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Reshaping the contemporary role of the International Community in Zimbabwe’s Democratization quest

The realm of international politics is profoundly shifting. Brexit was a rumination of nationalist interests that overrode a longstanding convention of British international ideals. The election of Donald Trump to the US presidency, premised on a pungent nationalist appeal, denotes the shape and nature of this global power’s evolving domestic political profile. The consolidation and exportation of China’s economic prowess, driven by a statist model, is rapidly dispelling theories that relate economic development to robust practice of democracy. Russia’s emergent ‘checkmate’ capacity on Western political maneuvers, is in deep contrast to the immediate unipolar, post-Soviet global geo-political order of the 1990’s. In Africa, the consensus building amongst States on repudiating institutions such as the International Criminal Court (ICC), whilst proffering no alternatives for peer accountability on criminal, unjust and unconstitutional conduct, is telling of a desperation to escape governance culpability by continental leadership. The international community needs to review and re-shape the promotion of democratization, in countries like Zimbabwe, notwithstanding the stated complex global developments.

Contemporary international politics is increasingly becoming obstinate to foreign interventionist mechanisms, be they military or mere promotion of democratization in other sovereign countries. Whether the intervening efforts are regional, continental or from beyond, the limitations for interventions, are now multifarious and tensely politicized. While rogue sovereign states regimes have perfected the art of manipulating new international geo-politics to elude and evade censure; the international community is being muted, or at worst, disabled.

Some major traditional democracy-promoting nations will increasingly be caught up in their domestic nationalist priorities, which Magaret Moore and Arash Abizadeh argue are always competing against democracy promotion itself. The polarity at many international fora and bodies, especially the Western-Eastern creed, will also make it difficult to pave consensual decisions on promoting democracy in problematic countries. The examples of countries like Rwanda, Ethiopia and others who are realizing significant economic growth despite a fragile democratic infrastructure will always provide robust resistance to the notion of democracy as the panacea for socio-economic development.

Against this background and in the case of Zimbabwe, what then must the international community focus on in order to continue promoting the elusive democratization quest?

The international community must grapple with a more ‘insider’ model of democracy promotion in Zimbabwe. Although historically and for a long time, the international community has purported to support local initiatives, ideas and priorities in the democratization agenda, that rhetoric must be challenged, and a new way must set in. The civil society realm and its efforts, have broadly been the main channel of support for democratization in Zimbabwe. The grassroots penetration of these heavily institutionalized efforts however still remain tokenistic. Professional and elitist civil society organizations have emerged, and in cohorts with seemingly distanced international community donors, have instead created an exclusive democracy promotion sector, devoid of base citizenry involvement and worryingly superficial in its representation. The international community needs to grapple with how its support can best tap into the broad based citizenry realm, without being clouded by ‘sweet-talking’ and ‘theory-engrained’ intermediaries who themselves have limited contact and legitimacy to represent the broad and increasingly agitated citizenry base.

The compelling nationalist priorities, mentioned earlier, and engulfing some of the traditional democracy promoting global powers, will progressively limit their levels of involvement, support and effect in Zimbabwe’s democratization process. This intensified embrace of nationalism by major global players will merely spur international convergence based on ‘interests’ rather than ideals. When such ‘interests’ are stoutly compelling, they will rather compromise democracy promotion, if it stands in the way. This will likely ensue even for those global players that have historically been committed to democracy promotion. Some foreign policy analysts actually perceive that international relations ‘realism’ will increasingly be dominant over ‘idealism’ in the evolving global geo-political dispensation. This conforms Machiavelli’s allusion that the first priority of any State is its survival, before consideration of international ideals. Against this possibility, the international community therefore needs to work more through multilateral and multi-donor action and structures in promoting democracy at a global level.

Multilateral platforms and mechanisms will ensure that the global players are themselves held accountable for legitimate democracy promotion. This will restrain the temptation to manipulate democracy promotion as a leverage for propelling ‘interests’, while preserving its fundamental form as an ideal. Multilateralism also builds the legitimacy as well as effectiveness in diffusing notions and perceptions of unilateral action by some global powers, in the matters of smaller states as Zimbabwe. Multilateral democracy promotion mechanisms such as UN Democracy Fund (UNDEF), which designates significant portion of support for local civil society and NGO’s, are grossly underfunded, yet provide the perceptive angles through which democracy promotion can be undertaken in countries like Zimbabwe. The international community needs to do more on working through multilateral support platforms, and multi-donor platforms, in promoting democracy in Zimbabwe. This also deflates the effects of bilateral tensions, between democracy promoters and targeted countries as Zimbabwe, which at times relegates the democratization agenda to mere foreign policy contestations, rather than an international ideal.

International community mechanisms must also be better coordinated if democracy promotion is to fully realized. In the lifetime of the SADC mediated Global Political Agreement (GPA) in Zimbabwe; the disjointed approach by SADC and the African Union was glaring. Although the later initiated the intervention and then tasked the earlier, at the Shar el Shek meeting in June 2008, their linkage and coordination was conspicuously deficient in the efforts to navigate the complexities of the said agreement. During the 2013 Zimbabwe elections, the dissonance between the AU’s Long Term Observer (LTO) mission and that of its Short Term mission (STO) resulted in compromises to the continental body’s own guidelines for democratic elections. Although the United Nations political affairs section recently set up its liaison mission at the AU in Addis Ababa, the UN-AU coordination in areas of democracy promotion are still slack and incoherent. In order to reinforce democracy promotion in Zimbabwe, and other continental trouble spots, the international community mechanisms require more coherence, communication and collective action where necessary.

Against the noted shifts in international relations realm; if left to its own devices and convenience; the international community will settle for the ‘path of least resistance’, which is the compromise of full democratization in Zimbabwe for mere stability. The 2013 election was such a classic instance of such concession for stability, and its aftermath has led to erosion of democracy consolidation that the new 2013 constitution is supposed to have ushered.

While the benevolence of the international community is assumed, going forward, it is up to Zimbabwean citizens, and not the elite in civil spaces, to create the potency to lure international community support for full democratization in Zimbabwe, rather than the ‘easy-to-settle-for’ stability.

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