Zimbabwe Review

Reflections on Zimbabwe

Archive for February, 2008

The disgrace of Mugabe wishing for yet another term

Posted by CM on February 18, 2008

by Chido Makunike

I am trying to decide who to go and vote for in the presidential election of March 29.

For such a hyped election, and with all the problems in Zimbabwe that are crying out for concrete plans of actions, there is precious little the candidates have given in the campaign so far to help guide and woo the voters.

One candidate in particular puzzles me. He is the long “serving” incumbent, Robert Mugabe. Actually “long-sitting” may be more appropriate.

If Mugabe has an election manifesto, I am not aware of it. Perhaps he believes his record of 27 years as the incumbent “speaks for itself.”

But what it speaks is far from flattering to him. The people he rules are demoralised, reduced to scratching for survival in a rich country. Shortages are rife, including of everyday goods, running water and electricity. The infrastructure is crumbling from many years of neglect. Ruling over the country is fear; of officialdom in general and of Mugabe in particular.

Nothing could have “spoken” about Mugabe’s rule more eloquently than his own government’s announcement last week that annual inflation now stood at the astonishing level of 66,000%!

How does someone stand for re-election on such a disgraceful record? Why is he offering himself for re-election at all when it would seem obvious that he is a failed leader?

Why he would expect the electorate to vote for him in significant numbers despite the incontrovertible proof of his record of brutality and incompetence is one obvious question. But another one is why, regardless of the level of “support” he “enjoys,” he would choose to prolong and entrench “his” peoples’ suffering with five more years of his mis-rule.

Surely, whatever common decency Mr. Mugabe still retains requires him to stand aside to give the country a chance to stem the continued decline that is assured with him “in charge?” Even if he still imagines himself to have significant support, the kindest thing he could do for his supporters would be to say, “thank you for continuing to back me despite all my failures, but out of compassionate support for your welfare, I am withdrawing myself from the presidential race.”

This a move that is admittedly unlikely for a man who is not known for compassion. He is a person who confuses a rigid obstinance with principle. You have lost your way when the only “principles” you are defending are just the lengths to which you will go to want to wear the title of president, long after you have failed to give that title any respectable, positive or productive meaning.

Mr. Mugabe, why are you doing this? Why are you so cruel as to want to inflict five more years of your bungling and repression on the people of Zimbabwe? Do you feel no embarrassment whatsover to have presided over the decimation of Zimbabwe? Mr. Mugabe, are you still capable of feeling any shame or has the over-riding, misguided need to present a facade of a defiant “toughness” completely obliterated any semblance of common decency in you?

There are praise singers of Mugabe’s who say he must continue at the helm to safeguard the gains of “the revolution” for “sovereignty” and the land. But Mr. Mugabe is 84 and realistically, could drop dead any day despite his good health. It does not speak much for the depth of the “revolution” that its permanence is claimed to rest on the now very tenuous life expectancy of one old man!

Is how long Mugabe lives the only thing ensuring that “the revolution” is secure? If so, it is not a real revolution, and he and his supporters are right to worry that much of his legacy will be unraveled by future reformers. But it also means that even if he had another 20 years of life and in power, many of the things he has instituded are more likely to be un-done than to be preserved.

A “revolution” suggests wholesale changes whose benefits are so clear that there is widespread support to hold on to them. Mugabe’s praise singers do not seem to have this confidence towards his legacy.

There is another serious flaw with the argument that “the revolution” may fall to pieces without Mugabe at the helm. Even if one fervently supported all of Mugabe’s measures over the years, particularly in regards to land management, Mugabe is the least qualified person to take the country forward to the next step.

The way land ownership was suddenly changed in Zimbabwe has so far proven to be disastrous for agricultural productivity. It has so far defied a decade’s efforts by Mugabe and his team to reverse farming productivity.

But let us assume that despite the mess of the methods, it needed a “to hell with the whites/West’s disapproval” attitude of a Mugabe to overwhelmingly change land ownership from a few thousand whites to Africans.

