THE ELEVENTH HOUR CHALLENGES OF ZIMBABWE ELECTIONS
We are three weeks away from the watershed elections pitting the main political parties of Zanu PF and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), headed for the first time not by Mugabe and Tsvangirai, but by Emmerson Mnangagwa and Nelson Chamisa, through circumstances that are now well known to all. While there are other smaller political formations contending for power, these two are the ones with significant relevance to the bigger national scheme of things.
Why the unfolding behaviours of the contending players Matter
The behaviours of the main political parties and their leaders are interesting by their contrasts and quite telling of their political styles and motivations towards the election. Zanu PF is on a charm offensive, exuding a sense of calmness, chameleonic caution and sobriety uncharacteristic of the feared ruling party. They are preaching peace, promising a free, fair and credible election, allowing free movement of international election observers and doing all things un- ZANU PF. I emphasize these things because we are not used to the revolutionary party being calm, and certainly not cautious, especially during election time when their stranglehold on power is under threat. We are used to Green Bombers concentration camps, beatings, kidnappings, arrests, teargas, roadblocks,all things repressive.
On the other side is the MDC Alliance and its Presidential candidate Nelson Chamisa. There is a sense of agitation, flurry, impatience and emotions running high. Chamisa is complaining about the playing field being not level and accusing the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) of arrogance and favouring Mnangagwa and the ruling party. Threats have been banded around to the effect that MDC Alliance may not participate in the election if their demands are not met. One gets the sense that Chamisa is spoiling for a fight.
Why are we seeing these contrasting behaviours and attitudes towards the elections between Zanu PF and MDC Alliance, and especially between President Mnangagwa and Nelson Chamisa?
My take is that these contrasting behaviours are mere symptoms of the underlying value assessments each of them places on the elections and what they really mean for them. The behaviours are also a mirror through which one can see how the players manage their internal party affairs.
Let’s start with Emmerson Mnangagwa or ED and Zanu PF
Is Mnangagwa a born-again politician?
Let's face it if you look at the record of Zanu PF since independence, which we all know, and the record of ED since November when he assumed power, something does not add up. He is the opposite of everything ZANU PF was. So, was it all former president Robert Mugabe’s problem? Or has Mnangagwa had his political damascene moment and been born again politically to preach peace and tolerance the way he has so far done? When he mentioned it during his inaugural address in November that Zimbabweans need tolerance, I was convinced that this would be temporary but more than six months on, there has been consistency on his part to define a new era. Not even a provocation as grave as an assassination attempt has shaken that approach. I cannot vouch for whether this will last, but I want to explain the circumstances that make this tolerance an imperative strategy for Mnangagwa for now. Whether he has changed for real can only be seen after the elections if he wins, but for now, this is a strategy informed by political exigencies outlined below.
Emmerson Mnangagwa and the search for Legitimacy:
To begin with, President Mnangagwa’s position and behaviour are dictated to by the fact that he needs these elections more than anyone else, including the opposition MDC, for purposes of gaining the people’s mandate and the legitimacy to rule.
Obtaining a mandate to rule:
Mnangagwa is not blind to the controversies surrounding the circumstances under which he came to power. Although President Mugabe resigned under the threat of impeachment in November 2017, this was precipitated and preceded by the popular mass movement started by the military. That process alone has been dubbed a coup obviously by those aggrieved by the removal of Mugabe and the losers in the power struggles within Zanu PF. Those like me do not care two hoots what you call any move that removed Mugabe. That tyrant had to go. It’s the case of not worrying about the colour of the cat, as long as it catches mice.
Mnangagwa would like to “cleanse “himself of the stigma as a “coup President”, something the likes of Jonathan Moyo will never tire of saying. President Mnangagwa is conscious of the fact that he was not elected by the people. If an election is conducted, and Mnangagwa wins the election, he will have acquired the mandate of the people to rule, and implement his own agenda for the next five years.
