Matabeleland Question: Is Federalism the answer?
A Ncube: 04/05/03
current impasse in the political situation has brought about a number
of suggestions as to what ought to be the way foward for Zimbabwe .
The last few weeks saw fresh attempts by African heads of state to bring
Zanu Pf and the Movement of Democratic Change (MDC) back to the negotiating
table. Meanwhile, civic groups like the National Constitutional
Assembly (NCA) continue to bring great pressure to bear on constitutional
change. Outside the country, Zimbabweans are exploiting the freedom
of action in their host countries and organising into formal action groups.
The internet has proved an invaluable tool for linking disparate Zimbabwean
communities together. A visit to the discussion forums on Ndebele
or Shona websites will make it clear how enthusiastically Zimbabweans
have taken to the spirit of debate. It also becomes clear how divergent
people's views are on a range of issues, suggesting that Zimbabweans do
not share a united "nation building" view. All these efforts, in
their different ways, seek to achieve the same goal - that of an "African
solution" to Zimbabwe's socio-political crisis.
has become clear to me that one of the main tasks for any post-Mugabe
government will be to give conscise meaning to the process of "change."
If recent stories about Robert Mugabe's succession plans are anything
to go by, then no change can be expected from Zanu Pf, it will be business
as usual. As for the MDC, it has always been the assumption of the
party that its members attach the same meaning to the slogan "Guqula Izenzo.
Chinja Maitiro." Evidence on the various websites suggests otherwise.
Change for the two main groups (Ndebele and Shona) in Zimbabwe means different
things, especially when it comes to the question of which new constitutional
order to adopt, post-Zanu Pf.
this assumption still prevails in the MDC would suggest that the party,
just like Zanu Pf, is out of touch with people's feelings. How then
should the MDC give meaning to its slogan? It should be unambigous on
the questions of constitutional change and human rights abuses by Zanu
Pf - issues, perhaps more than any other, which highlight the sharp differences
between Ndebele and Shona people. Often, when Ndebele people speak of
human rights abuses, they begin with Gukurahundi whereas the Shona will
largely refer to the post 2000 abuses only. Talk of amnesties by the MDC
leadership has further widened the gulf in opinion.
the party sown the seeds of discontent within its rank and file, even
before it assumes power? Possibly, but now, while still in opposition,
would be a good time for it to give coherent policy guidance to its members
so that they are all singing from the same hymn sheet. This however,
is not a paper about the MDC or Zanu Pf, but a review of the federalist
concept, which some Ndebele people are calling for.
article, contrary to what detractors will say, is not intended to "fan
the flames of tribalism" but rather to critique the concept of federalism.
Proponents of federalism fiercely argue that the present unitary state
has failed and it is therefore time for a different system of government.
spokesman for Paul Siwela's ZAPU, was quoted in African Times(21/4/03)
as saying "the whole idea is to federate the country into MaShonaland
and Matabeleland. We want to have our own government separate to that
of ZANU-PF. We want to manage our own resources in a way that will boost
the ordinary people of Matabeleland who since independence have suffered
under the hands of Robert Mugabe."
www.inkundla.net says " It is not about changing the guard
and putting in place some checks to prevent dictatorship, but rather,
it is about changing the basic form of government." The word federalism
is being branded about on discussion forums but what does it really mean,
is there one type or many different types of the system?
Longman dictionary of contemporary English describes federal as "a system
of government which consists of a group of states which have their own
government to decide their own affairs and are controlled by a single
national government which makes decisions on foreign affairs, defence,
etc." Applied in a Zimbabwean or indeed African context, I will substitute
the word state for nation because it is important to draw distinction
between the two.
Bobbitt, writing in The Shields of Achilles, describes a State
as a political community that bears international status or international
legal sovereignty. A Nation, on the other hand, is a self-conscious ethnic
community, which Bobbitt says does not make a State, though it can destroy
it. From these definitions, Zimbabwe is a Nation-State which, it must
be pointed out, has failed (except for a select few) to provide for the
material well-being of its citizens. Lack of legitimacy for the
Zanu Pf government lies in this breach of the nation-state's raison d'etre.
