Zimbabwe Review

Reflections on Zimbabwe

Posts Tagged ‘MDC’

Impressions of Zimbabwe in August 2009

Posted by CM on October 25, 2009

Visitors to Zimbabwe who have been fed a BBC/CNN-type diet of news about ‘The Zimbabwe Crisis’ and how everything in the country has ‘collapsed’ will be surprised at how ‘normal’ Harare looks at first glance. Driving from the airport into town, there are certainly signs of decay since a few years ago, but no immediate or obvious signs of the ‘collapse’ that certain media have in recent years hysterically, lovingly and perhaps even hopefully talked about.

Looking out of the airplane’s windows as it circled to land and on the drive into town in early August, the most obvious change for me was how areas that had once been at least semi-savannah on the outskirts of Harare had been stripped of trees. One manifestation of ‘The Crisis’ in recent years has been the difficulty in accessing forms of modern energy that had once been taken for granted: petrol, diesel, paraffin, butane, coal, electricity, etc. Their availability had been erratic for many years and their cost prohibitive, forcing many people to resort to firewood for energy. Hence the massive deforestation, which I later found was widespread.

The still newish airport is clean and well maintained, though the number of vacant boutiques compared to, for instance, Nairobi airport’s full complement of seemingly thriving over-charging boutiques was one indicator that things were not quite ‘normal.’ On the drive home from the airport there was no dramatic evidence of ‘The Zimbabwe Crisis,’ though the buildings did look shabbier than before and there were definitely more potholes to dodge on the roads. But the over-riding impression for me was the powerful natural beauty and colour of Zimbabwe, not the indices of the difficult times the country has undergone in recent years.

Having had a few days to unwind at home, I began to gradually drive around and explore my home city Harare. There definitely seemed less traffic on the roads than I remembered from a few years ago. Finding a parking spot in the city center was surprisingly easy at any time of day and the roads there were generally in very good shape, as appeared to be most of the visible infrastructure.

In town and in many of the suburban shopping centers there were many more vacant shops than before, but I was also impressed by the number of businesses that had hung on during the difficult years. But almost all had ‘diversified’ in various ways, with all selling a much wider variety of goods and/or services to survive. I thought the general level of service in shops had declined noticeably. I didn’t encounter any outright rudeness but it seemed noticeably common to be met by disinterested, bored and sometimes almost sullen store personnel. Almost all stores I remembered from a few years ago had a much narrower range of goods than during ‘the good old days,’ but many people mentioned to me that what I thought was a limited range of goods was a vast improvement from the situation a few months ago, and that the availability of goods was improving dramatically by the day, one of the early benefits of the US-“dollarization” of the economy.

While the widespread shortages of all kinds of goods was rapidly receding into the past as price controls and currency restrictions fell away, most things seemed very expensive, sometimes absurdly so. In the weeks before my visit home I had visited Europe and the U.S., as well as having passed through Senegal’s capital city Dakar,  a city not known to be cheap, and so I particularly keenly felt the comparatively high cost of goods and services in Harare. It was easy to understand why many Zimbabweans are only grudging in their praise of the ‘normalization’ that has begun to take place. “We are happy the shops are full again but we can’t afford the goods” was a frequent complaint I heard. But even as people grumble about “we can’t afford anything” the shops are certainly not empty of customers, although many merchants and traders said the level of spending was still low and still limited mainly to necessities. Yet all I spoke to agreed that the situation was significantly better than before, and dramatically better than in 2008, the period everyone agreed was Zimbabwe’s low point, with hyperinflation, shortages, violence and political tension and so on at their worst.

As ridiculously expensive as almost everything seemed to be, even in just the one month I was there prices were creeping down to more realistic levels. And if one took the trouble to shop around, which many more people were doing than I remember from before, it was possible to find widely varying prices for the same thing. A big culture change was that even in ‘formal’ shops it was possible to negotiate for price reductions, common in many countries all over the world but previously almost unheard of in Zimbabwe’s stiff formal economy. So merchants are feeling the effects of consumer resistance and growing competition from the opening up of the economy and the greater availability of goods, and they are being forced to respond by lowering their prices. In the shortage economy that had prevailed for several years, the relatively few people who could raise the hard currency to import goods became accustomed to charging huge, arbitrary mark-ups. The merchant was king, not the customer.

One of the most disheartening remaining signs of how Zimbabwe has slid was in the complete absence of a daily media alternative to the state media. There are no daily independent newspapers and at US$2 an issue, the weekly private newspapers are way out of reach of most people. Of course there is no private TV or radio so there is a huge information deficit. But this is not to say the state media dominates the shaping of opinion. Despite its near monopoly, state newspapers, TV and radio are so dull and so blatantly pro-establishment that their credibility is extremely low. The public has largely learned to sense when they are being fed propaganda instead of news, which is rather often, and to dismiss and ridicule it even if they don’t know for sure what the other sides of the story are. Even more than before, the propaganda is so crudely done that I found myself often marveling that the government didn’t find it embarrassing and a negation of its attempt to win heart and minds. The stiffness, awkwardness and the over-the-top nature of much of the state media in the support of Mugabe and ZANU-PF and against Tsvangirai and the MDC had an almost surreal, self-defeating quality in its crudeness.

