Zimbabwe Review

Reflections on Zimbabwe

Tsvangirai or Makoni win would only be first steps of gradual post-Mugabe Zimbabwe transition

Posted by CM on March 27, 2008

by Chido Makunike

In a few days all the Zimbabwean electoral crystal ball-gazing of the last several months will finally be over. We will know if Robert Mugabe’s rule continues or if we get a new president.

Zimbabwe is in for miserable times if Mugabe continues as president. There is absolutely no reason to believe that he has any new formula to reverse the decline he has presided over.

Yet a win for Morgan Tsvangirai or long-shot candidate Simba Makoni, or a coalition between them, will not suddenly usher in some golden age of enlightenment and prosperity. It will just be another phase in the gradual progression of Zimbabwe’s politics.

Majority rule in 1980 was merely another such progression, although of course it was a much greater psychic and political leap than the many other changes the society will have to undergo. But it is clear now how naive and unrealistic it was to believe that the political transition alone from one set of rulers to another, or even the more fundamental one of moving from racial minority to majority rule, could address all the long-term macro issues of the society.

For example, issues of land and economic reform were always going to be difficult, long processes even if they had been done differently from the ruinous ways of Mugabe. Building up a tradition of genuine racial and ethnic harmony could not just happen on the basis of one reconciliation speech, but would take years, perhaps generations, of deliberate work.

The material depravations and political repression of the last several years of Mugabe’s rule are the immediate focal points of Zimbabweans on what has gone so wrong in their country. But it seems clear now in retrospect that we did not know, and could not have known, how much work building a still functional, prosperous but more just, democratic and equitable Zimbabwe out of the ashes of Rhodesia could have been.

I wish I could confidently say this means we will be more realistic about the work and time frame of post-Mugabe recovery, but I am not sure it does.

The best we should hope for in a good president is an effective, dedicated, fair leader/motivator/uniter/inspirer, not a ‘deliverer.’ Unfortunately, the requirements of electioneering in any country seem to be that a presidential candidate promise to be an instant miracle worker. This unreasonable expectation merely sets everybody up for disappointment, particularly in a situation like Zimbabwe’s, where so many systems have stopped functioning as they should and need to be revived. But this is what voters often want and expect, and most politicians dishonestly or naively promise this mirage.

Zimbabwe’s revival will need to go way beyond getting money from abroad for the revival of physical infrastructure or to support the currency, for instance. These and many others will be enough of a challenge on their own. But just as difficult will be healing old and new wounds, restoring a sense of accountability amongst politicians to the electorate; restoring in the citizens a sense of faith about the political process as an expression of popular feeling and an agent of change. It will be a long time before the police and armed forces are respected as institutions to protect the public rather than oppress them. Reviving an economic ethic based on innovation and risk-taking based on production instead of speculation and non-productive “deal-making” will take years. And so on.

These confidence-rebuilding measures will not just be difficult: the process is not even guaranteed to take place at all with a new government. Much depends on how genuinely that new government desires/is pressured to deliver fundamental change beyond just having new officeholders. A lot also depends on whether the citizens have learned the importance of keeping close watch over politicians and keeping them on their toes even when they are still newly in office and “popular.”

Mugabe’s reign is ending (whether you define this electorally or in terms of the 84 year old man’s life expectancy) with so much misery and hardship that either of his two main opponents’ win would be welcomed with overwhelming relief. “Anything but more years of Mugabe” will inform the votes of many Zimbabweans in the election the day after tomorrow. But the widespread desire that Mugabe goes does not mean his replacement guarantees the democratic, peaceful, prosperous Zimbabwe we had hoped to have had by now.

The more I observe the MDC, the less confident I am that its vision of rulership is what Zimbabwe needs. The boorish way it conducts its own affairs suggests to me its political culture has more in common with ZANU-PF’s than they are different. I expect cronyism from an MDC government. I expect a cynical kind of “democracy.” Long before they experienced the power of governorship, many of the party’s prominent officials show in word and deed that they have a sense of “entitlement” to the spoils of political office. I expect that many appointments in an MDC government would be made on the basis of anti-Mugabe “struggle history” more than any other qualification, just as anti-Rhodesia struggle history in Mugabe’s government became a qualification for high office as well as an excuse for everything including murder.

I am uncomfortable with what I believe to be the MDC’s old-style client-patron relationship with the West. I fear going from the one extreme of Mugabe’s self-serving,  demonising and blaming of the West for all his failures, to another extreme of a Tsvangirai presidency in which Zimbabwe is slavishly beholden to and controlled by that West. We need a middle ground of relating to the West on the basis of common interest but also mutual respect, not animosity on one hand or dependency and paternalism on the other. I do not trust the MDC to make the distinctions necessary for this, and fear that they would be starting their tenure already horribly compromised in this regard. Money will likely flow in, but in the old, dysfunctional, demeaning donor-receipient relationship that has served Africa so poorly over the decades of the post-colonial era.

What to do about reviving commercial agriculture will be a critical issue, and Tsvangirai would have to deal with this issue under the cloud of being suspected by some to be hostage to white farming interests. Yet arguably the model of huge farming estates run by white “bwanas” with hundreds or thousands of native workers has run its course. No matter how “successful ” it was in strict crop yield and foreign currency-earning terms, it is a model that I believe no longer fits the times based on many social, political and even economic factors. It is time to think hard about a new commercial farming model that meets the country’s economic needs while paying attention to many other societal imperatives.

Long-shot Makoni may actually initially benefit from his wishy-washiness and Johnny-come-lately entry into the presidential race in the unlikely event that he won. He has tried to pose as both a ZANU-PF loyalist and anti-Mugabe campaigner, but his political past does not back him up in this awkward attempted balancing act. The more prominent of his aides have at best dubious reputations as reformers, and until recently were beneficiaries and strong supporters of a Mugabe dispensation that has not just recently become repressive, corrupt and incompetent, but has been that way for a long time. But a win for Makoni would make all this largely irrelevant.

Makoni has been derided for claiming strong support within ZANU-PF for his candidacy when none of those strong supporters are willing to go public. He has been accused of not espousing any particularly defined economic or political ideology. Yet if he won, this would give him unprecedented freedom to choose a governing team from any and every part of Zimbabwe’s political spectrum, and even outside of that political spectrum. He would have an unusual governing latitude at the beginning before he began to build his own political machinery, for better or for worse for the country. If he is a good, sincere leader he can use this freedom for healing across the many divides of the society and to make appointments based on competence rather than political affiliation. But if he is cynical in the mould of Mugabe and is allowed to do so by the citizens, he could use that political independence to make himself too-powerful, with all the negative consequences we have seen with Mugabe.

Makoni, far more than Tsvangirai, seems to at least recognise that despite his many failures, Mugabe has been asking some very relevant questions about building a new African society in the post-colonial era; about the very meaning and the essence of independence/majority rule. What Mugabe has spectacularly failed to do is to provide working answers to those good questions he has posed; to give practical, functional answers to his rhetoric of African empowerment.

I hope for Mugabe’s defeat, but would not initially be jumping up and down with any great excitement under a Tsvangirai or Makoni presidency. Even if this is the election that deservedly dispatches Mugabe into retirement, it would just be the first of many steps of building a new Zimbabwe.

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