By Tafi Mhaka
President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Tuesday officially opened the 6th African Regional Forum on Sustainable Development Goals in Victoria Falls. It was yet another significant reminder to MDC-A president Nelson Chamisa that Mnangagwa is Zimbabwe’s legitimate leader.
No less than UN Deputy Secretary General Amina J. Mohammed and African Union Commission deputy commissioner Mr Kwesi Quartey attended the forum’s opening ceremony.
Quartey emphasized the AU’s call for EU/US sanctions on Zimbabwe to be lifted in order for Zimbabwe to meet its 2030 development goals.
Mohammed spoke of a need to ‘silence the guns’ as a prelude to generating economic development. While Mnangagwa gave an optimistic analysis of Zimbabwe’s ambitious drive to achieve upper middle-income status by 2030.
It was, for lack of a fitting term, a master class in standard diplomatic fare. The kind that often makes international gatherings long and expensive workshops but allow presidents to hog the media spotlight.
And that, if ever you needed to acknowledge it in 2020, coming after an appearance at an AU Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia this month, is the latest global confirmation of Mnangagwa’s legitimacy.
But Chamisa remains unrelentingly defiant, and plans to a launch an appeal with the Constitutional Court against a ruling Zimbabwe’s highest court made in August 2018.
The world’s moved on.
Clearly, Chamisa hasn’t.
To be fair, he has ample reason to feel aggrieved by his crushing loss in the 2018 presidential election, but emotions count for nothing in politics. And although the law is an ass, the rule of law as enshrined in our constitution validates Mnangagwa’s disputed mandate.
This is not to say the 2018 elections were held in a free, fair or conducive environment.
This is not to say Zimbabwe’s judiciary is impartial or squeaky clean.
This doesn’t mean ZEC did an excellent job or the right candidate won the presidential election.
No, it doesn’t.
And it doesn’t matter.
Because everybody that matters, AU, UN and SADC leaders included, doesn’t really care about Zimbabwe’s divisive internal politics and repeatedly disputed elections.
They don’t care about Chief Justice Luke Malaba, dubious Constitutional Court rulings, a compromised ZEC, a partisan police force, or the ZNA killing civilians.
They don’t, at all.
They never have, and never will.
For the most part the delegates gathered at Victoria Falls, world leaders and diplomats believe that in Africa the strongest faction, party or leader will always find a way to secure power, legitimise their rule and usher in somewhat progressive democratic change.
And that’s everyone’s preferred option, from Johannesburg to London and Washington.
President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the outgoing AU Chair, found his legitimacy, much like Mnangagwa, through staging a coup and winning a dodgy election. And the West loves him for it, and lavishes Egypt with massive financial aid, military aid and diplomatic support.
Elsewhere, by all counts Martin Fayulu won last year’s presidential election in the DRC, but lost the official count. And Togo’s President Faure Gnassingbé just won a disputed election last week, amid accusations of electoral fraud.
Africa is strewn with examples of democratic dispensations whose legitimacy is an exercise in realpolitik, economic pragmatism and diplomatic realism.
So Chamisa must stop daydreaming about Mnangagwa’s unproven illegitimacy or Zimbabwe’s democratic exceptionalism, because it is no different from the DRC, Togo or Equatorial Guinea, for example.
Zimbabwe is an African country that is inundated with the usual African political problems and repression.
Winning power or forcing Mnangagwa to establish wide-ranging reforms will take much more than loud declarations or trips abroad to canvass support from global players.
It requires a massive, consistent and indisputable homegrown push for change.
However, it’s been nearly eighteen long and frustrating months since Mnangagwa’s inauguration in August 2018. During that time, Chamisa has struggled to demonstrate adequate urgency or clarity on how to secure the legitimacy he claims to have.
He’s practically met with a million dignitaries and made numerous appearances online and on South African TV stations explaining how difficult things are, how undemocratic the ruling Zanu-PF party is, or how, by God’s Grace, a new, free and democratic Zimbabwe will surface one day.
That’s not good enough though, as it doesn’t demonstrate Chamisa has the lion’s share of support among the people and deserves to influence political change or become president.
Worse still, the MDC-A appears to be three steps behind Zanu-PF all the time.
Corruption is a good case in point.
Although Tendai Biti has been vocal about corruption and Sakunda CEO Kuda Tagwirei’s gigantic influence over the energy industry and Command Agriculture, it is Zanu-PF’s Youth League, through the suspended Lewis Matutu and Godfrey Tsenengamu, which is at the forefront of an anti-corruption crusade.
Yet besides Biti’s scholastic observations, what has the MDC-A done to own this political space?
Has it marched on parliament, to protest corruption?
Has it attempted to hold a demonstration outside Sakunda’s offices?
Has it marched against ZBC’s bias towards Zanu-PF?
Has it organised a protest outside the RBZ, to protest rogue money printing activities and poor economic policies?
But, is it promising more of the same hypothetical resistance to Mnangagwa’s presidency that has failed to establish political change thus far?
It certainly is.
Yet Chamisa must become a human vessel for change. The people are suffering, and need strong leadership.
Chamisa must show us what he is made of and with any luck unsettle Mnangagwa’s government and force it to enact extensive political, media and security sector changes.
Or he must stand down and make way for a new, dynamic, visionary and courageous leader who will lead us to the promised land.
Tafi Mhaka is a Johannesburg-based writer and commentator. His debut novel, Mutserendende: The African in us, is scheduled to be published in 2020. Follow him at @tafimhaka / tafi.mhaka