resignation that never was.

Finally, November 21, Comrade Bob resigns as President of the Republic of Zimbabwe. The end of an era; 37 years long. Comrade Bob went into office a hero—folks dancing to Bob Marley’s Zimbabwe on 18 April, 1980. On November 21, Comrade Bob went back to ‘Blue Roof’ a villain with folks singing Jah Prezzah’s ‘Mudala Chauya’. And on November 24, Comrade Emmerson Mnangagwa was inaugurated as the new President of the Republic of Zimbabwe.

What went wrong? It is a problem that is pervasive in Africa. There is a sense of entitlement that endures among those who deem themselves to have been at the front line of an independence struggle; a war liberation struggle; or indeed a popular revolt.

In African politics, the twin towers of economic underdevelopment and poverty fan the ambitions of a beneficent dictator. He—they have been ‘He’s’ in Africa—behaves as a Philosopher-King. You cross his path at your peril. This is the influenza that knocked down Comrade Bob—and I must say others on the African continent.

African polities have suffered from lack of credible and effective institutions of governance. We have been hypnotized in believing in the “imperial” presidency.

We have come a long way. In Malawi, for example, under Malawi’s Republican Constitution of 1966, the Presidency was the constitution unto itself. Section 9 of the 1966 Constitution provided that ‘Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda shall be the Life President of the Republic of Malawi’. Life President Banda had extensive under the body of laws in the country: the power to hire and fire; emergency constitutional powers; so–called public security powers; and even the power to declare citizens of the country persona non grata.

Hence, for three decades, between 1964 and 1994, Malawi under Banda was a nation under siege. He was Number One Everything.

Even though, the 1994 Constitution is based on a largely liberal democratic order, we have retained a largely powerful Presidency. It is a situation that may haunt Malawians if ever we shall get a Presidency with self–serving monarchical tendencies.

It is well and good to develop robust, high sounding constitutions. It is equally important to build—as I earlier pointed out—credible and effective institutions of governance. Would Comrade Bob have become the Philosopher-King he became if there were credible and effective institutions on the ground?

Would we in Malawi have had an Open Term Bill (Yes, it was an Open Term Bill) presented to Parliament in 2003 if we had credible and effective institutions? Remember khaki envelopes changed hands and the Bill was only defeated by 3 votes. We were that close to degenerating into a second cycle of blatant dictatorship.

In Malawi, we are now moving in a vicious cycle where entrenchment of our democracy through institutions – strong and effective public service, an efficient judiciary and an organized national assembly that provides oversight over the Executive – does not seem to be high on our priorities. The anti-corruption apparatus has been huffing and puffing. There is a lot flattering to deceive.

I am not sure that I know what it will take us Malawians to be ‘very angry’ against chipwi’kiti in the running of our country. I hasten a suggestion though: The ‘anger’ the Malawians have had against LGBTI rights must be vented for public finance mismanagement, corruption or indeed blatant disregard for clear laws, policies and procedures in the running of the public service widely construed.

The mkwiyo must be vented for hegemonic familial relationships, dubious characters in dapper suits and shiny shoes. We risk—ahem—state capture. It should not be taking a not–coup‘coup’ to sort things out. Institutions must be in place that tell someone when to enter office and when to leave. And many other critical matters in the running of the affairs of the State.

Chikosa Silungwe is a lawyer and consultant at The Mizumali Foundation. He holds a PhD in Law from The University of Warwick in Coventry, England.


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