What would have sealed the “Mugabe is right” argument would have been signs of a return to productivity under the new farmers. This would have spoken much louder than all the shouting about the liberation war, colonialism and its dispossessions and so forth. If he had been smart enough to have a proper plan to aggressively equip the new farmers to begin to increase agricultural productivity with each passing year of experience and government support, the world uproar and the shock of how the reform of ownership patterns was done would have subsided over time.

But practical issues like this are not Mugabe’s strong points. He shines in articulating broad ideological or political issues, such as the way he stoked long-lingering black resentment over the colonial/racial indignities of the not so distant past and their present day effects. Yet the most pressing task today is to encourage and/or force the new farmers to become dramatically more productive as a kick-start to addressing the economy’s many problems. Hyper-inflation, the currency’s depreciation, shortages and so on can all ultimately be reversed by more serious attention to reversing the decline in agriculture.

Doing so will not be easy, but it is far from impossible. And it is a much more realistic plan to dealing with the country’s economic problems than the constant cry of “illegal Western sanctions” that has become the all-encompassing excuse for Mugabe’s economic illiteracy, diplomatic incompetence and strategic political miscalculations.

Yet for many reasons, the prospects of improved agricultural and general economic improvement will remain remote as long as it is Mugabe ruling the country. Having thousands of non-productive hangers-on just sitting on potentially agro-productive land for speculative purposes is an integral part of how he dispenses the patronage that allows him to hang on despite the decay all around him. Investment even from still friendly countries like China will not be forthcoming as long as the political and economic conditions to make those investments fruitful remain absent, which they will do long as Mugabe continues at the helm.

So even by the claimed reason of entrenching land reform, never has there been a more urgent need for incompetent Mugabe to go. The “revolution” cannot be secured by Mugabe’s staying in power for another term or by whatever number of months or years he will remain alive. It can best be secured by ensuring that the new farmers are making viable businesses of their farms. If Mugabe had been able to see this early on and work hard to bring it about, then even any sanctions- declared, undeclared, legal or otherwise- would not have made much difference.

The fact that investors are largely avoiding Zimbabwe like the plague only compounded the underlying problem of the country being decreasingly productive in agriculture and in the many other linked spheres. Reversing this is beyond the scope of Mugabe’s capabilities. He has a hard time accepting that there are realities that are unpalatable but beyond his control. Standing his ground on what he considers ideological issues is far more important to him than practical issues like whether the country can feed itself or not, or that it has many world record negative economic indices.

To him the “sovereignty” he ceaselessly talks about only needs to end at rhetoric. He sees no shame or contradiction in shouting “sovereignty” to the political gallery when an increasing number of his fellow citizens must depend on international hand-outs for food. And this at the very same time he says he is spearheading a land revolution! His mind simply does not appear to work in a way in which it is possible for him to see how his rhetoric is being contradicted and diminished by the on-the-ground realities of the state of Zimbabwe.

The irony is that the longer he stays in power and continues on his present non-working path, the greater the prospects that when he does go, there will be a mad rush to dismantle all that is associated with him. So his so desperately and tenaciously clinging to power might not serve to ensure security for his legacy of dramatically reversing one of colonialism’s most grievous acts in the mind of most Africans, but may actually do the opposite!

It is possible that he sees all this but is so afraid of the consequences of being deposed that he has decided to do whatever it takes to die in office. If he can cobble together another term by an even half-credible election, this is how he would prefer to continue in power. But if there is any real threat to his doing so electorally, then he might just decide his reputation has been so ruined that he has little to lose by just staying on in office one way or another anyway.

In the latter very likely case, there would be a sort of poetic justice to his remaining time as chief presider over Zimbabweans’ misery. The last shreds of the respectability he so craves and has been steadily losing even amongst die-hards who would like him to succeed would have been stripped away. There would be no more pretense that his staying on for close to 30 years was to defend or consolidate any principle.

Staying on as a largely feared, reviled and ridiculed ruler presiding over a shamefully regressing economy may be a worse punishment for a proud Mugabe than any prosecution he may fear from being deposed at the polls. No matter how much he craves to continue as president, under the present circumstances of failure and decline, he would truly be the feared, isolated emperor whose nakedness everybody is pointing to and whispering about behind his back.