President Mugabe is still ass-licked by the state media as much as ever before, and in a way that I do not think does him any credit. One big change was that Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Gideon Gono was no longer the swashbuckling public hero the media had tried to make him out to be when he was first appointed five or so years ago, promising to swiftly bring down hyper-inflation and perform all kinds of other miracles. Even in the slavish state media Gono’s gloss had long turned dull, with him now struggling to defend his controversial legacy to a tired-of-him, sceptical public. One would have to have been there in his early days in office and to experience what a dominant public presence he came to be to understand how far the man has fallen in public esteem.

Electricity and water cuts were frequent, although even in these regards many people said I had visited when the situation was getting much better than it once was. People are inconvenienced but out of necessity have had to adjust, and the down times are handled very matter of factly. Up until a few years ago I had never even seen a fuel-powered electricity generator but now many in the cities who can afford them have them and they are widely advertised in the Press. Those who have boreholes or wells can avoid the worst inconveniences of the periods without running water, but I was shocked by the number of people who calmly mentioned having gone for months without seeing a drop of municipal water in their taps, a major cause of last year’s cholera outbreak.

Visits to some of Harare’s once-bustling industrial areas were depressing. A few years ago a quick drive through any of them would have been enough to show anybody why Zimbabwe’s economy was the sub-region’s most dynamic after South Africa’s. Now they are quiet, many companies still open but quite clearly operating at a low level. The areas do not have the bustle of before; buildings, roads and company premises are no longer maintained like they once proudly were. But from job-seekers to company owners, many people said whereas most companies were just treading water for several years, there are now signs of activity picking up as a result of the policy changes in the economy and the relative political calm.

With low productivity in agriculture and industry for several years, and given all the crises the country has undergone, it is startling to see the number and proportion of smart late-model luxury cars on the streets of Harare. There seemed a very bizarre disconnect between the economy under-performing as it has done for years and the number and types of expensive cars which would have turned one’s head even in a wealthy, ‘normal’ economy. While the signs of the lack of investment in many critical areas of the economy were everywhere, this certainly did not seem to extend to the cars many higher-ups in government and the private sector drive. I’m still trying to figure out what this says, and whether this is positive or not.

My impressions are of a tiny slice of life in Zimbabwe. For instance, I only made two one-day forays into rural areas to visit relatives, and only made one other one-day trip out of Harare during my one-month stay. There are obviously many parts of the traumatic economic and political period Zimbabwe is just coming out of that will only be fully understood by those who were there during it. But the instinctive adaptation that one “who was there” undergoes to the rapidly changing situation is also precisely why it can be hard for them to pin down and catalogue the changes, even though they will have an insider’s deeper understanding of events they were a part of. On the other hand an inside-outsider like me, visiting for the first time in about three years, can much more quickly see what is different even if he has no first-hand knowledge and experience of the factors and events that drove the change.

When I ended my previously visit to Zimbabwe, in early 2007, it was with a very heavy heart. The economy was very steadily declining and the tensions between the rival political parties escalating. That state of affairs had been on-going for close to 10 years. There was a widespread sense that the country was still going down, with no one able to guess when we would hit bottom or how bad things would be then. I left home then worried and depressed.

My feelings were quite different this time. There remain many political and economic problems but there is now a widespread feeling that the worst is behind the country. There is not the same feeling of widespread political dread and economic desperation, even though things are far from easy or back to any definition of ‘normal.’  Everybody grumbles about how high the cost of living still is, but unlike before, prices are stable and in many cases even declining, and goods are widely available, which is a very different scenario from early 2007!

I found widespread relief at the existence of the inclusive government of the major political parties, and I thought that most people were generally much less passionately partisan than I remembered. I also think cynicism about all politicians was higher and more widespread than before, which may be a good sign!

The last ten years or so have been a lost decade for Zimbabwe in many ways. And there is no guarantee that the beginnings of stabilization that are being experienced will take hold or that the country will organize itself to get close to meeting its great potential. The possibility of the political parties going back to the bitter fighting that has contributed so greatly to Zimbabwe’s misery remains very real. But when I left Harare in early September after a month at home, for the first time in many years I felt the stirrings of hope about the country’s prospects.

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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 mishandling of Zimbabwe’s cholera epidemic

Posted by CM on December 5, 2008

Nothing seems to be going right for Mr. Mugabe’s government. The sad, horrific cholera epidemic is not just a public health/humanitarian tragedy, it is also a public relations disaster for an already image-battered government.

Mugabe has survived the seemingly un-survivable many times before. There is, therefore, no reason to believe this latest calamity will force him from office the way it would do the administration of a functioning democracy. But still, the cholera epidemic is more of a knock to whatever reputation his government  still had than even anything the perennially out-foxed opposition MDC could throw at it.

The government’s defense has been, “Yes, the water treatment and sewage systems are falling apart, but this is not our fault but that of  ‘illegal’ Western sanctions.”  This is now the standard excuse whenever there is a problem.

