Zimbabwe Review

Reflections on Zimbabwe

Posts Tagged ‘democracy’

The MDC drives itself further into a corner over Roy Bennett

Posted by CM on October 18, 2009

Clearly the MDC had to react strongly to Roy Bennett’s shabby treatment by the Zimbabwe government’s legal prosecuting authorities. The senior party official has been indicted yet again on ‘terrorism’ charges that few people believe have any credibility, and that the government has previouslly failed to prosecute. Not only that, but the government of which the MDC is now a part was clearly itching to send him back to prison, although he won bail within a day or so. The harassment of Bennett continues, and in this case in a way designed by the authorities to show how powerless the MDC really is, and how much in effective control Mugabe and ZANU-PF remain, which may be the whole point of the exercise. It must be remembered that all this is on top of the fact that Bennett, the MDC’s choice for deputy agriculture minister in the inclusive government, has not been sworn in since his nomination many months ago, on the grounds of the charges that have been hanging over him.

So I have no trouble understanding that the MDC felt compelled to protest the latest indictment and jailing of Bennett in very strong terms, both because of what seems like very clear persecution of Bennett (the state has so far dismally failed to make a strong case for its terrorism charges against him in previous court appearances) as well as for the MDC to “save face.”

Since joining the inclusive government ZANU-PF has gone out of its way to show in many ways that it does not have the slightest intention to share any meaningful, effective power with the MDC, to the increasing embarrassment of Morgan Tsvangirai and his party. Long before this latest ‘provocation,’ there have been many arguably more serious ones the MDC has protested but withstood in the name of giving their best effort to making the difficult inclusive government work. But as those provocations have continued and escalated, the MDC has been driven further into a corner and pressure has been growing on the party to take some sort of strong stand to try to show that it has not simply rolled over and played dead to the ZANU-PF steamroller.

But was the dramatically announced ‘disengagement’ by the MDC from government and from ‘cooperation with ZANU-PF’ the best way to protest its being sidelined? What does ‘disengagement’ from a government you remain a part of really mean anyway?

Pulling out of the inclusive government would not have been wise for the MDC to do, for many reasons, although that is the strongest statement they are in a position to make. The fact of the existence inclusive government (not so much anything any of the participating parties have done or not done) has been an overwhelmingly positive symbol to battle-scarred Zimbabweans. In its short existence that mere existence of the inclusive government and what it has done to dramatically reduce political tension in the country has quickly been translated to many other areas of life, including and perhaps mainly in the beginnings of economic normalization.

It would therefore not only be irresponsible for any of the parties to the inclusive government to pull out of it now, it would also be politically very risky, with the withdrawing party accused by Zimbabweans of all political persuasions of dragging the country back to the political and economic depths of recent years. Sure there will be diehards in all the parties who were opposed to the very idea of the inclusive government, but particularly now, I believe the overwhelming majority of Zimbabweans believe its existence has brought about huge changes for the better, with prospects for a lot more. The irony is that it is not obvious to me that any of the individual political parties are the direct beneficiary so far of the public approval of the joint government.

Secondly, the new-to-government MDC office holders will be in no hurry to give up the many material inducements of holding office. The salaries may not be much at the moment, but there are the new cars, the foreign trips at public expense and many other perks suddenly available. Issues of principle aside, MDC office holders are not going to give up these personal advantages to go back to the uncertainties of what is still a very difficult economic environment.

For all these reasons and more, withdrawal from the unity government is at this point is neither a realistic nor attractive option for the MDC. What to do then to protest the many humiliations to which the ZANU-PF partner seems intent on goading the MDC with?  A very difficult question, for sure.

I am not going to pretend to have a ready answer to this question. But at first glance there appear to me to be many reasons that the ‘dis-engagement’ is unlikely to achieve any meaningful concessions for the MDC from ZANU-PF, and may create additional problems.

While appreciating why pulling out of the government now is not a good option for the MDC, the notion of “we are still in but we are dis-engaging from ZANU-PF” sounds confusing at best, absurd at worst. How do you stay in the government but ‘dis-engage?’ The MDC runs the risk of being ridiculed with, “they want to go AWOL to sulk at being outmanoeuvred by ZANU-PF at every turn, but they want to also hold on to their perks while doing so.” How on earth does a prime minister boycott meetings of ‘his’ own cabinet?!

ZANU-PF may attempt to thwart the MDC from exercising any real power at every turn, but I don’t believe they want to push the MDC out of the unity government. As much as ZANU-PF may despise the MDC, the general and very quick improvement in overall conditions in the country as a result of the parties coming together in government is clear to all. Being seen to be pushing out the MDC would also be politically/electorally risky to ZANU-PF because of the many Zimbabweans who are just relieved at the breathing space the economy and life in general have received as a result of the two parties having called a truce. Therefore neither party has anything to gain from taking the blame for the collapse of the current arrangement, no matter how imperfect it is.

