Over the Summer, I had the opportunity of interning at Freedom House, an independent watchdog organisation based in Washington D.C. dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world.  As a student of International Relations this work expose was a fantastic and excellent match for my skill sets and interest.  I had the opportunity of working on various projects, and subsequently assisting and providing input on these projects at hand.  My blog post below was my perspective on FH’s Human Rights Support Mechanism Draft Concept for Zimbabwe:

Several of the human rights violations of ordinary people and defenders of human rights have been perpetrated by the governments, its officials, and other related unscrupulous persons in Zimbabwe since it gained independence.  Various human rights violations were perpetrated against ordinary citizens and human rights defenders as a result of an unclear constitution that failed to protect their fundamental human rights.   Even though Zimbabwe’s 2013 constitution is based on the respect and protection of the fundamental human rights and is founded upon a framework that is aimed at countering all forms of human rights violations, it has clearly failed to do so across the spectrum.  The current climate in Zimbabwe needs to be tackled by a combination of role players – ranging from civil society, the judiciary, law enforcement, international organizations, human rights defenders, journalists, and activists.  With that being said one cannot neglect the work that local and international organizations such as Freedom House are doing with its local partners on the ground to enhance the protection of human rights in Zimbabwe.

In order to ensure that the fundamental rights of Human Rights Defenders, journalists, activists, civil society are protected, role players such as the judiciary need to assume their roles in Zimbabwe.  In many instances the judiciary in Zimbabwe has failed to protect the people’s fundamental rights, specifically prior to the adoption of the Zimbabwe Constitution 2013.  Furthermore, all members of civil societies have a key role in the promotion and protection of human rights as civil society and within the Zimbabwean context, this can be done through democratic consolidation whereby civil society plays a role through the support and maintenance of democratic principles and institutions.  Law enforcement organs should also be accounted for in the fight for human rights, and the protection thereof.  If members of the security services and/or law enforcement agencies ally with civil societies and the various institutions that encompass civil society, the project of protecting the fundamental human rights against violations becomes stronger.

Similarly as the Civil Rights Movement in the United States was not instigated by politicians but rather by ordinary caring citizens of America, the plight of change within the Zimbabwean context will have to be initiated by its ordinary populace who are tired of being used by political parties at election time, only to be deserted post-election time.  Within the Zimbabwean context, it has become clear that those in power are not cognizant of the predicaments and circumstances of the people, and thus do not understand the needs and the fundamental human rights of the ordinary Zimbabwean citizen.  Zimbabwe is in a serious leadership crisis.  One that needs to be addressed both internally and externally.  Credible leadership needs to be established.  The current conversation in Zimbabwe focus’ on the 2018 elections, while the reality is that some may not make it to those elections as a result of a lack of human rights – hunger, politically-motivated violence, preventable diseases and poor living conditions.

As a result the suffering of Zimbabweans and the continuous human rights violations in the country have sparked confidence in a wide range of Civil Society Organizations.  From the lens of a Southern African scholar, it may appear that the people of Zimbabwe no long want to discuss politics or even economics, rather they want to express dismay at the stifling grip that international Non-profit Organizations; NGO;s and aid agencies have on their lives and work.

More often than not, when dealing with Zimbabwe, western agencies have political imperatives to distance themselves from the Zimbabwean government.  There may be frustration that may arise from local experts as a result of how external agendas are introduced without sufficient and proper research into local conditions and the history of these communities.  The lack of knowledge, amongst the teams and partners that design and run development projects in Zimbabwean communities may become a source of constant irritation.  There needs to be deep knowledge development amongst teams and partners on the ground in these communities.

Furthermore HRD’s need to encourage regular meetings to discuss the life journeys of those you are trying to assist, and the support that these people will need to fulfil their potential.  The priorities of communities are subsumed in the needs of external aid agencies – ‘listening’ the acceptable needs of those in need will further nurture the relationship between HRD’s and those repressing them on the grounds.  There should be an emphasis on listening across the spectrum, from HRD’s, journalists, civil society, as well as the government.  Within the Zimbabwean context, listening has become political and this can cause a rise in contestation.

With that being said, the efforts being made in Zimbabwe by FH and its local and external partners are of high value, and will no doubt bring about change to the people of Zimbabwe.  The strategies approached for the protection of HRD’s and journalists are also highly significant – from security training, and providing secure equipment, to civic voter education and policy and research dissemination

The abduction of human rights defenders and activists is taking place at a time when Zimbabwe is facing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis.  This is an exhibition of a regime that is desperate to stay in power, no matter what the cost.  Perhaps FH needs to urge SADC, the AU, and the UN to assist in exerting pressure on the Mugabe regime, and to issue a public condemnation of these actions.  Within the Zimbabwean context, the need for authentic partnerships between local and external groups such as FH is particularly pressing given the dynamics of the current situation.  Those on the ground who are engaged in the complex struggle for basic but fundamental rights are continuously under threat and they need to be heard and listened to closely.

In a country that is increasingly fractured and multi-polar at a political level, perhaps FH needs to be willing to work in a collaborative fashion with civil society in Zimbabwe.  By reaching out and collaboratively working with local partners on the ground, Freedom House has enabled itself to establish a partnership that will set the tone for the project, ensuring an atmosphere in which all stakeholders and partners seek to listen and learn from one another, as well as to provide input on areas of their greatest expertise which is ultimately a more effective and sustainable advocacy strategy.