ZIDERA amendment will hurt opposition and not Zanu PF

File Pic: USA Ambassador to Zimbabwe

The ZIDERA Amendment Bill sponsored by American senators, Jeff Flake and Chris Coons reminds me of the then US Assistant Secretary of State, Johnny Carson.

He made the now infamous “Choices Have Consequences” speech when he spoke just before the 2013 Kenyan election. Uhuru Kenyatta and his running mate William Ruto had been indicted at the International Criminal Court of Justice for their part in the 2008 election violence in Kenya.

“Choices have consequences,” Carson roared at the time.

“We live in an interconnected world and people should be thoughtful about the impact that their choices have on their nation, on the region, on the economy, on the society and on the world in which they live. Choices have consequences.”

Johnnie Carson’s speech was seen by a majority of Kenyans as a fear mongering rant pressuring them to vote for Raila Odinga.
Kenyan voters did the opposite by electing Uhuru Kenyatta and his running mater William Ruto.

Kenyatta and Ruto rode on that Carson statement like consummate political champion jockeys and milked it for what it was worth, arguing that America was meddling in the affairs of a sovereign country.

Needless to say, Raila Odinga lost the election, Kenyatta and Ruto reminded the West of Kenya’s involvement in the Somalian war and threatened to pull out their troops.
The ICC dropped the charges against Kenyatta and Ruto and as they say, the rest is history.

The persons who drafted the ZIDERA Amendment Bill have NO understanding whatsoever of how sanctions are extremely unpopular in Zimbabwe. The drafters are NO different to text book activists whose politics is divorced from the reality on the ground in Zimbabwe.

Free, fair and credible elections are a noble idea, demand and political tool for a stable economy, however one needs to be tactical on how to achieve that noble idea.
Enacting laws in Washington DC is the most dumb pursuit of achieving that goal, but surprisingly, educated men and women are falling over each other at Capitol Hill to do exactly that.

It shows a tragic failure of understanding the relatedness of issues in Zimbabwean politics.
Donald Trump’s America is the last place to give lectures on democracy and human rights.
Its commissions and omissions are well documented to the regular reader and followers of world politics.

The drafters of this bill have no idea how damaging it is to the opposition in the market place of votes. The bill comes after Tendai Biti, Nelson Chamisa and farmer Ben Freeth had been to Capitol Hill. The message they delivered was that sanctions should be retained until after the elections.

They were followed by academic Chipo Dendere who delivered a similar message contrary to her fellow contributor, Charles Ray the former US ambassador to Zimbabwe.

A couple of weeks later, United States Senators Jeff Flake and Chris Coons have now come up with a ZIDERA amendment bill essentially capturing the essence of those Capitol Hill requests and presentations.

That is the doctrine of the relatedness of things in politics. Rightly or wrongly, ZANUPF will be able to make a link and electoral case to the voters around the Capitol Hill presentations and the ZIDERA Amendment bill.

The presentation of the bill to the American senate couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Zimbabwean opposition. This in the minds of many business people that I have spoken to is meant to influence the election results in a certain direction, by strangling the few lines of credit and financial guarantees from the African Development Bank.

The bill specifically notes the need to withhold funding from the African Development bank to the government of Zimbabwe. Funding that was now stabilizing local financial institutions.

The bill talks about land reform issues and payment of repossessed farms to white farmers, how is that linked to a free, fair and credible elections some are asking?

The only international financial institution that was assisting the Zimbabwean government is the African Development Bank. The bill talks about stopping that assistance.

If that assistance is stopped, what will be the sum total meaning and how will that affect the Zimbabwean government and the common citizen?

ZANUPF can legitimately argue that this is meant to make them fail and sway voters on the basis of that engineered failure. How is this different from meddling in domestic affairs of a sovereign country.

It is the chattering classes in civil society and the opposition political elite that seem to think that sanctions work against ZANUPF. Sanctions have never worked and they won’t work now.  Sanctions are a recruiting sergeant for ZANUPF, they galvanize anti imperialist opinion amongst well informed political foes.

What the opposition parties needed to have done was to note what the law says in regards to a free, fair and credible election, access to state media, access to rural areas, fair access to Zimbabwe Electoral Commission process etcetera.

If the government fails to deliver on these benchmarks, then the opposition could legitimately declare the election a farce with the evidence at hand. Getting Americans to do so for them leaves a bad taste in the mouth even for those who have a soft spot for the opposition.

