Zimbabwe: what should dialogue entail?

The doctrine of nonviolence recognises the fact that violent confrontations are ultimately ended through dialogue. It is only through dialogue that conflict can be durably resolved. But this is rarely a simple process. To succeed dialogue must confront entrenched problems. In our case, corruption, state capture, grand theft and abuse of public resources must be addressed.

By Christopher Nyamandi

I can offer a good example from elsewhere this week. The United States has signed a historic peace agreement with the Taliban. There is still much work to be done and – from both sides – caution over whether it can succeed, but it may well pave the way for a much-needed change of trajectory in the Afghanistan war. Many analysts consider the US – Taliban agreement to be the beginning of the end of 18 years of unrelenting bloodshed. The US, even with all its military power, understands that the only way to extricate itself from the war in Afghanistan is through dialogue. To do so, they had to engage meaningfully they have had to content with sitting across a table with a belligerent group they have always considered a terrorist organization.

At least 200,000 people have died through direct violence in the Afghan war, although some estimates suggest the overall death toll to be above 350,000 people. This includes 2,500 Americans and over 1,000 soldiers from other predominantly western countries. For the past three years, the conflict has killed at least 10,000 people per year, and accordingly has been branded “the world’s deadliest conflict”.

Yet no military solution is possible. At the end, it is only through US-Taliban talks that guns and bombs might fall silent. It is only through an intra-Afghan dialogue that peace might finally be realized in Afghanistan.

I believe there is a key lesson to be learned here that relates to the political troubles in Zimbabwe. Despite our entrenched differences, dialogue is the logical and inevitable next step.

For dialogue to effectively bring closure to over 20 years of political turmoil, it has to be genuine, comprehensive and far-reaching. The nature and content of the dialogue will be critical, even more pertinent than its conveners and participants.

Corruption, and how to build a society-wide response, must be one of the most important chapters in the dialogue. Our leaders have for too long have focused on personal accumulation at the expense of the community or national interest.

An important target must be the removal the crooks that have reduced Zimbabwe to a basket case. Everywhere, the ruling elite has plundered national resources, raided bank accounts, engaged in graft at large scale and reduced the government to their personal purses.

Stories of the death of NRZ, NOCZIM, ZESA, Air Zimbabwe and local authorities confirm the fact that public bodies have been used as personal piggy banks of the politically connected. The RBZ debt, Command Agriculture and the plunder of the Marange diamonds attest to the debilitating effects of massive, unrelenting and pervasive corruption. Billions were stolen and yet not even one person has been prosecuted. The Zimbabwe political dialogue must confront this reality and work to remove the thieves who man our national institutions.

Offenders must also be held to account for their transgressions with serious punishment commensurate with their crimes. It cannot be ignored that as thousands of ordinary Zimbabweans were suffering at the hands of a lack of services due to government failure, elites lived in extraordinary opulence. Ignoring this step will send an insidious message: that Zimbabweans will accept theft at such a grand scale without repercussions. Future political, government and private sector leaders will believe that it is acceptable in our culture to tolerate theft, corruption, abuse of office and other actions that deprives our society of a life of dignity. We should refuse to be a society that tolerates this.

China has only made progress by using the most heinous response: the death sentence. Undoubtedly, the death sentence is a dreadful punishment, but surely there must be serious implications to the person or property of someone who engages in grand theft, especially at the scale experienced in Zimbabwe.

To complete this process, strong institutions are to be put in place, driven by strong, accountable frameworks, and not personalities. The history of countries who have overcome corruption tells us that in addition to cleaning out the rot, key institutions must be strengthened to fight off graft. Power must be taken away from individuals, and devolved down to communities. A truly independent and powerful ZACC is necessary, but so are ombudsmen, auditors and prosecutors. Political dialogue should aim to include these issues.

We must also look at our own actions. Corruption has now become an accepted part of our culture. We have accepted that we can pay off police officers at traffic stops, pay to jump the queue at government service providers, pay to avoid taxes at ports of entry and pay to get this or that licence. Measures that promote a strong moral perception among all need to be put into place urgently. We have to create a clean value society, starting through our educational system. Our children must begin to frown at corruption so they can help build a better society for the future of all Zimbabweans. The creation of a corrupt free culture must be a part of our political discourse.

In conclusion, not only should corruption be at the table in the political settlement in Zimbabwe, it should be at the very top of the political negotiations. This is more important given that it is now admitted across the political divide that corruption has done lasting harm to our society. Corruption is at the centre of our socio-economic failures today. A political solution, away from violence, should make the fight for a cleaner society centre stage. Not doing so, is effectively peppering over the problem and will not achieve a durable solution.

*Chris writes in his personal capacity and this article was first published by the Review and Mail