HomeOpinionTime ripe for united front against Mugabe

Time ripe for united front against Mugabe

By Jonathan Moyo

ARTHUR Mutambara and his colleagues need to do some deep soul searching following their comprehensive defeat in the Budiriro by-election. They cert

ainly have good ideas and even some good principles but nothing more beyond the rhetoric around these things. Ideas and principles are not matters for rhetoric but political action in the public realm.

The one thing that Mutambara and his faction do not have is a workable strategy for engaging the people, ordinary people who are the essential lifeline for any political movement.

Welshman Ncube is an excellent boardroom player but he is a total stranger to grassroots politics. He comes across as a reluctant politician with a knack for technical positions and zero political ability. He is always able to identify a tree but never able to see the forest where that tree is found.

Gibson Sibanda is no better although he is a very nice guy. He is neither a grassroots nor a boardroom politician. He does not have much practical stuff to show for his many years in trade unionism from the standpoint of organisational politics.

As for Mutambara, most of what has been said about him — in terms of how good he is as a politician — is either based on his limited experience as a student activist and leader some 16 or so years ago or is just presumed mumbo jumbo without any factual basis.

So far, Mutambara has shown that, while he has lots of energy and youth on his side, he has poor political judgement. It was poor judgement for him to join a faction when there were better options even in the context of MDC feuding politics.

Most recently, his faction’s decision to contest the by-election in Budiriro was poor judgement and it was even poorer to field a high-profile candidate like Gabriel Chaibva who is the faction’s spokesperson.

The poor result was inevitable because everyone knew that Budiriro is for Tsvangirai’s faction in the same way Uzumba-Maramba-Pfungwa is for President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF.

Now Mutambara must live with the damaging consequences of that poor result of getting 504 votes in a constituency with over 45 000 registered voters. And Chaibva has been weakened as the faction’s spokesperson — whenever he speaks people will not hear him because they will see 504 votes written all over his face.

I suppose the worst part of Mutambara’s poor judgement has been to allow his faction to be drawn into a futile numbers game which Tsvangirai has been playing to his maximum advantage since October 12 2005.

For sometime after their congress in Bulawayo, and particularly after Tsvangirai’s faction later held its own congress in Harare, Mutambara and his colleagues have shown a fatal desire to hold public meetings and rallies which they have dismally failed to properly organise and their failure has been compared with Tsvangirai’s huge success in organising well-attended rallies with devastating effects on Mutambara’s political prospects.

Meanwhile, while Tsvangirai has been quite successful in organising his well-attended rallies in most but not all parts of the country, any discerning person can tell that these rallies are successful only in the limited sense defined by and confined to Mutambara’s failure to hold well-attended rallies.

Otherwise an objective assessment of Tsvangirai’s numbers at rallies, and indeed even an assessment of the votes won by his faction in Budiriro, would show that Tsvangirai’s numbers are not growing from past historic peaks, especially just before the 2002 presidential election or even during the 2005 parliamentary election when the numbers at Tsvangirai’s campaign rallies were staggering.

Yes, Tsvangirai’s numbers show very clearly that his faction is more popular within MDC circles than Mutambara’s faction but the same numbers do not show that Tsvangirai has gained new numbers over Zanu PF. Put differently, there is no evidence that the MDC faction led by Tsvangirai has grown into a party larger than what the MDC was before October 12 2005 when it split into two groups.

Quite the contrary, in terms of numbers, the MDC as divided or put together has lost some ground not necessarily to Zanu PF but to despondency, frustration and alienation. As such, the opposition forces in Zimbabwe are currently very weak — in fact, at their weakest since 1999.

However, for the sake of a perspective, there is no evidence, not even from the Budiriro by-election, that Zanu PF is gaining new ground either. What evidence there is, and this also comes out from the November 2005 senate election, is that Zanu PF is precariously hanging on to its base.

Whether that base holds together in future critical elections, say presidential elections should they be held between now and 2008, will depend on how Zanu PF handles the increasingly acrimonious and divisive succession struggle which Mugabe is now using to launch a new bid for staying in power till 2010 through a proposed constitutional amendment.

Besides depending on the succession issue, Zanu PF’s ability to retain its power will depend on the fate of the economy which is now in a freefall such that it cannot be turned around by the Zanu PF government which is now in a policy paralysis exacerbated by growing international isolation and pressure.

What this means is that the MDC divided or put together needs to look for new ways of growing its support base which has been shrinking since 2002. In other words, there is an urgent need to grow the forces of opposition politics in Zimbabwe.

The divisions have not been helpful and will certainly not help anyone into the foreseeable future. If anything, the divisions will contribute to the further shrinking of the support base of reform politics notwithstanding that Tsvangirai will continue to attract more votes in elections or more support at rallies than Mutambara. Such support should not be taken seriously as the litmus test for any political party that wants to be the government of the day.

While I can see and understand why Tsvangirai has made the issue of the popular determination of the “Real MDC” central to his political programme thus far and while I believe he has demonstrated that his faction is the stronger and therefore arguably the “Real MDC”, I also think his programme has been over-emphasised to the point of being misplaced in the larger strategic scheme of things.

It is one thing for Tsvangirai to demonstrate to his supporters that he has the numbers that show he is more popular within the MDC than Mutambara or Ncube or Sibanda but it is quite another thing for him to demonstrate that he has the national numbers that make up the required national support to defeat Zanu PF, replace Mugabe and democratically reform Zimbabwe.