The arguments being advanced by political activists sympathetic to the opposition are futile and show a lack of political maturity.

Calling Emmerson Mnangagwa names and demanding reforms from the top of social media roofs will not elicit the required response, it will simply harden the resolve of those in government that never trusted the West and the opposition’s political agenda.

You might say that it is undemocratic, but we have been saying so for 18 years and nothing changed.
Mugabe was not removed by Western imperial pressure, he was removed by his own foolishness.

A mature political actor will change strategy to achieve their desired goals.
Sanctions don’t work, they energize the ruling party’s social base and those on the fence.

We can talk about democratic principles all we want, but that won’t change a political thing if we attend to those deficiencies using student activism tactics.

The ZIDERA Amendment bill goes into election management issues that will require the amendment of the Zimbabwean constitution.
It asks for the electoral management body to be chosen by political parties in parliament.

It also preempts the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission Act (NPRC) which deals with the Gukurahundi issue by prescribing how the process and the outcome should be, something that should be determined by the victims and their government.
It is a matter for the Zimbabwean people to decide on.

I am not sure that the American people and their government would accept a foreign power prescribing how they should deal with the victims of slavery, racism and police brutality by American police forces against black people in that country.

The bill also demands the Zimbabwean government to account for diamond revenues going back to 18 years ago, essentially managing the economic issues of a sovereign country.

This is something that must be demanded for by Zimbabwean people not a foreign power.
If the money as has been said on numerous was misused, the Zimbabwean voters will have an opportunity to punish the culprits at the ballot box.

By making this demand, the Amendment Bill essentially renders our elected officials on both the opposition and ruling parties bystanders by subcontracting the American legislature to effectively run the economic affairs of our country.

The bill’s lack of clarity on this specific issue exposes the political distance that the bill’s sponsors, Senators Jeff Flake and Chris Coons have to the Zimbabwean political architecture.

As a senior western diplomat said to me this morning, “this is a pressure tactic crafted by people who sincerely believe that they are doing the right thing, and yet don’t realize how divorced they are from Zimbabwe.”

In politics, perception is King and sometimes what we perceive to be logical can be lost in thoughtless strategies. As a top Chief Executive said to me this morning, the bill reads like an MDC manifesto and all it will achieve is energize the hardliners in President Mnangagwa’s Government.

America can legitimately demand that our government respects the rule of law and protect citizen human rights. Our government should also know that it is the guardian of such citizen rights and has a moral and political responsibility towards safeguarding such rights.

However, it is my considered view that the Americans have overreached by demanding an assortment of issues through this bill that should be the sole preserve of the Zimbabwean people.

At a time when the new President is determined to draw a line in the sand by separating himself from his predecessor’s policies, this bill will simply slow down the speed at which the changes were coming.

The contestation of political ideas should be focused on encouraging more changes using respectful tools and not belligerent methods, which to many sound extremely provocative and politically condescending.

The bill reads like an activist wish list, rather than an attempt to encourage a country move along a difficult path of reform. Undoing decades of misrule is a process not an event.

In reality, there is no binary condition of a ‘free and fair election’ or not.
It is always a matter of how high the bar is set, the policy intent and direction of travel.

On that basis, we might consider American Congressional elections not free and not fair because of voter registration suppression initiatives and intense gerrymandering, and the unlimited terms granted to sitting senators.

This should not be used as a defence for our own political defiances, however we should be allowed space to work out our differences especially now when we seem to be going towards the right direction.

In the name and same spirit of transparency that the bill demands, it would be important for Senators Flake and Coons to declare the methods and persons that they interacted with beyond the hearings in coming up with this bill.

The Non Governmental Organizations behind some of the bill’s content should declare their involvement as a matter of transparency and accountability.

It is helpful to have some achievement markers out there, but turning these into hard conditionality would be an error.

What happens if one part of one condition is not met – is that it?

Will Zimbabwe be cast out into the economic wilderness?

The original ZIDERA language allowed a much more rounded judgement to be taken. That’s how politics works in every other domain.

  • Hopewell Chin’ono is an award winning Zimbabwean journalist and documentary filmmaker. He is a CNN African journalist of the year and Harvard University Nieman Fellow. His next film, State of Mind looking at mental illness in Zimbabwe is coming out in March. He can be contacted on hopewell2@post.harvard.edu or on twitter @daddyhope