But whether one buys the sanctions reason as the reason for the pitiful state of the country or not, there are so many ways in which the Mugabe government has completely dropped the ball in this case, unfortunately as in many others.

The government first disastrously tried to treat the epidemic in an information-control way rather than as an emergency public health issue. It initially denied that there was a cholera crisis. But the evidence was overwhelming so that couldn’t work. Then it tried to downplay the extent of it, just as certain other organisations in the country and outside are trying to exaggerate an already terrible situation for their own fund-raising, propaganda and other reasons.  But the nature of the crisis is such that it could not be easily minimised.

When the weight of  the evidence of the extent of the problem became too clear to deny, the government was grudging about owning up to it in a way that entrenched its growing reputation for callousness.

First it was only the deputy minister of health who came out of the bunker to tentatively, sheepishly admit that there was a problem after all, and that it might well be of a magnitude and of an urgency beyond the ability of the government to handle.  As the crescendo of condemnation of the government increased along with the deaths, the minister of health eventually came out of wherever he had been hiding, seemingly reluctantly.

Some NGOs had been calling for the declaration of a disaster (probably for their own self-serving reasons, as even those with little or no ability to intervene in a public health crisis competed to put out statements showing their ‘concern,’ very useful at fund-raising time with their donors.) The government initially reacted in it’s usual way: with a ‘we can take care of it, everything is under control’ bravado. But the negative publicity against it, the illnesses and the deaths all conspired to force the government to change tack and admit that it had a problem of a scale beyond its ability to handle.  The subsequent appeals for international help were late and sounded grudging, insincere, unconcerned, cynical.

In many countries, even the most notorious dictatorships, a calamity of this magnitude would have shamed the ruler to make at least a show of being personally concerned about and touched by the suffering of ordinary people. Even at a cynical, politicking level, the ruler would have recognised this as an opportunity to claim to be a benevolent, concerned “man of the people.” He would have made a show tour of the worst affected areas to be filmed “with the people” for the evening news shows.

Not Mr. Mugabe. In the midst of this humanitarian crisis, this indictment of his government’s management abilities and this latest shame to its image, he chose to go to Qatar for an economic summit. While there and on his return, not a word did he say about the cholera crisis sweeping the land he wants to continue ruling no matter what. Inappropriately, bizarrely, disastrously, the only comments from him were from Qatar on how he believes developing countries should mobilise funds for their own development bank. Who on earth is going to listen to and respect the opinions of a president on such an issue whose government cannot handle importing water-treatment chemicals or cholera-treatment packages?

His government’s inability to do so cannot be because of “illegal santions.” The money spent on the trip of he, his wife and their entourage to attend a talk-shop in Doha, Qatar would have made a significant difference if it had been instead applied to importing aluminium sulfate for treating water to help prevent cholera, or hydration packages to treat those afflicted. And canceling the trip to instead spend time at home even just pretending to be concerned about Zimbabweans dying of cholera, of all things in 2008, would have prevented the incremental increase in the image of Mugabe as an incredibly small-minded, self-important, deluded despot with no interest in the most pressing problems of his fellow citizens, and of no relevance to addressing those problems.

‘Illegal’ sanctions or not, what the Mugabe government has done with this latest own goal is to show its lack of concern for the citizens it claims it clings to power to serve, and its horribly misplaced sense of priorities at a time of numerous escalating crises.

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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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MDC agriculture and lands position paper avoids the tough issues

Posted by CM on August 10, 2008

What the MDC refers to as its policy document on lands and agrarian reform is remarkable for how little it says about one of the most crucial issues on which its performance would be judged if it gets into power.

The paper promises to tell the reader ‘how we will attend to the issue’ but really does nothing of the kind. The MDC’s positions on many of the day to day agricultural issues are hard to fault, and are not different from what any other government anywhere in the world would be expected to do. But this is precisely why the document is underwhelming. The centrality of the issue of land to the problems in Zimbabwe particularly require the MDC to boldly and clearly show how its stance is different from that of ZANU-PF.

The MDC says it would “rationalise” a land reform process that was “chaotic and outside the rule of law.” But “there will be no return to the pre-2000 status nor will the present regime of wastage, corruption, under utilization and multi-ownership be preserved.”

This is perhaps the only bold and clear-cut statement in the whole document. Over the years the MDC has been pilloried by ZANU-PF over its wishy-washiness in regards to what it would do about the controversial land takeovers that have taken place since 2000. Morgan Tsvangirai and his party have never been able to live down the image of them being partly representative of the hopes of white farmers to reclaim their farms. The image of white farmers excitedly surrounding Tsvangirai in the early days of the party’s formation to offer him financial support backfired very badly for him. It gave ZANU-PF plenty of propaganda ammunition against Tsvangirai and lost him credibility in much of the black world that to this day he struggling to regain.

The situation was not helped by confusing statements from party officials about their position on farms expropriated from white farms. “Outside the rule of law” seemed to reduce the issue to ‘lets see who has title deeds’ but the complexity of the land issue in Zimbabwe means it is far more than merely a legal matter. It is that in part, but it also involves un-avoidable issues of race, history, economics, politics, emotion and many others, which is why it is so intractable.

