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Opposition parties must go beyond manifestos

By Conrad Nyamutata

When it comes to producing policy blueprints, we rank highly than the poverty index. Manifestos have come to define the objectives of political parties.

Conrad Nyamutata
Conrad Nyamutata

But I am not convinced that in undemocratic states, manifestos have any broader efficacy. I do not, of course, discount their value.

However, in states like Zimbabwe, that do not espouse democratic values, their utility is inflated.

Except for rallies sanctioned at the whim of the dominant power, the channels of free expression are limited. In other countries, all parties have debates and access to all media to expound contents of their manifestos.

Secondly, without condescension, the political demographics mean the educated urbanites might have an inclination to peruse such documents than rural people.

Yet it is from the rural folk, who may not have the capacity to consume these sometimes complex documents, from which Zanu PF has historically derived most of its support.

To the doubters, it would be interesting for them to find out how many, including urbanites, know the detailed contents of ZimAsset and the MDC policy documents enough for them to make well-informed voting decisions.

The point I am making is that, in Zimbabwe, manifestos play a small role, pre-election.

In Zimbabwe, electoral outcomes are determined, to an extent, by simpler messages, as Tendai Biti noted of the Zanu PF campaign, but the major determinant is the use of violence and control of the electoral apparatus.

Zanu PF has managed to combine these to good effect, they have campaigned on resource nationalism whose centrepiece is material reward in the form of land or money derived from company ownership.

For an erstwhile deprived post-colonial society, materialism has a greater appeal to the poor than the post-materialism of intangible rights. Secondly, Zanu PF has discredited the opposition for “inviting sanctions”.

Message-wise, it has been that simple, not necessarily credible.

But Zanu PF complements these messages with violence, and more critically, control of the electoral system. In the final analysis, manifestos, thus, become useless.

For the opposition, the undemocratic playing field of Zimbabwean politics calls for prioritisation of direct and collective counter-strategies than blueprints.

When former Vice President Joice Mujuru published her manifesto, there were claims from opposition that she had plagiarised their ideas. Yet what the MDC was claiming ideational ownership is so politically commonplace, it is absurd.

Can a party claim monopoly to commitments to respect property rights or freedom of the press? What was she supposed to say? I shall shut down all newspapers and kill all journalists?

The truth of the matter is that Zimbabwe faces common problems, created by a common source so much that all opposition parties are bound to have identical ideals. In other words, opposition politics becomes, naturally banal.

The reason opposition elements must work together.

In the weird realm of eroticism, there is a practice called masochism — derivation of pleasure from pain. The opposition seems to enjoy pain inflicted on them by Zanu PF.

Because of division, Zanu PF spanks them, both physically and electorally all the time.

The failure to craft collegial strategies speaks to masochistic politics that exposes them to Zanu PF harm and “defeat”.

Zimbabwe needs bare-knuckles politics against a common source than superfluous blueprints.

To be sure, the opposition have produced credible policy documents. But in Zimbabwe, electoral outcomes are determined chiefly by the management of elections and less so by manifestos.

How will they implement these blueprints if conditions do not give them the chance to assume governance?

For that reason, the MDC’s blueprint on electoral reforms presented last week is much more apposite and urgent to the present context, behind which all opposition parties ought to rally.

With a new player in Mujuru, the opposition should work together on mobilising and demanding electoral changes. Or they will be printing never-to-be-implemented blueprints for years to come.

Lions hunt in packs. Divided, Zanu PF will, like Cecil, kill them and add another trophy on its wall. Daily News