Monday, 17 November 2008

Mapping Nkomo country - a response to Mduduzi Mathuthu


Let me start by doffing my hat to Mduduzi Mathuthu, editor of Newzimbabwe.com, for boldly dishing out some home truths about the centrality of ethnicity in the politics of our nation. Raising the often emotive subject of tribalism as the predominant legal tender in our political marketplace is like treading on quicksand; it’s a treacherously dicey endeavour, one whose ultimate outcome is as uncertain as the nation’s resolve to dispense with this noxious approach to politics altogether.

I wish to keep my contribution to this debate as brief and to the point as possible. For that reason, I will confine my response only to what I understand to be the objective meaning of ‘Nkomo country’. My own view is that the most adequate response to Mugabe's Nkomo country/Mugabe country political cartography is to debunk the whole concept altogether for the self-serving, ahistorical myth that it is. Instead, ‘Nkomo country’ should be defined more objectively on the basis of the pioneering nationalist’s reach prior to the eruption of the ‘struggles-within-the struggle’ that gave birth to two contending national liberation movements following Zanu PF’s split from PF Zapu in 1963. Mugabe sought to compartmentalise Nkomo as a leader of the Matebeland region for the purposes of his own post-liberation power ambitions.

The reality of Nkomo's leadership was that he was the foremost symbol of African nationalism in Zimbabwe and the embodiment of national aspirations for freedom from the tyranny of colonial rule. Having led the first nationalist party to emerge in colonial Rhodesia in the late 1950’s, the National Democratic Party, Nkomo was also widely regarded across the country as leader of the submerged nation of Zimbabwe (hence the title Father Zimbabwe). It is telling that he achieved such status whilst based in the Shona township of Highfield in the then-Salisbury. The people who sang his praises as 'Chibwechitedza' (the slippery stone) were his Shona supporters, who saw him not as a Ndebele leader but a leader of the Zimbabwe they were agitating for.

So in my view, leaders emerging from among the Ndebele, Kalanga or Tonga and aspiring for national leadership must be seized with a bold and unapologetic ambition: they must not start from 'Nkomo country' as defined by Mugabe post-liberation. Rather, they must start from 'Nkomo country' as charted by Nkomo himself at the height of his powers. And that country spanned from the Zambezi right down to the Limpopo.

Just as Obama paid no respect to the traditional cleavages of Blue states and Red states but rather bulldozed unapologetically right through such prejudicial boundaries, so too must our own ethnic minority leaders approach the national leadership challenge in Zimbabwe. The country and nation would be all the poorer if Matebeleland’s talent confined itself to Mugabe’s 'Nkomo country', or indeed if any ethnic minority politician felt outlawed from seeking the highest office in the land.

I'm awake to the need for local political mobilisation in Matebeleland for the purposes of securing the region’s long neglected interests. However, there is need not to lose focus on the interests of the entire length and breadth of Nkomo country – stretching from Hwange to Nyanga – which begs for leadership from the most talented of its sons and daughters, of whatever tongue, colour or creed. Just as Tongogara pleaded with his Zanu colleagues to accept Nkomo as leader of the united nationalist movement that had secured the franchise for the black majority, so too are many of our compatriots prepared to accept leadership in whatever ethnic or racial guise it presents itself.

Even as the 1963 split in Zapu took on an overtly tribal hue, there remained a cadre of Shona politicians – Like Chinamano, Musarurwa, Msika and others - around Nkomo that no doubt appreciated his leadership and were prepared to soldier on for a new Zimbabwe alongside him. In other words, there already exists a crucial glimmer of hope for a post-tribal political dispensation in Zimbabwe. The unreality of a trenchant tribal attitude to politics is only sustained by its authors, who use it as political capital in the same way that competent politicians trade on prudent policies.

Zimbabwe needs to establish a political environment where a discourse of ideas can take place. Only then can we benefit from the best talents at our collective disposal. Someone is benefitting from the untruth that the nation cannot receive and revel in Ndebele political talent in the same way it has done with the prodigious exploits of Peter Ndlovu on the football pitch, for instance. That untruth is as unsustainable as the prejudicial exclusion of black men from national leadership in the US has proved to be.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

On the question of devolution in Zimbabwe

I think greater devolution of powers and responsibilities to the regions would be a good tonic for national development, both economically and democratically. The principle of participatory democracy in governance and economic development would be more effectively harnessed and expressed. Our highly centralised state lumbers under the weight of patronage, corruption, authoritarianism and policy failure.

