ZIMBABWE ELECTIONS 2018, LAST MILE; A GAME OF THE CAT AND MOUSE
ZIMBABWE heads to elections in a few months’ time, and the ground is set for a historic election since 1980. It is especially significant in the sense that it will be the first election without both former president Robert Mugabe and the late MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who dominated the post-independence political scene in the country. Their departure, coupled with the post-Mugabe political developments and direction, has unleashed a new and unprecedented excitement that carries both hope and risks. Hope in the sense that both major contestants are preaching peace and a free election, and they carry similar messages on the Zimbabwe they want to see, but risks in the sense that political temperatures can rise anytime if not properly managed.
The electorate is left wondering what to make of this contest. Voting patterns may have less to do about the message and the promises than about the personalities and the perceptions of what they have to offer. Therein lies the strengths as well as the weaknesses of democracy.
The political playmakers
The major political parties are Zanu PF and MDC Alliance. The other parties and Alliances such as CODE are too small and insignificant to have a meaningful impact on the outcome of the election and so have not been covered in this article. The two major political groupings are profiling themselves as the best to lead Zimbabwe into the post Mugabe Canaan that people have been yearning for , democracy, freedom of speech, employment creation, a thriving economy, among other legitimate hopes for Zimbabweans. But at times the political jostling and the promises being made turn the theatre of politics into a circus. We would be laughing at some of the wild promises being made were it not for the fact that this is serious business as it will affect our lives and those of future generations.
To put things into context, let us start by reflecting on what is different about these elections that informs what is going on before we analyze the underlying dynamics within the contesting parties and the personalities in the new leadership of these parties.
Factors underpinning the 2018 election
There are undisputed political factors that underpin this election. First, the economy is in tatters. Whether one is in the opposition or is part of the ruling party, there is no dispute that something has to be done to change the fortunes of the economy. Second, Mugabe is gone and had to go, as he was the epitome of the decline in the economy and the architect of the denial of democratic space in the country. Most of Mugabe policy, whether political or economic, turned out to be anti-people and anti-nation. The rare unity in the country that greeted his removal in November 2017 bore testimony to the consensus that Mugabe had to go. Third, we had become a pariah state, shunned by the international community, and associated with the likes of North Korea, Venezuela and Cuba before the Raul Castro reforms. This was the unacceptable state of affairs that Zimbabwe was in. Fourth and by no means last, there are now new faces contesting the leadership of the country, and their personalities and approach to politics are likely to shape the outcome of the elections as much as the issues they table.
Mugabe was ousted when elections were constitutionally eight months away. Anyone hoping to win a post Mugabe election in the coming elections would have to be judged by how much they can restore the hopes and aspirations of the people that Mugabe had taken away.
Personality contrasts: Significance of Leadership change
Both Zanu PF, and the MDC-T Alliance are now headed by new faces in the name of the current President Emerson Mnangagwa, commonly referred to as ED and Nelson Chamisa respectively. The changing of the guard in these parties is likely to have a significant bearing on the direction of politics and indeed the elections themselves. To understand how this is so, one needs to look at the contrasting political characters and personalities of the current and former leaders of the contesting parties.
Personality Contrasts: Mugabe versus Tsvangirai
Both Mugabe and the late Tsvangirai will not be on the 2018 ballot box. Mnangagwa “succeeded” Mugabe, and Nelson Chamisa “succeeded” the late Tsvangirai. None of the two successors can claim a track record of leadership of a country, and both seem to be testing each other.
Mugabe was predictable in character. He was Machiavellian to the core, didn’t brook any nonsense, and was ready to hang onto power at any cost. He was an unapologetic dictator. If things didn’t go his way, as in 2008, he was prepared to kill to retain power. Election time was killing time. Rural areas were declared no-go areas for the opposition; armed militia was activated to embark on a reign of terror. No Western observers were allowed to observe the elections. In 2008 he delayed announcing election results by 5 weeks, and on the same afternoon of having been sworn in, he took a flight to an African Union Summit meeting in Egypt. He loved to lampoon the West every time he took to the podium at the United Nations, and chided the former British colonial masters with reckless abandon. He was on a campaign to invite global vilification. He presided over a dead economy and blamed every problem in the country on Western imposed sanctions and on everyone else but himself. He was an old fashioned nationalist who believed that ideals are more important than reality. The end truly justified the means.
