Zimbabwe Review

Reflections on Zimbabwe

Posts Tagged ‘election’

The scenario of a unity government headed by Simba Makoni

Posted by CM on April 3, 2008

Much of the focus on the Zimbabwe election results in the last several hours has understandably been on the fact that the MDC has won more seats than ZANU-PF for the first time. But at 97 to 95, with a handful of results that will not change the closeness of the results much outstanding, it is amazing that ZANU-PF won that many seats.

Rigging and /or intimidation may account for some of this, but not for all or necessarily even most of the ruling party’s seats. It has sort of been assumed that popular disgust and despair at the state of the country would result in an electoral wipeout for ZANU-PF.

Yet the result may suggest that the strong desire to see Mugabe go did not necessarily automatically extend to the rest of his party. This would tend to be supported by the fact that his closest henchmen, some of his most senior ministers, lost their seats while many non-cabinet ZANU-PF MPs with good relations with their constituents were re-elected. Voters may have carefully, deliberately turned out individual members of Mugabe’s inner circle without necessarily rejecting ZANU-PF in a blanket way.

Other plausible factors could have been the weaker campaign abilities as well as the poor quality and appeal of many MDC candidates. While this is the first time the MDC has been the majority party, voters have had two previous elections to now know that many of its winning candidates were lacklustre and un-inspiring as MPs, just like many of ZANU-PF’s.

Even if Tsvangirai is sworn in as president, his party’s parliamentary majority is so razor thin that he will not be able to ram through constitutional changes without ZANU-PF support. Mugabe may be on his way out, but based on its number of parliamentary seats, ZANU-PF is far from finished.

The exit of Mugabe as president, but with the continuing strong minority representation of ZANU-PF in parliament, could be a good outcome for the country. A polarizing figure would be gone, but the new ruling party would not have such an overwhelming parliamentary majority to become dangerous in the mould of ZANU-PF. And there would in theory be the important balance of knowing that if the MDC failed to deliver results as a government, a ZANU-PF that rejuvenated itself under a new leader could pose a threat to them at the next election. This would be the the beginning of a culture of real democracy, checks and balances and electoral power in the hands of the voters, rather than in the hands of party machines.

Everyone is having a lot of fun playing Zimbabwe expert, with all sorts of guesses as to what is really going on behind the scenes as the announcement of the official presidential results are held up for the fifth day. Other “Zimbabwe experts” like Heidi Holland, who is making a lot of capital out of her recent interview with Mugabe, even imagine they know what is going on in his head!

But an interesting, plausible and possibly desirable scenario that has been speculated about is that of a government of national unity with Simba Makoni as its head, not Morgan Tsvangirai. What’s next for Mugabe? by Fiona Forde on South Africa’s IOL website, is a brilliant article. It may be no more than the mind games, speculation and wishing that the rest of the media is doing, but it genuinely adds some new insight when compared to the vast acres of shallow nonsense pouring forth from British and American sources.

On the face of it this seems like an outandish idea and a negation of the will of the voters who voted for Tsvangirai. But  Godfrey Chanetsa, described as “Makoni’s right-hand man and a former spokesperson for Mugabe,” makes a compelling if somewhat pompously expressed argument for this possibility.

“This country doesn’t need regime change now. It needs new leadership. And many people believe Simba is the man who can bring this country to the level that it should be,” the report quotes Chanetsa as saying.

Chanetsa continues, “This is not about numbers. The eight percent (Makoni’s share of the presidential vote) is an illusion. Many people were afraid to vote for Simba, afraid of letting Zanu-PF in the back door and losing their chance of getting rid of Robert. But if they got rid of Robert, do you still think they would see Morgan as the right man for the job?”

Chanetsa implies the answer would be “no.” It must be kept in mind that he would naturally be expected to angle for an important role for his boss, and a cushy government job for himself. But still, the answer for me is clearly “no.” I would thank Tsvangirai for playing a historically important national role by turning out Mugabe, but would be relieved at the prospect that he would not be the president. I would not at all mind if he was given some important sounding ceremonial role along with a big house and the most fashionable car and other perks to soothe his ego. A Makoni presidency under the circumstances in which he led a unity government that included both the MDC and ZANU-PF would be a splendid compromise for me, even though I was lukewarm about Makoni’s candidacy as an independent.

The article reasonably points out that “the likelihood of Tsvangirai handing over the reigns to Makoni, who won only a fraction of the vote, is slim. ”

Chanetsa counters: “If (Tsvangirai) goes it alone he would be dealing with a very    unstable structure for the next 10 years because the dismantling of the entrenched  Zanu-PF structure will take a long time. But we can avoid conflict if we go the route of a government of national unity.”

Makoni could still play an important role because ” many in the ruling party saw in Makoni a man who could help them bridge the divide between the Mugabe era and what followed next,” according to Chanetsa.

