Zimbabwe Review

Reflections on Zimbabwe

Posts Tagged ‘ZANU-PF’

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 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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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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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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What future for ZANU-PF?

Posted by CM on April 2, 2008

One of the reasons Robert Mugabe has given in recent years for not retiring has been his expressed fear that ZANU-PF would disintegrate into infighting over how to succeed him, and that he wanted to stay on until a natural successor emerged to take over from him.

This was cynical and self-serving of course, but that is now an issue of grave importance for the party as it contemplates defeat in parliament and the possible exit of the man who has dominated its affairs for the past 30 years. Remaining united while choosing a successor to Mugabe as a ruling party was going to be difficult enough. But losing power as well as losing Mugabe as the party’s flag-bearer at the same time could decimate ZANU-PF and threaten its very existence.

There is no ideology beyond access to state resources that can be said to hold the party together. Unless MDC made some huge blunders during its first few years in power ZANU-PF will initially have little credibility and authority as an opposition party. If the MDC decides to pursue cases of corruption and abuse of power, many of ZANU-PF’s leading lights would be brought down, or at least severely weakened by being tied up in the courts for a long time. It is likely that the picture that will emerge from exposed details of ZANU-PF’s last several years in power will not be pretty.

Will ZANU-PF withstand all these pressures? Will it be able to remain strong and united without access to state resources? On what basis? Who among its leaders will be able to take over from Mugabe, and what power will he be able to wield to keep the party together? Will liberation war-era sentimentality still have a draw for a party that would have been deposed from power for having failed to deliver a better quality of life for the people?

From being a collosus that heavily influenced all sorts of areas of Zimbabwean life from politics to business to being an opposition party will be a transition ZANU-PF will find difficult to do, especially without the ruthless discipline of Mugabe as its boss.

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Electoral ‘massacre’ of ZANU-PF would be undesirable

Posted by CM on April 1, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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What is Simba Makoni offering?

Posted by CM on February 8, 2008

by Chido Makunike

I recently expressed how I did not believe Simba Makoni had the fortitude to break away from ZANU-PF and challenge President Mugabe, as had been long rumoured he was contemplating doing. I argued that Makoni was more of a follower than a leader, and that he was poorly suited for the task of taking on Mugabe and leading Zimbabwe out of its multi-faceted morass. I further said Makoni’s recent meeting with Mugabe and his silent coyness in regards to the speculation swirling around him did nothing to inspire confidence that he was ready or equipped for a task many have wished to thrust on his shoulders.

Makoni has since announced that he is after all going to be a presidential contender in the election of March 29.

An initial inclination of mine on hearing of Makoni’s announcement was to apologise to him for that part of my article that expressed doubts that he had the guts to come out and openly criticise and challenge his former government and present party boss. On reflection I have decided to postpone an apology until it becomes clearer whether Makoni has jumped into the presidential race willingly and wholeheartedly, or whether he was pushed kicking and screaming into it by circumstances.

Unless it is part of some mysterious, hitherto unknown campaign strategy, the way Makoni has entered the presidential race initially appears as messy as his silence during the months of “will he or won’t he?” speculation.

Makoni indicated that as recently as his January 21 meeting with Mugabe, the talk about his presidential bid was still merely speculation. A pertinent question that goes to the heart of how seriously he takes the task of taking on an entrenched, ruthless incumbent is why he left a decision until so late. There is not much time to campaign across the country and officialdom has countless ways to frustrate public gatherings of opponents. The government’s dirty tricks and propaganda machinery have already been revved up against him in the few days since his announcement. Yet he does not have access to sympathetic or even merely impartial daily mass media to get his message across and correct distortions in the less than two months until election day.

What did he tell Mugabe at the January 21 meeting? If he had at that time not yet decided to take the plunge, is it not reasonable to assume he would have been anxious to re-assure a sceptical Mugabe of his continued loyalty? If so, in doing so would Makoni have been angling himself to benefit from favourable positioning in the then pending ZANU-PF primary election process?

If Makoni had indeed been in discussions with kindred spirits about a presidential challenge for months, then he has been a part of the system long enough to know that Mugabe would have long ago got wind of it. If he denied this to the president two weeks ago, his reversal suggests he either then changed his mind about an initial decision not to run, or he out rightly misled his former mentor. Living aside any moralistic issues which it is difficult to invoke with a party with ZANU-PF’s bloody, ruthless history, either of the two scenarios raises even more troubling questions about Makoni’s tactical readiness for the task of taking on Mugabe.

Apart from the question of the inexplicable lateness of making a decision, what has changed in the last fortnight to have tipped a previously seemingly reluctant Makoni into running? Is it that his candidature for the ZANU-PF primaries was rejected? Has he been stung by criticisms that he did not have what it took to take a bold stand? His democratic right to challenge Mugabe for whatever reason is not in question, but the answers of many voters to questions like these will determine how serious the challenge turns out to be. Makoni can significantly influence public opinion on this in the way he conducts himself and develops his campaign in the coming days and weeks.