The fact of the matter is that no matter how ‘chaotic and outside the rule of law’ the ZANU-PF driven expropriations were, and regardless of the so far disastrous results, the idea of them retains much support amongst Zimbabweans across the many divides in the country. A wholesale reversal of them is not politically tenable, and the MDC statement is simply a reflection of how the party has come to accept this reality.

The MDC says it will seek to set up a commission to deal with land issues, and that this proposed statutory body would have the task of dealing with the nuts and bolts of what exactly to do about the many vexing issues. According to the position paper, this commission would, amongst other things, carry out a land audit to determine who has what land and what is being done with it. It would “ implement and coordinate a rational and participatory all inclusive and well planned resettlement programme,” whatever that means. It would also set out allowable sizes of land holdings and find ways to discourage multiple farm ownership.

All this is general enough that it cannot be said to constitute policy. These are all things that would need to be done in one form or another by any government, including eventually by ZANU-PF itself if it continues to rule. Apart from telling us they will not try to go back to the pre-2000 pattern of land holdings, the MDC position is to essentially say “the land commission will look at things after we get into power.”

It may be politically wise of the MDC to not allow itself to be pinned down to specifics on a complicated issue, but the lack of clear signs of fundamentally new thinking about land and agriculture is not an encouraging sign.

In typical MDC-speak, the party says it would ‘internationalise’ the issue of how to compensate farmers whose land has been expropriated since 2000. No doubt Britain, for one, would now be willing to be part of funding the pay-off of white farmers. This would be for ‘kith and kin’ reasons, as a reward to an MDC government for deposing a Robert Mugabe the British have come to hate with a passion, and to be seen as part of the solution to the resolution of this long-standing problems, rather than as part of the problem, as Mugabe has repeatedly, stridently argued. The EU and others may have their own reasons for wanting to contribute to a compensation fund under an MDC government.

But is expressing a commitment to compensation based on external funding not potentially problematic? The party reasonably argues that ‘the Zimbabwean economy does not have the capacity to offer just and equitable compensation while at the same time driving the economy forward.’ What happens if  ‘internationalising’ compensation does not yield the required funds? There could be many reasons for this: donor fatigue or unhappiness over one thing or another about the terms of the compensation, or the way forward politically or economically. These are after all parts of the reasons for why previous plans to raise money to buy the white farmers out did not materialise.

The ZANU-PF government’s stance has been that it would pay compensation whose value it determined, and based only on ‘improvements to the land, rather than including the value of the land as well, because of the history of colonial plunder. The white farmers who purchased their land rather than received or inherited it as part of the process of colonial subjugation of the Africans obviously take a dim view of this.

Yet even if the ZANU-PF position was one extreme that cannot meet the demand of ‘just and equitable compensation,’ what is the thinking that will go into meeting that requirement of justice and equity? The MDC could have used the opportunity presented by setting out its basic philosophy in regards to this, even if the details are to be worked out later.

That the white farmers lost money, assets, livelihoods is not in doubt. But if one looks at violent dispossession in its historical context in the country, it is hardly a new phenomenon. Previous violent dispossessions by colonial authorities against the Africans were done according to the ‘rule of law’ of the time, but it was stacked against the Africans and in favour of the white settlers. This happened within the lifetimes of people still living today, so it can hardly be considered as ancient history which can simply be written off. ‘Lawful’ and ‘just’ are not necessarily one and the same thing, which is why the innocent-sounding ‘rule of law’ can be a nebulous, loaded term.

Is the recent dispossession of the white farmers more horrific than previous one of the natives? If so, why and how? Is the fact that the white farmers had paper title deeds in a way that Africans did not when their land and cattle were grabbed from them the salient issue? If Africans have been expected to let colonial bygones be bygones, why would it be too much to ask the white farmers to accept the injustice of their loss in a similar light? Why is the native expected to live with his or her wounds of colonial dispossession as the price of moving forward and yet the white farmers of today are not?

The MDC is probably too beholden to western interests to be expected to broach this subject this way, but that is a shame. It should be an entirely legitimate part of the discussion over compensation. Of course there are many other things to consider than just the wounded feelings, lost property and investments of the white farmers. One of those would be the negative message that would be sent to potential investors in not compensating the farmers for their lost investments. But if the idea to scrap or to limit compensation were considered, it could be sold as part of a process of wiping a very messy, complicated slate clean in order to start another more just phase of the country’s development. Qualifying what ‘just and equitable’ compensation means in this case need not be taken to mean that in future expropriations would become routine, the way they have been for a good part of the nation’s recent history, although an ahistorical, jaundiced Western media often gives the impression that they were only began eight years ago by the ‘evil’ Mugabe against the innocent, hard working Christian white farmers.

Having discussions like this, even if they ended up with conventional ‘rule of law’-based compensation of the white farmers, rather than some resolution which looks at the issue in less conventional, more historically holistic terms, would show that the MDC was committed to dealing with the issue of agrarian reform from the roots, rather than from just the apparent surface.

