If pro-government lawmakers have their way in Zimbabwe, a bill would be passed that would seek to punish citizens outside the country who criticize the government for various reasons. The law will define such criticisms as “unpatriotic” that drags the international reputation of Zimbabwe through the mud.
The bill was proposed in March by a member of the ruling Zanu-PF party who argued that some of the criticisms his government faces from many Zimbabweans outside the country are unpatriotic. He promised that his intention was not to punish dissent but to safeguard the reputation of the country. Despite opposition from civil society and opposition politicians, the bill continues to be debated in the legislature.
Backing what has been called the Patriotic Bill, Pupurai Togarepi, the chief whip of the ruling party in parliament told the BBC, “[t]he government has always tried to persuade its citizens to behave in a patriotic way to maintain unity. But after the coming in of opposition parties [in 1999] many agendas came to the fore and it led to a situation where you are at war as a country. It is difficult to manage behaviour and you cannot arbitrarily arrest people without a law to back that.”
Other members of parliament are even calling for the law to apply to Zimbabwean NGOs as well members of the media fraternity.
Zanu-PF has been the only party that has ruled Zimbabwe since the country attained independence from Britain in 1980. But former President Robert Mugabe was isolated by Western partners after he embarked on a drastic land redistribution program that sought to take back lands from minority white Zimbabwean farmers. The isolations were accompanied by sanctions that have burdened Zimbabwe for about two decades.
But in recent times, Mugabe’s successor Emmerson Mnangagwa has moved to take off some of the pressure from his country by proposing terms to give some lands back to white farmers.
In September, Zimbabwe’s government announced that it was giving back lands to foreign white farmers who have the benefit of protection under international investment treaties. The offer applied to about 37 foreigners whose lands were seized between 2000 and 2001. In cases where land ownership reversal is impossible, the Zimbabwean government will make restitution with land from elsewhere.