The Sunday Mail
When the Second Republic decided to move Zimbabwe and its Government out of isolation, partly imposed and partly self-imposed, this was not because it saw itself as weak, but because it was confident it could take the rough with the smooth.
Even the engagement with countries that did not wish Zimbabwe well was on the basis that it was better to engage and talk than to sit in a tent sulking.
Engagement might not change minds, but it allows Zimbabwe to have its voice heard. And because Zimbabwe had nothing to hide, that process of engagement included allowing representatives of countries that had made it crystal clear that they would prefer a different Government, to monitor elections.
International engagement is not that tricky. We would guess that at times those in Zimbabwe’s Government wonder why the electorate in a particular country chose the leadership we have to deal with. But we recognise that such speculation is futile. We do not vote for other people’s governments, neither do they vote for ours.
The people you engage are those who did win the elections because they are the ones that matter and have the backing of the majority of their voters.
Engagement does not mean agreement.
We disagree, sometimes quite sharply, with policies of other governments and we can hardly expect them to agree with everything we do. But if you are engaged, you can discuss disagreements. This is one reason why everyone has diplomatic relations with everyone else. Other reasons are equally important, such as working out where co-operation is possible or even desirable, protecting your own citizens, enhancing trade and other ties and so on.
But underpinning all of that is the fact that an ambassador is appointed by a head of state and presents these credentials to a head of state. Every ambassador everywhere can talk on behalf of the government that sent them to the government where they are based. And so there are rules. You can obviously talk to lots of other people, not just the Government, since one of your jobs is selling your country and another is making assessments of the various pressures that your host country faces, along with the opportunities for your business interests.
But interfering on local politics is generally, and for good reasons, frowned upon. If any Zimbabwean ambassador was stupid enough to sneak election money to a Parliamentary candidate or political party in another country we would recall them. They would have broken the rules. It would be the same if they consorted with criminals or became involved in complex plots to embarrass the host Government or even to change it.
Foreign representatives can be difficult, even obnoxious, but they cannot break the rules and there are some based in Zimbabwe who need to realise this and start thinking how they would react if our embassy in their country behaved like they do in ours.
As President Mnangagwa noted in his address to the Zanu PF Politburo on Friday, it is not just some embassies that break the rules.
Zimbabwean citizens all have full freedom to be involved in politics; this is entrenched in our Constitution and explains the very large pieces of paper needed to list all the names contesting some constituencies and the Presidential election.
But there are conventions. For example, church leaders need to quit their job if they wish to enter politics. This is not to say that a church leader has to be silent on social issues. To take the example of the leadership of the largest single church organisation in this country, the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference (ZCBC) has issued pastoral letters on social issues. They might criticise a policy, or lack of policy, an action or a lack of action, but that criticism has to be impersonal.
Trade unions, by law, are there to represent the interests of their members. For that matter so are employer organisations. And while ordinary members can endorse who they like and vote how they want publicly, the elected leadership of unions have to read a narrower path, partly because they have to live with whoever the majority of their fellow citizens elected, and partly because if they run a strong union they will find their members split in their political support and have to represent them all, equally.
If they wish to become politicians they need to resign their posts, following the example of the late Morgan Tsvangirai who rose to national prominence in the union movement but then quit when he founded a new party and entered the political arena.
Non-Governmental Organisations are in the same boat.
They are registered for a particular purpose, and can use any lawful method of attaining that purpose. But if they want to be a political party, they have to change their registration to that of a party.
Even when a civil society pressure group is formed, it is normally for getting a policy changed or implemented. The conservation movement, for example, has been very powerful in getting legal changes and these days the groups wanting to ensure women can exercise their legal rights go beyond special programmes to advocacy. But these pressure groups are not playing party politics. Their ambition is to have all parties taking their policies on board and including them in their manifestos and legislative programmes.
Zimbabwe is a free and open society, but Zimbabweans need to use the appropriate measures to gain the changes they desire. If you want to stop building on wetlands you join a single-issue NGO or pressure group, since you want all local authorities, regardless of political affiliation, to change planning laws and decisions. If you want to take over the Government you found a political party and then strive to get a few million voters to support you. Simple.
Such organisations cannot purport to be one thing and yet involve themselves in political machinations to harm the country. This cannot be tolerated and the President did not mince his words. The Second Republic is a listening Government. Embassies, churches, unions, political parties, NGOs and pressure groups can press their point of view.
And being a self-confident Government, it will snatch good ideas from any source. But it is not a weak Government.
It listens and engages from strength, backed by its popular mandate.