The MDC document has its share of absolute twaddle. A prize gem is ‘the ultimate economic liberation of Zimbabwe will only occur after the destruction of the dual enclave economy and the transition of our country into a modern industrial State.’ Apparently what this means is a glorious, miraculous process of renewal ‘to free the country from direct reliance on land and agriculture but an (sic) industry and technology and software.’

The paper in some parts reads like a high school essay more than a serious work by a party hoping to run the affairs of a country. The sweeping, hopeful statement of how the MDC will lead Zimbabwe into being a technological powerhouse no longer dependent on agriculture directly is not backed up with any detail whatsoever about how this will be accomplished and it seemed un-necessary in a paper purportedly outlining the party’s agricultural policy. It is the kind of grand statement whose hopefulness one cannot disagree with but in the current context makes the MDC appear like a typical over-promising political party rather than one that has seriously engaged with how to address the pressing issues of today. Just reviving commercial agriculture would keep the MDC busy long enough that mentioning a hoped for future technology-based Zimbabwe in an agriculture position paper today does not make the MDC appear like a far-thinking party, but one throwing around platitudes in place of specifics about the great issues of the day, of which land and agriculture are two.

The MDC briefly lectures about the distinction between land reform and agrarian reform before promising us that under the latter, the party would ‘and industrialize the rural areas to make them productive and wealth generating.’ Assuming that it is a given that this would be a desirable thing to do, how would the party take us to this industrial promised land? No specifics are again, so I suppose this is another rabbit the land commission will be expected to pull out of its magic hat. These sweeping sorts of statements of the wonderful great things you would do as a ruling party when you clearly have not thought them through in any detail should be avoided.

The come a raft of promises to do the kinds of things that any government should do. The MDC mentions support for agricultural training and research institutions, provision of inputs and so on. They would all be good things to do, but probably beyond the capacity of any government to carry the full responsibility for. This has been the experience of most countries, and the MDC would have to make an above average commitment to agriculture to merely do most of what it promises in its paper.

In seemingly promising everything to everybody, the MDC comes off like any other political party. This is of course what it is, but even that is not good enough at a time when the depth and complexity of Zimbabwe’s problems requires unusual commitment and thinking power to solve. Getting Zimbabwe out of its current doldrums will require the kind of fresh, out-of-the-box thinking which the MDC’s policy paper on land and agriculture does not suggest the party has embarked on.

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Talks:The importance of subverting bitterness in the interests of Zimbabwe’s future

Posted by CM on July 23, 2008

The reasons that so many have called for some kind of negotiated settlement to The Zimbabwe Crisis are fairly obvious: there seems to be virtually no hope of any other neat resolution to the country’s deep and multiple divisions and hurts.

It is possible to accept the reality of this long-running impasse and the need for negotiations between the major political parties and yet still have very mixed feelings when those long-called for talks seem like they are finally, actually about to get underway. One of the reasons for this is accepting the need for negotiation is to accept that one will have to give up some things one considers fundamental to one’s position, to compromise on even those things that one considers of immutable principle.

Another reason why accepting negotiation as a way out of a deep conflict such as Zimbabwe’s political divide is because of how either part has to “give” in its sense of whether justice has been achieved or not.

It is the nature of politics for its most aggressive ‘professional’ practitioners to be egotistical and to a large extent motivated by personal visions of grandeur and the desire to exercise control over others. There is no reason to believe MDC politicians are fundamentally different from ZANU-PF politicians in this regard. But aside from the selfish personal motivations of their officials, there is also a broad difference in national vision between ZANU-PF and the MDC.*

This substantive difference means the MDC is extremely reluctant to sit at the same table with a party that has countenanced the beating, torture and killing of its members, and who they believe to be illegitimately occupying power. For its part, there are many ideologues in ZANU-PF who are offended by the very idea of negotiating with what they genuinely consider an upstart group of ‘sell-outs’ who do not ‘deserve’ to rule the country even if they got the majority of votes! Both sides would have preferred some sort of winner-take-all resolution in which they came out on top, but this is precisely what successive messy elections have failed to achieve, and why there is any talk of talks!

The fact that no one has been able to devise and enforce an easy way out of this impasse is presumably why both sides have reluctantly agreed to hold their noses in each others’ presence but agree to try to panel beat an accommodation for the sake of a country that is battered and down on its knees.

Everybody will have to swallow very hard for the talks to be seen to be successful, and then will come the even harder job of implementing what would have been agreed.

But there is a precedent in Zimbabwe for putting aside hard-headedness to try to stop the country from sliding backwards. Ian Smith’s government and Mugabe’s ZANU-PF and Joshua Nkomo’s ZAPU provided that precedent at the Lancaster House talks that led to the birth of Zimbabwe. They had no particular love for each other and tens of thousands of civilians had perished before they agreed to negotiate. “Never ever” for all  of them became doable and necessary because the situation forced that upon them.

To many white Rhodesians Smith was a hero who was keeping the African barbarians away from the gates of their fairy tale existence. To many Africans he was a racist war criminal, even if “the trains ran on time and inflation was low” under him. To Africans Mugabe and/or Nkomo were towering African revolutionaries who gave them pride, dignity and hope, to most whites they were ‘communist terrorists.’ Still they had to talk and bitter, impassioned loose talk of retribution had to be put aside.