Central government can retain full control of national security and overall national economic and development policy, especially with respect to strategic directions and international trade. But certainly, the regions should enjoy more direct say-so over local priorities, receiving budgetary support from central government to meet local needs.

I think we could see less violence in elections for national leadership under a devolved system of government , and those competing for local positions would be less persuaded to deploy violence in a localised context where the distance between those who govern and the governed is much shorter.

The tragedy of the argument on devolution, in my view, has been that it has been interpreted as inspired by Ndebele nationalism and secessionist tendencies. In that vein, the position of radical but marginal groups such as Mthwakazi has been blown out of proportion and perceived as representative of the real driving force behind Matebeleland's leadership in calls for devolution of power.

Perhaps for the concept to get national take-up it would be necessary for highly organised local parties to come up, with the immediate aim of winning local elections, establishing a strong local presence especially in terms of articulating the everyday concerns of the grassroots, and through that approach, push for a bottom-up type of revolution in the country's system of government.

That would entail harnessing what Prof. Masipula Sithole called 'the beautiful head of tribalism'. It is a fact that those who live in Manicaland are broadly Manyika, as it is true that Masvingo has Karanga, Mashonaland Zezuru, and Matebeleland, Ndebele. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that, as indeed there is nothing wrong in the idea of Scottish people in Scotland seeking to have greater say-so over Scottish affairs and enjoying a decent level of benefit from Scottish economic resources.

The watchword, in my view, would be to give back power to the grassroots whilst maintaining an effective unitary state that is responsive to its constituent parts.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Mutambara dons the emperor’s new clothes

Reading Arthur Mutambara’s Heroes Day article left me quite disillusioned. I struggled to see the point of the whole thing right up until I got to the section where he addresses Zimbabwe’s international relations. The key point that he communicates by way of this article is that he has capitulated and found accommodation in some significant respect with Robert Mugabe.

The article has Mugabe’s demagogic ring to it. By regurgitating Mugabe’s political rhetoric and flawed anti-imperialism in this article Mutambara is merely confirming to us that he has endorsed Mugabe's ideological position and relieved pressure on the old dictator by taking up the mantle of anti-imperialist spokesman on Mugabe's behalf. He has in the process created the perception or semblance of national or cross-party ideological coalescence around Mugabe's ideas and vision.

The theme on western intervention is reflective of Mugabe's regime survival strategy. Mugabe’s Third Chimurenga discourse deploys the outside-looking-in approach, by which local political contradictions are explained through the prism of international relations. That way, everything that is wrong within is the result of exogenous factors. The use and abuse of history that is central to the Third Chimurenga discourse - what Terence Ranger called Patriotic History - arises as the necessary result of this attempt to marry the international to the local in a cause-and-effect relationship.

Propaganda becomes the cement with which these linkages are maintained. Propaganda also becomes the shield with which external accusations of illiberal practices on the part of the regime are parried. The easiest and commonly employed strategy is to point to the west's own moral inconsistencies to pre-empt the criticism. Mutambara's piece endorses this approach unashamedly.

What this thinking means, essentially, is that we will countenance no criticism of the state of our democracy for as long as we can find evidence of worse realities subsisting elsewhere, or of western double standards and hypocrisy. This deliberate subterfuge is meant to distract from engaging with the substantive, egregious reality of violence and abuse on the ground. But it is incomprehensible and shocking when these bouts of defensiveness seize the leader of a democratic opposition whose activists are actually the victims of such brutality!

As a leader of a pro-democracy party, Mutambara's chief problem should be with Zanu PF authoritarian nationalism, which has also been the key contradiction in Zimbabwe’s post-independence history. This same authoritarian nationalism has retained the violence of the liberation war era at its core; it has retained the democratic centralism of the liberation-movement-turned-monolithic-ruling-party. This resulted in stifled internal liberation and a crisis of democratic expectations on account of Zanu PF's incapacity to respond to democratic impulses and reform accordingly (one of the central pillars in Zimbabwe’s crisis today remains Zanu PF’s own internal succession crisis). This same authoritarian nationalism has in the course of our young history deliberately attempted to jettison democratic politics by actively lobbying for and mobilising towards a legislated one-party state, all the while dispensing harsh and violent treatment towards the erstwhile opposition then - Zapu, itself a legitimate nationalist movement - by use of the old colonialist's arsenal of repressive laws and emergency powers. It is this context that ushered in Mutambara's political consciousness and gave birth to his activism.

