On 27 April 2011, the International Crisis Group (ICG) released a report titled, ‘Zimbabwe: The Road to Reform or Another Dead End?’ The report offers a sobering evaluation of politics in Zimbabwe since the Global Political Agreement (GPA). It also raises concerns that the next election and a possible referendum on a new constitution –when these happen – could be marred by violence.

The report cites evidence that violence and intimidation have been increasing of late, even though it is not yet certain that an election or a referendum will be held this year. The ICG sees ZANU-PF as the main culprit in cultivating this culture of violence, although MDC-T and MDC-M do not emerge from the report unscathed.

One might sum it up this way: Zimbabwe’s political parties are letting the people down, yet again.

Of course, the political and economic challenges facing Zimbabwe are formidable – the politicians don’t have an easy job. But there is a sense, from this report and from the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference pastoral letter, Let us Work for the Common Good (analysed previously on this blog), that there really is a lack of political will to do what is best for all the citizens of the nation.

Most of The Road to Reform or Another Dead End? examines the stalled constitution-making process. It is already widely recognized that this process has been flawed. Indeed, this was noted in a statement released in February by the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC), the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ZCBC) and the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ), which said:

‘All aspects of the Global Political Agreement should be fully implemented before an election is held. We also call on the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), the guarantors of the GPA, to ensure that the agreement is fully implemented accountably and timeously. The Church is ready and willing to facilitate and support dialogue between the Principals and political parties to ensure the resolution of the outstanding issues.

This Constitution making process should ensure that the views of the people are respected. It should also take cognizance of some flaws in the outreach process that might have subverted the views of the people in some areas.’

The ICG report also recognizes that civil society groups should be more fully involved in crafting a new constitution. I assume this includes churches although they are not named explicitly in the text of the report. Further, it seems the input of religious actors might be welcomed (or at least not opposed) by the Select Committee of Parliament on the new constitution (COPAC), which included ‘Religion’ among its 18 talking themes for discussion during the constitutional process.

But time may be running out. The ICG report states (p. 18):

‘The constitution-making process is now in the critical drafting stage. Thousands of inputs at COPAC meetings and other submissions are supposed to be collated and analysed by the thematic committees during April and May. These are then to be fashioned into a draft for presentation to the second all-stakeholders conferences in July or August.’

Does this mean that the churches and other civil society groups might have missed their chance to contribute to the process? Is there anything that they can do now?

In reflecting on this, I’m brought back to the statement I quoted earlier from the ZCC, ZCBC and EFZ, warning that the constitution-making process ‘should also take cognizance of some flaws in the outreach process that might have subverted the views of the people in some areas.’

Could the churches have a role to play in collecting and publicizing the views of those who have been purposely and effectively silenced during the consultation process on a new constitution?

In addition, the ICG report does not raise the issues of national healing and reconciliation. Perhaps this is because ‘healing’ and ‘reconciliation’ cannot be achieved via a constitutional guarantee.

But it is important to remember that much of the real work of nation-building happens at the grassroots, as Joram Tarusarira reminds us in an earlier blog post. In Zimbabwe that will mean much work among people who have been traumatized by long-term political violence.

Does Zimbabwe need a constitutional guarantee that its government will prioritize the needs of victims of violence and the reconciling of opposing groups, at least during a transitional phase? Can the churches provide ethical and theological guidance on why this might be for the greater good of the nation?

Dr Gladys Ganiel is a lecturer in Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation at Trinity College Dublin at Belfast