Zimbabwe is suffering from confidence crisis as can be witnessed by the extent to which citizens approach the different public bodies for information. This is so especially because there is little and no honest communication between the state and citizens, which results in citizens having to speculate and gossip in order for them to make important decisions.
In a community where there is no communication between the citizenry and the state, both exhibit lack of trust in each other and engage in activities that are meant to protect and promote personal gain at the expense of national interest. On the part of government, there has not been any efforts to ensure that the citizens have unfettered access to public offices, particularly those that deal with critical information. Oftentimes, what comes from the direction of the state are orders and instructions where citizens are expected to conform without proper progressive engagements, while from the citizenry it is usually the complains on positions and policies which they feel are improper.
In a big way, the government has used different legal instruments which curtail free access to information for citizens such as Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa), Official Secrets Act, Broadcasting Services Act, Censorship Act, Public Order and Security Act (Posa) and Interception of Communications Act.
These tools have been used to create a gap between citizens and the state which has given rise to the confidence crisis that this country is grappling with at the moment with by-products manifesting as polarisation and diminishing trust. It has created a buffer so that the people cannot access their government. The government seems to be afraid of its people while the people seem to be both suspicious and afraid of their government. In a situation as is obtaining, the nation suffers lack of consensus and fragmentation where there is no area of commonality or rallying point for us all.
Oftentimes, when bodies such as Zinara attempt to appraise citizens on its work, for instance how much it has collected through toll gates, citizens frown at it as an expression of disapproval and lack of trust in both the communicator and the information itself. This is the case with other bodies that are linked to the state including National Aids Council (NAC), Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra), Zesa, Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA), Zimbabwe Investment Authority (ZIA), Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), and Broadcasting Authority (BAZ). They have lost credibility and the citizenry have no confidence in them.
Having said this, it is then terribly important for the government to open up channels of communication by promoting and enhancing media freedom so that media practitioners can access information sources for reliable information, whether negative or positive. The propensity to block the free flow of information should not be allowed in this era. The harnessing of ICTs and social media should be one of the critical areas that this government should embrace in order to build this confidence and enhance interaction between the state and citizens. The e-government concept which Communications minister Nelson Chamisa mentions sometimes should be the way to go.
But all this requires political will and preparedness to account on those who hold public office in whatever capacity.
For as long as there is no relationship between the governed and the governors, there will be no development in this country and any other country for that matter. And needless to say, this relationship is established and sustained through communication.
Opinion By Kudzai Kwangwari-ZACRAS Programs Officer