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Elections in 2012 or another GNU?

By Ibbo Mandaza

There are at least three myths that are increasingly pervading the political discourse in Zimbabwe. They reflect the anxiety around the current transition in which neither Zanu PF nor MDC appear to have succeeded in emerging victorious over the other, three years into the Global Political Agreement (GPA) and its Government of National Unity (GNU).

Ibbo Mandaza
Ibbo Mandaza

The first of these myths relates to the claim — louder and louder through Zanu PF propagandists — that elections are both necessary and urgent because the GNU has become fatally dysfunctional.  These are the same elections which failed to take place in 2011 but must be held without fail in 2012, we are informed from the same quarters.

Herein lies the myth: the perpetrators of it appear over-confident that the election outcome will see Zanu PF, with 88 year-old President Robert Mugabe at its helm, restore itself as the ruling party and, at least by implication, ensure that government will be as ‘‘functional’’ as it was prior to the 2008 elections (which produced the ‘‘dysfunctional’’ GNU).

Needless to add, this is a myth which feeds on convenient amnesia about the political and economic conditions that led Zimbabwe into the GPA/GNU a little more than three years ago in September 2008.

The truth, however, is still fresh in the minds of the majority of Zimbabweans who bore the full brunt of that unprecedented economic and political melt-down. For  Zanu PF’s government had become not only totally dysfunctional by 2008 under  Mugabe and a ruling party that had by 2000 become a mere shadow of the party of liberation but also chaotic.

The Zimbabwean economy had collapsed almost entirely, a virtual ‘’casino economy’’, in the words of one of government’s key functionaries in a largely state-led campaign of economic and financial self-destruction.

And by 2008, the state itself survived on a combination of violence (or the threat of it) and patronage which, in turn, welded together securocracy and elements of the bureaucracy into a defensive and reckless solidarity against a pulverised and fearful population.  The national institutions which had been so carefully established and nurtured in the 1980s had by 2008 become mere shells: destroyed by the ravages of a patronage system, inept leadership and political manipulation.

Therefore, it was a state bereft of any legitimacy beyond its formal trappings, nakedly brutal but also essentially brittle, as the weeks and months of the post-2008 elections demonstrated — until the GPA/GNU rescued it from the precipice!

Yet, even today, the full implications of this political and economic nightmare are yet to be fully understood, as the recovery so far instituted on the back of the GPA/GNU remains so modest and, ultimately, elusive, if the merchants of premature elections win the day.

But, then, how to pull it off, let alone through an election, in a population in which to many the horrors and tribulations of 2008 remain vivid in their memories: the empty supermarket shelves, worthless currency (now liquidated), water and sanitation problems, disease (over 4 000 people died of cholera in 2008) and the failed education and health systems that had been so well designed and endowed in the 1980s?

Indeed, many citizens across the country remain in those abject conditions of poverty and deprivation. This is a nightmare that should otherwise jolt any well-meaning and mature political leadership — especially those under whose watch all this afflicted the nation — into a reality check.

It should force them to acknowledge that they have absolutely nothing to offer Zimbabwe, regardless how many times they try to reinvent themselves through an electoral process best known for being a farce than anything resembling a democratic exercise.

The second myth is a little more subtle in that it is peddled by that clique of five or seven persons, those I referred to as the ‘’fifth column’’ (The Zimbabwe Independent:   The Sadc Troika On Zimbabwe: Against The Arrogant Disdain, Impunity And Reckless Rhetoric In Harare, April 8, 2011).  Nevertheless, it is a myth standing in the shadow of the first.

This is the expectation that, through elections to be held in 2012, Zanu PF will be exorcised, via well-organised primaries in the first instance, of the current crop of leaders (and most ministers who are described as dead wood!), to be replaced by a core of former freedom fighters, including a good number of those currently serving in the security forces, but to be selected carefully and then resign their posts in pursuit of political office.

Through this new leadership, it is argued by the fifth columnists, Zanu PF of the liberation era will be restored, and the MDC rendered dead and buried!  In its most virulent expression, it amounts to an attempted political coup, if there is such a term: it seeks to overturn the current constitutional hierarchy in both Zanu PF and the state, by calling, if necessary, for an extra-ordinary congress through which to set aside those who would otherwise succeed Mugabe.