This was the face of Zanu PF.
Then on his opposite side was Tsvangirai, the most popular opposition leader Zimbabwe has ever had since independence, and the only leader to have beaten Mugabe in an election. Despite his popularity, Tsvangirai exuded incredible humility and sensibleness. Tsvangirai was harassed, physically and emotionally tortured by Mugabe during his time as opposition leader. He was charged with treason, with the possibility of death hanging on his head if convicted. After winning the 2008 elections, he chose to withdraw from the race after his supporters were murdered by Mugabe’s militia, and he escaped into hiding in Botswana. Despite the massive following he had, he never instigated violence, and always spoke of MDC as a party of peaceful change. Many of his comrades in the opposition, like Welshman Ncube, Tendai Biti and Elton Mangoma walked out on him calling him a dictator. They called him some not so nice nicknames such as Gumbura, yet at no time did he throw similar insults back. Instead, he adopted the “open tent “philosophy, and invited all like-minded people back into the opposition fold, resulting in the likes of Ncube and Biti back into the MDC-T Alliance in August of 2017.
This was the face of MDC-T.
When Tsvangirai joined the Unity Government as Prime Minister from 2009 to 2013, the foxy Mugabe treated him unfairly by taking away the powers that resided in the office of the Prime Minister, but Tsvangirai soldiered on, and Zimbabweans enjoyed the best period of peace and economic growth.
Personality Contrasts: Mnangagwa versus Chamisa
Exit Mugabe and Tsvangirai and enter Mnangagwa and Chamisa, and things could not be more different. It is like the two trading places. It's like each of the parties did a six and a nine. The man sitting in Mugabe’s place seems to be the opposite of Mugabe, and the man sitting in Tsvangirai’s chair seems to be the opposite of Tsvangirai.
Emmerson Mnangagwa the man and the politician;
Mnangagwa is shrewd, deceptively cool, and has a cunning approach to politics. I have covered this in an article in the run-up to the November 2017 ouster of Mugabe (https://www.thelmachikwanha.com/2017/10/beware-of-crocodile-if-mnangagwa-should.html). If anyone doubts Mnangagwa’s cunning, then ask Mugabe. I suspect up till now uncle Bob does not know what hit him, but he was baited by Mnangagwa to “cross the line “ and he fell line hook and sinker. Mnangagwa has an incredible control of his emotions, and can tolerate any flak for a long time. But never take that for weakness. He bids his time, and strikes only when he is assured of a kill. You can underrate him to your own peril. With him there is a record to prove that, tracing back to the days in the liberation struggle.
You don’t have to like him to admire how he operates, but he is a smooth operator.
As President, he has studied all of Mugabe’s mistakes and ranked them in order of importance. Getting international acceptance is top of the agenda, and fixing the economy, which is an associated issue to the first. He is shaping his election agenda and strategy around these two issues, knowing fully well that they matter more than anything else.
He has been in a hurry to gain international acceptance and rejoin the community of nations and shed off the pariah state status. The global charm offensive has seen former colonial master UK warming up to ED, much to the displeasure of the opposition, and readmission to the Commonwealth is only a matter of time. Everybody knows that once you are accepted by the UK, the rest of Europe falls in line. He has promised free and fair elections and has invited the international community to observe the elections.
At home, he moved fast to remove the obnoxious Police off the Zimbabwe roads and has invited the opposition to be part of the dialogue in Zimbabwe. His biggest rapprochement coup was visiting the ailing opposition leader Tsvangirai at his home in January this year and then offering the family state assisted support following his death. He has profiled himself as the listening President, organizing meetings with principals, Vice Chancellors and students, chiefs, captains of industry and a whole horde of other people from different walks of life. This is what the world sees.
