For some of us, there was nothing historic or monumental about this agreement as indeed it was nothing but a compromise package offered to many Zimbabweans who had been robbed of an opportunity to practise their democratic right to choose.
For many, however, the signing of the agreement gave them hope after going through a decade of untold suffering and deprivation. Many looked forward to it as an opportunity to live again.
It is now two years after the signing of the agreement and the subsequent formation of the government of national unity (GNU).
Many people have made an assessment of the achievements and failures of the GNU at different fora. Debates, publications, seminars and conferences have been held at different junctures of the GNU’s existence in an attempt to measure whether it succeeded. Unfortunately, most of the issues raised have concentrated on whether the political packages of the agreement have been implemented. Dominating at such platforms are issues to do with whether there is supposed to be a governor there, a minister here or such a commission there. But to be honest, how many of us sincere and hardworking Zimbabweans at one time or the other have cared to know the name of governor of, for example, Manicaland. In fact, how many of us ordinary Zimbabweans know what these so called governors are supposed to do. I am yet to find one Zimbabwean who has received much needed assistance from the incumbent governors. In short, we have wasted so much time looking at whether such and such a meaningless political appointment has been made for an obscure political reason at the expense of looking at how the GNU has fared in its mandate to serve Zimbabweans. When the agreement was signed, people looked forward to having food on their table, another opportunity to take back their kids to school, to be employed again and to live a decent and normal life. It is such issues that the GNU should be judged on.
For most long suffering Zimbabweans, the GNU represented an opportunity for their problems to be looked at. They expected Parliament to start tackling issues affecting the ordinary man on the streets. Poverty, the right to education, health and a decent salary were the core issues the people expected the government to engage head on. After all, it’s supposed to be a united government if its name is anything to go by. Two years down the line, I am yet to hear meaningful debate about the plight of the school children, the college-going young adult or about the hordes of unemployed Zimbabweans miserably trying to make ends meet by selling all sorts of wares on the street corners. After all, isn’t this avalanche of problems what all Zimbabweans expected the GNU to tackle? Instead parliament spends precious time debating how they are supposed to benefit from one car scheme or the other, how they would not want so and so to be appointed to this post because of the colour of his skin or how this governor or this commissioner are not supposed to be removed from their post. Please parliament, that is not what ordinary Zimbabwean taxpayers expect you to spend their money debating! They want their Parliament, of the much awaited GNU, to debate on bread and butter issues like their salaries, their children’s education, their health and their safety.
Please do not get me wrong, I am not saying that the GNU has not done anything to improve the lives of Zimbaweans. What I am saying is that, more can be done! Indeed, thanks to the GNU, most workers can now look forward to going to work every morning because they can now earn something that can make a difference. Our streets are once again filled with happy school children, walking their way to school. Our shops are once again almost filled to the brim with all sorts of basics and niceties. We can now afford to visit the rural folk more often because transport is now cheaper. Car owners can now have the luxury to drive into a service station, fill up and drive out in less than five minutes. The resettled farmer can now sell his cotton, tobacco or cucumbers and live on the profit of his sweat. But more can be done. The worker can earn more to make more than just a difference. The school kid can go to school and learn more from a happily remunerated teacher rather than spend half of their time playing in the school grounds because their teacher is unhappy and unwilling to teach. Our shops can once again be filled by our own local and cheaper products. We can do more than just visit our rural folk, we can bring them money and food to make a difference in their lives.
For the first time we have a government with the opportunity to tap into each other’s abilities regardless of political persuasions. But to do that, those in the GNU have to make important choices about what they hope to achieve in the course of the GNU’s existence. They have to make hard choices about prioritising the needs of the Zimbabweans first and everything else later.
For the two years of the GNU existence, that trust has been very elusive. The ability to prioritise and put trust in the abilities of others has been the missing link. For two years partners in the GNU have concentrated on vilifying each other’s attempts at making a difference. They have spent much time in trying to find fault in each other at the expense of putting up a united front at nation building. Others have spent time trying to claim credit for anything that has been remotely positive. At the same time, they have spent precious time on blaming the other parties for anything that has gone wrong. In fact, during the two years of the GNU’s survival, the partners in it have spent a lot of time and effort looking for an opportunity for the other to make a mistake so that they can celebrate it. Seriously, can anything positive come from such an arrangement? These people are supposed to be a government, a government of national unity for that matter.
The other reality is that such compromise governments the world over have never really worked. Indeed, we learn from history that we do not learn from history. For us to break from this frame of stereotype, we need pragmatic statesmanship and more importantly, we need to stop this filibustering and political bickering and work for the common good. At least the GNU has managed to tap from almost all corners of the political landscape. Let’s use the experience and business minds of the likes of Zanu PF’s Walter Mzembi, the energy, drive and determination of the likes of the MDC-T’s Tendai Biti and Nelson Chamisa and the intellect of the MDC-M’s two professors Welshman Ncube and Arthur Mutambara.
Let’s try to find strength in each other’s abilities. The government can benefit from Zanu PF’s experiences. Likewise, great benefit can be derived from the MDC’s determination, youthfulness and drive. It is a lot to ask for, I know, but this agreement is what we have and let us try to get the best out of it. It is the U that is lacking in the GNU; Unity of purpose.
Chitofiri is a lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe’s Economic History Department.
By Kudakwashe Chitofiri