Therefore, how can the leader of a party contending with such historical authoritarianism not address the question of our violently stifled search as a nation for viable, democratic post-nationalist politics? Why does he not speak of the second phase in our struggle - which is to put democracy back into national liberation? On the day we commemorate the heroes of yesterday's war, how can he afford not to speak to the reality of our incomplete internal liberation and the need, therefore, for new heroes to keep the democratic torch blazing until Zimbabwe is truly free?

Given that he speaks as the blood of hundreds of our brave compatriots flows fresh into the soil of our motherland, why does he not speak to the tragedy of oppression and violence that still stalks our land? Instead, he chooses to share the podium with the author of our oppression to fart into the whirlwind about western hypocrisy, when the widows of my uncle Dickson Sibamba, Tonderai Ndira, Joshua Bakacheza and countless other brave souls – all murdered by Zanu PF militia – still don mournful sackcloth and cry out for justice!

The paradigm of repressive nationalism that gave Mutambara political consciousness is right now at its zenith, with the so-called liberator having come out clearly and unashamedly to declare to the entire nation that it stands imprisoned to the gun that ended white rule; that the ballot - a mere pen and paper affair - will not compromise the will of the bullet. It is worse now than when, as a student leader, Mutambara clambered down the walls of his University of Zimbabwe (UZ) residence on the historic morning of October 4 1990, to escape Mugabe’s murderous assassins, following attempts to commemorate the 1989 anti-corruption demonstration.

It was even worse when, during Learnmore Jongwe’s student leadership, riot police opened fire for the first time on campus and shot Morememories Chawira in the neck during a demo; and it deteriorated even further for Dewa Mavhinga's student administration when riot police went a murderous step further and bludgeoned poor Batanai Hadzizi to death, giving the UZ its first student funeral from police brutality on campus. If Mutambara’s political genesis arises from his confrontation with Mugabe's repressive state as a student leader, his successors faced even worse, as I've just tried to show. The entire nation has experienced violence and death and hunger and disease at the hands of Robert Mugabe.

If Mutambara cannot see the glaring tragicomedy of his own antithetical behaviour by sidling up to the author of Zimbabwe's misery and wearing his rhetorical garb to make political headway for himself, then he's an utterly, irredeemably lost cause. For good measure, he chooses to berate the west and not even once mention Mugabe's friends in the east who have continued to pour in weapons and lend diplomatic succour to a regime that is guilty of brutalising its own people.

Not once does he mention China's insidious role not only in Zimbabwe but across the continent, including that hell on earth that is Darfur. He does not question Mugabe’s mortgaging of the country’s natural resources to China for the survival of the Zanu PF regime. Mutambara's moral compass only registers western hypocrisy but easily glides over Chinese and Russian contributions both to Zimbabwean and global illiberalism. Do China and Russia present a model of involvement in international affairs that is benign and positive? Is that what we should expect from a Mutambara foreign policy?
Mutambara's fulminations reflect little by way of critical thought and political judgment. One gets the sense of someone in a hurry to bolt in before the back door is bolted. This is opportunism of the worst kind. But why the hurry, Arthur? As you helpfully revealed to Geoff Nyarota a few months ago, your American Greencard is valid till 2017 – you could always fall back on that, couldn’t you?

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Insight - five writers on Zimbabwe

Tonight the Frontline Club discusses the Zimbabwe crisis with five writers - all Zimbabwean journalists from diverse backgrounds - and poses questions about where the country is headed to. I am taking part in this discussion and will speak from the perspective of my experience as a young Zimbabwean journalist whose career is subsumed entirely by the Zimbabwe crisis itself, having broken into journalism just as the country was imploding into mayhem.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Back from long sabbatical!

