'Never Again?'

That word 'euphoria' has come into unusual prominence in the last few weeks. We have been reminded that the Zims discovered that their euphoria at the overthrow of Mugabe was misplaced and that all is now the same but under another name.

Now it is suggested that here a similar euphoria gripped this country but that we also celebrated too quickly although, in reality, nothing of substance has changed.

In other words there is little to cheer about. I am going to take euphoria as having two distinct meanings - happiness at the overthrow or simply death of major figures so intimately related to the unhappiness/horrors of the past, Stalin, for instance, or Saddam, Mugabe and now our own ex-Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DIS) Director. Or euphoria about the prospects for change. These two are inter-related, of course, but I am opting for the more positive of those two meanings. True, another week has passed and we are still to hear how the new President will or will not make more significant changes.

Even so, I am going be optimistic not least because it seems to me to be a smart move for him to check in with the leadership of all the neighbouring and geographically related countries. But whilst we wait, I suggest that we should use the opportunity to remind ourselves how we got ourselves into this DIS mess/tragedy in the first place.You will remember that lead figures in the government, principally the Attorney General (AG) Phandu Skelemani, at the end of 2007/the beginning of 2008 went up and down the country soliciting the country’s views about the terms of the new Security Bill which would bring the new DIS into being.

At meeting after meeting there was concern, varying in detail, of course, expressed about the Bill. The AG assured the country that all the views expressed would be taken into account when the Bill was reviewed by the government. No such review took place and the country-wide concerns expressed across the entire range of society, were ignored and the Bill was routinely approved by the National Assembly (NA) and became law. If we are to learn from the past, we really do need to take note how this disaster could possibly have occurred. Firstly, we need to recall how very nasty were the provisions of the Bill. I hope that one or other newspaper will give all of us a run-through of its horrifying clauses. But for now, we have to note that within weeks of the new President’s expressed commitment to democracy, he ignored the overwhelming view of the country and electorate and signed this horrific Bill into law.

He could only have done so, however, after the BDP  majority in the NA had routinely provided him with the majority vote that he required.

The implication was that the new President himself was so committed to the establishment of the new DIS that for him the expressed views of the country could be set aside. Sadly, tragically, the the BDP MPs fell into line and also found no problem in ignoring the clearly expressed views of the constituencies they had been elected to represent.This could only have happened if the loyalty of those MPs was owed firstly to the party leader and President and only secondarily to their constituents. In all probability - and research would tell us - not a single BDP MP voted against the Bill and without the slightest hiccup, the new atrocious Bill became law and the DIS was in business.

The process by which this happened demonstrated how easy it was to upend the inbuilt democratic system which was  designed so that the likelihood of it happening would be limited and hopefully small. It didn’t work that way because the personalities who should have been committed to its strengthening, crumbled instead. Even worse, they agreed that the National Assembly should have never ever have either oversight about the new DIS or means of controlling it. At the time, their collective decision seemed to be a betrayal. In retrospect, and now that we all better understand the nature of the monster they created, it appears even worse.

Shouldn’t we know their names so that even so late in the day, they should be held accountable? It may be argued, however, that removing their current anonymity would be to take matters too far because the passing of the DIS Bill was a one off which can never happen again. We would be exceptionally gullible were we truly to believe that this is so.  The DIS disaster could only have happened if the democratic  system in this country was exceptionally weak.

The certainty today, 10 years later, is that it is a great deal weaker. The key components which should have been sustaining it have been significantly eroded and the entire system is so fragile that it needs only a small push to make it disappear for ever.An effective, robust and working democracy was destroyed by personal compliance. What was left was the shell, wonderful on the outside but with an empty inside. Appearance without reality. An exaggeration? Alarmist? Perhaps. But surely none of us can be overlooking the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) issue which so obviously threatens to be a repeat of the DIS Bill. Up and down the country concerns and objections have been expressed.

Ex-President Masire weighed in and advised that those concerns should not be ignored. Nobody, it seemed, wanted those EVMs except those who had first proposed the idea.  But who did? And that of course was when the nature of the problem became clear. No-one  it seemed, had suggested a change in the voting method. Both the Office of the President and the IEC denied that the idea had  originated with them. Yet as the denials were repeated, the commitment of either the government or the IEC or of both to the introduction of the EVMs became ever more pronounced.Why? What was so difficult about continuing with the usual method of voting and delaying change to that system until widespread acceptance of it had been agreed. There seems to me to be only two possible explanations.

The first was that the EVM provided the means by which the vote could be carefully adjusted. The other was that someone or some agency along the line stood to gain a significant amount of cash from the purchase of those machines. Who could they possibly be? Can this possibility be ignored? Almost daily, we learn about the vast amounts of government cash that have been stolen. Large scale purchases of anything from fighter jets to EVMs represent a tidy earner for those in the know. Our democratic system is now so weakened that it is incapable of controlling or even limiting, greed. Is that what the EVM issue is all about? 

Editor's Comment
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