The Right Honourable Morgan Tsvangirai, Prime Minister of the Republic of Zimbabwe, delivered a public lecture at UNU headquarters on Friday, 20 July. The event focused on democratization processes on the African continent and was moderated by Obijiofor Aginam, Senior Academic Programme Officer at UNU-ISP. It was attended by a wealth of participants including academics, diplomats, and members of the general public.
Speaking from the unique perspective of a leader who has experienced robust political situations firsthand, Mr. Tsvangirai began his lecture by referring to the history of struggle for democracy in Africa. Looking back to a time of subjugation by colonial powers, he spoke of how nationalist movements began the fight for universal standards of equality and freedom, resulting in widespread independence.
The Prime Minister went on to lament that some of the new administration within Africa had inherited a similar culture of “impunity, corruption and repression,” as colonial powers. He remarked that the struggle for democracy is now being waged against leaders who practice the same repression that previous generations fought against. This had resulted in a continent that struggled to accept diversity, to be tolerant of divergent views or to create institutions that broaden rather than diminish the people’s basic rights and freedoms.
Mr. Tsvangirai remarked that many African leaders have “shut their ears to the loud national demand for democracy and good governance”, and warned that this may foster the same environment that gave rise to the Arab spring. In order to curb this situation he spoke of four lessons that political leaders should take from the spring revolutions: to not take their citizens for granted; to listen more than they speak; to retire in their prime; and to always respect the will of the people.
The challenge therefore, is that the new crop of African leaders “consign repression and mis-governance to the dustbins” and create a society with new values. The Prime Minister pointed out many positive examples, such as massive economic revival in Rwanda, the “inspiring” economies of South Africa and Nigeria, the renewed hope following the new government of South Sudan, and the peaceful transitions from Senegal, to Zambia. He warned however that support was still needed, and urged to back the call for a free and fair election in Zimbabwe.
Following the lecture Mr. Tsvangirai took the opportunity to answer questions from members of the audience. Topics included Zimbabwe’s relationship with China and North Korea, the country’s treatment of sexualities and the MDC’s stance on land reforms. Throughout the session the Prime Minister stressed the continued importance of transparency and non-violence, urging future leaders and citizens to continue refining democratic processes within the country.
The lecture was closed by Mr. Aginam who thanked the audience for posing questions that “challenge leaders, politicians and policy makers alike.”