I went off the radar for well over three months! Well, starting a new job and a new life can be quite hectic and absorbing. I moved down from Leeds to London at the beginning of April this year to take up a new job as a writer/editor at the British Refugee Council. Suffice it to say that I've now fully settled down and can resume my blogging!
The last couple of months have been a roller-coaster ride in Zimbabwean politics. We've gone full swing - from an all-out jambanja campaign, a dramatic withdrawal by the MDC from the presidential run-off election, to a sudden thawing of relations and an imminent rapproachement between Mugabe and Tsvangirai over a power-sharing deal mediated by Thabo Mbeki!

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Mugabe faces humiliation in run-off

President Mugabe faces certain defeat in a run-off of the presidential race to be held at least 21 days after the formal announcement of results from the first round of voting. Buoyed by its remarkable showing in an election that many pundits had predicted would be easily snapped up by Mugabe and his ruling Zanu PF party, the MDC has gone ahead to declare Morgan Tsvangirai the next president of Zimbabwe, adding that even though they are confident their man won an outright victory in the first round, they would gladly go ahead to contest in the run-off should the official vote count deem it necessary.

There is no coming back from the abyss for Mugabe. None of his legendary shenanigans will work this time round. For starters, this round will be more closely scrutinised than the last one. The regional bloc, SADC, will be under the omnipresent glare of the international community and its own integrity is at stake should it be seen to be partial towards Mugabe. Besides, the high likelihood of a Tsvangirai victory will certainly compel them to be seen to be dealing fairly with a potential future colleague within the regional body.

Secondly, the security forces will be inclined towards even-handedness as
their current handlers no longer wield decisive authority over them on
account of the establishment's own uncertain political future. Those security elements rumoured to be behind Simba Makoni are likely to follow their man behind Morgan Tsvangirai. The same goes for civil servants and other government officials who have been routinely used by Mugabe in his campaigns; they may not render themselves so readily usable in a partisan scheme that looks increasingly likely to be swept by the tide of history.

Since Makoni pledged early on to back Morgan Tsvangirai, the tide
of disaffected Zanu PF supporters who voted for him is likely to swing in
Tsvangirai's favour. Those Zanu PF officials and MPs who were silently
backing Makoni but afraid to come out will now be in a position to do
so, recognising that Mugabe is increasingly sliding into the past. They may do this also as a way to curry favour with the emergent establishment. This swing will definitely ensure Bob is well and truly buried.

The voter turnout was a mere 50% in the last round. The drama and anxiety created by
the announcement of results has got everyone in the country hooked. The opposition's victory in the parliamentary race has created a sense of euphoria among voters who are no doubt thrilled that finally, they have managed to shake off the yoke of Zanu PF's 30 year-old dominance of Zimbabwean politics. Interest in what's going on is at a peak, and if a run-off should be called, as is now likely, there is certainly going to be a higher turn out as people move to get involved in this historical moment. Zanu PF will crank their system to make sure all their voters come out - it's Mugabe's last stand. And precisely because it is, the anti-Zanu PF vote will rise to move in for the kill. A cornered Mugabe is a scenario only previously imagined but never before seen.

I just wish I was also there to help deliver the sucker punch.

Icho! (Manheru will finally shut up!!)

Monday, 31 March 2008

Down for the count?

One gets the sense that the pattern of the election results announcements in Harare is designed to beguile everyone into a state of passive apprehension. They seem to be deliberately going out of their way to deny either side boasting rights by announcing victories in equal measure for both parties. But they can play this game only for as long as the results allow.

The possible reasons behind this approach are varied. They could be doing this purely to maintain law and order and avoid wild, disorderly celebrations, or confrontation brewed by premature celebrations. The idea also seems to be that keeping expectations modest by presenting cliffhanger results dampens the boisterous confidence of those who believe victory is overwhelmingly theirs. Either side is made open to the prospect of victory or defeat.

In the event that the opposition has, indeed, won, staggering the results in this manner somewhat tranquilises the ruling party against cataclysmic shock and adulterates, to a large extent, the drama attendant to the sudden announcement of sharply contrasting fortunes. In the same context, it may also be meant to give those who are fleeing a chance to pack and do so! I presume, with full confidence, that I am not alone in finding the latter scenario gleefully attractive!

