By Ronald Munatsi
Change of leadership after 37 years of despotic rule
After 37 years of despotic rule under Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe had a change of leadership in November 2017. This change came as a result of ‘Operation Restore Legacy,’ a military led action that resulted the resignation of the then President and some of his close allies. Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s long time ally was installed as the new President. The operation enticed a lot of attention from regional and international communities as some regarded it as a coup and some questioned the legitimacy of the new President. Some regarded it as a ‘smart coup’ because of its peaceful and non-violent nature. Whether it was a coup or not, this action by the military largely changed the fortunes of the country. Fast-forward seven months after, the ‘smart coup’ was sanitized by heavily contested elections where Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa from the ruling ZANU PF party emerged as the winner after narrowly beating the youthful Nelson Chamisa from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change Alliance.
Implications for policymaking, socio-economic and political reform
Zimbabwe is now undergoing some significant transition. Operation Restore Legacy and the harmonized elections that have been dubbed to be the most peaceful since independence have ushered a new era in Zimbabwe with opportunities for economic and political reform including transformative leadership.
The media is increasingly regarding this time as the ‘new economic dispensation’ with the new President E.D. Mnangagwa becoming popular for his buzz phrase ‘Zimbabwe is now open for business.’ This could be interpreted to mean that Zimbabwe, having experienced a serious economic meltdown is now well positioned to advance and thrive as before. This can only happen if the right policies and the right socio-economic and political reforms are made. Now the question is how can government come up with good policies and make the right policy reforms?
Need for transformative leadership, sincere political reform, good policies and good governance
If Zimbabwe is to recover and sustainably grow as an economy, there is dire need for transformative leadership, progressive policies and good governance. Zimbabwe has had a very bad history of human rights abuses. Unlike the thinking before, economic growth and human rights are not mutually exclusive. If economic growth is to contribute to universal social justice, any growth strategy must be a component of a comprehensive set of policies and institutions deliberately designed to translate resources into fundamental rights. Such a framework will ensure that economic growth is translated into the wider enjoyment of fundamental liberties and social justice for all. Economic development is very difficult to achieve in an environment where there is conflict of any form. Human rights violations always result conflict so if the new government is sincere about changing the fortunes of the country, they have to be earnest about political reform and this should precede any other development initiatives. Transformative leadership means striking a balance between political and other socio-economic reforms. Zimbabwe also needs a new and inclusive economic development strategy? This is the framework that will guide policy decisions, future actions and implementation matrices. The government of Zimbabwe requires such a blue print as it gives direction to the new socio-economic trajectory. Most importantly all this has to be informed by the best available research and other types of evidence like expert and citizen knowledge including robust administrative and other statistical data.
Use of more robust evidence that includes research and systematically obtained citizen participatory knowledge
For Zimbabwe to move forward and regain its rightful place in the regional and global economy, government has to forego empty ideological rhetoric and ‘post truth’ politicking and instead embrace deliberate and routine use of evidence, particularly research and systematically obtained citizen knowledge to inform political reforms and other governmental policy decisions. This is the opportune time to use evidence to inform not only government decision-making but also the political party manifestos as these generally form the basis of the final economic blue prints ultimately adopted by the government of the day. The government needs to start using different systems and processes to sustainably utilise evidence in designing smart, citizen friendly policies that have a positive impact on peoples’ lives. Zimbabwe has always had a history of developing ‘very good policies’ that always fail to make an meaningful impact.
These policy failures have been attributed to poor implementation. Policy implementation also requires different forms of evidence to inform what works, where, how and when. This is where citizen participation and citizen knowledge also matter as these are better positioned to contextualise policy and practice. Evidence is crucial in informing policy design and implementation especially when it comes to pro poor policy and practice. This is what Zimbabwe needs at this critical time if the country is sincere about national reform and re-engagement of previously estranged international institutions like the Commonwealth.
Political sincerity and support, engagement, more grounded collaborations and partnerships are central to government reform and policy processes
For government to engage more effectively with the international community including researchers and allied institutions and have more meaningful citizen participation so as to tap from the much-needed research and citizen knowledge, the Zimbabwean government should no longer treat civic society, research and other non-governmental institutions including political parties as enemies of the state like what has been happening before. Instead, these other non-government actors must now be regarded as partners in development. This will create an enabling environment necessary for ensuring political support and forging of more grounded, viable networks and partnerships among policymakers, researchers and other actors strategically positioned to influence political reform and policy processes through use of evidence.
The author is the Director of the Zimbabwe Evidence Informed Policy Network (ZeipNET) and writes in his personal capacity. The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the author and do not represent those of AEN. The author can be contacted using the email: ronaldmunatsi@gmailcom