The ideal situation for ZANU-PF is for the MDC to remain part of the government but to then keep on whittling away as much of its power/authority as possible. That way ZANU-PF can claim a facade of democratic inclusiveness, of continuing to respect regional body SADC’s compromise solution to the country’s political impasse, but doing so while continuing to unilaterally hold on to all the reins of real power. But although this may be ZANU-PF’s preferred scenario, this preference is not likely to be strong enough for it to want to plead with the MDC to ‘re-engage’ with it.

Already ZANU-PF has coolly reacted to the MDC’s theatrics with a dismissive shrug. It has been announced that cabinet and other government business will continue even without the MDC. This was predictable. What will the MDC do now? To sheepishly ‘re-engage’ without having one any concessions from ZANU-PF will just make the MDC look ridiculous and weak. Yet the ‘dis-engagement’ is not much of a leverage to get ZANU-PF to do anything. If the MDC’s ill-defined disengagement continues too long they would have effectively fired themselves from government without any real plan B.

“Constitutional crisis,” some would say, “an election would then have to be held.” Even if so, there is 30 years of evidence to show how ZANU-PF would simply refuse to have the terms of how and when that election is held to be dictated to it, whether by SADC or ‘the international community,’ two centers of influence that the MDC has previously put far too much faith and hope in. While ZANU-PF would not want to be accused of having directly or deliberately pushed out   the MDC from the inclusive government, they are certainly not going to lose any sleep if the MDC  ‘disengages’ itself from participating permanently.

It may be that Bennett may finally and clearly win his case in the courts. But the MDC leader went out of his way to state that Bennett’s treatment was not the only reason for the MDC’s disengagement, that it was just one additional consideration to many other slights the party has suffered at the hands of its ZANU-PF unity government partner. This means that even if the persecution-prosecution of Bennett should now stop, the MDC has implied that it would expect to see many other conditions met before it ‘re-engaged’ with ZANU-PF in doing government business. Yet the MDC has no apparent or easy leverage to wring any significant concession out of ZANU-PF at this point.

The timing of the announcement by the MDC to ‘dis-engage’ means that it will always be perceived by the public that Bennett’s latest troubles were the direct trigger, no matter what Tsvangirai and his officials may say about that merely being the straw that broke the camel’s back. While the party clearly had to take a strong stand in regards to Bennett’s treatment, having the treatment of one man, and this particular one,  linked in the public’s perception with the disengagement is unfortunate for the MDC. It is to appear to give his ill-treatment greater importance than that of the many other MDC officials and members who have or continue to suffer even worse treatment at the hands of various arms of government than Bennett has done. Likewise, if the MDC is seen to be ‘re-engaging’ primarily because the pressure on Bennett has been lifted (legally, politically or both) but without any other significant concessions, similar unfortunate signals would be sent to the national, African and wider international public about the MDC!

So clearly the MDC has been in a very difficult position from day one of its involvement in the unity government, and from many angles. It may well have won the last election outright but had no way to effect that win in the face of a cynical ZANU-PF that was quite prepared to do anything to hold on in power. Even if the MDC really won the vote, the doubt and antipathy of regional and other African leaders towards Tsvangirai and his party is stronger than their respect for the electoral will of Zimbabweans! So neither SADC nor the African Union is inclined to side with the MDC unless Mugabe and ZANU-PF do something so outrageous that they are forced to. The hope that the MDC’s Western backers would turn on the aid taps has not been realised and will not be as long as the party clearly remains the junior partner of the inclusive government. That in turn further weakens the MDC and removes another of what was one of its main points of leverage in the early days of the arrangement (‘respect us and treat us well because it is through us that our rich friends in Europe and America will make milk and honey flow in the streets of Harare’) and has probably emboldened ZANU-PF to think that it would not be any great loss if the MDC pulled out. And on and on.

Yes, the MDC’s frustrations are quite understood.But given all of the foregoing, what is it that the MDC really hopes to achieve with it’s ill-defined ‘disengagement?’ Faced with a clearly insincere partner in government, certainly its choices were limited and difficult. But out of those, the party seems to have exercised the most awkward and ineffectual one. Until I become aware of some brilliant hidden strategy behind the ‘disengement’ which is not apparent to me now, it is difficult to see how the MDC will come off stronger in any sense from its announced stance.

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The significance, or otherwise, of an MDC parliamentary Speaker

Posted by CM on August 27, 2008

So the MDC’s Tsvangirai faction has succeeded in using its parliamentary majority to elect Zimbabwe’s first non-ZANU PF Speaker.

I have never read so many articles within the space of a few hours telling me how ‘powerful’ the Speaker’s position is in the political scheme of things in Zimbabwe.

Unprecedented and historic, yes. But is it quite the earthquake that many observers have predicted (or hoped for)?