On the economy front, he has changed laws that investors were concerned about, such as the indigenous act, and is relaxing the ease of doing business in the country. Evidently the attempt is to woo investors back into the country, hence the adoption of the “Zimbabwe is now open for business” slogan. He met the business community and launched the National Investment Policy Statement in January 2018 before heading off to the premier business event in Davos Switzerland. Evidently, he is in a hurry to fix the economy, though the economy does not seem to be in a hurry to be fixed. Whether the economy will respond in kind to his cooling factors, only time will tell, but for now it seems to assuage the very investor constituencies that had left the country in their droves. He created the Land Commission to deal with the land tenure issue, and reports are that some white Zimbabwean farmers are coming back to their country.
So far , he is trying to be everything that Mugabe wasn’t.
The face of Zanu PF may change under him, to become a much calmer, sober, rational and accountable party. I cannot believe I am saying this, but analysis dictates that I shed off my jacket of emotions associated with the pains of the past which I personally was victim to, and say things based on the facts on the ground.
Nelson Chamisa, the man and the politician
Chamisa is a man in a hurry. He is in a hurry to enter state house. Soon after taking over the Presidency of the MDC-T party in circumstances still under contestation, Chamisa has put his youth, charm and oratory skills to use by hitting the campaign trail and promising transformational change. He has smartly targeted the youth and the unemployed, and dubbed his campaign a generational consensus. This is smart because it is hard to attack the things that Mnangagwa has said and done so far. That is what the people want, and that is what MDC would have done anyway. Chamisa is not short on confidence and has predicted that Mnangagwa will not get more than 5 percent of the vote, offering his 18-year-old sister as a wife if he does.
Chamisa has been riding on a populist wave that has seen him crisscross the country holding rallies that have been well attended by his ardent supporters. He has adopted an abrasive if not bombastic approach to politics and the election, in contrast to the approach of his predecessor. I imagine if he has been President of his party during Mugabe’s time, I bet inter party violence would be the order of the day.
But he comes out as self-serving and a man at best competing with himself and at worst competing with his predecessor, the late Tsvangirai. He has done more rallies since taking over the party than Tsvangirai did in a similar time frame. These rallies seem to be more about consolidating his power and showing all who would care to know who is in power, than in electioneering.
There has been a fear expressed by some from even within the opposition, that MDC-T alliance is exuding the same big man syndrome that characterized Mugabe’s regime. Elton Mangoma, leader of Renewal Democrats of Zimbabwe (RDZ) leader, last year expressed fear at what he felt were tendencies towards strong personalities and the cult culture within MDC-T, stating that the MDC-T Alliance will create another Mugabe.
Chamisa is not Tsvangirai, and the face of MDC is likely to change under him. Chamisa has reignited the MDC party but in a manner that requires responsible handling to avoid some militancy that might end up causing Zanu PF to fall back into their old and sad behaviours of the past.
The point I am making is that Leaders do shape the politics and the political culture within their parties. Mnangagwa may reshape Zanu PF and Chamisa is clearly reshaping MDC-T. Whether their reshaping projects is on course to influence the election outcome is something the Jury is still out on. Whether this approach also sits well with the alliance partners is something yet to be seen. Alliances by their very nature are not easy to manage.
The Parties and their messages.
Both MDC and Zanu PF have baggage that has the potential to work against them at the polls. They have been rocked by in-fighting and experienced splits and divisions that do not augur well for them as they head to elections. They are currently embroiled in controversies surrounding their Primary elections that some see as not fair.
The MDC baggage
Starting with MDC, there is a sense that the party as an institution was running out of steam, and had built its entire existence around a Mugabe must go campaign, and that the departure of Mugabe had taken away the centerpiece of their existential political strategy. They needed new ideas to ignite the electorate. This feeling gained greater traction when in his latter days, party President Tsvangirai was sick and as a result inactive.
