With two days to the elections I have been asking myself, what would have happened to Zimbabwe if the people had voted for the new constitution in 2000?
The constitution was essentially supposed to limit the term of the president to two five-year terms and to reintroduce the post of Prime Minister.
Ironically, it is practically the same constitution the country accepted 13 years later. But in 2000, Zimbabweans were encouraged to reject the draft constitution because it was going to extend Robert Mugabe’s term in office. Twenty years in office was enough, the population was told.
Totally forgotten was that the new constitution was going to create the post of Prime Minister, someone who was going to be a check on the president’s powers. But more precisely, it was introduced by those in Mugabe’s party to accommodate the opposition.
The aim was to allow Mugabe to remain president and serve the remainder of his term or one or two more terms while the Prime Minister from the opposition was learning the ropes of government.
But the constitution was thrown out largely because of the influence from the West which sponsored organisations like the National Constitutional Assembly and all the Crisis organisations and focussed on Mugabe rather than the future. White commercial farmers also played a major role to save their land.
Morgan Tsvangirai, the new leader of the Movement for Democratic Change was quite aware that the post of Prime Minister had been created for him, but he told me in March 2 000, that he had urged the people to reject the draft constitution as a matter of principle.
It was also as a matter of principle that he chose to contest a seat in Buhera, leaving the safe seats in Harare which he could easily have won to become the official leader of the opposition, a job he bestowed on Gibson Sibanda.
Some observers say if Tsvangirai had been elected to parliament he would have raised his profile even higher as official leader of opposition.
But what worries me most is that, yes, the 2000 constitution had its weaknesses, but if people had voted for it, the weaknesses could have been addressed. But more importantly both Mugabe and Tsvangirai, who have reduced the country’s politics to personalities rather than issues, would be out of the picture now. The country would probably be going for its second or third generation of leaders.
If Tsvangirai had become Prime Minister in 2000, he would have retired from politics by 2010 after serving two terms. But instead his party was forced to change its own constitution to allow Tsvangirai to contest for president because his party also had a two-term limit for party presidency. So much for democracy and the rule of law!
So just like Mugabe is hanging on to the ZANU-PF leadership, Tsvangirai is also hanging on to MDC leadership. In Mugabe’s case, however, he did not have to change his own party’s or the national constitution. This picture is lost because Tsvangirai failed to become State president.
ZANU-PF proponents of the 2000 constitution were quite aware that Mugabe would step down when his term expired in 2002. Even if he did not, Mugabe would save at most another 10 years. He would have been out of politics by 2012.
So what is happening? Zimbabweans are paying dearly for listening to people whose interests are not the same as their own. The West is too obsessed with personalities, Mugabe in particular?
For example, why is succession such an issue in African politics and not in Western politics? We all know that Obama is getting out in three years no matter how popular he is, but who has ever asked who Obama’s successor is?
Why should we debate succession as if this is a chieftainship? Let us not focus on personalities but on what is best for us as a nation, as a developing country, as a nation richly endowed with natural and human resources.
Let us not fool ourselves. Our interests and those of the West will never be the same especially at this stage in our development.
More importantly why is the West interested in deciding a leader for us, or in forcing us to think about a future leader when that time is not up?
And let us also remember what South African academic Andile Mngxitama said last month: “To be considered a saint in Western eyes is a curse black leaders should avoid like the plague.”
We, the electorate, should also think about it.