By Jonathan Moyo
IN my view, there are two background variables that arise from the MDC episode of infighting.
The first has to do
with the specific matter at issue: to participate or not to participate in the forthcoming senate election and how this issue has been handled by the MDC leadership. The second has to do with whether the first issue about participating or not participating in the senate election is a substantive one to warrant the sort of leadership dispute that we have seen erupting within the MDC.
Starting with the second question first, it seems to me that the question of whether to participate or not is clearly not a substantive one. I get the impression that this question is a trigger point of fundamental differences within or among the MDC leadership that have been simmering and were allowed to remain unresolved for a long time.
Not that I know what these differences are, but that it is quite clear there is something much bigger and more serious that has not been right and the question of participating or not participating in the senate election has turned out to be a convenient opportunity to light up the fires that are now burning within the MDC.
Paranthetically, while I believe there are some substantive differences within the MDC leadership that we have not yet heard about, it seems to me self-evident that the MDC has been infiltrated by state security and this really saddens me because state security should not be allowed to become ruling party security.
Yet the truth in our country is that state security agents are running Zanu PF such that Zanu PF is Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) and CIO is Zanu PF. Naturally, in such a scenario, it stands to reason that the CIO will defend and prop up Zanu PF by infiltrating opposition ranks so as to cause confusion within them in the hope that the resultant confusion will weaken if not kill the opposition.
Otherwise, there are strong objective considerations and grounds to support either participating or not participating and it is a pity that the MDC has allowed a rather straightforward matter to rock its foundations. I will return to the participating question in a moment.
What is happening suggests that for any political party to survive for a long time, it is necessary for that party to have something ideologically or morally more important than just seizing political power.
A political party by definition must stand for and represent something, first and foremost. Any political party that comes into existence merely because it is against the incumbent party or its leader is always at risk of disintegration.
A major structural weakness of the MDC has been that it is has generally benefited from, if not driven by, protest politics. While such politics may have strategic utility at some opportune moment, the fact is that protest is ephemeral and comes and goes depending on the dynamics of particular times and particular developments.
Protest is not an ideology, it is inherently opportunistic and short-lived.
Political parties that have been able to take strategic advantage of protest politics are those that are well grounded in ideological and policy terms. Of course, some political parties (like Narc in Kenya) have been able to opportunistically take advantage of protest politics and votes to unseat an incumbent party (Kanu) but in such a scenario the day after the victory brings with it the real ideological and policy divisions as things begin to fall apart.
This is what has been happening in Kenya in recent years where Narc’s lack of a common ideological and policy grounding is taking its toll. Of course, we can say this is not really too bad given that Narc at least managed to unseat Kanu and this alone was momentous in the political history of Kenya as it opened up new politics beyond Kanu’s one party state machine that has been truly dismantled.
With respect to the MDC, it was important for its survival to have won the critical election in 2000. Evidence around shows that a political opposition party – without a coherent or common ideological platform but riding on protest votes – which fails to win a critical election runs a very high risk of falling apart after that election.
The 2000 elections were critical for the MDC to win and if the MDC had won those elections, indications are that it would have subsequently found itself facing serious internal conflicts as a governing party. Therefore, infighting within the MDC was bound to take place ever since the party was formed in 1999 as the ideological question facing it, arising from not having a shared ideology, was not whether such a fight would happen but when.
The proposition that the root cause of the infighting is because of a lack of a common ideology shared by the MDC leadership is demonstrated by the fact that the infighting is very personalised and when it is not, the issues at stake are procedural and not substantive. Neither of the feuding sides has put forward an ideological argument beyond the voting saga and the provisions of the constitution and this alone shows that participating or not participating are not fundamental issues at all.
Let’s face it, in politics the only political party that can survive without an ideology is most likely the one in power which abuses its incumbency by making state institutions and state resources extensions of its party for reasons of patronage.
That is what is keeping Zanu PF together, because Zanu PF is now a dead duck on the shelf, only breathing from the evils of state security and the abuse of state funds. Otherwise, like the MDC, Zanu PF does not have a coherent ideology shared by its members and is no longer capable of coming up with one. In conclusion, let me return to the specific issue.
The MDC would have been well-advised to participate. Yes, we all know that the MDC opposed the senate; yes we all know that this senate is intended only for five years as a stop-gap measure to satisfy Zanu PF’s patronage needs in order to manage Robert Mugabe’s succession.
