HomeOpinionOpposition playing into Mugabe's hands

Opposition playing into Mugabe’s hands

By George BN Ayittey

ACCORDING to Newtonian law of physics, for every force in nature there is a counter-force. A force dominates if the counter-force is weak or non-exi


President Robert Mugabe has dominated the political scene in Zimbabwe simply because the opposition is weak and at some point, the people may just abandon the opposition or turn against it. Its ineffectiveness is indirectly contributing to the suffering and misery.

It should come as no surprise that a “broad coalition of churches called the Christian Alliance, called a national convention to debate the way forward”. It suggests that the churches are stepping in to fill the leadership vacuum with the unwritten implication that the opposition leadership has been disappointing.

There is no need to reinvent the wheel. What works in removing a tyrant from power is an alliance of opposition forces. Political events in Bangladesh, Czechoslovakia, Nicaragua, Poland, Benin, Ghana, Zambia, South Africa, and many other countries have demonstrated eloquently that one person alone seldom succeeds in the battle to remove a tyrant. Nor does one political group or organisation.

An alliance of forces, groups, or organisations is imperative. This implies that coordination of pro-democracy activities is mandatory.

In Nicaragua an alliance of 13 opposition parties, including ideologically mortal enemies (communists and capitalists), succeeded in ousting the Marxist dictatorship of Daniel Ortega in March 1990. The opposition alliance did not field 13 presidential candidates. Sensibly, they put forward only Violeta Chamorro. Had they put forward six or even three candidates, Daniel Ortega would have won easily since the opposition vote would have been split.

Here is the mathematics of it. A brutal tyrant in power always has some supporters. Let us assume this support to be 30% of the vote. That means the overwhelming majority of the electorate is fed up with him.

Now suppose the opposition fields five presidential candidates. If they split the opposition vote equally, each would get only 14% of the vote, which is not enough to defeat the tyrant with 30% of the vote.

This was exactly what happened in Kenya’s 1992 election. Daniel arap Moi won with only 37% of the vote over a divided field. The second-placed candidate won 32% of the total. They repeated this folly in the December 1997 election. Kenya’s opposition parties numbered 26, which fielded 13 presidential candidates to challenge Moi. Imagine.

In Zambia’s December 27 2001 presidential elections, the ruling party’s (MMD) presidential candidate, Levy Mwanawasa, won with just 29% of the vote. “The 70% of voters who opposed Mwanawasa split their loyalty between 10 power-hungry rivals. The withdrawal of one or two of them would have helped Anderson Mazoka to victory” (The Economist, January 5 2002).

The opposition in Zimbabwe has suffered enormously and endured vicious brutality from a barbaric regime. As such, it is extremely difficult to criticise its leaders, lest it might be misinterpreted as treachery or rubbing salt into their wounds.

But we need a “smart” opposition to make democracy work in Africa. If the leaders of Zimbabwe’s opposition think that, divided into six parties, they can unseat Mugabe then they must be living on a different planet.

So far, the opposition in Zimbabwe has shown itself to be feckless. In any battle, one must know one’s enemy: his strength and weaknesses. One doesn’t fight an enemy on the turf on which he is strongest; one exploits his weaknesses and fights him where he is weakest.

It doesn’t appear that Zimbabwe’s opposition knows Mugabe’s weaknesses or where he is weak. It is plagued by internal divisions, squabbling, personal ambition, and total lack of imagination.

Such divisions only delight Mugabe. In fact, it is rather Zanu PF that has been adept at exploiting the weaknesses of the opposition. Surprised that the opposition has been losing? It is these divisions in the opposition that have prevented the formation of an opposition alliance.

There is no chance in hell that a “free and fair election” is possible in Zimbabwe. The Zanu PF wrote the rules of the game and they control all the levers of power: parliament, the security forces, the media, the electoral machinery, etc.

Under these circumstances, anyone who thinks he can defeat Mugabe at the polls must be out of his mind. And it is delusional to think that Mugabe would level the political playing field and re-write the rules to “help” the opposition.

“Regime change” under current “rules of the game” is totally out of the question. Opposition leaders must know this from their own foibles! Back in 1994 African Business pronounced its verdict, five months before the April 1995 elections:

“It is clear that President Robert Mugabe’s incumbent Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front is assured of victory in the April 1995 elections. The opposition is splintered and ineffective and Zanu PF, in power since 1980, boasts a well-oiled machine including control of the television and radio networks and the country’s main daily newspapers.”

Mugabe still controls much of the media. So why hasn’t the opposition set up alternative media in the neighbouring countries? Second, opposition leaders must know that the regime is stone-deaf. Appeals, exhortations and criticisms don’t penetrate.

What the regime understands is force but force does not have to be exercised violently. There are peaceful and non-violent ways the opposition can flex its muscle but so far, it has not demonstrated to the people, nor the world, that it is capable of doing so.

Third, opposition leaders must know that a crafty ruling regime will always plant moles or infiltrate the ranks of the opposition to destroy or splinter it from within. Jerry Rawlings of Ghana often resorted to this tactic by bribing opposition leaders. Mobutu, Banda, and Campaore all did this. In Kenya, Arap Moi even passed legislation to ban an opposition alliance.

Why should the opposition sit there and allow itself to be infiltrated and destroyed from within? Why doesn’t the opposition also infiltrate the ruling regime and destroy it from within?

Some opposition leaders are susceptible to bribery and can even be bought. For example, in March 1992, opposition groups in Burkina Faso finally managed to put together an alliance to confront the barbaric military dictatorship of Blaise Compaore in a national forum. Yet another example is Gwanda Chakuamba of Malawi, the chairman of the “presidential council” appointed by Life-president Hastings Banda.

As The Economist (November 20, 1993) reported: “Chakuamba was an old Malawi Congress Party and ex-minister, who was jailed in 1980 for sedition and released only last July. He then flirted briefly with the opposition United Democratic Front, but while Banda was in hospital suddenly emerged as secretary-general of ruling party and acting head of state.”

Chakaumba’s move was roundly denounced “as a betrayal to the opposition, who had tirelessly campaigned for his release following local and international pressure on the MCP government’s poor human rights record. Reliable sources have reported that whilst he was in prison, Chakuamba was subjected to immersion in water and was chained hand-and-foot for months on end” (African Business, December 1993).

How in perdition could someone, educated at that, whose basic human rights were viciously violated in detention suddenly decide to join his oppressor? No wonder the communists call their detention camps “re-education centres”.

Here are other actions taken by the people against collaborators in other African countries. The writer does not condemn or condone these actions, just reporting them:

In Nigeria, Chinua Achebe once said this: “One of the most urgent matters for Nigerians to address when they settle down to debate the national question is the issue of collaboration by professionals and technocrats with

Recent Posts

Stories you will enjoy

Recommended reading