Even if, as Robert Mugabe insists, the MDC were to drop their court case
and accept his presidency, that still would not legitimise the Zanu Pf
becomes clear also, that the Ndebele are today not a State but a Nation,
even though this was not always the case. In the 18th century, Mzilikazi,
through war, created and was able to sustain the Ndebele State-Nation.
Right up until King Lobengula's demise, existence of the Ndebele State-Nation
depended on military prowess which was made possible by a constantly motivated
force (warriors). To motivate the warriors, the monarchy developed
a sort of reward (financial) system in the form of cattle, land and women.
All the State asked of its citizens was that they be prepared, if the
need arose, to sacrifice their lives in war.
demise of the Ndebele State-Nation was only possible when its military
strategies, particularly the weapons system, could not match those of
the white settlers. The development of gunpowder not only spelt
the end of the Ndebele State-Nation as it was but also made sure that
it never made the transition to Nation-State, unlike most state-nations
of the time.
back to the concept of federalism. Is there one type of federal
system, have the proponents of federalism considered the type they want,
is Zimbabwe ready for such a system? I will answer the last question first.
Zimbabwe is a country comprised of the Ndebele nation and a horizontal,
amorphous Shona system of chiefs and spirit mediums who have, at one point
or another in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, been at war with each
two co-exist alongside each other in an unequal arrangement that has seen
the subjugation of the Ndebele threaten their very survival. It
is precisely this subjugation which, apart from fuelling some federalist
feelings amongst the Ndebele, also deepens the mistrust between the two
peoples. It is also because of this mistrust between the Ndebele
and Shona that a federal system of government cannot work in Zimbabwe.
The Ndebele do not trust the Shona to ensure the survival and growth of
their nation while the Shona suspect that the Ndebele want to use the
pretext of federalism to restore their state. It is unlikely that the
Shona, as the political majority, will see the need for a new system of
government, not least federalism. Judging by comments posted on
internet forums, they see federation as being synonymous with loss of
power or sovereignty to a "settler" nation.
who call for a federal system of government in Zimbabwe do so, as far
as I am aware, without serious study of the concept. Would a federal
system guarantee an equitable distribution of resources? A look at Nigeria,
which introduced a federal system in 1914, will show that it has failed
to guarantee peace and stability. Proponents of federalism in Zimbabwe
would be wise to study the situation in Nigeria if similar problems are
to be avoided. It is not all doom and gloom though, countries like
Germany and America also have federal systems which seem to be working
A closer look at these two countries will reveal that their systems are
German type of federation is co-operative, allows for overlap between
unitary and devolved and based on a strong regulatory framework.
Central government prescribes policy for federal states to apply resulting
in uniform policy. The American model is competitive, has clear seperation
of powers and allows for exclusive policy domains for each level (defence,
economic etc). Unlike in Germany, there is no uniformity of policy
already has a system of Governors which could be the basis of a federal
system. There are provincial administrations which are run by State
appointed governors. This provincial set-up is a relic of British
colonial rule based hugely on tribal communities. Regionalism, for that
is what it is, has not proved much of a success in Zimbabwe because of
government reluctance to delegate substantial political and legal power
to the supposedly semi-autonomous regions. Instead of promoting
the growth of indegenous institutions that benefit the regions, too much
state interference has rendered these regional administrations ineffective.
regionalism, which is devolution on a smaller scale, cannot be trusted
by the government what chance has federalism, which would require more
substantial transfers of authority to state governments?
onus lies with proponents of federalism to demonstrate not only its feasibility
but also a people's mandate. It is unlikely that a Zanu Pf or MDC
government will be receptive to the idea of federation as a system of
government. Already, the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), a body
whose views or findings have no legal or constitutional validity, has
been on record dismissing the idea of federalism saying the people of
Matabeleland do not support it. As things stand, the NCA draft does
not include a federalist system. As far as it is concerned, the concept
is dead and buried. How then do proponents of federalism hope to
get it onto the agenda? I await their response.
is no doubt that the unitary state has failed the country for the last
23 years. Given that one of the main tenets of federalism is mutual
trust, which clearly does not exist between the Ndebele and Shona, how
then would it be made to work in practice?