ON SADC's OBSERVER MISSION

The SADC boys decided a long time ago that with respect to Mugabe's Zimbabwe they will hear, see and speak no evil! These boys are clearly playing as bosom buddies in the national liberation movement. According to their creed, where a national liberation movement has fought its way to power, it stays there forever as the exclusive embodiment of the people's will. The national liberation movement itself becomes the people so it can not really be wrong at all!

With its victory over the forces of colonialism, history ends and there's no need for new struggles or new actors championing any new aspirations. Anything to that effect is an aberration, a regrouping of the erstwhile defeated forces of colonialism and imperialism and the national liberation movement will have no choice but to once again rise in its revolutionary glory to crush the resurgent head of imperialism.

And in southern Africa, this resurgent head of imperialism is seen as resurrecting itself through the labour unions. Kaunda and UNIP in Zambia were felled by it. But as these boys see it, Kaunda didn't really wield a gun to achieve power anyway, which is why 'imperialism' got to him easily. But not so with revolutionary Frelimo in Mozambique, MPLA in Angola (where real elections are yet to be held), SWAPO in Namibia, or the ANC in South Africa.

These boys see the souther-most end of the subregion as the cradle of the African nationalist revolution and here no imperialism will ever be allowed to resurrect! It is a tall order, therefore, to expect the SADC boys to change their game. For them, to do so would be antithetical to their very identity, their reason for exisiting. So the army generals in Zimbabwe can threaten a military coup on the eve of elections and SADC does not bat an eye-lid. If ever they do, they give a knowing wink with the other!

Friday, 28 March 2008

"Freeing a nation from a tyrant's grip"

When former US secretary of state, Colin Powell, wrote an article under this title back in 2003 one could not have missed the sense of foreboding in the air about what another term of office for President Robert Mugabe portended for Zimbabwe. And sure enough, roughly a year and half later, a fleet of bulldozers was brazenly knocking down people's homes in the country's cities under a government-sanctioned clean-up operation. Infamously named Operation Murambatsvina, the clean-up exercise created hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people and put an end to the livelihoods of well over a million.

The economy has since hobbled into the doldrums in the years since Mugabe's 2002 re-election. Every social indicator has dipped, reflecting the sordid quality of life Zimbabweans are having to endure.

Unfortunately, Zimbabwe is faced with yet another meangless election tomorrow. Meaningless in the sense that it is only a mere charade, a political ritual in whose often violent rhythm Mugabe chooses to clothe his iron-grip on power. There's no doubting the enthusiasm of Zimbabweans to participate in the electoral process. However, the overwhelming feeling one gets is that Mugabe and Zanu PF only tolerate this exercise both for its futility as an agent of political change and its perceived value as a source of legitimacy.

Otherwise, as the service chiefs have made clear on the eve of the polls, power contests in Zimbabwe are not adjucated through elections. The generals have repeated their infamous 2002 threat to not recognise anyone other than Robert Mugabe as president of Zimbabwe. As if to put it beyond doubt, Mugabe himself told a hapless Matabeleland rally recently that voting for the opposition was a waste of votes because he would never allow the MDC to rule the country.

It does not help matters that the opposition itself is riven by factionalism and is going into the polls as a divided front. It is sad that at a time when Mugabe is most vulnerable, he has the luxury of facing a divided opposition vote. The latest opinion poll from Dr Joseph Kurebwa's team at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) gives Mugabe a clear lead with 57 percent of the vote while Tsvangirai and Makoni trail in with 26 percent and 13 percent respectively.

It is interesting to note that the same pollster was spot-on in the last parliamentary election in 2005. This does not necessarily suggest a sound research methodology, as results from an earlier poll by the Mass Public Opinion Institute gave Tsvangirai the edge over Mugabe. There are obvious questions to be raised here about the objectivity of these ostensibly scientific exercises, particularly insofar as their results are so divergent.

And in the cacophony of these polls and counter-polls, coup threats and security clampdowns, one hopes that, somehow, Zimbabweans manage to shake off the tyrant's deathly grip tomorrow.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

What Makoni’s candidacy means for Zimbabwe

“You who are with us here, I hope we can trust you,” so President Robert Mugabe addressed party cadres gathered for the launch of his presidential campaign in Harare last Friday. Such is the level of paranoia gripping the octogenarian leader ever since the defection of former finance minister, Simba Makoni, that he has instructed all Zanu PF candidates to campaign for him first before they can sell their own bids to the electorate.