Winning the endorsement of the international community
Secondly, Mnangagwa has made the political and economic re-engagement of the international community the centre of his foreign policy, and this foreign policy feeds into the economic policy of investment attraction which is linked to job creation, industrial revival and the “Zimbabwe is open for business” mantra. This is why the busiest members of his Cabinet are Sibusiso Moyo as Foreign Minister, and Mike Bimha as Minister of Trade. At the same time, that same international community has made the holding of free, fair and credible elections a precondition for full re-engagement with Zimbabwe. Without this re-engagement, Mnangagwa will surely fail and he will be just like another Mugabe.
Thirdly, Mnangagwa is conscious that the eyes of the whole world, especially the western world are trained on him. They didn’t like Mugabe for his arrogance and lack of respect for human rights, and they are worried that Mnangagwa, having been Mugabe’s protégé, is more of the same. He is at pains to be his own man, and you can only do that by demonstration and not by statements.
Seeking opportunity to atone ills of the past
Fourthly, Mnangagwa is aware that one way to atone the ills of the past perpetrated whether by him or his party Zanu PF is through delivering on people’s expectations. This is not a difficult task for a country as richly endowed with natural and human resources such as Zimbabwe, and given the fact that we have been there before when we were the region’s breadbasket and the second strongest economy in Sub-Sahara outside South Africa.
That delivery, in terms of employment creation, economic stabilization, financial prudence, and improved standard of living cannot happen in the short period between his assumption of office in November 2017 and the elections on 30 July 2018.
Lastly, Mnangagwa seems to have managed to unite his party behind this strategy and to speak with one voice. In the past few years, Zanu PF was literally two parties, the G40 and Lacoste, and the party barely survived breaking into two. With the G40 elements decimated after the November Army intervention, there seems a greater sense of unity of purpose in running the election and abiding by the election agenda. The calls for a peaceful election are not just coming from the President, but his lieutenants some of whom are not known for peace and tolerance. Even military men like Constantino Chiwenga, are toning their language and behaviour, quite a departure from the soldier character he was when he dealt with the Nurses strike earlier in the year.
The Assassination Attempt
The above realities make Mnangagwa a prisoner to the elections and every day that passes by I suspect he hopes and prays nothing wrong and untoward happens to derail the elections. This makes Mnangagwa very vulnerable at the moment, as he is the keenest not to rock the boat that might result in the elections not being held, or declared not free and not fair.
The assassination attempt on Mnangagwa in Bulawayo when a handheld grenade was thrown at him and his entourage, can be seen as an attempt to derail the elections. Never before in the polluted political history in Zimbabwe has there been such a brazen attempt at a President’s life. The reaction to the assassination attempt has been cool and subdued. If this had happened during Mugabe’s time, we would have been guaranteed of mass arrests including of opposition leaders, probably a declaration of a state of emergency and perhaps postponement of the elections. However, if Mnangagwa were to react in this manner, he would trigger the very reaction he is trying to avoid.
One could say that people behind the Bulawayo bombing could have had to derail the elections as a principal motive. If anything deals a deadly blow to Mnangagwa, it is an election that is not declared free and fair by the international community.
We have also witnessed the incident where on the 5th of June, the opposition marched demanding reforms. Zanu PF youths had tried the old tricks to deny MDC the march by organizing their own. At the last minute, the Zanu PF march was withdrawn, we are told, at the behest of Mnangagwa. He must have known that any conflict would have been seen by the election monitors on the ground as part of pre-election violence.
I believe that Mnangagwa is eager to meet at least the minimum conditions required for holding free and fair elections because he knows that is the key to international recognition, which is a necessary condition for gaining international re-engagement. I doubt if at the end of the day Mnangagwa really cares much for what Chamisa may think, as long as the world is satisfied. The world holds the keys to what Mnangagwa needs. Chamisa does not.
Which brings me to the point of the election outcome itself. Why would one invest in a strategy for peace to gain election legitimacy unless they are confident they would win it? I believe Mnangagwa and his Advisors have done their homework and are convicted that they can win a peaceful election, and so they have no need to deny democratic space for a free election. This assessment must have undertaken a SWOT analysis, which necessarily looks at the threats posed by your opponent.