Thirty years later, Zimbabwe is at a pass requiring similar compromises between bitter enemies.

But into this mix is thrown the interfering calculations of those who have bestowed on themselves the right to try to influence events in Zimbabwe in certain ways, not necessarily to support whatever consensus the Zimbabweans decide is in their own best interests.

David Blair, the UK Daily Telegraph’s resident “Africa expert” very nicely shows this potential spanner in the Zimbabwe works with his article A Mugabe deal could land Britain with a dilemma.

Blair worries what Britain would do if the current talks ended up in a ‘Kenya scenario” in which Mugabe held effective power and Tsvangirai was given the consolation prize of Chief Window Dresser. What on earth would Britain do if Tsvangirai as prime minister came knocking on Bwana Gordon Brown’s door asking for the release of aid to help begin reviving Zimbabwe’s economy?

If a negotiated resolution of the crisis which Zimbabweans themselves can live with is all that Britain wants, as it insists, Blair should not need to worry about what difficult compromises the Zimbabweans agree to make to reach that resolution. But things aren’t that simple, are they? Blair ever so delicately tiptoes around the issue of why, well, even if the Zimbabweans were willing to accept a ‘Kenya settlement’ that Britain would not be able to consistently oppose, the ex-colonial master might decide to not play ball.

The issue for the British, you see, isn’t so much just the ‘resolution’ of the crisis, but the exit of the bitterly hated Mugabe! No, you see, Zimbabwe is completely different from Kenya: both sitting presidents might have stolen the elections they use to justify holding on to power, but Kenya’s Kibaki is clearly a gentleman and a Good African while Mugabe is clearly a Bad African! Surely the world would not expect civilised Britain to continue to live and do business with such a monster!

Even if the Zimbabweans, including the British-friendly MDC, have reluctantly accepted Mugabe’s continuing presence as the price they must pay for moving on? Which consideration would be uppermost in Britain’s course of action: respect for the decision of the Zimbabweans to proceed as they deem fit, or pique at the fact that the all-important goal of Mugabe’s immediate exit from the scene would not have been achieved?

Mr. Blair ends his article with:

Britain endorsed this subversion of democracy and, astonishingly, senior officials cite Kenya as a recent success story. If the same unfolds in Zimbabwe, the Foreign Office will have no grounds for indignation. If prime minister Tsvangirai shows up at Downing Street, he will doubtless ask: “If this was good enough for Kenya, why not Zimbabwe too?”

Blair coyly avoids answering his own question but we all know why for the British, Mugabe is the Irredeembaly ‘Bad African’ Who Must Be Deposed At All Costs.

As so often happens, it was a reader responsdig to Blair’s article that spoke that which Blair left unsaid:

Kibakism, as atrocious as it seems, does not compare to the entrenched evils of Mugabism: Kenya didn’t expel British farmers, confiscate their land and property or terrorize them as Mugabe and his Zimbabwean gendarmes did.

Kibakism, unlike Mugabism, did not mastermind, orchstrate and execute large-scale ethnic cleansing of  minority opposition leaders, members, tribesmen and women. Ethnic conficts broke out to protest election
results supposedly rigged by the Kikuyu-tribe-dominated government; using instruments and powerful
infrastuctures of ethnic-electoral majoritarianism. Zimbabwe’s bloody xenophobic, tribalistic machinery is
a year-round operation, unlike Kenya’s seasonal rage.

The attempted distinctions between why Kibaki should be considered so much better than Mugabe are almost funny. The “large-scale ethnic cleansing of minority opposition leaders, members, tribesmen and women”. the reader offers for the particular un-acceptability of Mugabe were official policy under Smith’s Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa, but everyone gushed that the Africans were ever so incredibly noble for reconciling with their tormenters in a way the British would have us believe should now not at all be possible in Zimbabwe!

But I give the reader responding to Blair credit for being honest about why Mugabe is British Public Enemy Number One. Its not the usual sentimental fare of ‘oh, those poor African oppressed and impoverished by one of their own, how terrible.’

Blair’s article and the reader reaction to it are a refreshingly revealing and honest insight into just why Britain is so emotional about Zimbabwe, and about Mugabe in particular.

It ain’t about human rights or democracy!

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The bizarre case of Tsvangirai’s Australian ghost speechwriter

Posted by CM on July 10, 2008

by Chido Makunike

I had initially missed it, but I have since found out that the Guardian (UK) sought to explain how it came about that on June 25 it ran an article with MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s byline, only to have the “author”  deny having written the article the next day, causing the paper to remove it from its website.

What caused a furore about the article was its call for UN peace keepers in Zimbabwe, which was interpreted by many as a call for military intervention.

Tsvangirai swiftly responded with a letter in which he said, “An article that appeared in my name published in the Guardian … did not reflect my position or opinions. I am not advocating military intervention in Zimbabwe by the UN or any other organisation.”

What was strange was that he did not out rightly contend that the article was a fabrication. He explained the mix up with a wishy washy, “Although the Guardian was given assurances from credible sources that I had approved the article this was not the case.”