Mugabe has every justification to feel paranoid, for Makoni’s presidential bid as an independent rests largely on a subterranean campaign within the structures of the ruling party. Makoni’s claims of support from Zanu PF’s bigwigs were borne out last weekend with the defection of former home affairs minister and Matabeleland heavyweight, Dumiso Dabengwa. More strategic defections are expected; not least that of so-called kingmaker and former defence forces commander, Solomon Mujuru.

In simple terms, Makoni’s presidential bid can best be understood as a dogged effort to give Zanu PF supporters the leadership plebiscite that they were constitutionally entitled to at their party’s extra-ordinary congress in December last year. Mugabe pre-emptied that election by using the notoriously venal war veterans to railroad his endorsement as the party’s presidential candidate.

The obvious working premise for Makoni’s camp is that the popular consensus within Zanu PF is that Mugabe must, indeed, go. Their major objective, therefore, is to wrestle the pith of the former national liberation movement from Mugabe and the coterie of radicals that he has surrounded himself with. It is for this reason that Makoni and his backers continue publicly to profess their allegiance to Zanu PF.

However, Makoni also calculates that his cross-party appeal will sweep opposition voters from under Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC’s feet. His endorsement by Arthur Mutambara’s MDC faction goes a long way in realising this goal – it delivers the Matabeleland vote. By broadening his message beyond party cleavages and promising to form a government of all the talents in order to carry through his programme of national reconstruction, Makoni stands a strong chance of harvesting the mass of opposition voters who are disillusioned with the MDC’s repeated failure to convert the economic decline into decisive electoral victory.

In particular, urban professionals and middle class voters accuse Tsvangirai of failing to demonstrate governance capacity by way of comprehensive and consistent policy output in response to the multi-layered national crisis. However, the former trade unionist remains popular with large sections of the working class and unemployed voters in urban townships where his rallies continue to draw large crowds.

It is to these voters that Makoni must explain the nature of his allegiance to Zanu PF if he is to make headway with them. Would he make a triumphal return to Zanu PF should he win the presidency, for instance? Speculation on Makoni’s Zanu PF links is rife among Zimbabweans both at home and abroad, and rightly so.

Zanu PF has captured and made the state an extension of itself. It has overthrown legal-rational authority and replaced it with a jingoism that allows its super-patriots to lord it over the rest of the citizenry. For these reasons, Zanu PF has become a political creature whose demise many Zimbabweans would love to see. Makoni must, therefore, explain clearly what it is about Zanu PF that he remains proud to be associated with, and whether or not he has ambitions to lead a reformed version of it. Dispelling the scepticism of urban voters is crucial for Makoni to win over the anti-Zanu PF vote and gain the edge over Tsvangirai.

Analysts in Zimbabwe do not expect an outright victory by any one of the candidates and predict a run-off poll to decide the winner. It is widely regarded as a foregone conclusion that Mugabe will be a participant in any run-off (that is assuming he fails to rig the whole thing in the first instance). Makoni’s novelty is likely to be the decisive factor in a run-off poll, whoever he faces.

In the final analysis, Makoni has massive goodwill going for him. He has generally enjoyed a good press throughout his career and is respected as a man of integrity, capable of exercising rational, competent and conciliatory national leadership. However, his reliance on his Zanu PF heavyweight friends to haul in the vote for him could be his undoing if they should decide to stick with Mugabe after all, as vice-president Joice Mujuru has done.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

For the first time, Mugabe’s really cornered

Like everyone else, I’d waited with bated breath for President Mugabe’s reaction to Simba Makoni’s announcement that he would challenge his octogenarian former boss in the March presidential elections. It is in keeping with Mugabe’s Machiavellian approach to keep mum on pertinent national developments for what always seems an eternity. After allowing national speculation to fester, and having capitalised on the wisdom of hindsight, he emerges with a response so categorical and poignant as to reinforce his image as a sage among his cultic following. State funerals are usually Mugabe’s occasion of choice to heap opprobrium upon perceived enemies of both party and state (which, in the Zanu PF view, are one and the same).