Nelson Chamisa and the blinding desire to make History
The motivations for the elections on the party of the opposition Alliance are driven very much by the person and vision of the new leadership of MDC Alliance under Nelson Chamisa. Nelson Chamisa, the maverick new leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, wants the elections for the reasons that he sees himself as making history if he wins. At 40, he will have achieved what his predecessor Founder member the Late Morgan Tsvangirai failed to achieve, namely unseating Zanu PF from power. But what exactly is his strategy and view on the coming elections? Or does he have a strategy?
Nothing to lose and everything to gain
Chamisa has adopted a rather abrasive, if not outright confrontational approach to the elections. He has in word and in deed made it a zero-sum game. He is a man in a hurry, and while this to some reflects as a man on a mission and with a mission, to others it seems a man with haste and less reflection.
What is clearly inescapable is that unlike Mnangagwa, Chamisa is not caught between a rock and a hard place. He is not answering or answerable to anyone at the moment, and while it would be great that he wins the elections and becomes President, he has nothing to lose if they are held or not held or contested. Chamisa has said Mnangagwa will be lucky to get 25% of the vote. That is the conviction of a winner. However when he throws brick bats on the pathway of an election, or if he runs and loses, he actually has nothing to lose given the fact that he is already in the position of opposition. In life, you never lose that which you never had.
Exploiting Mnangagwa’s vulnerability
Chamisa is well aware of Mnangagwa’s desperation for free and fair elections and is capitalizing on that vulnerability to the maximum. You may recall Chamisa was part of the delegation that went to the USA in December 2017 to lobby for the retention of sanctions and demand for free and fair elections as a pre-condition for normalization of relations. He is smartly using that leverage to gain concessions from Government that he otherwise would never have gained
Chamisa has been free to crisscross the country and hold rallies as and when he wished. His predecessor the late Morgan Tsvangirai, was never that lucky under Mugabe. He has applied pressure for reforms and concessions to electoral practices and has to a large extent succeeded on that score. At times he comes out as a man spoiling for a fight and has banded around threats of withdrawing from the elections, making the country ungovernable, demanding from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission concessions that would amount to co-managing the elections, and oversight of the elections. He has also called himself a president in waiting and gone on to suggest that if he loses an election, he will not accept the outcome, because, to him, a fair election is one in which he comes out as the winner!!
Scoring an own goal: Chamisa’s dilemma
So, on the one hand, is the lame duck President, who is forced by circumstances to act and look saintly; the level-headed and accommodating one who has embraced democracy and allowing freedom of movement and association. This is Mnangagwa. On the other hand, is Chamisa, who is conscious of Mnangagwa’s weakness and wants to extract as many concessions as he can from him when he is weakest, but in so doing, comes out to many as rash, impetuous and confrontational.
Chamisa may be inadvertently making the character of a President rather than the policies of the contesting parties a central issue for this election. I am not sure that that is a smart move here, and Chamisa may be scoring an own goal, and may inadvertently help ED’s campaign. People will recall all the ridiculous things he has said on the campaign trail, the outright lies and untruths such as meeting Donald Trump and advising Rwanda on its ICT policy. Promises made at rallies, such as the now famous bullet trains and spaghetti highways are unrealistic, but Chamisa is within his rights to dream big. But threats to withdraw from elections and any such reckless statements may end up being costly with an enlightened electorate. Chamisa risks upsetting even those in the West who have been the main backers of MDC if by weighing the behaviours of the two contenders they think Zimbabwe would be in stable and safe hands with Mnangagwa than with Chamisa. Remember, they are the ones Mnangagwa is out to please; they are the ones who declare elections as free and fair, and once they do that, its game over.
Power over restive masses needs to be in responsible hands and needs to be exercised responsibly. Leadership demands sobriety of reason and not the heat of emotions. It requires an approach to issues that are grounded in reality and positions that are taken based on clear reflections.
The National Patriotic Front, G40 and the soured grapes.
