Zimbabwe’s imperfect constitution

Zimbabwe’s imperfect constitution

Zimbabwe’s new constitution, approved on March 19th, may symbolize a step forward for the nation, but it fails to address the underlying political culture of inefficiency that underpins Zimbabwe’s economy.

‘There can be economy only where there is efficiency’, Disraeli.

This edict serves well to describe one, amongst many, of Zimbabwe’s economic problems. Efficiency describes a smooth and coherent framework. It is an actively sought feature of a system that does what it aims to do and does it effectively.

The new constitution has been hailed as a sign of progress for Zimbabwe. The referendum was backed by 95% of those who voted. Furthermore, the voter turnout was higher than expected, whilst the usual violence that trails alongside the ballot was surprisingly limited. The referendum has shown signs of increasing civil liberties, empowering individuals and devolving political power. The new constitution agreed to create an independent prosecuting authority, an anti-corruption authority, an independent electoral commission and a bill of rights allowing freedom of expression. It also agreed to decentralise power to ten provinces and, most importantly, limited the Presidential office to two five-year terms.

Robert Mugabe at the 12th AU summit

The new constitution takes steps to curb Mugabe’s power, but the president maintains tight control over the economy through legal obscurity

However, as expected, Robert Mugabe has ensured that the new constitution contains sufficient safeguards to protect himself and the ZANU-PF. Presidential term restrictions will only apply to future presidents, allowing him to hold on to power indefinitely unless he is voted out. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch has warned that the government is increasing police crackdowns on civil society groups in the run up to the June elections. If repression tactics remain and Mugabe holds on to power in the upcoming election it is questionable whether the reforms outlined in the referendum will be of visible benefit to the country.

Tentative economic growth and the ending of hyperinflation since 2009 indicate a new era for the nation. Since the decision to replace the Zimbabwean currency with the US dollar and the South African Rand, the business environment has become more hospitable. With 9% economic growth over 2010 -2011 and 5% in the following year, undoubtedly the country is seeing progress. However, one should be cautious when judging economic success relative to the abject failure of the previous decade. There are plenty of African examples where economic recovery has been short lived, thus investors should be wary of the sustainability of current growth rates.

Most commentators agree that there is inadequate separation and clarity between the political and business spheres to harness effective economic development. Mugabe’s attempt to continue land reforms hamper agricultural production and limit exports. Whilst the EU and the US have suspended many sanctions on Zimbabwe in the aftermath of the referendum, potentially successful foreign investors such as those from the mining sector are discouraged by Mugabe’s unclear Indigenisation and Empowerment laws. Morgan Tsvangirai and the Movement For Democratic Change oppose the Indigenisation campaign but, as leading MDC politicians have recently become embroiled in political scandal, they are losing legitimacy and hope that they will win the upcoming election is decreasing.

Overall, the limited political reform is unlikely to be sufficient to ensure a more efficient economy. Safeguards in the constitution will feed through to the economic sphere; but, without a genuine commitment to transforming the politics of the state, the only economic success will be relative to past disasters. Before multinationals start to consider the potential for investment in Zimbabwe, the interplay of political and economic systems needs to become clearer and more reliable, something that may not happen under the auspices of Mr. Mugabe.

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