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Zimbabwe politics: What 2011 may hold

By Ibbo Mandaza

IN considering the likely trajectory of political events in Zimbabwe in 2011, there are at least three issues all of which bear relation to the life of the inclusive government so far, and might also indicate whether a general election is on the cards before the end of the year.

The first issue in this analysis concerns the dynamics of the Zimbabwean state, particularly the central role of the securocrats (specifically, the leadership of the armed forces, intelligence, police and prisons, as the former commanders of the armies of liberation, mainly Zanla and, to a lesser extent, also Zipra); their attitude towards the MDC within the inclusive government and, indeed, how they hope to reproduce themselves in 2011 and beyond.

Here, I refer also to the functional relationship between what remains of Zanu PF as a party, its current structure and content, on the one hand; and, on the other, a securocracy which, ever since the flawed election outcome of March 2008, have become all but obtrusive in the political affairs of the country, quietly declaring themselves the “custodians” of both the party of liberation and the Zimbabwe state.

The securocrat state has emerged pari passu the decline of Zanu PF from 1995 onwards; against the background of the threatening storm of the opposition MDC; and rendering the securocrats essentially indispensable to the survival of the state itself and whatever has remained of the party of liberation.  In the final analysis, Zanu PF as a party survives tenuously on the securocrat state without which it would have withered away into oblivion, bereft of material resources, and hence organisationally and ideologically vacuous.

The reasons for the decline of Zanu PF over the period since Independence in 1980 might be summarised as follows:
First, post-Independence “blues” which are characteristic of most of Africa, compounded as they are by the ascendance of economic and social problems, as the “fruits of independence” deplete. 

These problems became pronounced from the mid-1990s onwards, as witnessed by the “Black Friday” of November 14 1997 when the Zimbabwean dollar collapsed as a consequence of the Z$5 billion dollar award to ex-combatants in the form of pension emoluments; the subsequent “stay away” a month later on December 9; and the food riots of early 1998.  These are the events leading up to the formation of the MDC in 1999 and the subsequent rejection of the draft constitution in the referendum of February 2000.

All this marked the advent of a tumultuous decade at the end of which Zanu PF found itself on the ropes against an ascendant MDC, resulting in the 2008 election debacle wherein President Robert Mugabe was saved by the Global Political Agreement (GPA) of September 15 2008 and its subsequent inclusive government.

Second, the failure of Zanu PF to reproduce and rejuvenate itself over the last three decades, including a “succession” issue that has had more than a debilitating effect on the party, raising serious doubts about its survival into the post-Mugabe era.

Related to this is the third problem which has afflicted many a party of liberation with the passage of time, namely the lack of a viable message or an ideology with which to appeal to the “born frees”.  For most young people in Zimbabwe, the era of the struggle provokes cynicism or, at best, indifference; a major reason why the MDC was able to capitalise on Zanu PF’s failures during this post-independence period.

So, the onerous task of trying to sustain the party of old is left to those who have so much to lose in a state which has survived so far on the twin pillars of violence (or the threat of it) and patronage.  In reality, what remains of Zanu PF is that which has survived only through its conflation with the securocrat state.  Securocracy describes the unique way in which the former guerrilla leaders have, in the name of Zanu PF, established their hegemony over the Zimbabwe state and appear intent on doing so sine die.

Therefore, now to the second feature that remains also central to the Zimbabwean political kaleidoscope: the MDC.  Its protagonists and many an observer alike, would argue that the MDC won all the four elections of 2000, 2002, 2005 and 2008, but were denied victory by the securocrat state.  Yet all this is now academic since, if true, it is a modern-day testimony that electoral victory is never a guarantee for assumption of state power. 

And having failed to ascend to power, the MDC, like many other political parties across the African continent and in the third world generally, has become fractious, weak and therefore in decline — unless and until it becomes a ruling party able to survive in conflation with the state and with the latter’s resources at its disposal.

In the meantime, the MDC has lost its leverage as the opposition party that it ought to be, largely compromised by being simultaneously an inadvertent and marginal participant in a state within which it is also competing for space with Zanu PF.  This is the tension more than symbolised in the case of the prime minister’s office, for example, which ought to be an integral part of the presidency and cabinet office and yet, perhaps even in vain, purports and seeks to establish an alternative centre of power from which to sustain an oppositional stance against the securocrat state.