Siobhain Butterworth, a Guardian editor, sought to explain what happened in an article on June 30. “The piece turned out to have been ghostwritten by a writer who works with the MDC” she tells us, also explaining that the practice is a lot more commonplace than readers may realise.

So far sort of okay. One can understand that busy politicians would have trusted writers who know their positions on important issues compose speeches and articles for them.

Apparently The Guardian used “an intermediary” to receive or commission the article. We are not told if the idea to feature the article was Tsvangirai/the MDC’s, The Guardian’s or the ghost writer’s.

Asks Hunter rhetorically, “Why did the Guardian use an intermediary?” The answer she got from her colleague Toby Manhire, the Guardian’s comment editor, shocked me.

“The MDC is a disparate and diffuse organisation,” Manhire says authoritatively, somewhat surprisingly speaking like a person intimately familiar with the inner workings of Zimbabwe’s main opposition party. To Zimbabwean readers, if the name “Manhire” looks like  a name in Shona, I assure you in this case its owner isn’t, judging from his picture. So Mr. Manhire’s helpful insight about the sort of organization the MDC is is not because he is a homeboy.

I have previously expressed surprise at how the Guardian acts like the MDC’s publicity department. Sure the MDC is completely crowded out of the official media space in Zimbabwe and I can understand how it would gravitate towards any sympathetic media, especially if it is as prominent as the Guardian. But I would not have thought it was the business of distant newspapers to show such open partiality for a political party in a foreign land as the Guardian does for the MDC.

Ah  well, but let me not let suspicion and paranoia carry me away. Perhaps it is just part of Mr. Manhire’s job to know a lot about the world’s opposition parties!

Trying to explain why it did not get/seek comment straight from the source, Hunter explains how, “The MDC was also in the middle of a political crisis. Tsvangirai had taken refuge in the Dutch embassy in Harare after pulling out of the presidential election amid concerns that MDC supporters would suffer intimidation and violence.”

So, “The comment desk turned to James Rose, an Australian with a background in journalism and a trusted source for pieces from Tsvangirai as he’d supplied a comment piece from the MDC leader in April. Rose wasn’t paid either time, ” Hunter says Manhire told her.

This is the first hint that the comment piece with Tsvangirai’s name on it was not volunteered by the “author” or his party, but was solicited by the Guardian, no doubt trying to do its heroic bit for the downtrodden Zimbabweans. Very noble I’m sure, but I am still very suspicious of the level of pro-activeness by the paper: soliciting the commentary, doing so through a distant non-Zimbabwean “intermediary,” and Manhire’s bending over backwards to give very weak excuses for why he couldn’t have gotten the comment from some other MDC official if Tsvangirai was unreachable during his period of “exile” in the Dutch embassy (during which time he gave some international interviews, I think including with the Guardian’s own “Chris McGreal in Harare.”)

And what on earth does it mean that Australian James Rose had “supplied a comment piece from the MDC leader in April?” I do not at all find it re-assuring to learn that perhaps a lot of the material that comes to light as the thoughts of the man who wants to be the next president of Zimbabwe might actually be the thoughts of an Australian! I have nothing against Australians, but I think my trouble with this as a Zimbabwean should be so obvious it doesn’t need much elaboration.

Apart from just how much his own man Mr. Tsvangirai is, I find it incredible that a man who has to a large extent been successfully tarred with the brush of “puppet of the imperialist West” by Mugabe should be so consistently careless in having that charge stick to him by persistent bungling in managing how he comes across to the world. There might well be several ways in which perhaps he could make convincing arguments for having an Australian write his articles for him, but it is putting things mildly to say that in the context of how Mugabe has framed what The Zimbabwe Crisis is about, this does not at all help how Tsvangirai comes across.

Hunter goes on to further amaze me by relating how Rose has “has worked with the MDC on four or five pieces, published under Tsvangirai’s name, which have appeared in the Guardian, the Washington Post and the Melbourne Age among other newspapers – one that appeared in the Age, last month, also called for a UN peacekeeping operation in Zimbabwe.”

“In this case, when Rose got the go-ahead for Tsvangirai’s Guardian piece from his contact (second hint that the article was initiated by the Guardian)– an MDC spokesperson who works closely with Tsvangirai – he drafted the article without input from anyone else based on what he already knew. This was unusual but he assumed that because the MDC was in crisis it couldn’t do more. He read the finished piece over the phone to his contact, who approved it for publication.

If all this is true, the idea that this casual, third-party way is how the MDC communicates important messages to the world is incredible! A foreigner can write and have published articles on Zimbabwean policy issues on behalf of the country’s main opposition party “without input from anyone else?” Is this a political party ready to assume office or a bunch of jokers we are dealing with here?

Hunter claims Rose said it was “unusual” to not get input from MDC officials for such an article and that in this case it happened because he “assumed” the MDC “couldn’t do more” because it was in crisis! My ass! How is it that an Australian is allowed to be in such a position of influence and closeness to the center of Zimbabwe’s opposition hiearchy as to be able to make such “assumptions” on such a potentially important issue. An article with Tsvangirai’s name on it is the official position of Zimbabwe’s main opposition party to the world! How can such a crucial function be left in the hands of an Australian freelancer?!