Mugabe is ending his long life and political career in disgraceful fashion. The pitiful and still declining condition of Zimbabwe speaks louder than anything he can say to defend his position. That he wants to prolong the agony of the shameful way he is ending his life and long political career is a measure of how disconnected he has become from reality.

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What is Simba Makoni offering?

Posted by CM on February 8, 2008

by Chido Makunike

I recently expressed how I did not believe Simba Makoni had the fortitude to break away from ZANU-PF and challenge President Mugabe, as had been long rumoured he was contemplating doing. I argued that Makoni was more of a follower than a leader, and that he was poorly suited for the task of taking on Mugabe and leading Zimbabwe out of its multi-faceted morass. I further said Makoni’s recent meeting with Mugabe and his silent coyness in regards to the speculation swirling around him did nothing to inspire confidence that he was ready or equipped for a task many have wished to thrust on his shoulders.

Makoni has since announced that he is after all going to be a presidential contender in the election of March 29.

An initial inclination of mine on hearing of Makoni’s announcement was to apologise to him for that part of my article that expressed doubts that he had the guts to come out and openly criticise and challenge his former government and present party boss. On reflection I have decided to postpone an apology until it becomes clearer whether Makoni has jumped into the presidential race willingly and wholeheartedly, or whether he was pushed kicking and screaming into it by circumstances.

Unless it is part of some mysterious, hitherto unknown campaign strategy, the way Makoni has entered the presidential race initially appears as messy as his silence during the months of “will he or won’t he?” speculation.

Makoni indicated that as recently as his January 21 meeting with Mugabe, the talk about his presidential bid was still merely speculation. A pertinent question that goes to the heart of how seriously he takes the task of taking on an entrenched, ruthless incumbent is why he left a decision until so late. There is not much time to campaign across the country and officialdom has countless ways to frustrate public gatherings of opponents. The government’s dirty tricks and propaganda machinery have already been revved up against him in the few days since his announcement. Yet he does not have access to sympathetic or even merely impartial daily mass media to get his message across and correct distortions in the less than two months until election day.

What did he tell Mugabe at the January 21 meeting? If he had at that time not yet decided to take the plunge, is it not reasonable to assume he would have been anxious to re-assure a sceptical Mugabe of his continued loyalty? If so, in doing so would Makoni have been angling himself to benefit from favourable positioning in the then pending ZANU-PF primary election process?

If Makoni had indeed been in discussions with kindred spirits about a presidential challenge for months, then he has been a part of the system long enough to know that Mugabe would have long ago got wind of it. If he denied this to the president two weeks ago, his reversal suggests he either then changed his mind about an initial decision not to run, or he out rightly misled his former mentor. Living aside any moralistic issues which it is difficult to invoke with a party with ZANU-PF’s bloody, ruthless history, either of the two scenarios raises even more troubling questions about Makoni’s tactical readiness for the task of taking on Mugabe.

Apart from the question of the inexplicable lateness of making a decision, what has changed in the last fortnight to have tipped a previously seemingly reluctant Makoni into running? Is it that his candidature for the ZANU-PF primaries was rejected? Has he been stung by criticisms that he did not have what it took to take a bold stand? His democratic right to challenge Mugabe for whatever reason is not in question, but the answers of many voters to questions like these will determine how serious the challenge turns out to be. Makoni can significantly influence public opinion on this in the way he conducts himself and develops his campaign in the coming days and weeks.

On that score Makoni’s strategy is very puzzling. Obviously he would have secured high level ZANU-PF backers to take the risky gambit of daring to challenge the king. Already The Herald has shown that the system’s official reaction will be not to address the issues of what the incumbent intends to do to solve the country’s worsening problems with another term. It is instead to vacuously, indignantly ask, “how dare anybody challenge the king at all?” and to throw the usual allegations of dissenters being agents of foreign forces.

