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!


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.