But Mugabe’s comparison of Makoni to a ‘prostitute’ during his televised birthday interview on Thursday marked a new low, even by his own dubious standards.
"I did not think Makoni, after all his experience, could behave in the way he behaved, and in a naive way too. Standing proudly and saying 'I am Simba Makoni'. He does not even have a party. He says: 'The people will come to me. I am like a magnet, come to me and I will lead you…So I have compared him to a prostitute,” Mugabe said on national television on his 84th birthday.

The coarseness of Mugabe’s language betrays deep panic from the tremors set off within the ruling party by Makoni’s defection. The current fiasco in Zanu PF over dual candidacies in many constituencies country-wide and the prospect of parallel campaigns all fought under the party’s banner represents irrevocable evidence of serious fractures in Mugabe’s electoral machine. Makoni has claimed consistently that he enjoys the backing of power barons inside the ruling party. The prospect of a subterranean campaign for Makoni by these elements inside Zanu PF must be driving Mugabe up the wall! He’s not sure who to trust and finds himself increasingly isolated as election day draws nearer.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

RUSI debates Zimbabwe crisis

London's Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies will on Thursday host a one day conference on the Zimbabwe crisis. Speakers include Dr Ibbo Mandaza, a Zimbabwean publisher who has been closely linked to former finance minister Dr Simba Makoni's presidential bid. As RUSI says of the event on its website: "the conference will bring together policy – makers, analysts, and security sector professionals from Zimbabwe and elsewhere for a comprehensive discussion of some of the key issues facing the nation in 2008, and beyond". However, it goes without saying that a lot of interest will be focused on the goings on within the ruling party following Makoni's shock announcement. All eyes will definitely be on Ibbo.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Tsvangirai and Mutambara should make way for Makoni

Former Zimbabwean finance minister Simba Makoni has finally ended weeks of speculation and announced today that he will challenge Robert Mugabe in next month's presidential elections. Makoni's candidacy comes at a time when the opposition MDC's warring factions have failed to agree on uniting the party and fielding one candidate to face the octogenarian Mugabe on March 29.

I think the leaders of the MDC factions, Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara, should both pack in and run for parliament instead. Mutambara acknowledges his limits in the presidential race at the the present moment and regards himself - realistically - as a future president. This is why, in my opinion, the rocket scientist has been ready at various times in the unity discussions to play second fiddle to Tsvangirai. Mutambara recognises the work put in by Tsvangirai, both in the formation of a viable opposition party and in consolidating and sustaining opposition politics in the country. Indeed, Tsvangirai's MDC has given Zimbabwe (as did Joshua Nkomo's PF Zapu before it) the institutional building blocks for a more democratic politics - the two-party system.

However, there's widespread recognition that through his foibles and strategic indiscretions over the years, Tsvangirai has lost the aura and magnetic appeal with which he entered the political arena in 2000. The long-drawn out economic crisis and its attendant hardships have fostered much popular disillusionment with politics and the political leadership both within and outside the state. In other words, when people fail to see either side as their liberator they are put off politics altogether.

It is fair to say Tsvangirai still retains the respect and influence that he has garnered over the last ten years and that it will be a boon to Makoni if the MDC leader should back him by opting out of the presidential race. I will put my money on Mutambara not only getting out of Makoni's way but actually assisting him in the understanding that a government of national unity could be in the offing. In fact, reports on Makoni's press conference indicate that members of Mutambara's MDC faction were in attendance!

The propsect of a Government of National Unity (GNU) in the event of a Makoni victory is very real. There is also the imminent reconstruction of the state through the adoption of a new constitution. Executive power is likely to be shared between the offices of president and prime minister. Together with the vice-presidency, these new roles may likely prove the decisive drawcards for opposition co-operation in a prospective GNU.

I don't agree with sentiments expressed by some observers that Makoni will only play spoiler. If anyone should fit that role, it's Mutambara, since he clearly has no chance of winning against either Tsvangirai or Mugabe. In fact, Makoni is held in higher esteem than either Tsvangirai or Mutambara. Whatever the objective merits at closer scrutiny, he is regarded as more experienced in statecraft. He does have the so-called gravitas that Mutambara claims to have over Tsvangirai. And the key dynamic in all this is that his candidacy brings with it the aura and excitement that Tsvangirai once invoked in the 2000 and 2002 elections. There is the excitement of something new and yet so long-expected in Makoni.