The latter is a whole different ball game all together and there is a need for Tsvangirai and his well-meaning colleagues to approach that ball game with a more comprehensive political programme and strategy beyond what we have seen the MDC do since 1999. There is a new situation in Zimbabwe and it calls for a new vision backed by a new strategy.

The national numbers needed to defeat Zanu PF, replace Mugabe and democratically reform Zimbabwe are not just numeric rally additions of undefined multitudes but they are also numbers of differentiated professional skills, deployment of resources, networks of organisations and associations, complementary leadership and strategic alliances in and outside the country.

Between 1999 and 2002 the MDC had developed into a formidable network of critical alliances of key national and international social forces that balanced in favour of the opposition but that network has been steadily disintegrating since the MDC’s failed “final push” of June 2003.

For example, former white farmers formed a key bedrock of support for the MDC not only in terms of financial and other resources but also in terms of providing numbers drawn from the employees of these farmers. That support is no longer there because of the profound changes that have taken place at Zimbabwe’s farmlands since the chaotic land invasions in 2000.

In fact, many of the affected and currently scattered former white farmers now openly say they made a mistake in politically supporting the MDC because they lost everything they lived and worked for and they believe they paid this heavy price because of their political activism and that a different political strategy would have not invited the land invasions on their properties.

While all this is debatable, the fact is that the MDC has lost what was key support from the former white farmers, support which clearly made a big difference in the results achieved by the MDC in the 2000 parliamentary elections and in the 2002 presidential elections.

The stronghold of MDC support has been without doubt the urban dwellers who have been protesting Zanu PF’s poor economic policies since the days of the failed Economic Structural Adjustment Programme introduced in 1990. This urban protest reached its peak in 2002 and it has been dwindling since then.

To be sure, urban dwellers in Zimbabwe are still solidly anti-Zanu PF not least because of the ongoing economic meltdown which they rightly blame on Zanu PF. But they are no longer solidly pro-MDC.

They know what they don’t want but they are not as sure about what they want. Yes, they earlier thought they wanted the MDC but developments within the opposition party since 2002, and particularly since October 12 2005, have made them reconsider and they are now in the political market shopping and even praying for something new and more effective.

This has led to the challenge that Tsvangirai and his faction now face: they must read the current state of politics and balance of social forces in the country against the background of recent developments within both Zanu PF and the MDC and come up with a new strategy or risk being overwhelmed by the dynamism of unforeseen but clearly emerging forces to the point of irrelevance.

Tsvangirai’s faction needs to see that even the policies of key Western countries on Zimbabwe are rapidly changing such that their mere review and implementation could create new conditions and bring forth new opposition actors from all over the place including the diaspora and even from within Zanu PF.

The recent rehabilitation of Muammar Gaddafi by the United States which has restored diplomatic relations with Libya shows that the so-called international community does not have fixed ideas on or approaches to regime change. They can take and in fact do prefer policy change to regime change.

A radical policy change in Zimbabwe by Mugabe and Zanu PF can easily lead to their accommodation by the international community led by Tony Blair and George W Bush with the result of consigning the current opposition in the form of the divided MDC to the archives. This possibility is very real if people care to take sometime and read and understand the current state of flux in Western policy on Zimbabwe based on comparable cases such as the Libyan example.

Closer to home in East Africa, history is full of many examples which could provide useful lessons to Tsvangirai and his faction. One such example is what happened to Odinga Odinga’s Ford Kenya which, after it split, locked itself in a fatal argument over who was the “Real Ford Kenya” after the 1992 Kenyan elections. That argument delayed the formation of a united opposition front in Kenya that was eventually formed in 2002 with the result of unseating Kanu which had been in power since Kenya’s independence in 1963.

It should be understood that in countries, like Zimbabwe or Kenya, that have been ruled and dominated by one post-independence political party that also led the liberation movement as did Kanu and Zanu PF, a united front necessarily means bringing on board significant elements from the ruling party into active opposition. Therefore, a united front does not only mean putting together groups or individuals that are already in opposition as that is inherently limiting.

Many keen and knowledgeable observers of the situation in Zimbabwe in and outside the country strongly believe that the only formation that can unseat Zanu PF, replace Mugabe and democratically reform the country today with the result of fundamentally transforming Zimbabwe for the better is a united front that would include significant elements from the rank and file within Zanu PF.

The situation is ripe for such a front. A formidable opposition is still resident in Zanu PF and it needs to be harvested. There are many reasons for harvesting it and they include technical capacity, institutional memory and stability.

But the question is whether Tsvangirai and his faction see this and are willing to be part of that front or whether they want to repeat the 1992 Kenyan saga of failure in which Ford Kenya, which was then the main and biggest opposition since that country’s independence, refused to be part of a united front by locking itself into a self-defeating political programme of determining who was the “Real Ford Kenya” until the situation on the ground took a new twist in 2002, when the Kenyan opposition formed a united front with Kanu elements after a decade of lost opportunities.

And so will Tsvangirai and his faction take the opportunity for a united front or will they squander it through an ultimately self-defeating political programme of proving who is the “Real MDC” based on
the pursuit of numbers that are inherently limiting because they are limited?

That is the question of the moment and the sooner it is answered positively the better for Zimbabwe.

Professor Jonathan Moyo is a political scientist and independent MP for Tsholotsho.

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