The MDC is no doubt an organisation in crisis, even if this is largely an outcome of forces beyond its own control.  A bit of consolation, perhaps, in that Zanu PF might be no better off in this regard.  Certainly, the MDC has lost most of its gloss ever since the inception of the inclusive government, but this does not necessarily translate into a mass migration of support from Morgan Tsvangirai to Mugabe. 

It is no doubt the kind of miscalculation that now underpins Zanu PF’s frenzy towards an election in 2011.
Lastly, the external factor and how the regional, continental and global influences are likely to impact on political developments in Zimbabwe this year.

If anything this has demonstrated the inherent impotence of Sadc and the African Union (AU) in contemporary African politics; it is the Zimbabwe question over the period since the flawed electoral process of March 2008.  (Refer also to Ivory Coast and the many other flawed electoral processes, Nigeria, Rwanda, Kenya, Ethiopia, etc).  The regional and continental integration enterprise has all but ground to a halt. 

Because of the political pathology that pervades the nation-states-in-the-making in Africa, it is false and naïve to expect that Sadc (or any African regional body) and the AU can mobilise the requisite moral authority with which to attend to national crises.

These are the same considerations that are applicable to South Africa and its role of would-be arbitrator in the Zimbabwe crisis; the problems confronting it domestically are potentially bigger than those Zimbabwe has had to deal with during its post-Independence history.  To state the least, South Africa has never had the capacity to resolve the Zimbabwe problem; besides, the Zimbabwean state and its current actors are far  more astute than their southern counterparts about whom they are more often than not disdainful and even dismissive.  At best, expediency is what characterises the relationship between two states.

Expediency, too, characterises Zimbabwe’s “Look East” policy, a half-hearted (if not also one-eyed) commitment that will decline almost as soon as the country recovers and re-engages with its organic and neo-colonial foundations of its contemporary existence. Needless to add, this is a goal towards which, notwithstanding the anti-imperialist rhetoric all around us, the Zimbabwean state is intuitively geared — politically, ideologically and economically.

There are more than rumours about exploratory contacts between Harare and Whitehall; and many a member of the European Union can hardly wait for normalisation of relations with a Zimbabwe whose economic potential is so enormous.  The (targeted) sanctions issue is fast declining into the background in London, Brussells and Washington, even if, albeit ironically, the Zanu PF leadership is inadvertently keeping it alive through its ill-advised “anti-sanctions” campaign. 

With better coordination among those who purport to be the policy think-tank within the Zimbabwean state, it is possible to re-engage an “international community” more given to investing in “stability” (in African states) than to a genuine commitment to democracy and human rights.  Sadly, it is the political dishonesty, ideological duplicity, and the lack of courage on the part of members of this uncoordinated think tank in the Zimbabwe state that is largely responsible for the problems the country confronts today; much less than anything the “imperialists” and former “colonialists” have ever tried to organise against Zimbabwe in recent years.

Therefore, a rational and objective analysis of the national security priorities, not to mention both the peace and economic recovery imperatives, would all feed the argument against a hurried election in 2011. 

So far, the only compelling argument for elections among Zanu PF zealots is that “the old man wants them”!  But over the last two weeks alone, Mugabe has been wanting elections and not wanting them! Contrast his statement in favour of elections on his return from his holiday on January 23, on the one hand, and, on the other, his praises for the Global Political Agreement in Addis Ababa a week later:

“The inclusive government has run beautifully, to tell you the truth….  The GPA was established so we can have a roadmap, so that we have peace in the country, and there is peace and stability in the country …” (The Sunday Mail, January 30.)

The point is that there is no need to rush to elections until the GPA process has run its course, away from the conditions which necessitated the inclusive government, towards a stage in which Zimbabweans will have crafted a new constitution, mended the economy and established congenial social and political conditions for free, fair and credible elections.

Ibbo Mandaza is a Zimbabwean academic, author and publisher. He is also convenor of the Sapes Trust’s Policy Dialogue Forum.

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