There are too many fractures within the opposition with the likes of Tendai Biti, Welshman Ncube, Thokzani Khupe, Elton Mangoma, and Obert Gutu, to name a few leaving the party and joining other or forming their own outfits. My prediction is that The MDC-T Alliance framework will likely survive up to the elections , and the same reasons that led to the initial breakaways are likely to recur, more so under Chamisa than under Tsvangirai. Some Alliance partners joined for survival and expediency reasons and their parties are likely to wither away into irrelevance very soon. The MDC –T Alliance is currently being tested to the limit during the Primaries with some MDC-candidates complaining that their seats were allocated to Alliance Partner and threatening to stand as independents.
In a way, Chamisa has reignited the fire within the party and re-energized it. My gut feeling though, is that Biti and Ncube might want to rejoin the main MDC-T, with the expectation of holding strategic positions, and this will set off another round of internal conflicts with those who may feel they are not being rewarded for their loyalty. In my humble opinion, Morgan Tsvangirai was more of a unifier than his successor, if what has happened in the three months since Tsvangirai died is anything to go by. And, if so much break up took place under Tsvangirai’s watch, what is likely to happen going forward may be worse.
A worrying development is a tendency towards intolerance to alternative views within MDC, characterized by the violence against Thokozane Khupe in Buhera at Tsvangirai’s funeral as well as in Bulawayo. This was the kind of thuggish behaviour that gave Zanu PF a bad name.
The removal of Mugabe in November last year took away a key opposition rallying point and the political trajectory ED is taking may render them less relevant unless they play their cards smart. I thought it politically imprudent of the MDC-T Alliance that they let Zanu PF launch its manifesto first, and in so doing, steal the thunder of a reform agenda, which should be their clarion call. I covered the Zanu PF Manifesto in my article (https://www.thelmachikwanha.com/2018/05/zanu-pf-manifesto-pie-in-sky.html) and it does seem to address a wide range of issues. It remains to be seen if the MDC Manifesto will have anything different or additional. I am taking the view that campaigning on a platform of generational transformation is not a manifesto issue.
From a messaging point of view, some have taken issues with the grandstanding promises Chamisa has made on issues that challenge his seriousness or maturity or both for the office he is aspiring . Talk of spaghetti roads and bullet trains in a country with inadequate national electric grid are way too divorced from the real issues and priorities of jobs, access to and availability of good health facilities, food self-sufficiency, and restoration of the pride of our education system, among others. These are like idealistic fascinations, and the middle class and the intelligencia who have an interrogative mind find this message not very serious.
The Zanu PF baggage.
Zanu PF is a damaged brand and that on its own will be ED's Achilles heel. Key among the issues on the checklist that Zanu PF is known for are violence, corruption, arbitrary arrests, selective application of the law, among others. Victims of Mugabe’s dictatorship will reject him on those grounds alone, more so given the high positions he held in Mugabe’s regime. The opposition is alive to this weakness and, smart as he is, Chamisa will hit on it like a boxer who has picked a crack in the eye of an opponent. He will argue that Zanu PF policies and practices had been institutionalized rather than personalized
Cleansing himself of this soiled tag will be a serious election challenge for ED. The party will need to find a way to face a Damascene moment and acknowledge its ugly past and try to woo voters with a different message.
Mnangagwa himself must be aware of this, and behind the branding of his Presidency as “a new dispensation”, is an acknowledgement that the past was bad. This in a way is to place the blame for the excesses of the past on Mugabe. The slogan Zimbabwe is now open for business implies that hitherto it was shut. Rejoining the community of nations is an admission that we were a pariah state. Whether this will wash, or is enough to make a difference within the election timeframe is yet to be seen.
