last modified: 29 Sep 2008 — 12:49
“We can begin to look at a way forward. We can’t continue to allow Africa to be regarded as the ‘Dark Continent’ or ‘hopeless Africa’,” stressed Hon. Prof. Maria Nzomo, Kenyan Ambassador to Switzerland who was a panellist at a lunch discussion on Zimbabwe advocacy and solidarity organised by the World YWCA and the World Student Christian Federation (WSCF).
Nzomo, along with Arnold Tsunga, Africa Programme Director for the International Commission of Jurists, was invited to talk on ' The Political Settlement and Transition in Zimbabwe - Lessons from Kenya' at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva on September 24.
Despite the conflict that broke out in Kenya and Zimbabwe over election results, Nzomo believes there is a way forward for both countries. "Kenya and Zimbabwe deserve an opportunity. There was goodwill to move forward and to work together to bridge their differences. Zimbabwe can move back to the Zimbabwe we used to know in the 80s," she said.
Nzomo explained the link between the Kenyan and Zimbabwean political situation. " After the 2007 elections, we experienced presidential election contentions. After the winner was declared there was unhappiness in the country that the election was not free and fair. The situation deteriorated into serious social unrest. It cost many lives and large numbers of displaced people. Property and resources were destroyed."
In the aftermath of the post election violence, Nzomo said the worst effect was the psychological consequences to the people of Kenya. "People's sense of well-being, physical and mental was affected by the crisis. The damage done in the short time was mind-boggling."
Looking forward, Nzomo believes trust and healing will be key to a peaceful Zimbabwe. "It is important for the leaders of Zimbabwe to restore trust. They really have to say they are serious about sharing power and be serious."
As a political scientist, Nzomo highlighted that the people of Zimbabwe need to remember the power lies with them. "In the future, Zimbabwe needs some sort of structure in society where people can force rulers to lead democratically. People are the foundation of society. Politicians are nothing without people."
Since the recent power sharing agreement was signed in Zimbabwe, the world's attention has turned away from the country with many people believing the political crisis has finished. But it is only the beginning of a long process. " The difference between the political agreements in Kenya and Zimbabwe is that Kenya's was given a legal affect. Unless the agreement in Zimbabwe becomes part and parcel of the existing constitution it means it is only a political agreement; a gentlemen's agreement with no legal force," Nzomo pointed out.
Tsunga also expressed the concerns Zimbabweans have with the power sharing agreement that sees Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change and an MDC splinter group led by Arthur Mutambara, formerly in opposition, taking control of 109 of the 210-seat parliament and 16 of the 31-member Cabinet. "The initial reaction to the agreement was of cautious optimism. It was not viewed as an end but instead the beginning of a possibility to set up a system with a rule of law."
Zimbabweans can be excused for being cautious. The violence that followed the March 27 election was of staggering proportions. " The systematic violence is still happening and the militias that were set up earlier in the year are still in force, " said Tsunga. " The humanitarian issues we are now hearing is that people are still dying in large numbers. This is because there is an absence of food; there are large numbers of internally displaced people and very high unemployment. There is no access to medication. We are hearing reports of girl-headed families and people living with HIV are saying, 'Food is more important to us than ARVs'.
Tsunga is also wary of the recent power sharing agreement in Zimbabwe. " The models of governments of national unity are dangerous. They belittle and undermine effective people participation in the process of democracy, " he said.
As the panellists reflected on the weeks ahead, Nzomo highlighted the crucial role civil society plays in the political climate of Kenya. " Kenya has a vibrant civil society that participates actively in the political process. Arguably, they themselves become political players. Leaders are forced to be transparent."
Tsunga did not harbour such positive thoughts on transparency and accountability from the political leaders of Zimbabwe. " People are not consulted. There are a few people driving the current political situation so there will be no transparency."
Tsunga acknowledged that Zimbabwean civil society had been active before the recent agreement but a fear of throwing the country back into instability is currently keeping them silent.
Silence is something the World YWCA cannot be accused of. When violence broke out in Kenya and Zimbabwe respectively, the YWCA movement responded with strong calls for an end to the violence and a return to peace and democracy in both countries. The lunch discussions have been an initiative of the World YWCA and the WSCF as both organisations continue their advocacy work for peace with justice in Zimbabwe.
As the lunch discussion came to a close, Nzomo reminded everyone of the famous quote that reflects the fragile nature of politics. " In politics, there are no permanent friends. There are no permanent enemies. There are only permanent interests."