It is on public record that former President Mugabe is still sulking his loss of power and known to back the new but clearly ineffective National Patriotic Front party ( NPF). NPF was meant to be a way to regain power through the Zanu PF membership and deny ED the stronghold of the party structures. It underestimated the lack of support that Mugabe himself had within his own party and grassroots.
However NPF and the G40 have lately openly come out in support of Chamisa for President, and Chamisa himself has stated that he has been assured the vote of former President Mugabe. Clearly, the strategy of NPF and G40 is to do anything to block Mnangagwa from winning an election.
The fact that Chamisa is endorsed by Mugabe and the G40 and that he feels proud to announce that he has Mugabe’s support is a monumental error of judgement on the part of the MDC alliance leader. This is a group we know will do anything to make sure that Mnangagwa does not win the election or at worst is denied the legitimacy he is seeking. Mnangagwa’s biggest headache is not from the MDC but his enemies within Zanu PF that are aligned to Mugabe. Theirs is a case of sour grapes. For them, anyone else but Mnangagwa will do as the next President of Zimbabwe. The likes of Jonathan Moyo have said that Mnangagwa is unelectable, and if an election can prove otherwise, then it would be better for that election to be either postponed or spoiled.
But besides that, I for one would not find political joy and comfort in cutting deals with Mugabe or celebrating having his endorsement. That is a slap in the face of the thousands who lined the streets of Harare in November seeking for and celebrating his removal.
The Opposition MDC needs Unity:
One of the biggest challenges facing Chamisa is the lack of cohesion within the opposition parties, and going into an election under the current conditions of divisions and infighting is suicidal. The fight with Madam Thokozane Khupe over the Presidency of MDC-T and the use of the name has forced Chamisa into abandoning his candidacy as President of MDC-T and now is on the ballot box as President of MDC Alliance. But everybody knows that MDC Alliance is not a political party. So this is either conceding defeat or capitulation. So why wasn’t peace given a chance in the first place? The ballot paper will now have two MDC candidates vying for Presidency, a situation that is likely to confuse the electorate. That can only be to the benefit of Mnangagwa. Another own goal!!!
Then there is the case of allocation of candidates for constituencies among the Alliance partners that we know did not go well, although the door towards correcting that is now closed. There is the issue of the Alliance Principals, whose own ambitions are I suspect yet to unravel. Mr Chamisa is unable to appoint a Vice President and running mate, perhaps in fear of the divisions, this might cause within the party. These issues are taking a toll on the opposition and Chamisa would have been more effective if his campaign was running under a united opposition. There are also cases of political manoeuvrings where real and imagined opponents are either removed or sidelined as part of an internal power consolidation process.
Political power manoeuvrings are time and energy consuming, and need to be done when one has the luxury of time. When you have an enemy to face, you put your differences aside and fight as one common front. I am afraid, if there is a veneer of unity within MDC it is superficial.
With this myriad of problems at the eleventh hour of an election, could it be that even Chamisa, has lost the appetite for an election?
After all, he has nothing to lose, because you cannot lose what you never had.
Zimbabweans stand up for your rights
As we head towards the elections in Zimbabwe, we need to look at the elections as the opportunity to reshape our destiny, and put the country in the hands of whoever we believe will take the country forward. Our leaders are responsible for the behaviours of their followers. At this eleventh hour, leaders should be calling on their supporters to come and vote for them rather than inciting them to be on standby for the streets. No one holds Zimbabweans and Zimbabwe to ransom. No one has a veto power over constitutional processes. We need this election to go ahead and define a clear future for Zimbabwe. Making statements that sow seeds of division amongst Zimbabweans should be deplored in the strongest terms.
By the way
I am curious to know more about the recent Police bust in which they seized USD4million in cash and 98 kgs of gold from a company house in Borrowdale. Surely, can a country survive with that level of financial haemorrhage? Multiply the number of such illicit activities taking place every day throughout the country and you realize that the problem in Zimbabwe needs a redefinition.
Let us identify the problem, and the solutions will be easy to provide. On that score, I fully agree with you Dr Nkosana Moyo.