These negatives are known and most of them if not all of them also apply to the lower house which is full of Mugabe’s appointees. But Zanu PF is not confident of winning the senate elections if the MDC participates. A number of Zanu PF’s senatorial candidates are simply unelectable and it is strategic to expose Zanu PF by participating and defeating its geriatrics who have no chance in heaven to win a poll even if it is not free and fair.
Zanu PF’s gamble, and why it has created all this confusion, is that in the end the MDC will not participate or that only a few MDC candidates will participate so as to have its candidates walk into the senate without facing any competition.
This is what Zanu PF wanted. They wanted their candidates to win it all at the nomination court. Remember, all Zanu PF wants is to have its geriatrics become senators so as to collect state funds, etc. This will be used as campaigning ground for the presidential election that Zanu PF is currently afraid of. Imagine Sithembiso Nyoni or Dumiso Dabengwa, they clearly are spending sleepless nights praying that the MDC should not participate because they know they cannot win any election.
Why let them get away with it by not participating? Also, Zanu PF wants to dilute the MDC constituencies by having senators who will use state resources to “show” that MDC MPs (and this will include me as an independent MP) are not doing anything for the people.
Zanu PF wants its senators to take over constituencies that are currently held by the opposition. Therefore, if the MDC does not participate, you will see that it will become impossible or even harder to work in their constituencies. Zanu PF senators will have the impact of the Zanu PF metropolitan governors who have messed up things in Harare and Bulawayo where residents had clearly elected MDC councils.
So from purely a strategic point of view, the MDC should have seriously considered participation only for the purposes of containing Zanu PF. In politics, you fight every battle and use the battle as experience. Electoral boycotts are by definition old-fashioned and thoughtless, they never serve any useful purpose at all.
While on this, you might ask why the United People’s Movement (UPM) is not participating. Well it’s simply because it is in its formation and is currently building its structures which it will use in future elections. Otherwise, UPM would have participated just to expose Zanu PF and throw spanners into its evil schemes.
As things stand now, I believe the MDC has needlessly put itself between a rock and a hard place. The conflict has created deep wounds among the leaders and some of the wounds cannot be healed. But worse, the conflict has confused and divided the party’s membership at home and abroad.
It would require serious statesmanship to bridge the gaps and heal the wounds. I sincerely hope the MDC leadership can use this episode as an opportunity to rise above personality clashes, mere procedures and related technicalities and deal with fundamental ideological and policy issues in the interest of their members.
Crises of this kind are known to produce miracles. As for Zanu PF media mouthpieces, the glee that has been displayed through dense propaganda articles and useless in-house columns is childish. These mouthpieces have been falling hard on each other believing that they have finally cornered MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
Far from it. In the first place, Tsvangirai’s position actually resonates with popular opinion on the ground. That is clear. People are now tired of elections whose outcome leaves them worse off. Obviously, Tsvangirai has not handled the issues at stake properly or wisely but he certainly has an emotionally – not intellectually – powerful position.
Also, Tsvangirai’s view that his party has no resources to participate is not a trivial point. Zanu PF is using state funds which the MDC does not have to expand patronage to its deadwood retrieved from the political wasteland. Some traditional supporters of the MDC seem to have become extremely tired and they appear to have taken a prior position against the senate election to which they are not even sending observers.
What is ironic though is that what the Zanu PF media mouthpieces are accusing Tsvangirai of doing is exactly what the ruling party leader Robert Mugabe does all the time in his party. The Tsholotsho saga is a recent case in point. Mugabe actually does not want the organs of his party to vote as required by the Zanu PF constitution. He simply has no time for that constitution.
In Zanu PF, the command is Mugabe’s word. Because the Zanu PF media mouthpieces have made puerile noises – like baboons that laugh at each other’s foreheads – it is necessary for neutral observers to use the MDC episode to look at how Mugabe runs Zanu PF.
If the truth were to be said without prejudice, in political terms, the MDC has shown exemplary courage in debating the issue of the senate in the way it has although the debate has been clumsy. For the neutrals, it’s been very refreshing and path breaking though. It is very possible that, in the final analysis, a lot of good will come out of this. The real loser will be Zanu PF which is so foolish as not to realise that it has been exposed big time by the MDC situation.
* Professor Moyo is the MP for Tsholotsho and former Information minister.