What transition, what dialogue?

Vincent Kahiya

WHEN President Mugabe said he would win back the urban constituencies from the opposition MDC in the general election held last week, he was wrong. Equally, when the MDC confidently told us it

would snatch rural seats from Zanu PF, it was also wrong.


Zanu PF, which won 78 seats, maintained its grip on the rural areas while the opposition, with 41 seats, held on to its urban fortress. This was almost the same story as in the 2000 general election. The 2005 election was a poll no party really won if we are to move away from the posturing by Mugabe about a two-thirds majority in parliament.


Two weeks before the election Mugabe appeared to relent on his strong-arm tactics. Opposition parties were seen on national television.

(They are disappearing fast.) The opposition was allowed to campaign in the rural areas where it had virtually been banned. Mugabe preached peace with the passion of a saint while the state media was told to sing the latest mantra that the country was now a “mature” democracy.


The gullible saw a country in transition which would continue after the election. Zanu PF, they believed, would build on the miniscule goodwill it had secured on the eve of the election to implement progressive policies that would integrate Zimbabwe back into the international community.


That is all a bit far-fetched, because as soon as the last observer leaves it will be back to repressive business as usual for our ruling elite. Mugabe will sign the NGO Bill, opposition faces will disappear from television screens, while the police will be back to their heavy-handedness. Computer donations and government largesse will dry up. The MDC and Zanu PF are still worlds apart and are likely to remain so. There is no transition to marvel at. It is the same old story of deprivation and retrogression.


The election result is a harbinger of tougher times to come for Zimbabwe. Mugabe’s landslide win is just that because in it, there is no guarantee of food on the table for the hungry populace, jobs, foreign investment, balance-of-payments support, affordable health care and housing.


The election result is a further complication of the political logjam that has been the hallmark of Zimbabwe politics over the past five years. The economic meltdown is a product of Mugabe’s failure to come up with an acceptable internal settlement that takes on board the opposition and civic groups. Dialogue has in the past failed due to Mugabe’s insistence that talks should be solely on his own anti-Blair terms.


At a press conference at State House last Saturday, Mugabe tried to be magnanimous. He appeared to be handing an olive branch to the opposition. I doubt his sincerity.


This is not the first time that such magnanimity has failed to sway the public into believing that Mugabe is now amenable to dialogue with the opposition. At his inauguration as president in 2002, he spoke in the same vein but the ruse did not wash.


The political tension in Zimbabwe will be heightened by the refusal of the opposition MDC to accept the results of the poll which they said was rigged. There are likely to be court challenges, which will only increase Mugabe’s anger at the opposition. The more militant fringe in the MDC has been limbering up for streets protests. The dress rehearsal in central Harare on Monday brought out the best in our heavy-handed police.


Then there is a group which is pushing for the 41 MDC-elected MPs to boycott parliament. All the actions being mooted by the opposition constitute a major threat to Mugabe’s quest for legitimacy. Stories of the opposition’s defiance will have Mugabe under the glare of international media for the wrong reasons. He does not like that and with it Zanu PF and the MDC will struggle to find common ground.


The first stage of any useful dialogue should be premised on the two parties agreeing on election results. The debate about Mugabe’s legitimacy has bogged down the country since the disputed 2000 general election. It is not over yet and Mugabe is aware that legitimacy and international acceptance of his rule require the blessings of the opposition, hence the subterfuge that he wants dialogue.


Apart from the nagging issue of legitimacy, Mugabe has to tell the nation when he is leaving office. He has tried to make it a big secret as if he is getting any younger. Mugabe is the embodiment of the systems and processes of government which international investors abhor. Any national discourse to mend the politics and the economy has to include the shelf-life of the incumbent.


The issue of leadership renewal will not also escape the opposition. There is simmering discontent in the ranks of the MDC on the leadership capabilities of party leader Morgan Tsvangirai. The various interest groups which created the opposition party in 1999 do not seem to agree on an alternative leader. The internal dynamics in the party sometimes mirror the embarrassing factional squabbles that have become the hallmark of Zanu PF over the years. Despite his shortcomings, especially in articulating national issues and taking crucial decisions, Tsvangirai has been the glue holding the various voices together. But he has to be more than just an adhesive. The centre has to radiate diligence that is required to keep the party relevant after this election. His leadership is under scrutiny.


Tsvangirai has to ensure that leaders in his party march in step towards important policy issues. MDC leaders have in the past failed to agree on how to engage Zanu PF in dialogue. There was also no homogeneity among them on whether to participate in last week’s election or not.


This fragmentation threatens any prospects of successful dialogue between Zanu PF and the opposition. With it, President Thabo Mbeki’s diplomacy, geared to achieving a government of national unity, is in jeopardy. The South African election observer team which was in Harare has endorsed the poll results. So has the Sadc team and the African Union mission.

This endorsement of Mugabe by his African brothers will only inflate his ego and strengthen his obdurate grip on power. There is currently no love lost between the opposition and Mbeki, who has tried to broker dialogue between Zanu PF and the MDC. The MDC will now question Mbeki’s integrity if he tries to mediate. Just when Mbeki is about to come under increased pressure from London, Washington and Brussels, his leverage is reduced by his own diplomacy!


Meanwhile, the political and economic climate will continue to fester. This has been a “no-change” election just when the country most needed it.