IS Zimbabwe finally in a political transition?
While its historical background and intervening dynamics are quite complex, the answer to this question is very simple: Contrary to self-serving proclamations by politicians, the formation of the inclusive government by the country’s three ruling parties, Zanu PF and the two MDC formations 36 days ago does not constitute a transition to a new political order or even a new Zimbabwe.
Instead, we are now in an uncertain period of a pre-transition which might result in a real political transition or might degenerate into chaos or might even slide back into the dark past.Â Â
This is because a political transition is defined by the emergence of new institutions based on new values led by a new leadership under a new constitutional framework driven by a new vision. None of these qualities define the inclusive government which, while it does have some new faces, is based on the old order in every respect.
I shall return to this conclusion later. For now I wish to deal with its complex background by situating Zimbabwe’s inclusive government within the main of Africa University’s 2009 celebration of February as Black History Month to honour the achievements of Africans and blacks around the world while also taking stock of the daunting challenges they still face.
Black History Month is traditionally celebrated in February and this has been so since its founding by a son of a former slave, Carter Woodson, some 86 years ago in the United States. It is interesting to observe that, although we do not take notice of this fact in Zimbabwe, the period from December 26 to the end of February is an African moment from a global perspective. This is because Africans around the world celebrate “Kwanza” from December 26 to January 1.Â This is a week-long African American holiday started in 1966 by Ron Karenga to honour African heritage by giving Africans an alternative to celebrate themselves and history outside mainstream holidays by highlighting the best of their thought and practice. After “Kwanza” comes the more established Black History Month which happens in February as this is the month when a number of iconic events in black history occurred. Black luminaries in the United States such as Frederick Douglas and W Dubois were born in February as was US President Abraham Lincoln who is credited with freeing slaves in America. There is also the fact that the oldest African-American pressure group, the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, was formed in the month of February. You can add to the significance of February as Black History Month the fact that our own founding President, Robert Mugabe, was born in February – a fact that has given rise to the formation of the 21st February Movement which might find its real meaning and purpose in history only after President Mugabe is long gone. The experiences of the “Kwanza” holiday from December 26 to January 1 and Black History month in February give rise to two important considerations about the achievements of African people in history. One is that Africans or blacks have recorded tremendous achievements at the level of individuals that stand out as global examples across racial barriers. The other is that utter disaster has characterised public life in African or black communities, countries or nations.
Many African or black persons have excelled as individuals and left behind a trail of unparalleled success across a range of fields or pursuits while African or black communities, countries or nations have been embarrassing tales of failure. Consider the fact that it is not possible to narrate success stories in sports (especially boxing, basketball, football – both soccer and the American version – and athletics) without reference to great African or black sports men and women who are just too many to mention. Even heavily white dominated sporting genres, such as tennis, have produced great African-American names like the late Arthur Ashe and now the Williams sisters: Venus and Serena while golf has produced Tiger Woods all who have become global standards. The same is true in the entertainment or arts industry where an untold number of African or black individuals have become icons especially in music and film.
Africans like Wole Soyinka in literature and Wangaari Mathai in environment and peace activism are Nobel laureates in their fields and their personal achievements have inspired many across the globe. There are scores of other notable individual achievements by Africans or blacks in the fields of science that are too many to record serve to mention, for example, that a pioneer in Internet technology is a Nigerian, Phillip Emeagwali who designed the system of “parallel computers” that is used by global search engines such as Yahoo and Google.Â Emeagwali is also the designer of the programme and formula of the fastest computer on earth called the “Connection Machine”. Here in Zimbabwe, the renowned biochemist, Professor Christopher Chetsanga is credited with discovering two enzymes for repairing damaged DNA.Â Even more significant, it is interesting to note that in the dreaded field of politics we can now safely say there are Africans or blacks who have become global household names as paragons of success to the point of achieving the status of international brands across the racial divide. Three examples that stand out in this regard are the late civil rights leader and Nobel laureate Martin Luther King Jr, former South African president and also Nobel laureate Nelson Mandela and the new US President Barack Hussein Obama who significantly has Kenyan and therefore real African blood. These three Africans have affected and moved public affairs in ways that are beyond the human imagination.
Obama’s personal success as a Democrat in the United States has already opened floodgates to avenues for personal achievements by other African-Americans in politics in the United States with a notable example being Michael Steele who has become the first African-American chair of the conservative Republican Party. What is unique about the personal achievements of Mandela and Obama in politics today is that they are cross-racial in that non-blacks or non-Africans openly emulate them as role models even at the personal level. But the notable achievements of Africans or blacks have not been matched by African or black communities, countries or nations. Quite the contrary, there is no African or black community, country or nation that can be credibly described as a success story. The oldest black nation that has been independent for over a century, Haiti, is a monumental disaster that has become a perennial object of international pity when it could be a source of pride. After 52 years of existence, there’s nothing to write home about the first African country to be independent, Ghana, except to say it is still struggling to find itself.
Despite being endowed with a key natural resource, oil, which countries like the UAE, Venezuela and Iran have wisely used to catch up with the rest of the world in some key areas of human achievement, Nigeria – which is Africa’s most populous country – remains a sorry monument of African failure. The African-American community in the United States and the black community in Brazil, which is the largest population of blacks in a single country, have produced outstanding individuals whose achievements have influenced the world such as Obama in the US and Pele in Brazil but these individuals are products of failed or dysfunctional communities in social and political terms and their number top prison populations.