Whether Zanu PF has really changed I believe it is too early to tell. The elections always brought the worst of Zanu PF, and if we can go through the coming one free of violence and with an open democratic space, that will mark a huge difference. So far there has been a lot of talk. We wait to see the walk.
There is the serious concern about the commitment to the fight against corruption when the same Government is seen as looking the other way. One wonders when we are going to see some real arrests for high level corruption, more so when some of the reported corrupt elements are still in Government. ED needs to walk the talk on this, and several other fronts if people are to believe he is the Moses to take us to Canaan.
The ghost of the G40 is another albatross around Zanu PFs neck. Remember that G40 was made up of people who were rabidly anti- Mnangagwa. The likes of Patrick Zhuwawo and Jonathan Moyo, are very active on social media, and are behind the formation of the National Patriotic Party (NPF) which was endorsed by Mugabe himself. This is meant to scuttle victory for Mnangagwa and split the Zanu PF voter base. Jonathan Moyo has openly urged Mugabe to support the opposition against Zanu PF as a route back to power, the same way, he say, Mahathir Mohamad in Malaysia won the elections at 92 years of age. G40 had permeated every level within the Zanu PF party structures, and they are hurting from being thrown off the gravy train. They may pretend to be Zanu PF by day and spoilers by night.
The last Mile and the game of cat and mouse
Constitutionally it is five years between elections. That’s a long stretch, a marathon.
Given the changes in the political players and trajectory that took place in November last year (for the Government), and in January this year (for the opposition), this 2018 election is for only six months. As we speak now in mid-May, there is only between two to three months before the election. This means the electioneering should be in its last mile, and yet an election date has not been set. I expected we should be in the sprint stretch of this political race. Yet there are still issues unresolved around election ballot boxes, the voters roll electoral reforms and levelling the playing field. Interestingly, Zanu PF which has launched its Manifesto has not yet launched or rolled out its campaign. The opposition MDC-T Alliance, which has for all intents and purposes rolled out its campaign, has not yet launched its Manifesto. Again, strategic contrasts. One wonders what games these two are playing at.
In Victoria Falls last week, Presidential spokesperson and Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Media, Information and Broadcasting Services George Charamba, stated that Chamisa was allowed unfettered access to all areas to campaign, so that the election is “universally endorsed because it is an instrument of our international policy”.
Charamba went on to say:
"What young Chamisa has done and done inadvertently, but in a way that is nationally helpful, is to show that he can walk the length and breadth of this country uninhibited, which means it is going to be difficult for him to turn around and say it wasn't free, it was unfair...…”
That said, how does this address the fact that Zanu PF is not on the ground in the rural areas doing the same? Is this part of a grand strategy to wear Chamisa down in the sprint, and then, like Mo Farah, overtake him in the last 100 meters? As long as elections are a game of numbers, nothing is left to desktop analysis.
Unless George knows something that we do not know that underpins this benign confidence! I recall the way Mugabe was so relaxed at the Press conference at State house the day before the 2013 elections. And we know what the outcome of those elections was, despite the red sea that had encircled the space outside grounds surrounding the Sheraton which Democrats have christened Freedom Square the weekend before.
What I will not do is to predict the outcome of these upcoming elections, as I do not have the crystal ball on that. What I can say however, is that, if all parties stick to what they say, Zimbabwe will take one step towards democracy, and a giant leap towards economic and social development.
As Tata Nelson Mandela once said,“May your choices reflect your hopes, not fears”
By the way:
Do you recall that time when draping the Zimbabwe national flag was associated by the Mugabe government with the Mawarire-led protest movement? Well it seems this time wearing the scarf with the Zimbabwe colours is associated with supporting Mnangagwa, according to some Nutty Professor, whose advice to the former President is to regain power by joining the opposition. Talk of staking one’s political fortunes. If the opposition wins the elections, he may be angling for a position in Government, maybe Minster of Information. If Mnangagwa wins, he might be on a very long political sabbatical in Siberia.
And you need a scarf in Siberia.