Photos: YouTube Screenshots (Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa is shown above right.)
“Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” so, it is said, and nothing befits this aphorism than the recent promulgation of a new anti-free speech law by the Zimbabwean parliament. This singular act which is an affront to democratic values has brought this poor southern African nation to the limelight for all the wrong reasons.
An amendment to the existing Criminal Law Codification and Reform Amendment Bill, 2022, now provides for Section 22a, which makes any act against “the sovereignty and national interest” of Zimbabwe, a criminal offense, with violators liable to a 20-years imprisonment. This new insertion might sound like a complete hogwash to the unwary, but in reality, the new law is meant to muzzle freedom of speech, gag dissenting voices and rein in critics of the government even though it is currently hailed to the high heavens by none other than President Mnangagwa’s henchmen, man Fridays and lapdogs.
I was astounded, watching these events unfold on my satellite TV and couldn’t believe my ears when one of the country’s parliamentarians and a member of the ruling Zanu-PF party said on being interviewed, that the new law was to make Zimbabweans “patriotic.” His standpoint was a sure disconnection from reality; a claim that only a scrambled mind can produce. Even if I were to take the speaker serious, you do not force patriotism on a people. Patriotism is a two-way traffic, whereby the government of the day works in consonance with its avowed social contract of providing good governance and workable infrastructural facilities for the people who, in turn, will carry out their civic responsibility conscientiously without any need to be clobbered or reined in by a set of draconian, stone-age laws like the one in question.
This new law is a dress rehearsal for something worse, as no one can contain or muzzle free speech. It is not a coincidence too, that it is coming into effect with just a few months to the country’s general election due to be held in August.
As it would be recalled, the ruling Zanu-PF barely scraped through the last election of 2018 to avoid a run-off, as the opposition MDC Alliance led by Nelson Chamisa, garnered enough support to show that they were a force to be reckoned with. President Mnangagwa knows full well that the youths are yearning for a change to the business-as-usual politics of Zanu-PF and its array of gerontocrats. His government’s intention, this time around, therefore, is to win by every untoward means necessary, ruthlessly crushing any opposition on its way to “victory.”
That’s the simple truth and we do not need a stargazer to tell us.
But President Mnangagwa’s shenanigans must be challenged. Zimbabwe is not his own plaything to be tossed around at whim. The country’s infrastructure is crumbling and the hospitals are devoid of vital medicines.
In a recent Corruption Perspective Index conducted by Transparency International, where 0 was adjudged “highly corrupt” and 100 “very clean,” Zimbabwe scored an abysmal 23 and currently ranks 157th amongst 180 countries having the most corrupt public sector (Source: Transparency.org). Any leader whose sanity is intact would see these as red flags to be addressed, but not the Zimbabwean president. And while South Korea has just undergone a Moon mission, and India, waxing stronger in its Space Research Program, the Mnangagwas of this world and their ilk are enacting heinous, satanic laws to destroy their own kind. What a shame!
I am old enough to recall the blizzard of criticisms that descended on his predecessor’s Mugabe’s regime for similar highhandedness. I even wrote about it. Western nations should not be deceived into thinking that President Mnangagwa is different. He’s not. Old wine in new skin does not taste different. The “Crocodile,” as he is called, President Mnangagwa is as ruthless as his late master.
In this vein, therefore, I call on Amnesty International and the international community to keep an eye on this once-lovely nation to ensure that the evil machination of the current regime is not brought to bear on the suffering people of Zimbabwe.
Martins Agbonlahor is a trained lawyer, journalist and author who lives in Greater Manchester, The United Kingdom.