One key factor to consider is that unlike Zanu PF, the MDC's electoral success has depended consistently on a large pool of floating voters. The MDC has for a long time been sustained by an anti-Zanu PF sentiment, which is not the same thing as support for the MDC. Zanu PF, on the contrary, has a more solid support base; they have a bigger constituency of core supporters. Their consistent showing in urban constituencies bears this out. In sharp contrast, there's a pattern of decline for the MDC with successive elections posting lower and lower margins of victory in urban areas. In other words, the people on the outer concentric circle of the MDC are like loose electrons - they can move on to more attractive options.

My view is that Tsvangirai, particularly, should make way for Makoni. The two can work together in a GNU. I also think Makoni's arrival can potentially preserve Tsvangirai's political career. There's now no need for the MDC leader to sacrifice himself in an election he's bound to lose, not least because it will definitely not be free and fair. Defeat here will most certainly consign him to history and embolden challengers to the MDC presidency.

Tsvangirai deserves a second shot at the state presidency but he can save it for later. In the interim he can get into parliament and lead the opposition there, honing his skills and developing a hands-on understanding of how the state works. Having, perhaps, served in a GNU, he will no doubt have garnered renewed political clout to make a go at it at the next elections. With Mugabe and his chicanery gone, Tsvangirai could at least look forward to more favourable conditions than he encountered the first time round.

If Makoni loses and Tsvangirai gets elected to parliament, he could lead the charge to frustrate the parliamentary anointment of Mugabe's successor that's been made possible through the passage of the 18th amendment. Effectively, Tsvangirai could become the new kingmaker. So, there are opportunities for everyone in this. I just hope they all don't go for broke.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

BBC's Zimbabwe report

Like most Zimbabweans, I was thoroughly disappointed by John Simpson's vacuous undercover report on Zimbabwe on the BBC Ten O'clock News on Monday. The Beeb's newsflash earlier in the day had got Zimbaz in the UK animatedly texting one another over the impending revelations at 10 O'clock, only to find that Simpson's secret presence inside the country was itself THE news! As many Zimbabwean journalists have observed, there was nothing new in the Beeb's report. Simpson simply regurgitated the litany of challenges that now characterise daily life in Zimbabwe - something that both the Zimbabwean press and its online counterpart chronicle daily. In fact, with respect to international coverage of the humanitarian crisis, Mark Austin's special report on Zimbabwe for ITV back in September last year was more revealing and informative.
What had captured the attention of most Zimbabweans wa the claim in Simpson's report that they could 'confirm' the emergence of a rival party from within Mugabe's ruling Zanu PF. That bit had also been broken by the two leading weeklies inside the country earlier that week - The Financial Gazette and The Zimbabwe Independent. However, none of the main movers and shakers of this new initiative have come on record to confirm it and when Simpson was said to have jetted in we all had the assumption that we were for the first time going to see Simba Makoni or his co-plotters categorically confirming their political ambitions. As it turned out, nothing in Simpson's report put the speculation beyond question and would have to look to the Zimbabwean press which broke the story in the first place to furnish us with more details. Meanwhile, Simpson's left Zimbabwe to its poverty and desperation, having notched up for himself a few kudos for 'bravery' for defying Mugabe's ban!

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Kenya's plunge into chaos

Like most observers around the world, I was rather taken by surprise by the sudden implosion of Kenya into a state of ethnic violence in the aftermath of the December 27 elections. My last visit to this beautiful and scenic country was in 2002, just on the eve of the elections that dispatched the party of independence, KANU, to the dustbins of history.
The mood in Kenya, then, was pregnant with a rather impregnable hope: Kenya's democratic rebirth was nigh and nothing could abort it. Indeed, virtually all of my Kenyan colleagues in the media, with whom i was attending a UN conference, were caught up in the euphoria gripping their nation. I felt a tad envious of their ebullience; my own country - Zimbabwe - had just emerged from a controversial election in which the forces of hope had been ruthlessly extinguished by the now world-infamous chicanery of the Mugabe regime.
It was refreshing and highly reassuring in the context of Africa's illiberal and often violent politics to see the longstanding ruling party accepting defeat and giving way to the National Rainbow Coalition of Kibaki and Raila. It's against this background of hope for a new democratic era that Kenya's ethnic violence has had such a depressing and disillusioning impact not only Kenyans, but on all Africans and supporters of democracy the world over.