New perspectives: Separating political power from professional power

In the meantime the population has doubled, unemployment has spiralled, and more than four million highly qualified and experienced Zimbabweans, have left the country to join the diaspora.


Zimbabwe is a highly politicised country. It has been so for more than a century.

It is important to investigate the history of the century long liberation struggle to examine why this is so.

How was the drive for political power realistically linked to the drive for development on the one hand, and the drive for economic growth on the other hand?

Political power remains central.

It  is very evident that the much wished for development and economic growth aspirations are lagging behind.

This has been so since independence, more than 40 years ago, but has exacerbated over the past two decades, when both development and the economy have regressed considerably.

In the meantime the population has doubled, unemployment has spiralled, and more than four million highly qualified and experienced Zimbabweans, have left the country to join the diaspora.

It is essential to begin by examining what is meant by power.

Is it possible to have political power, without development?

Is it possible to have political power without economic growth?

Do Zimbabweans have a lot of political power, yet very limited development and economic growth?

One main problem is the Lancaster House independence agreement, made in Britain after a few hurried months without full and detailed discussion by the Zimbabwean population.

Zimbabwe was given political power through universal suffrage, i.e. Zimbabwe’s demand for “one person one vote”.

Zimbabwe has had elections every five years ever since, but it is necessary to investigate how far this political power was linked to professional power.

The Lancaster Agreement was based on a few human rights: mainly the rights protecting ownership of property, particularly of commercial farms.

A few human rights related to freedom of speech and the right to organise meetings and political parties were also emphasized.

The issue of economic growth was not really touched upon.

Zimbabwe was promised a lot of financial assistance on the other hand.

Political power needs to be closely linked to professional power, as expressed through developmental power and economic power.

Success depends on how all  forms of power are achieved, linked and sustained.

Victory is possible, but always in stages, rather than suddenly and overnight.

Zimbabwe agreed that state power should be decided through universal suffrage once every five years.

This was a very important decision.

Elections are recognised as essential and critically important almost every where in the world, whether in the West or in the East.

However, elections are different in every country, depending on historical developments.

The British system has retained the traditional leadership of the nobles and lords, who have the power to affect decisions made by the elected parliament, through the House of Lords.

The Lords now also include top industrial and business leaders as well as some leading intellectuals.

Britain  retained the system of property ownership: thus their top leaders are still supported by their property rights.

However, over the more than 400 years that the British system has been in existence, many adjustments have been made.

Most of the electorate think it is a fair system.

At grassroots levels there are many finesses, such as requirements for candidates: at local level efforts to include professional, business and grassroots people.

Property rights have been adjusted to include both leasehold and low cost local government housing.

The Chinese have adjusted to elections by allowing local and institutional elections, but leaders  do not face national elections and their president is not elected by the public.

Instead the national leadership is selected through a very thorough qualifications and experience system through which candidates have to work over several decades at local and provincial levels before they can rise to national leadership.

The Communist Party plays an important role in judging competence over the decades.

This is a very different system of selection from the British and the Zimbabwean.

In the case of Zimbabwe, the Lancaster House Agreement initially provided a president elected by Parliament, and with the leader of the winning party as the Prime Minister.

This was a division of responsibilities giving the president overall political leadership, and the prime minister overall professional leadership.

However, various changes were made to the constitution so that by the 1987 constitution  Zanu and Zapu removed this division of powers, and instead installed the executive presidency, in the person of Robert Mugabe.

For the first time Mugabe was not only president, but his Cabinet was seriously weakened by an earlier removal of Zapu members, and by  his decision to remove key Zanu personnel involved in selling cars reserved for sale to ministers.

The original division of political from professional leadership was removed.

Subsequently presidents were to be elected by universal voting.

The president was free not only to select his cabinet on his own, but a little later also his two party and state deputies, top leaders of the state, the security forces, the judiciary, and parastatals.

An immediate impact of the executive presidency was the emphasis on personalities, rather than on community and party focus.

In the early 1980s political processes emphasized the leadership groups in each community, not on individuals only.

Personality politics have now defined all political parties, often leading to leadership rivalries and battles within parties and communities.

Personalities particularly try to win the support of the top leaders.

It would be useful to adopt the American system where the president is free to select his cabinet and a limited number of other personnel, but the Senate has the right to evaluate and interview her/his selection.

This provides an invaluable balance.

Instead political systems recognize the leading groups in the society, such as chiefs; national, local and community leaders; the military; war veterans; large communities such as the peasantry and workers; industrial and commercial leaders; professional groups and trade unions; religious leaders; etc.

They also recognise major financial forces within the society, such as the farmers; industrialists; banks; etc.

These are all important societal  groups. It is important to ensure that all participate in the political dialogue and decision making.

A workable consensus can be built up, for example in specific areas such as education, health, clean water, rural development, urban job creation, etc.

Initiatives to consult different groups were evident in the 1970s and 1980s, but they weakened under the executive presidency which encouraged decision making by one leader and one party.

One observable weakness is that of Parliament and Cabinet.

For example there is the failure to respect the systems and laws regarding approval of the state budget and of state outside loans by Parliament.

Ministers and Cabinet enter into foreign loans of billions of dollars without parliamentary approval as required.

As a result, Zimbabwe has an enormous foreign debt which will be difficult to repay.

Parliament also usually approves national budgets of billions of dollars which they have not fully understood.

The weak state of the economy since Independence, worsened over the past two decades, are very evident.

This has not been profoundly investigated by the society as a whole, although a few good researchers have tried their best.

Yet their findings have not been fully discussed by Parliament, the State and the population as a whole.

Zimbabwe has had numerous parliamentary changes, including the new constitution of 2013.

This is a valuable constitution, not yet been fully ratified by Parliament.

Whilst it gives great emphasis to human rights, it only covers economic rights and economic development superficially.

This is a major weakness, as Zimbabwe’s human rights cannot be fully implemented without huge and profound economic foundations.

Economic growth will require participation by the whole society, including its political and developmental constituents.

These dialogues will need to be detailed enough to be implementable by each sector, e.g by infrastructure, education, etc: each with its own prioritisation and time scale.

They need to link together to be effective.

Developmental institutions such as educational, health, infrastructure would have to contribute substantially: such economic change is impossible without their full participation.

Politics is important. Its present focus on personality rivalries and party politics competition are seriously problematic: they should instead be focusing on the jointly discussed and shared programmes and policies required for development and economic growth.

There is need to balance political power with a clear understanding of professional power within the society.

  • Chung was a secondary school teacher in the townships; lecturer in polytechnics and universities; teacher trainer in the liberation struggle; civil servant and UN civil servant and minister of primary and secondary education.
  • These articles published are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, an independent consultant, past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society and past president of the Chartered Governance & Accountancy Institute in Zimbabwe
  • Email: [email protected] and mobile no. +263 772 382 852.

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