Why then have Makoni’s backers, said repeatedly to be “the Mujuru faction” of ZANU-PF, not come out to publicly stand by “their” candidate? Are they not sure of him or their cause, or they just hedging their bets to go in whichever direction the political wind blows on March 29? What message does this send to the voters? Does Makoni represent the promise of a fundamentally new brand of politics, or is he just a new front man for the old ZANU-PF backroom deals that have corrupted the essence of democracy in Zimbabwe and brought the country so low? Is Makoni offering himself as just the replacement of a tired individual incumbent with no more to offer the country, or as someone spearheading the attempted overhauling of a corrupt, dysfunctional system?

Who are the “Mujuru faction” we have read about for years, and what is it that binds them into a faction? If they have reached a level of organization and confidence to sponsor a presidential candidate, surely they should now come out into the open, identify their membership and state what they stand for to the public. If Makoni is being backed by a shadowy secret society, perhaps voters should not be too quick to jump on his bandwagon, lest they create and support new kinds of monsters.

On these scores so far, Makoni cues continue to suggest the worrying wishy-washiness I alluded to last week. He is standing as an independent but no, he is not making a clean break with ZANU-PF, although he must know that his candidature will likely mean the party will make a clean break with him! This brings up an old issue that has long dogged him: the perception that he is reactive rather than proactive.

Makoni affirmed his “faith in and loyalty to the party.” He also “would very much have wished to stand as its official candidate” before lamenting, “that opportunity was denied to any other cadre who would have offered themselves to serve the party and country.” Would that frustration of open democratic challenge within ZANU-PF not then have been the right occasion to announce his parting company with the party?

It is Makoni’s right to try to pose as an independent while also trying to keep one foot within ZANU-PF, as awkward and untenable a balancing act as that may be. But this makes it unclear if his fundamental beef is with the way the party and its president run its affairs and that of the country, or just that his ambitions have not been accommodated. He will know that cynics will contend that despite his nice-guy image, he has remained a senior member of the ruling party long after it became obvious that it was “leading” the country to ruin. It is for that very reason that he now belatedly joins much of the rest of the country in attributing Zimbabweans’ hardships to “failure by national leadership.” Makoni squandered the dramatic opportunity of his announcement by not making these things abundantly clear.

It should be part of Zimbabwe’s painful learning curve in creating a system of governance that suits its needs to ask these and similar questions of people presenting themselves as potential leaders. A blind, naïve and overly trustful faith in individuals is how the country has found itself hurtling into one disaster after another, with no ready means to turn out the engineers of the disasters. Building a reliable process of preventing and/or correcting this anomaly is the more important challenge than the immediate relief offered by any half-way credible presidential challenger to the disastrous status quo.

None of these points takes away from the huge symbolic importance of a top ZANU-PF insider directly challenging President Mugabe at the ballot box, flawed as the electoral environment may be. No longer will it be possible for the ruling party to pretend to be a happy united block despite the abundant evidence of the country being in intensive care. It was becoming an increasing embarrassment to ZANU-PF itself that it had failed to have a segment concerned enough about the destruction of the country to openly join the rest of the citizenry in saying “things are not right, and we see no plan in place to arrest that situation.”

Regardless of what happens on March 29, these are the dying days of the Mugabe dispensation. By one means or another, Zimbabwe is entering a stage in which political actors will in future have to account for their roles at today’s crucial juncture in the country’s progression. There will soon come a time of reckoning in which politicians will have to answer the question, “what did you say and do to contribute to trying to salvage the nation at that mad time of decline, hardship and oppression?” Many who are living large in their positions of supporting the status quo will be found on the wrong side of the country’s history.

Simba Makoni risked being cast among those who would have been found to have failed to have used their power, privilege and positions within the ruling party to have taken a strong stand against the destruction of their country out of fear and/or short term gain. By finally overcoming his fear and comfort to join other Zimbabweans who wish to take back their oppressed, impoverished country from its vicious hijackers, Makoni may have just begun the long process of rehabilitating his reputation for posterity. Depending on the answers he provides to the many puzzling questions about his bid, with this role Makoni may yet make a far more significant contribution to a true democratic progression of Zimbabwe than any he did as a coddled, high flying functionary of the system that has landed the country where it is today.

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