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The stumbling blocks to Zimbabwe unity

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Message Clutton Patsika
Following the agreement between Zimbabwe's political rivals to unite and save the country from further ruin, it has become imperative to evaluate the challenges that lie ahead. Looking at the united Zimbabwean government there are many stumbling blocks that can stop the new initiative from working.

First, Zimbabwe suffers a serious lack of freedom of communication and information. Every legal instrument put into place by the outgoing government was meant at stifling opinion. The state's stranglehold on information--its gathering and dissemination--created a polarised environment in which dissent was heavily dealt with. The emergence of "The Daily News", a respected newspaper back in the late 1990's was met with harsh treatment that when the newspaper was shut down--in minutes, several people-- close to 1 000-- lost their jobs directly. The government could not even pause to consider the repercussions of a 1 000 people losing their jobs. In their quest to silence opinion they became blind, subsequently shutting down more newspapers using a fast-tracked legal instrument the infamous Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

Furthermore, the regime became reluctant to improve its communication systems. There was a deliberate move not to upgrade telecommunications and to date Zimbabwe has the highest price for a mobile sim card. Players to the communications industry have been thwarted in their attempts to set up private networks. The three that operate have not been able to expand having no subsidy or common linkages to improve VoIP services. Eventually, access to the Internet has been limited to few individuals and companies. The vast information resource has remained a preserve of the rich and those who control the system.

Coupled with this are poor road networks suffering years of neglect, in what was another deliberate attempt to isolate people and make various areas inaccessible to opposition parties and newspapers. The parties would not be able to access the rural areas where Zanu PF is still revered for liberating the country. Deprived of the right information, the rural areas are constantly fed on propaganda boomed through the only broadcaster in the country--the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings. The regime ensures this electorate is well reminded of the past and its atrocities. These are people who will not be able to understand the fundamentals of a unity government. They will probably view it as a favour the regime is making for the opposition. It is easy for this section of the community to continue to be battered with lies, gossip and hate speech.

Second, despite a proposed National Security Council which aims at reforming the country's national security and primarily the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), herein lies a big stumbling block. The CIO has become a secret organisation akin to Napolean's 10 dogs in "Animal Farm". The organisation is responsible for a variety of atrocities and reports to no-one except the president. It operates on an unaudited budget and carries its instructions from Zimbabwe House. It is saddled with bureaucratic systems that sees more than 100 people doing the same job to please the president. Apart from ordinary informers that are as ubiquitous as the sewage that lace most of Harare's townships, the organisation has more than 3000 officers who get memorable salary packages, just to keep the president in power.

The Zimbabwean a weekly newspaper sums up how the CIO operates:
"The CIO uses every trick in the book: propaganda, stuffing ballot boxes, rigging elections, blackmail, sexual intrigue, false stories about opponents in the local media, infiltration and disruption of opposing political parties, kidnapping, beating, torture, intimidation, death squads and even assassination."
"The CIO is accountable to Mugabe alone and its charter allows it to "perform such other functions and duties as the executive may from time to time direct." The CIO budget is kept secret, is not subjected to audit by the comptroller or auditor general as other government departments are subjected to. "

A a result Zimbabweans have been cowed into silence as many who have voiced their opinions have disappeared, some being lucky to escape and tell the story.

Thirdly, Zimbabwe is in the deepest throes of corruption. Every other civil servant is so corrupt that it has become second nature for them not to deliver on any kind of service without a kickback. Besides, every service delivery is in the hands of the ruling elite with tenders being awarded to those that toe the party line.

The country now relies on informal trading with a vibrant parallel market for everything from toothpaste to paperclips to the most expensive BMW X6. At present, Zimbabwe charges US$600 for a simple document such as a passport. The rise of cash barons and home-based banks has reached mega proportions with the regime largely controlling these informal operations.

All government institutions such as Grain Marketing Board, Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority or Zimbabwe National Water Authority have been militarised with majors and retired generals running them. This has institutionalised the scourge of corruption, where Zanu PF members get preferential treatment at every corner of the economy.

The chaos in the Agricultural, education and health sector is well documented, while unemployment, hunger and homelessness are the international media's daily news.

So, given the culture of partisanship, corruption, instilling of fear and a general lack of responsibility the unity government will have to transcend everything else and a change of attitude is not overemphasised. While Zimbabwe needs aid and the unity government face a crippling debt of more than US$1,4 billion, it is important to stress that no amount of money can heal the country of people's attitude. Zimbabwe must first practice democracy in a way that makes every citizen an equal player in the country's affairs.

The fate of the country does not rest in the arms of the three political parties uniting, it rests in a total overhaul of the system.
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Clutton Patsika a Zimbabwean journalist with The Southern Cross, a Catholic weekly has worked in a senior capacity for various newspapers in Zimbabwe including the Zimbabwe Daily Mirror and Daily News all shut down by the government. He specialises (more...)
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