BY PROBLEM MASAU
PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa has declared war on non-governmental organisations (NGOs), accusing them of being appendages of foreign powers and diplomats seeking to effect regime change.
In his weekly column in The Sunday Mail, Mnangagwa attacked civil society organisations, while giving credence to crafting of the controversial Private Voluntary Organisations Amendment Bill currently in the Committee Reading Stage in Parliament.
The Bill has been described by human rights activists as a ploy to close democratic space in the country ahead of the 2023 general elections.
Some of its provisions give the Public Service and Social Welfare minister powers to meddle in operations of NGOs, as well as to register or deregister them.
In his comment, Mnangagwa accused foreign diplomats accredited to Zimbabwe of clandestinely meeting individuals and interest groups without clearance from the Foreign Affairs ministry.
Harare has hogged the limelight for the wrong reasons following the arrest and detention of political activists and the heavy-handedness of the security sector on protesters, prompting the country to be discussed at the United Nations Human Rights Council and the United Kingdom’s parliament.
But Mnangagwa accuses Western countries of setting up political NGOs to influence election results in Zimbabwe.
“Over the years, a number of sending States have set up political NGOs in Zimbabwe, which abuse the notion of rights advocacy to work for political outcomes which those sponsoring States prefer. Needless to say, this is gross interference in our affairs using proxies established, especially to skew our politics towards goals and interests of some sending States,” he wrote.
“What raised our alarm is how the same NGOs are used, especially during election periods, as conduits for foreign funding to preferred political parties. Such NGOs thus become laundromats for washing such dirty and laundered foreign money. No State, least of those offending States, can ever tolerate such illegalities.
“One piece of legislation which has drawn the unlawful involvement of such meddlesome missions is the PVOs Bill, which is under debate in our Parliament. The Bill seeks to straighten operations of NGOs whose mission must, at the very least, respect our sovereignty and national interests. The PVOs Bill will become law once it goes through all the stages of our law-making process. It is our law. All missions accredited here are required to respect that law, as they should the rest of our laws,” he added.
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition director Blessing Vava said Mnangagwa was using the PVOs Amendment Bill as a scapegoat to close the democratic space in the country.
“What Mnangagwa is doing shows that he is not informed and is out of touch with reality, and the development agencies that he says want to effect regime change are the ones that are contributing to support development of this country. Zimbabwe’s health budget is supported by that. We will continue to hold them accountable,” Vava said.
“Mnangagwa talks of regime change as if it is a crime. In fact, it is not a crime to seek regime change. Voters can choose to effect regime change through a ballot. He is trying to close the democratic space.”
In a statement, Zimbabwe Peace Project weighed in saying: “From the statements that President Mnangagwa and Zanu PF officials are issuing, it is becoming clearer that the PVOs Amendment Bill is not about dealing with financial misappropriation, but rather closing down civil society organisations and shutting down democratic space.”
Political analyst Gibson Nyikadzino said the PVOs Amendment Bill was necessary because in other countries, unknown sources of funding have been used for terrorism and illegal revolutions.
“I think the President is clear, there is no way he can allow the flow of money from unknown sources to come into the country without any form of regulations and accountability. If NGOs are transparent, why are they afraid? The dynamics across the world is that when small groups want to take power, they use unknown sources of funds they don’t want to declare. The government is saying if you don’t have anything to hide, just show us your source of income,” he said.
“There is talk that the government wants to close the civic space, it’s not true. A lot of money is being channelled in the country through the national endowment for democracy, which is also known as CIA2, which has caused a lot of havoc across the globe,” he added.