- Last Updated on 20 February 2012
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The subsistence of political transitions are marked by political infighting, partisan positions and attempts to revert back to the old authoritarian rule especially if the undemocratic elements within the elite power arrangements read that a full scale democratic norm compliance could lead to loss of power.
Zimbabwe has been grappling with a transition whose primary aim is to return the country to democratic legitimacy premised on the rule of law through a credible electoral process and outcome.
After the country, through its electoral and political institutions, failed to administer a credible electoral process in 2008, the Inclusive government through the Global Political Agreement was supposed to address both software and hardware issues attendant to the holding of credible future elections with the supervision of the African Union (AU) and SADC.
Since 2009, there are still disagreements over the role of the security apparatus in political and electoral matters, the democratization of the public media and issues of impunity. The constitutional review process, the role of electoral institutions such as the Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) and the Registrar-General's and the partisan nature of the personnel in these institutions need to be audited.
Both the administrative and environmental issues related to the electoral process and most critically the restoration of law and order in Zimbabwe are glaringly absent yet one political culprit; ZANU PF that is arguably responsible for this mess is calling for elections without reforms.
In trying to understand the strategy by ZANU PF and its security apparatus hardliners, it is important to appreciate what human rights scholars describe as the spiral model in the study of regime transitions.
The spiral model builds upon work on transnational advocacy networks in the field of human rights such Amnesty International, local groups like the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), Zimrights and Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition whose activities are meant to bring democratic rule and respect for human rights in norm-violating states such as Zimbabwe.
It is argued that through the work of such organizations, a boomerang pattern of influence exists when domestic human rights groups in a repressive State such as Zimbabwe during crises, bypass the State and directly search out international allies to try to bring pressure for the State from outside.
National opposition groups, civic groups and social movements link up with transnational advocacy networks and Inter-Governmental organizations who then convince international human rights organizations, donor institutions and powerful states through the UN system and regional blocks such as SADC and the AU to pressure norm-violating States such as is the case with Zimbabwe.
Crisis in Zimbabwe's Coalition's regional advocacy office in South Africa serves this process in the current crisis in Zimbabwe.
Democratically relinquishing power is not a given unless the democratic elements in that transitional arrangement are awake to the political machinations of the political cabal that wields coercive power and respond decisively through political mobilization among other methods. ZANU PF sings the tired song of sovereignty despite the fact that Zimbabwe is a state party to international human rights treaties and a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
However, faced with fully mobilized domestic advocacy networks and opposition parties linked up with transnational advocacy networks, the proponents of the spiral model argue that norm-violating regimes such as the ZANU PF have few choices but to comply. In the case of Zimbabwe it would mean complying with all the provisions of the GPA. This has not happened because of local advocacy groups are not fully mobilized, others have gone to bed with politicians while some are suffering for a glaring lack of strong leadership.
If the advocacy groups in Zimbabwe were fully mobilized and the domestic opposition fighting as before, we could move to the prescriptive stage where ZANU PF would fully accept the validity of the GPA and the validity of human rights norms when ratifying international human rights conventions, the norms are institutionalized and domesticated into law. Validity can be accepted while for example people continued to be tortured.
Continued pressure from below; by domestic actors and from above; through the work of transnational advocacy networks can lead to the final stage of rule-consistent behavior. At this stage international human rights are fully institutionalized domestically and norm compliance because habitual as actors especially the government enforces the rule of law.
When the GPA is fully implemented, repressive laws such as AIPPA and POSA are repealed, there is an end to impunity and constitutional reforms put in place, then Zimbabwe could have followed this framework. It has proved impossible. It remains the aught to be; definitely not what is.
Political transitions are sophisticated, they are bumpy and thorny, they are like rivers infested with crocodiles and swimming in such unchartered waters is not any easy exercise. Nothing should be taken for granted and trusting another political player especially ZANU PF is the last thing to do.
The greatest lesson from the spiral model is that in political transitions such as the one in Zimbabwe, it is important to remain focused on the broader democratic goals and never to go to bed with political players on the part of civil society.
On the part of political players; insisting on norm-compliance without compromise should be the game plan to avoid democratic regression from the hardliners. The struggle continues.
By Pedzisai Ruhanya (PhD Candidate, University of Westminster, London)