The MDC Alliance on Tuesday described the intervention by the military in the country’s political affairs as an illegal and illegitimate transfer of power from one faction of the ruling Zanu PF party to another.
Tendai Biti, the People’s Democratic Party leader, who led the MDC Alliance delegation to Washington, narrated before their hosts the major life changing events in Zimbabwe from November 14, 2017 when the military stepped out of the barracks, saying such events will forever redefine the political and constitutional landscape of the country.
With former autocrat Robert Mugabe’s departure, Biti said Zimbabwe now faces an uncertain future, but one which presents real opportunities for reconstructing, rebuilding and re-fabricating a new Zimbabwean story, and a new Zimbabwean society.
He outlined a roadmap to legitimacy as the fundamental precondition to the establishment of a sustainable, just, and free Zimbabwe including the immediate restoration of constitutionalism, the rule of law, and legitimate civilian rule, implementation of genuine electoral reforms to ensure that the election in July-August 2018 is free, fair, credible, and legitimate, political and institutional reforms, which include aligning the country’s laws with the 2013 Constitution.
He also called for major economic reforms that focus on restoring livelihoods, growing a shared economy by addressing the huge challenge of unemployment, under-development and also restoring the social contract, including the renewal as well as rebirth of a new Zimbabwe that shuns corruption and promotes national healing and reconciliation.
The former Finance minister was part of the MDC Alliance delegation which appeared before the US Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health policy in Washington DC on Tuesday.
Dewa Mavhinga, the New York-based Human Rights Watch Southern Africa head, told the same committee that the US must maintain its stance on Zimbabwe until reforms have been enacted.
“Specifically, Human Rights Watch urges Congress to maintain existing US policy towards Zimbabwe until the military removes itself from politics and the 2018 elections are legitimately assessed to be peaceful, transparent, free and fair and that power is smoothly transmitted to the newly-elected government,” Mavhinga said.
Mavhinga urged the US to work with African organisations such as the African Union to ensure that elections scheduled for 2018 are conducted in a free and fair environment.
“The US could strongly push the African Union and other players to insist on a roadmap for democratic elections, and to then say as my colleagues have said, that a key benchmark really to review relations, is an independent assessment of the environment in which the 2018 elections will be held,” said Mavhinga.
Author and Zimbabwean journalist, Peter Godwin, who was also part of the panel urged the US to try a new approach to pressuring Zimbabwe to reform, including bringing together all progressive forces of change as well as donors, to incentivise the new government to take better care of its citizens.
He also challenged the US to lift the sanctions on Zimbabwe, to see test the new government’s commitment to change.
“And that way you take the excuse of sanctions and whatever, so you take it back and flip it,” said Godwin. “That would be a way to prioritize the carrot over the stick, and mix it up and see if it works.”
Republican Senator Jeff Flake, who described Zimbabwe as a “nightmare” questioned how much change can be expected under Mnangagwa, who has faced allegations of human rights violations during his tenure in government, which included being a minister of state security and justice.
“President Mnangagwa is not unknown to us,” said Flake, recalling that, “until his dismissal as first vice president last month, he had been closely aligned to … Mugabe, since Mugabe’s rise to power. He stands accused orchestrating a string of massacres in the early 80’s to consolidate Mugabe’s power, leaving as many as 20 000 dead in Matabeleland,” Flake said.
Almost all the Senate members, namely Democrats Cory Booker of New Jersey and Christopher Coons of Delaware, referenced the atrocities committed by the North-Korean trained fifth brigade in the Matabeleland and Midlands regions in the 1980’s, also referred to as Gukurahundi, as blemishes on Mnangagwa’s record.
Coons, who said he was happy to see Mugabe leave after 37-years in office, queried the kind of reforms that could be expected under Mnangagwa, given his close relationship with Mugabe.
He indicated that the US would maintain the targeted sanctions on Zimbabwe if there was no indication of reform.
“I think it’s critical that the people of Zimbabwe not see one dictator replaced by another and so for one I am reluctant to see us take any steps to lighten or relieve sanctions or other international restrictions on loans or partnerships until we see … concrete steps by the administration of Mnangagwa or any successors,” Coons said.
Meanwhile, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has also demanded that the new government restore the rule of law and ensure free and fair elections in 2018.
ICJ’s secretary-general Saman Zia-Zarifi said Zimbabwe’s military has played a central role in the country’s affairs for decades, while civilian institutions have suffered under intense political pressure, at the expense of people.
“The change in leaders in Zimbabwe presents an opportunity to reverse decades of damage to the rule of law and respect for human rights in the country. As an immediate matter, the new government must take concrete steps that demonstrate it is committed to observing the country’s obligations under international law, as well as the human rights protections of Zimbabwe’s own constitution,” Zarifi said.
“The government of Zimbabwe should ensure the military acts within strict legal bounds, operates under civilian control, and does not engage in arrest and detention of civilians. They should also ensure all security forces, including the police and the military, are subject to accountability and receive proper and adequate training in performing their duties in conformity with international human rights standards.”
He added that government should also accelerate measures to ensure alignment of laws to the Constitution and to international obligations.
Zarifi pointed out that Zimbabwe should take advantage of this new lease of life to show that it can improve the lives of all the people.
The ICJ secretary-general said the judiciary should be independent and that all anti-corruption mechanisms in government departments should not be politicised.
“They should ensure all those arrested and detained during the military intervention are identified and brought immediately before an independent and impartial tribunal, and, are charged with recognised crimes, are given fair trials.
“Investigate all allegations of unlawful deaths, torture or ill-treatment, and arbitrary arrest and detention,” Zarifi said.