But herein lies the myth: there is no necessary correlation between being a former freedom fighter or securocrat on the one hand,  and being a competent political leader on the other.

On the contrary, their is no reason whatsoever to believe that this could be a viable alternative to the current mess of which the securocracy have been such an integral if not an essential part.  Beside, many inside and outside Zanu PF are fully alive to the quiet but dangerous machinations of the fifth column, enough to ensure that the myth remains only a myth.

Also, the current GPA-related debacle over the re-appointment of Zimbabwe Defence Forces Commander  General Constantine  Chiwenga and Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri does help to highlight the extent to which national institutions — including the Reserve Bank and  Attorney-General’s office — have been stripped of the status they enjoyed in the 1980s with the office holders therein reduced to persons who owe their authority less to the constitutional provisions that should underpin such would-be national institutions, than to a Head of State who, by any accounts, is in the departure lounge and cannot be expected to cushion forever Gideon Gono, Johannes  Tomana, Chihuri or Chiwenga from the obvious risks now attendant to the politicisation of both their offices and themselves individually.

The third myth relates to the MDC, particularly that component of it led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.  It is their inane expectation that they can alone rise above the dysfunctionality of the current GPA/GNU and produce an alternative and effective administration.

Therefore, while the MDC remains ambivalent and even confused at the prospect of an early election as demanded by Zanu PF, the temptation is to prepare for the polls even in the face of the unfinished business of the GPA/GNU, not to mention the real risks against free and fair elections.

There inheres in the MDC an incorrigible belief in elections, even while they want to acknowledge that they may have won the last four elections but still lost them!  For this is an essentially election-based formation; it is only an election that can jolt it out of its slumber and the threat of disintegration as long as it fails to accede to full state power.

The reality is that Tsvangirai and the MDC have lost much of the political gloss associated with an opposition movement whose profile was defined as much by a ruling party that had become soulless and distanced from the majority of the citizenry, as by being an unknown quantity in terms of presenting a possible alternative to a Zanu PF government.

Now over the three  years that have been the GPA/GNU,  Tsvangirai and his party are not only part of the state, riddled as it is with all the problems associated with such an animal, but have also been exposed as organisationally vacuous, far too short on managerial capacity and unable to sustain the ‘‘Reform Agenda’’ that had been more implicit than explicit within the opposition movement.

It is the latter failing in particular that leaves us suspicious and anxious: What guarantees are there now that Tsvangirai and his MDC will constitute a viable alternative when they are quite prepared to inherit power without the requisite political reforms, the restoration of national institutions or a discernible and viable economic recovery programme?

So, once we have dispelled such myths and raised real concerns about Zimbabwe, can the real debate about the future of the GPA/GNU begin.

First, we need to put paid to the reckless election talk: the reasons for an election in 2012 remain as spurious as they have always been; more important such an early election will in the current political and economic circumstances only exacerbate insecurity and raise the spectre of violence, while undermining the modest economic gains since 2009.

Also, it is simply not true that there is a growing national consensus towards an election in 2012.  There are more people across the political spectrum that are opposed to an early election, quite apart from the now well-known preconditions for free and fair elections.

Certainly, most MPs are vehemently (even though quietly) opposed to elections in 2012.  So, even while the Zanu PF election propagandists are busy at it, many of the party faithful simply hope and pray that polls remain a most distant reality.

Accordingly, in the absence of an election in 2012 and in order to render the GPA/GNU more functional and technocratic in character, while the new constitution is being crafted and the conditions for a free and fair poll created, these processes must evolve simultaneously.

This requires, in the first instance, a management audit of the GNU and the obvious discovery that it is a creature designed to be largely dysfunctional: two executives in the form of a President and Prime Minister, both personifying mutually antagonistic forces, a large cabinet reflecting more the need to reconcile opposing sides around a feeding trough than the requirements of an efficient and effective government and the absence of a commendable core of technocrats that should be at the centre of any government in the twenty-first century.

In this regard, the Kenyan or, better still, the recent Italian model might be something Zimbabwe could adopt to launch the debate and process towards a GPA/GNU2.

Mandaza is a Zimbabwean academic, author and publisher; and is currently Convener of the Policy Dialogue Forum at the Sapes Trust, a regional think-tank and publishing concern.