But the failure of African or black communities is particularly pronounced when we examine the failed state of African countries. No African country has been able to achieve the full attributes or a significant combination of elements that define a good society in earthly as opposed to heavenly terms.
These elements are: (a) economic growth, (b) equity, (c) democracy, (d) public order and social stability and (e) autonomy in the form of sovereignty.Â No African country can boast of enjoying three or more of these elements of a good society.
Why are African countries failing in this regard? There are many reasons that explain this and available explanations depend on one’s field of inquiry. As a student of political science, it seems to me there are two important explanations that particularly cry out for our exploration.
First, African countries are in a language trap: we do not have a common language within and among African countries whose use can contribute to the cultivation of common values, norms, practices and a science necessary for the development of the five elements of a good society. As human beings, we are what we think and what we think is operationalised or done through the language we speak. Attempts to develop African languages such as Kiswahili, Lingala, Wolof or Zulu have served to demonstrate the African dilemma as opposed to expressing the African promise. So far, African countries have remained half-baked, Arabic, Portuguese, French or English societies which are yet to break the language barrier towards real development.
In social, cultural and social terms, you cannot develop a good society without breaking the language barrier. Our own experience in Zimbabwe speaks to this issue in very serious ways that are yet to be told.
The second reason after language why Africans have not produced a country with the five elements of a good society is the trap of the founder’s syndrome. Virtually all African countries with no more than one or two exceptions – such as South Africa – that actually prove the rule, have not been able to culturally, socially and politically transform and develop beyond the prejudices of their founding leader and/or founding political party. South Africa might have broken the trap of a founding leader but not of the founding party, the ANC.
The founder’s syndrome, which has affected both the ruling and opposition political parties across the continent is a reflection of three problems that African countries are yet to resolve and these have to do with the definition and institutionalisations of:
The means for getting into power;
The means for staying in power; and,
The means for exiting from power.
These three problems define Africa’s succession crisis. African countries are yet to resolve this crisis regarding either the founding leader or the founding political party or both the founding leader and founding political party.
Indeed, these are the three problems that are at the heart of the political crisis in Zimbabwe. The economic and political meltdown that we have witnessed in our country over the last decade or so is a direct result of the failure by President Mugabe and Zanu PF to deal with their succession and how that has given rise to an opposition, the two MDC formations whose orientation, organisation and conduct are not different from Zanu PF.
The inter-party agreement of September 15, 2008 and the inclusive government that has come out of that Agreement are tortured and even flawed but now necessary processes of dealing with Zanu PF’s and President Mugabe’s founder’s syndrome or succession failure.
In fact, the inter-party agreement and the inclusive government that we must now suffer would have been totally unnecessary if Zanu PF and President Mugabe had not been profoundly afflicted by the founder’s syndrome.
What this means is that, even though some among us see the inter-party agreement and inclusive government as a transitional period – and indeed some see the inclusive government as a transitional government – we are in a very fragile pre-transitional period.
This is because, besides the fact that the country still has no new institutions, no new political values, no new constitution, the three parties to the inclusive government have no substantial ideological, philosophical or policy differences. Claims that Zanu PF and the MDC formations are like oil and water and therefore cannot mix have been grossly exaggerated.
This is why the negotiations leading to the September 15, 2008 inter-party agreement were about which party will get which positions in government in terms of ministers, governors, ambassadors and civil servants, especially permanent secretaries. After the Agreement was signed, the focus has shifted to which individuals will get what government positions allocated to each of the three parties which are now ruling together.
Since the formation of the inclusive government, there have been new ministers but no new policies and no new programme and certainly no new vision. Only the naive among us, and there are many, will expect anything new in terms of policies, programme or vision because business as usual will remain the order of the day given the persistence of the founder’s syndrome.
As a result, and going forward in this uncertain pre-transition, we should expect to hear Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai sounding more and more like President Mugabe. Because they do not have a common vision, policy or programme ministers of the inclusive government will continue to speak as if the only or most important solution to our country’s challenges is money and more money. That kind of thinking is going to poison our national politics and economy and threaten the much-needed movement from the pre-transition to the transition.
Because Zanu PF will hold its congress this year, we should expect the battle to succeed President Mugabe within Zanu PF to intensify very soon and this means it has already started. The issue is no longer about whether President Mugabe will stay or step down but about whether Zanu PF is able to find a successor who can (a) unite Zanu PF, (b) inspire the nation and (c) lead Zanu PF to victory in the next general election some 36 months or so away.
Although the inclusive government – whose unworkable philosophy seems to be that money will solve everything when everybody knows that it is broke – has no new programme beyond business as usual. There’s, however, one programme that it is certain to produce and that is the making of a new constitution.
Already, the three ruling parties have agreed among themselves to a new “boat-driven” draft constitution which they crafted in 2007 at Kariba.Â We should expect to see this “boat-driven draft” taking a battering from “people-driven” concerns that are soon to dominate the news.Â Â
At the national level, the next 24 to 36 months will be dominated by debate less on the economy and more on the new constitution. This debate is going to be fierce and may even lead to the formation of a new political party.
The division between the “boat-driven draft” and the “people-driven” concerns about it will be a referendum and thereafter there will be a general election regardless of the outcome of the referendum.
In the final analysis, the fundamental issue, which poses a real challenge to the business community, and potential investors, is that we are already in yet another election mode. This means that uncertainty about the pre-transition will remain and even grow.
This is an edited version of a public lecture presented at Africa University on March 11 by Professor Jonathan Moyo, independent MP for Tsholotsho North.