On that score Makoni’s strategy is very puzzling. Obviously he would have secured high level ZANU-PF backers to take the risky gambit of daring to challenge the king. Already The Herald has shown that the system’s official reaction will be not to address the issues of what the incumbent intends to do to solve the country’s worsening problems with another term. It is instead to vacuously, indignantly ask, “how dare anybody challenge the king at all?” and to throw the usual allegations of dissenters being agents of foreign forces.

Why then have Makoni’s backers, said repeatedly to be “the Mujuru faction” of ZANU-PF, not come out to publicly stand by “their” candidate? Are they not sure of him or their cause, or they just hedging their bets to go in whichever direction the political wind blows on March 29? What message does this send to the voters? Does Makoni represent the promise of a fundamentally new brand of politics, or is he just a new front man for the old ZANU-PF backroom deals that have corrupted the essence of democracy in Zimbabwe and brought the country so low? Is Makoni offering himself as just the replacement of a tired individual incumbent with no more to offer the country, or as someone spearheading the attempted overhauling of a corrupt, dysfunctional system?

Who are the “Mujuru faction” we have read about for years, and what is it that binds them into a faction? If they have reached a level of organization and confidence to sponsor a presidential candidate, surely they should now come out into the open, identify their membership and state what they stand for to the public. If Makoni is being backed by a shadowy secret society, perhaps voters should not be too quick to jump on his bandwagon, lest they create and support new kinds of monsters.

On these scores so far, Makoni cues continue to suggest the worrying wishy-washiness I alluded to last week. He is standing as an independent but no, he is not making a clean break with ZANU-PF, although he must know that his candidature will likely mean the party will make a clean break with him! This brings up an old issue that has long dogged him: the perception that he is reactive rather than proactive.

Makoni affirmed his “faith in and loyalty to the party.” He also “would very much have wished to stand as its official candidate” before lamenting, “that opportunity was denied to any other cadre who would have offered themselves to serve the party and country.” Would that frustration of open democratic challenge within ZANU-PF not then have been the right occasion to announce his parting company with the party?

It is Makoni’s right to try to pose as an independent while also trying to keep one foot within ZANU-PF, as awkward and untenable a balancing act as that may be. But this makes it unclear if his fundamental beef is with the way the party and its president run its affairs and that of the country, or just that his ambitions have not been accommodated. He will know that cynics will contend that despite his nice-guy image, he has remained a senior member of the ruling party long after it became obvious that it was “leading” the country to ruin. It is for that very reason that he now belatedly joins much of the rest of the country in attributing Zimbabweans’ hardships to “failure by national leadership.” Makoni squandered the dramatic opportunity of his announcement by not making these things abundantly clear.

It should be part of Zimbabwe’s painful learning curve in creating a system of governance that suits its needs to ask these and similar questions of people presenting themselves as potential leaders. A blind, naïve and overly trustful faith in individuals is how the country has found itself hurtling into one disaster after another, with no ready means to turn out the engineers of the disasters. Building a reliable process of preventing and/or correcting this anomaly is the more important challenge than the immediate relief offered by any half-way credible presidential challenger to the disastrous status quo.

None of these points takes away from the huge symbolic importance of a top ZANU-PF insider directly challenging President Mugabe at the ballot box, flawed as the electoral environment may be. No longer will it be possible for the ruling party to pretend to be a happy united block despite the abundant evidence of the country being in intensive care. It was becoming an increasing embarrassment to ZANU-PF itself that it had failed to have a segment concerned enough about the destruction of the country to openly join the rest of the citizenry in saying “things are not right, and we see no plan in place to arrest that situation.”

Regardless of what happens on March 29, these are the dying days of the Mugabe dispensation. By one means or another, Zimbabwe is entering a stage in which political actors will in future have to account for their roles at today’s crucial juncture in the country’s progression. There will soon come a time of reckoning in which politicians will have to answer the question, “what did you say and do to contribute to trying to salvage the nation at that mad time of decline, hardship and oppression?” Many who are living large in their positions of supporting the status quo will be found on the wrong side of the country’s history.

Simba Makoni risked being cast among those who would have been found to have failed to have used their power, privilege and positions within the ruling party to have taken a strong stand against the destruction of their country out of fear and/or short term gain. By finally overcoming his fear and comfort to join other Zimbabweans who wish to take back their oppressed, impoverished country from its vicious hijackers, Makoni may have just begun the long process of rehabilitating his reputation for posterity. Depending on the answers he provides to the many puzzling questions about his bid, with this role Makoni may yet make a far more significant contribution to a true democratic progression of Zimbabwe than any he did as a coddled, high flying functionary of the system that has landed the country where it is today.

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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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