By Khumbulani Muleya
The international community is zooming in on Zimbabwe once again in the middle of plans by the government to introduce the Patriotic Bill akin to the Logan Act of 1799 which was enacted by the United States Congress during a time of tense Franco American relations.
There have been questions about the sort of impact the passing of this bill will have on Zimbabwe’s international relations at a time when the Emmerson Mnangagwa led government is on a rebranding drive to try and sanitize relations with the West after years of isolation under the Presidency of Robert Mugabe who was overthrown in a military assisted coup.
The way the government is unpacking this concept of patriotism does not seem to inspire patriotism but rather enforce it, which is why some suggest the bill bears the wrong title and should be given a name that appropriately defines what it really is since patriotism has always been part of the civic and citizenship education agenda imparted in the country’s government departments including schools.
What the government needs to do is gradually rid itself of an overhanging reputation of human rights conflict that has left the national brand sagging from carrying the burden of a hostile and murky political environment for many decades.
Penalties related to the bill give the government the authority to criminalize citizens who criticize or campaign against Zimbabwe and its leadership in what is seen as an effort to restrain discord comparable to the #ZimbabweanLivesMatter campaign which started an appealing wave of protests last year and saw a foreign delegation coming into the country on a fact-finding mission.
These penalties are largely viewed as part of a law that will predominantly affect opposition Members of Parliament, journalists as well as non-governmental organizations who on a daily basis are engaged with developmental partners linked to foreign governments.
It is still to be seen how a law inhibiting freedom of discourse and other fundamental rights will put the country in a positive light or stimulate foreign investment and growth.
Speaking at a Zoom policy dialogue organized by SAPES Trust Dr. Ibbo Mandaza encouraged delegates to the dialogue that there was a need to “mobilize a nationwide petition against this bill so that it does not turn into law.” The bill which is still at a proposal stage will require a majority in parliament for it to sail through.
Political analyst Richard Mahomva argues that the development of foreign policy is influenced by domestic considerations, adding that introducing the bill is part of a “circumstance-driven agenda” and that the bill will even give the opposition a “debate platform to air their grievances.”
Legal expert Nyasha Manhau says the bill is “crafted in tandem with our ethos and will assist citizens to look to inner solutions.”
Till then the question remains to be answered by unfolding events, will this law invite a new lease of life or will it send Zimbabwe plummeting down the abyss of seclusion, further isolated from the international community?