IN the last few weeks we have looked at the post-election period in terms of how it will likely impact both ZANU-PF and MDC parties.
This week I am going to look at the civil society; which is a critical component for any democracy-seeking society.
Many of us will remember just how much outcry there was from civil society in being excluded from key political processes during the inclusive government.
Some civil society organisations had even tried to claim space at the Global Political Agreement negotiation table, ultimately blaming Thabo Mbeki for playing what they termed “exclusionist” politics.
The next five years are going to be defining for civil society. This phase will test the capacity of civil society to self-reform and adapt to the new political climate.
It will also stretch civil society beyond the boundaries of luxury that the sector has enjoyed for some time.
I believe it is only those civil society organisations, able to strategically re-align themselves to the new terrain and pursue internal reformation, that will survive this coming period.
One of the greatest challenges that civil society will face is that of funding. In the last couple of years we have seen the mushrooming of civil society organisations with much duplicity.
Just a scan of civil society organisations in the human rights, democracy, women, and youths sectors will reflect a range of organisations with so many of them fighting for the same space and with very limited collaboration and cooperation.
We begin to question the wisdom of such proliferation. Is it based on need or is it a mere scramble for resources?
My understanding is that this multiplicity is also caused by the poor governance system prevailing in civil society in Zimbabwe.
Most civil society organisations, although purporting to represent and mandated by the ordinary citizens of the country, are actually entities owned and run by individuals.
We have spoken of a serious patronage system in politics in Zimbabwe, but civil society, which is meant to keep the politics in check, is itself swimming deep in the murky waters of patronage.
Looking through the management and board structures of most of the civil society organisations, the same individuals seem to emerge in all governance structures.
There is a clique of civil society leaders who have maintained a solid grip of the sector.
Many of these leaders have led their organisations for more than a decade, failing to replicate the leadership renewal that they are demanding from politicians.
Civil society has also failed to establish a representative foundation of the citizenry it claims to embody.
We have seen how most civil society organisations have lobbied and advocated on positions, which they claim to be beneficial to the citizens of the country, without due consultation of the citizenry.
Civil society has at times imposed its agenda and priorities, misrepresenting that as derived from citizenry input.
That is a glaring misrepresentation, which denotes a serious lack of both mandate and constituency.
At times I wonder if my poor old Muzarabani-based grandmother’s condition, status and needs are represented in civil society deliberations and the resolutions that form their advocacy pointers.
The failure to build a robust constituency-based mandate has led to civil society merely becoming elitist-driven and creating a sub-economy for individuals’ survival rather than serving the populace.
The other critical factor for Zimbabwean civil society is the donor factor.
We have also seen the scramble for donor funding in civil society. There are some civil society organisations that have become amphibious.
They transform their areas of focus based on where the greatest amounts of resources are being channelled.
Over time they have done so many things without being effective in any. Many of the donors who have pumped millions of dollars don’t seem to care about the governance and mandate issues I have highlighted.
Maybe that reflects on the perennial question of donor interests and their genuineness in socio-economic and political developments in countries such as Zimbabwe.
If these donors really did care, then their efforts would be expended more in ensuring that the primacy of the baseline of these civil society organisations is defined by profiling the needs of the citizenry.
Not only should they focus on that but also in how the leadership structures of the civil society organisations are themselves accountable to the citizenry.
It is one thing to expect civil society to hold government and State institutions to account when there is no internal accountability within.
It is one thing to expect civil society to mobilise citizens on progressive agendas when it specifically has no mandate from that citizenry.
It is however not all civil society organisations that are characterised by the flaws I have highlighted.
There are some that have played a critical role in ensuring that the voice of the citizen is both represented and heard.
There are some that have operated with an effective community-reach focus. Their governance structures have been transparent and able to infuse high levels of accountability within their operations.
It is however time that the civil society sector is cleaned up. Some theorists posit that whenever developing countries go through socio-economic and political challenges and conflicts, the civil society sector normally transforms into a sub-economy which effectively feeds the middle class and elites, while disenfranchising and misleading the poor and sub-structures of society.
Is this what Zimbabwe civil society has been of late? Other theorists allude to the point that in times of crises, some civil society organisations become mechanisms of sustaining the crises as their mere existence is at times justified on the prevalence and intensity of the crises.
Is there real intention by civil society to see the Zimbabwe political challenges fully resolved, or is it the fuel they need to continue being relevant?
It is time we start asking those uncomfortable questions about Zimbabwe’s civil society.