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New political course needed for recovery

By Alex T Magaisa

NOW that the election has come and gone, despite the euphoria and disappointment in different quarters, the country has to face the challenges that have materialised in the last five years.

These are common problems to both the winners and the losers. The election confirmed once again, the polarisation of our society, mainly along the rural-urban divide. The urban communities have largely favoured the opposition movement while the rural communities appear to have remained faithful to the ruling party. There are various reasons for the differences in the voting patterns but there are others more qualified to explain that phenomena.

My concern is to highlight some observations and suggest ways to deal with the present predicament. Genuine economic recovery requires Zimbabwe to chart a new course in the conduct of the internal politics.

First, we must accept that there are substantial numbers of people who support each of the two main political parties in the country. Whatever allegations of election-rigging, we cannot escape the conclusion that there are indeed people who like the MDC but there are also some who prefer Zanu PF. Now, the reasons for one group’s preference may appear irrational in the eyes of the other group but that is not the issue. I think each of the parties ought to acknowledge this fact and particularly in the case of the ruling party. It ought to recognise that there is a substantial number of people who have reservations about its leadership. This is especially true when one considers that there is a large number of people in the diaspora because of the economic problems prevailing in Zimbabwe which they perceive to be the result of poor management of the country over the last two decades.

Maybe there is something wrong about the “winner-takes-all” system of democracy. Maybe there is something amiss in a system that allows one political party to reign supreme even though close to half the population over which it reigns has reservations about its capacity. There is clearly something wrong about a system that allows a single individual, the president, to effectively appoint 30 legislators while the whole population of millions can only elect 120 MPs.

There are too many technical problems with regards to our electoral system and constitutional set-up that make it very difficult to realise the will of the people. The one positive from the recent election is the relative absence of violence that characterised the last two elections in the country. It is a step in the right direction that people realise that they can actually make their choice without having to resort to violence. Nonetheless, the absence of violence per se does not guarantee that the political landscape is fairly constructed. As we have also seen, the relative absence of violence does not confer legitimacy to the electoral process.

While the government knows that it is imperative to revitalise the economy of the country, it must also acknowledge that attaining that goal requires the country to regain the confidence of the international community.
In our context, that confidence is closely allied to the manner in which we conduct our political affairs, including the electoral process. It is not enough merely to conduct regular elections. Our challenge is not only to stop violence, but to remove every other obstacle that has been highlighted in the previous elections. Unfortunately, the last election appears to have been tainted and as a result a few outside Africa accept the election as free and fair. Thus the legitimacy of the Zimbabwe government remains mired in controversy and doubt. One can conclude that the problems the country has faced in the last five years are more likely to continue unless something positive is done to regain this legitimacy.

The MDC has complained about the process. It may go to the Electoral Court. The country has seen it all before and a few believe that the protests will yield any different result after the failed protests after the 2000 and 2002 elections. The polarisation will continue and will only serve to prolong the hardships facing the country.

The outside world may wait to see if Zimbabwe will do as the Ukranians did last year, and wage mass protests. But the general feeling in the country seems to be that conditions do not favour such an approach. It is also highly unlikely that the international community will do much to help Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe has problems, but when one looks across the world, it seems there are far too many countries facing too many and worse problems at present. That is why South African President Thabo Mbeki would rather have more attention focused on the DRC or Burundi. But that does not mean that all is well in Zimbabwe. As a progressive country in the recent past, its rapid and spectacular descent into poverty and disaster entails that it continues to receive some attention even though it may not be the worst case in the world.

What Zimbabwe must appreciate is that solutions to its problems can largely be solved internally if both parties place the interests of the people first. Each party must recognise that the other holds a significant support base that needs representation at all levels. Resolving the internal question requires a level of engagement between the protagonists. At some point both parties must recognise that only they have the power to regain the goodwill for the country and to create a positive image to the outsiders. The outsiders will only take us seriously if we can demonstrate the will and capacity to accommodate each other internally. Such conditions may lay a base for proper constitutional reform, which is imperative in the eyes of many people. Constructive engagement is not simply about one party being swallowed by another as many people fear, given past precedents in Zimbabwe.

On the contrary, several countries including Japan and Israel have learnt to accommodate the interests of different political parties through their systems of coalition governments. Admittedly, they have their own peculiar circumstances but my suggestion is to consider what our own circumstances are and how we can forge a system of governance that enables the country to build a solid foundation for a democratic culture.

Secondly, it is imperative to re-engage with the international community. It is all very well to have the friendship and solidarity of our African brothers and sisters but even they need the foreign partners that we have done so much to alienate. We have situations where some African leaders embrace us and shower us with praise for “standing up to” the West but during the dark of the night they wine and dine with the West.

The West has its problems and there are things that we can justifiably criticise but in this fast contracting global village we need as many partners as we can get both from all directions. As I have argued, our success in finding an internal solution will have a great bearing on our ability to re-build bridges with the international community. Abusive rhetoric and unnecessary, even childish castigations ought to be toned down.

As expected, there have been complaints about the election. Not much has changed except that economic conditions are getting worse. This is not just about political leadership —it is about leading the country on all fronts. Having a majority in parliament is one thing but actually doing something to enhance the interests of the country is quite another. Both the ruling party and the opposition must recognise and respect their respective positions in society and acknowledge that the country has much to gain from constructive engagement, otherwise, Zimbabwe will just return to the post-2000 election phase, with yet more complaints but limited action and yet more problems and less solutions. The polarisation will continue.

The international community might support either party, or may be divided but it will not do much to assist Zimbabwe to end this problem but many will continue to shun us — rightly or wrongly, that is the fact. We should have known that by now. Once we work out an internal solution and conduct our affairs in a mature fashion, then we will see the multitudes coming to embrace Zimbabwe and then perhaps the road to economic recovery might begin. Right now, that remains an unlikely illusion.

*Dr Alex T Magaisa can be contacted at alex.magaisaa@nottingham.ac.uk

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