As Makoni adviser Kudzai Mbudzi points out, “The military…don’t trust Tsvangirai, but they also know that Mugabe would be heavily defeated in a second round. And with Simba backing Morgan in the event of a run-off, they knew it was time for a compromise.”

While the Western media is delirious with joy at the idea that Mugabe is finished, the scenario played out by Chanetsa is a far more intelligent reading of the governance and power realities that prevail even in the event that Mugabe accepts defeat and gracefully steps down. The relatively small margins of Tsvangirai’s presidential and parliamentary victories, and the surprisingly high proportions of votes for Mugabe and ZANU-PF mean that the power dynamics remain very fluid.

It would be unfair and un-natural to expect Tsvangirai to warmly embrace a government of national unity, particularly one in which he is not the leader. But the reality of the situation may very well make such a compromise possible, desirable and a very good way forward for Zimbabwe.

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Could Mugabe try to steal the election in plain sight of the world?

Posted by CM on March 31, 2008

Incredible. 48 hours after the end of one of the world’s most anticipated, most watched elections and there have only been a handful of results, and no explanation as to why. Could Mugabe be so foolish and desperate as to try to steal an election which many pointers suggest his party and him personally massively lost? Could be be doing the exact crooked thing much of Zimbabwe and the world suspected and feared he would do? Virtually in broad daylight?

It seems hard to believe that he would risk whatever little credibility he still has left by doing this, but it is very difficult to imagine any other reason for such an awkward, embarrassing delay.

Many questions come to mind. Why do this now, instead of just having postponed the election under one pretext or another? Having taken the trouble to organise an election, and knowing the sceptical global microscope under which it was being conducted, why make a mockery of your own electoral process in this way? If Mugabe once had a plausible reason for arguing that he could win or at least get a respectable proportion of the vote, the believability of that claim is going up in smoke with every additional minute of delay.

Is it possible that Mugabe and ZANU-PF really believed they could honestly win this election? Are they dis-oriented and trying to figure out what to do because they had not seriously considered losing? Could they really have been that cut off from public sentiment?

Rigging, like propaganda, requires a certain amount of believability on the part of the practitioner. If the delay is to figure out a way to cook the results to show victories for Mugabe and ZANU-PF in the presidential and parliamentary elections respectively, then surely that delay has been counter-productive. Even in those areas where they might have legitimately won, the effect of the tardiness in announcing the results will be to put a big question mark on all those figures. Even more than before the election, Mugabe & Co. have scored a massive own-goal by ensuring that the only  result that will be widely considered to be honest would be the declaration of wins for Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC.

If the decision has been made to disregard the will of the voters, then rigging the process by announcing victories for Mugabe and ZANU-PF would be the wrong way to do it. Elections are about giving the winner legal and moral authority; credibility. There is no way a rigged election at this time and under the present circumstances can bestow any of these qualities on Mugabe. It would almost be more honest to just say, “I lost heavily but I have decided to stay on as a formal dictator and see what happens.”

The few official parliamentary results that have been announced include the not very surprising news that close Mugabe henchmen have lost. The losers include justice minister Patrick Chinamasa, agricultural mechanization minister Joseph Made, information minister Sikhanyiso Ndhlovu. Vice President Joice Mujuru is also said to have lost in her parliamentary constituency, although another report casts doubt on the veracity of that result.

If the idea is to rig the election, then these announced losses also make that difficult. These people were not just at Mugabe’s right hand, they were in charge of portfolios critical to the whole thrust of what he said he wanted to continue in power for. It will be very difficult to argue that these close aides of Mugabe’s, and no doubt many others whose losses are yet to be announced,  could have been massively rejected by the electorate but their boss and appointer convincingly re-elected. They are making as much of a mess of the attempted rigging plot as they have done of the country.

Perhaps the delay is not to figure out a half plausible rigging strategy after all. Perhaps despite the shock and panic of having been rejected by Zimbabweans, there still remains enough common sense amongst Mugabe and his cronies to realise that although they have been able to get away with a lot over the years, pulling off a coup of this sort will be a tall, uncomfortable order.

Maybe the delay is to give Mugabe & Co. just enough time to perform clean up tasks like destroy incriminating documents, loot whatever is left in the treasury, pack their  bags and make preparations for a quick get-away to whatever countries will take them.

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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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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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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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Zimbabwe’s discouraging election scenario

Posted by CM on January 20, 2008

For a country with such great and mounting problems as Zimbabwe, a general election should be an occasion for great excitement. This should be particularly so when the main opposing parties offer such starkly differently views of looking at the origins of the problems, and the solutions, as do ZANU-PF and the MDC.

Yet there seems very little of that sense of excitement about the March general election. There seems less of a general sense of optimism than in recent votes that this election could be a turning point in the country’s continuing plunge in every arena. The blasé attitude seems independent of whether one is supportive of the ruling ZANU-PF or either faction of the MDC. If it is going to be an election that represents a watershed in Zimbabwe’s declining fortunes, I know few people on either side of the political divide who seem to think that this one is it.

