Zimbabwe Review

Reflections on Zimbabwe

Another Mugabe term would be an empty ‘win’ for him

Posted by CM on March 30, 2008

Its that period of uncertainty between the end of voting and the first official announcement of results. There is little to do except twiddle one’s thumbs.

The results of a Tsvangirai victory are not hard to predict: there will be an outpouring of relief and celebration at having kicked out the oppressive, ruinous Mugabe. Even people like me, who have deep misgivings about Tsvangirai and the MDC, will join in the elation of the passing of the Mugabe era.

It would be interesting to see how much of a honeymoon period Zimbabweans would be willing to give Tsvangirai and his MDC party. How long would they be given to “settle in” before beginning to deliver measurable results. Six months, one year, two years? They are likely to argue for an indefinite period to begin to turn around Mugabe’s long, now very negative legacy. During that indefinite period, MDC officials would likely help themselves to the feeding trough every bit as much as the party they would have deposed.

I will be generous and give them a full one month in power before criticizing signs of the old way of doing things. I have low expectations of Tsvangirai and the MDC and would be very pleasantly surprised and pleased to be proven wrong. But even if my worst fears are realised, their coming into power would still be a momentous political progression for Zimbabwe on many levels.

The “founding” president would have been peacefully, democratically deposed. We would have moved from the era where the all-important qualification for political office was liberation war-era participation, to hopefully one in which one’s ideas and potential contribution to problem-solving was the most important criterion for holding political office. We would have hopefully put behind us an era where political discourse was dominated by anger and insults meant to intimidate those with opposing ideas into silence, to one where different ideas were welcomed and conditions to debate them in a civil manner were created. We will hopefully move on from putting so much of our stock as a new nation on our engagement with British colonialism and on what Britain did or should have done after independence in 1980. We would have begun to get used to the idea that governments come and go; rather than that when they come, they can then never be asked to leave when they have failed to perform.

If the outcome that is announced in the coming hours and days is a Mugabe victory, it would be a strange ‘win’ for him. I can imagine outrage and disbelief, but I cannot imagine any significant widespread joy beyond his inner circle and the elite whose privileges depend on Mugabe’s tenure. Even among those who buy his oft-stated mantra that the country’s economy is in such pitiful straits because of a Western conspiracy, it will be obvious that hardship and the nation’s poor prospects will only intensify under Mugabe.

Any mass protests at the announcement of a Mugabe victory will be viciously suppressed. On that score Mugabe can be relied to be a man of his word. But regardless of his penchant for ruthlessness, he will not be able to just be sworn in and “enjoy” his victory. Just on the basis of significant recent phenomena like the split within his own party represented by Simba Makoni’s independent candidacy, things will be different.

Even though none of the promised ZANU-PF heavy weights of Makoni’s campaign came to publicly support him, there is little doubt any more that there is widespread unhappiness even within Mugabe’s own ranks about his rulership of the country. Mugabe can simply no longer delude himself into believing that he is surrounded by genuinely loyal supporters. He will likely become even more paranoid than he has become notorious for, and with more justification than ever before. And he will wear the title of president in an environment where very few in the world will believe that he honestly earned the right to do so. The crown of presidency that he is desperate to hold on to will be more ill-fitting, awkward and meaningless than it has ever been in Mugabe’s long reign.

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