It is not just outrageous that it had such potentially disastrous consequences for Tsvangirai this time, it is also incredible that even the distant Guardian took this arrangement as “normal” based on past practice.

Manhire wrote his own cryptic account of why the supposed Tsvangirai article was taken down from the Guardian’s site. There is nothing in it that Hunter does not go over in her fuller article. But in the comments section, a reader made some good point in response to Manhire.

Aram Harrow writes, “This retraction doesn’t provide enough information.

If you don’t want to print the name of the consultant who provided the article (Manhire does not mention Rose by name at all, unlike Rose in her article), at least you could tell us where he got the article from and what led him to believe it was genuine. You should also explain what provisions you have in place to stop this from happening again.

The original article was extremely provocative and you published it at a time of international crisis. Your readers deserve a far better explanation than you have so far given.”

Essentially, what we have here is the bizarre situation of an English paper getting in touch with its Australian contact to write a position paper for Zimbabwe’s MDC party and then simply call up the purported “MDC spokesperson who works closely with Tsvangirai” to have him or her to put a verbal “X” on the document on the article. Amazing and incredible, unforgivable in all the wrong ways!

And since we are told that Rose wrote the article on his own “based on what he knew” about the MDC’s positions (which is contradicted by Tsvangirai’s repudiation of the call for peacekeepers in Rose’s article) I wonder if Rose called anybody at all for final approval after writing it. Based on everything else Hunter telIs us in her article, I’m not sure I believe that there was any final checking of the acceptability of the article by Rose with the claimed close Tsvangirai aide.

What also comes out from Hunter’s account is the casual disrespect the Guardian exhibits for Tsvangirai and the MDC. Manhire’s characterization of the party suggests a close familiarity with it, but the way the paper skipped over its leader and other top officials to contact a foreign freelancer in its bid for an article from the MDC suggests a real contempt resulting from that familiarity.

And if there was a final validation call about the article, how could the “MDC spokesperson who works closely with Tsvangirai” have approved the bit about the peace keepers if it was not MDC policy? Did the “spokesperson” not hear that part during the phone call? Did s/he not know it would be controversial? Why not? Did s/he agree with the idea of peace keepers, only for the party to then back down when they realised what a significant new policy direction it implied in the ensuing public furore?

Tsvangirai and the MDC have made brave contributions to giving the marauding Mugabe a tough time over the last few years,making an important contribution to eventual change in Zimbabwe. They have bravely borne brutality and all kinds of skullduggery from the Mugabe regime. They probably have been robbed of clean electoral victory at least twice. They are clearly the mistreated underdogs in the unfolding Zimbabwean drama and have generally received my sympathy, if not my full support because of how thy have simply failed to inspire me on many counts.

But I am increasingly alarmed at the prospect of an MDC government led by Morgan Tsvangirai. Incidences like the screw up of this article and what has been revealed about the careless, casual way the MDC does important business and fails to keep tight control over its image are to me worrying signs of how they are not our way out of our present political wilderness.

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Makoni to be Tsvangirai’s finance minister?

Posted by CM on April 2, 2008

With the parliamentary election having been such a close contest, the handful of seats won by the Mutambara faction of the MDC will obviously be important in the power tug of war between ZANU-PF and the main MDC faction.
It is hard to imagine that the Mutambara MPs would agree to align with ZANU-PF to possibly form a coalition with the slimmest of majorities over the MDC, but nothing is impossible. And Mugabe is a master at buying people with inducements of one type or another, although he is such a weakened “brand” at the moment that any politican would have to think about the serious long-term (and perhaps short term as well) consequences of getting onto a sinking ship, regardless of the carrots dangled.
Simba Makoni’s people (if he had any!) did not win any seats, although if he had won the presidential contest many of those who won parliamentary seats on a ZANU-PF ticket would have claimed to have been his silent supporters.But Makoni may have some bargaining power in the uncertainty of the present impasse. A Tsvangirai presidency must worry about not having liberation war-era credibility in a political environment in which that still means a lot, and in which a strong ZANU-PF minority could exploit that to say, “see what Tsvangirai is doing with his recovery policies, he’s giving the country back to the British colonizers.” This would be especially true if Tsvangirai attempts any wholesale reversal of the seizures of previously white-owned farms.

So it is very much in Tsvangirai’s interests to find a way of neutralising this threat. Roping in Makoni into his cabinet may be one way of doing so. This would help to get many secret ZANU-PF supporters of Makoni’s onto the Tsvangirai bandwagon, and to begin to lure them from the spell of whatever Mugabe may try to offer to avoid mass defections from a disempowered, disoriented ZANU-PF.

An completely unverifiable rumour beginning to do the rounds is that Simba Makoni has been offered his one time post of minister of finance in Tsvangirai’s cabinet. This would be a smart move on Tsvangirai’s part, and for Makoni, would be a way for him to avoid slinking off into political oblivion. There are also stories doing the rounds of ZANU-PF officials seriously wooing Makoni to support Mugabe instead. The closeness of the race may well make Makoni a king maker.

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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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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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