Opportunities and constraints for Zimbabwean civil society participation in the African Union policy initiatives

Moyo, Qhubani
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This study set out to examine the opportunities and constraints for Zimbabwean civil society participation in African Union policy initiatives. The work came up after a realisation that there are serious challenges that inhibit participation of Zimbabwean civil society organisations (CSOs) in the policy-making initiatives of the continental body. The problem arises from the structure of the African Union (AU) in that it is an inter-state organ and, as such, any engagement with the African citizens has to be done through the various governments of members‘ states. This means that for Zimbabwean CSOs‘ voices to be heard in the AU policy-making, they have to go through their Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Zimbabwean situation is a very unique and problematic one in that the government and CSOs are sworn enemies. The animosity arises from the allegations by the government that the CSOs are part of a well-orchestrated plot led by the United States of America and Britain to effect illegal regime change in Zimbabwe. It is the argument of the ZANU PF government that the West is sponsoring the opposition as a response to the land redistribution exercise. Given this background, it has been difficult for CSOs to make their representations to the government. This work therefore sought to determine alternative avenues for engagement by CSOs. The research was done through interviews of 20 CSOs involved in issues of democracy and good governance. It also utilised a lot of secondary information from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as the AU. The research came to the conclusion that CSOs need to improve their working relations with the government and also try to utilise other avenues for engagement like the Economic, Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC). The work further concluded that the ―cat and mouse‖ relationship between the government and civil society in Zimbabwe has created a situation where the latter has been demonised, if not totally criminalised to the extent of limiting its access into mainstream AU affairs. This, in brief, has presented a situation 5 where the feasibility of a democratic experience in Zimbabwe becomes increasingly remote and misty. Zimbabwe‗s contribution to African political and economic life has been disabled by the Zimbabwean government‘s next to single-handed approach to African and international affairs. The absence of the Zimbabwean civil society‗s voice in the African economic and political life reduces Zimbabwe‘s place in African affairs to a narrow and shallow location. The democratic doctrine of multiplicity of voices and diversity of opinions, which are important ingredients of democracy as it is globally perceived, are negated by the Zimbabwean government‘s enduring interest to collapse the civil society to dormant national shareholders whose role is theoretical at the expense of being real and meaningful. At a prima facie level, the Zimbabwean civil society is an isolated and hindered entity through legislation and economic and political conditions that the Zimbabwean government has caused. On the other hand, on a point of strategy and creative positive thought, this creates a window of opportunities and some interesting challenges to the actors and players in the Zimbabwean civil society to generate methods and approaches relating to the greater African economic and political reality without the co-operation, or the consent, of the Zimbabwean government. This presents a case study to the test of Africa and the globe that governance is not only a preserve of the governments, but is an all-inclusive process that must also involve non-state actors, lest it becomes a partisan and narrow meaningless affair. That, in the African context, can be summarised in a West African saying that ―no matter how big your hand is, it can not cover the sky‖. In this context, no matter how big the AU can be, it cannot adequately serve the interests of the whole of Africa without involving other key players like the civil society movement.
Zimbabwe, African Union, Civil society organisations, Democracy