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Civil Society Activist Urges NGOs to Restrategize on Zimbabwe

Arthur Gwagwa and Jeffrey Smith discussing issues affecting Zimbabwe. (Photo" Marvelous Mhlanga Nyahuye)

Arthur Gwagwa and Jeffrey Smith discussing issues affecting Zimbabwe. (Photo" Marvelous Mhlanga Nyahuye)

The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum London-based head Arthur Gwagwa says civil society needs to restrategise and go back to the grassroots for them to effectively participate in the fight for democracy in Zimbabwe.

Gwagwa, who is on a six-month Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellowship in Washington, made the call at a one day conference in Washington on Monday, where he presented a research paper on ‘How civil society engagement can strengthen democracy in Zimbabwe’.

The conference was organised jointly by the National Endowment
for Democracy and the Robert F. Kennedy for Human Rights and Justice.

Gwagwa said his research showed there were some areas in which the civil society in the country did well since 1999 to date.

He said these included, among others, the formation of a credible democratic movement, the reduction of organised violence through documentation, dissemination and advocacy.

"Pressure from the civil society also brought about the drafting of the new constitution, the intensified call for electoral reforms and the inclusion of women in the movement," said Gwagwa.

In evaluating civil society, Gwagwa said there were areas of improvement that could be redressed for the movement to re-energise itself and go back to their founding values.

"There is conflation of civil society organisations and some political parties and some of the organisations now appear to be in crisis rather than strategy-driven, there is also the over institutionalisation and shrinking radius of trust and lack of initiative to capitalise on electoral outcomes," said Gwagwa.

He urged the civil society to review their organisational structures and relationships by re- engaging the grassroots.

"Civil society needs to include more diverse issues and stakeholders, renew their mandate to ensure impetus is coming from the grassroots and also to adopt more direct-action strategies," said Gwagwa.

In his presentation, he also urged civil society to intensify its engagement with the government.

"Civil society should recognise that government is not monolithic and should engage parliament on the importance of the rule of law and approach the judiciary to test the new constitution and insist on its independence," said Gwagwa.

Some civil society organisations have come under heavy criticism for aligning themselves with opposition parties in the country and lack of transparency, weakening their role in the fight for democracy.

Addressing participants at the conference, Jeffrey Smith of the Robert F. Kennedy for Justice and Human Rights also called on the civil society to wake up from their slumber they seem to have drifted into after the shock of the 2013 elections that saw the ruling party coming back into power.

"They need to restratigise and re-energise themselves by re-engaging the grassroots," said Smith.