A win for President Mugabe and ZANU-PF represents “business as usual,” which more of the hardships and decline of the past several years. Just weeks before the election, neither Mugabe as a presidential candidate nor his party even bother to pretend that there is a credible plan in place to reverse the mess the country is in.

The MDC factions seem at their most indecisive and weakest. Within and between them, ego-politics seems to win over strategy against their common foe, the ruling party. The statements and actions of some of the leading lights of both factions make one wonder whether in power they would really represent a type of politics essentially different from that of ZANU-PF, or whether they would just be a new group of people doing the same things as before.

They send out confusing signals about whether or not they will participate in the election. Saying so does not hide the fact that they are in a no win situation: On the one hand there is no way they will be allowed to come anywhere near winning if they participate, but if they boycott they arguably consign themselves further to the political margins. And the threat of a boycott does not carry the prospect of a lost “moral authority” for a Mugabe and ZANU-PF who no longer care much about such things.

In the case of a Mugabe win in the presidential vote, we would have the situation of a winner who has become such anathema to the global economic and political forces whose relations he needs to reverse the country’s problems that his “win” would constitute a continuing loss for the country. It would represent a Pyrrhic victory in the classic sense: Mugabe would be able to continue his favourite pastime of spitting in the faces of the West, but at the cost of Zimbabwe continuing to be largely an economic no-go area.

The MDC shows all the signs of having accepted that there is not the slightest chance that Tsvangirai could win the presidential election, with the other MDC factional leader Arthur Mutambara’s role in Zimbabwean politics becoming even less clear by the day. ZANU-PF would predictably say this is because of the opposition parties’ many internal problems. The MDC would likely just as predictably say their poor prospects are not because of any lack of popular support, but because of all the many ways the political deck has been stacked against them from day one.

None of the constitutional changes that are being made to ostensibly “level the playing field” can undo an entrenched political culture going back decades. If the incumbent party is inclined to thwart the opposition by hook or crook, the little matter of what the constitution does or does not allow has not proven to be an insurmountable obstacle before.

Working our way to some version of a political system that serves the people’s interests, rather than just those of politicians or political parties, is going to be a long battle. A more just constitution is important, but it cannot be a solution in itself, as some activists would seem to suggest. If anything, Zimbabwe has given an interesting example of how a government can claim to be adhering to much of the letter of democratic or constitutional form while easily corrupting its spirit. So, for instance, the regularity and timeliness of elections are given as proof of democratic credentials over and above whether those elections are conducted cleanly and fairly or not. We have also learnt that inconvenient constitutional clauses can be easily changed on a ruler’s whim.

But beyond all these issues, as a voter I look at the range of politicians parading themselves before us and I am mortified about what the poor choice suggests about our short to medium term future.

Bags of maize doled out to hungry people at election time are a powerful weapon. We have seen evidence of this over several elections now. It has become one way it is possible to “win” the vote of a certain area even when the electorate may have reason to loathe the candidate. This is just the reality when people have been reduced to worrying about day to day survival.

But what does it say about the basic humanity of a candidate who is quite satisfied to “win” an election on these terms? First of all, those voters should not need such small but important material inducements to vote for you if you had done your job well over the 27 years they have known you. Secondly, you say their hardships are because of enemies opposing your efforts to empower those voters. But that after a claimed land revolution those voters should be dependent on food handouts is a damning indictment of the failure of that claimed revolution. If it had been successful, almost 10 years after it began, we should be seeing more people independent of food handouts, not many more dependent on them.

It seems not just cynical in the way most people everywhere generally associate with politicians, but evil to control and sway them by impoverishing them, rather than by being able to convincingly say, “look at how much you are better off today than yesterday as a result of our efforts.”

Looking to the opposition, one hears how incumbent MPs of either MDC faction make escaping having to stand for primary elections a condition for agreeing to support unity talks. Even before they taste any real influence, incumbency has become its own justification for political existence. The verbal recklessness of MDC factional leader Nelson Chamisa threatening violence if the election did not go his faction’s way came off as being little different from the indecorous way we have become accustomed to ruling party officials carelessly spouting off from time to time. This in so small measure has contributed to the country’s international isolation, and one would think it would be in the MDC’s own interests to want to be seen as being different in this regard.

Then there is the quite bizarre speculation about Simba Makoni heading a group said to be splintering off from ZANU-PF, and his contesting as a presidential candidate against Mugabe. “Bizarre” because of the late timing of the said splintering, and because of the lack of confirmation or denial by Makoni of the rumours floating about. The many un-answered questions and Makoni’s seeming tentativeness do not inspire confidence that this is a serious effort.

With the poor choice of politicians of all stripes the country has to contend with, it is not surprising there is little excitement about the impending general election.

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