I think it’s way too early to say. There was the same excitement when the MDC won an unprecedented 57 seats in the parliamentary election of 2000, scaring the wits out of Mugabe. ZANU-PF might have still had a majority, but many dared hope that the coming into Parliament of so many opposition legislators would do wonders for debate and democracy.

Instead, Mugabe simply dug into his old bag of tricks and came up with a solution to this mild inconvenience. He simply made sure that Parliament was more peripheral than ever to the real exercise of power. It continued to exist in name but was simply made largely irrelevant.

Oh, sure, on the seemingly increasingly infrequent times in which it was in session, MDC MPs would occasionally be able to do a little bit of heckling and ask some embarrassing questions (usually ignored or deflected). Some MDC MPs served on various committees with their ZANU-PF counter parts for the first time. But other than that, nothing much changed for the ordinary Zimbabwean.

Are things going to be any different now that the MDC has a slight majority and a Speaker from within its ranks?  (Yawn, scratch) Let’s wait and see but I woudn’t bet on it. I don’t believe the wily Mugabe is out of tricks yet.

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Electoral ‘massacre’ of ZANU-PF would be undesirable

Posted by CM on April 1, 2008

Let us assume that Mugabe and ZANU-PF realise that the game is up and concede defeat to Tsvangirai and the MDC.

It would be a welcome breath of fresh air for Zimbabwe to have its first post-independence government without Mugabe and ZANU-PF at the helm. But it is not in the country’s interests for the MDC’s win to be the electoral ‘masaccre’ of ZANU-PF that the opposition party’s official Tendai Biti boasted about soon after the end of voting.

I would like ZANU-PF to be a significant minority in parliament, hopefully keeping the MDC in check and avoiding some of the power excesses that intoxicated the outgoing ruling party into inevitable decline. This may be wishful thinking about the political motivations of a party that had been reduced to access to the spoils of power rather than about serving the electorate. But perhaps the humbling experience of being rejected by the voters might convert some ZANU-PF parliamentarians into effective watch dogs over the MDC.

This will be very necessary, as the MDC is likely to soon become a feeding frenzy over perks and privileges. It is a pity that Mugabe would exit the scene at such an advanced age and in disgrace. He would have been brilliant as leader of the opposition, keeping the MDC on its toes and running circles around Tsvangirai in many ways.

Before Tsvangirai and the MDC mutate into power-drunk monster, which will happen within their  first 12 months in power, we need to have a ZANU-PF that is poised to be a strong opposition party, to revive a rude, irreverent independent media, to start rebuilding an independent judiciary and to have various strong, non-partisan citizen political interest groups.

The time to start watching the MDC like a hawk is now, not tomorrow.

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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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The challenge of street protests

Posted by CM on January 20, 2008

Movement for Democratic Change’s secretary for information, Nelson Chamisa, had to quickly retract his statement that Kenya’s post-election violence would be “nothing compared to what we will have here if Mugabe rigs the elections again.”

There are no doubt many Zimbabweans who would support Chamisa’s initial statement before the negative heat to it forced him to back down. But at the very least, it was ill-advised for an opposition party official to have come out with a statement like that.

Apart from bad public relations, it gave the appearance of threatening mayhem as long as the election does not go the MDC’s way. As unpopular as Mugabe and ZANU-PF may be, it is far from clear now that the MDC, mired as it is in all kinds of problems, is guaranteed of victory in March’s general election.

Apart from issues of the two parties’ relative “popularity,” ZANU-PF has over several elections honed the cynical practice of dangling  a mixture of relief food and threats to get people to vote for it. At a time of great hardship and hunger, this tactic cannot be underestimated  in swaying the outcome of elections.

But apart from all this, Chamisa’s statement was also reckless in giving the state’s military machine an easy excuse for the kind of violence it has already shown a great propensity for, even against peaceful protestors.

Past events have shown Mugabe would like nothing more than to be able to accuse the opposition of inciting violence and having an excuse for the kind of heavy-handed responses we have seen before over the years.

Both Kenya and Zimbabwe present the dangerous situations of opposition movements with deep grievances who find many of the means of flexing the muscle of their popular support severely curtailed. They have significant representation in parliament but it means very little. The forms of Western-style democracy exist, but the substance is missing.

And street protests are put down with astonishing brutality. In both Kenya we have seen graphic evidence of the amazing enthusiasm with which state police and para-military forces put down protests. It is difficult to know if protests that are usually started as “peaceful” often turn violent because of official over-reaction to them, or if the police heavy-handedness is really to prevent the violence from spiralling out of control.

Whichever it is, what should be an important safety valve for fairly harmlessly releasing public pressure is effectively sealed off, merely postponing the release while building up the pressure even further.

In both Kenya and Zimbabwe, it is becoming increasingly apparent why calm does not equate to peace.

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