Only 35% of Africans turn up for voting, Speaker of the National Assembly Jacob Mudenda said Tuesday, urging Zimbabwean MPs to do thorough soul searching on how to end voter apathy in the country and the rest of the continent.
He said this while addressing a workshop for the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Budget and Finance and the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Youth.
The Kariba workshop was facilitated by Action Aid Zimbabwe in order to train MPs on the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG).
The African Union Charter (ACDEG) has amongst some of its objectives the need by state parties to promote democracy, rule of law, regular free and fair elections, prohibition of unconstitutional changes of power, promotion of gender, economic, and social rights, transparency and accountability, press freedom and other civil liberties and to end corruption among other objectives.
Articles 17 to 22 of ADCEG specifically deal with elections where state parties are called upon to establish independent electoral commissions, run free and fair elections and to promote multi-party democracy, among other issues.
“We need to promote a system of government that is representative, for example, are the governments in Africa representative, when in fact on average only 35% of the voting electorate cast their vote? As MPs, we have to find out why only 35% of people cast their vote,” Mudenda said.
“There must be participatory democracy via universal suffrage as an inalienable right of the people to participate in elections, otherwise universal suffrage becomes misplaced,” he said.
He said ACDEG principles must also be domesticated into municipal laws by Parliament in order to promote good governance.
Minister of State for Mashonaland West Province Mary Mliswa said leaders must be capacitated for delivery of good governance and therefore it is imperative for MPs to be knowledgeable about ACDEG.
Action Aid Zimbabwe national director Joy Mabenge said the ACDEG training for MPs came at a time when his organisation had signed a memorandum of understanding with the Parliament of Zimbabwe to work with nine Parliamentary Portfolio Committees on capacity enhancement.
“It is important for MPs to learn the charter so that they are also able to present African solutions for African problems,” Mabenge said.
Constitutional expert James Tsabora said there was need for MPs to check for governance indicators as stipulated by ACDEG because African countries are often criticised by the West for lack of good governance, bad politics, and bad administration.
But Mudenda said democracy evolved slowly even in countries that are considered democratic such as the United States of America and Great Britain where it took them hundreds of years to entrench democracy, and therefore the West must not expect Africa to evolve fast in terms of democracy.
Mutasa Central MP, Trevor Saruwaka said Mudenda must not give excuses for Zimbabwe’s failure to promote democracy and must support ACDEG principles and the country’s constitution.
“Democracy can be costly for leaders that want to evolve fast. We need to interrogate the issue of how we have evolved as a democracy. We had the government of national unity (GNU) in 2009 and we started evolving dramatically and came up with the 2013 constitution which we are still trying to polish up,” Mudenda said.