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Makoni deals blow to politics of hostage

By Joram Nyathi

THERE was a lot of good news this week. First, the MDC wrangle can be said to be over. They failed to find a point of convergence in their fi

ght for mastery of the party; some say because of personal greed among those closest to the leadership, others believe it was because of disagreements on matters of principle. After all they say a principle compromised is a principle sacrificed.

Whatever the reason, the good thing is that the two MDC formations now know where they stand in relation to each other and vis-a-vis Zanu PF. They must now enter the ring as separate entities if they want to be taken seriously and stop the pretence that they can form a so-called “marriage of convenience” for the purposes of beating Zanu PF and President Robert Mugabe in next month’s elections.

To me if political leaders cannot forego their personal interests ahead of the nation which they pretend they want ahead, there is no point in any alliance, coalition or united front. The collapse of the “unity talks” reflects more on the quality of the negotiators themselves than on any substantive issues which selfless compromise could not have resolved. More importantly, it is evident that the MDC leaders are themselves guilty of the intransigence which they accuse Zanu PF of at the Sadc-initiated negotiations. The side which imagines it has an edge over the other will not budge, but together they dream of forcing Zanu PF to legislate itself out of power through sometimes preposterous demands.

For whatever reason, each of the factions, with obvious odds against it, believes it can go it alone against Zanu PF and win. For them to win, the logic appears to run, they only need a new constitution and a postponement of the elections. They don’t have to campaign because Zimbabweans are so beholden to them and have no alternative. In short, President Mugabe has become such a loathsome ogre everybody is running away from Zanu PF. There is no distinction between Zanu PF as a party and its failed leader.

The irony is that this same image is beginning to reflect very strongly in the MDC itself. The leader is the party or there is no party.

The people of Zimbabwe are better off without marriages of convenience which are short-lived and end up in embarrassing acrimony and take the nation many steps backwards. We have already seen what happened to Kenya’s Rainbow Coalition soon after Mwai Kibaki got into power. There were no principles or ideology binding the coalition together and the people of Kenya were taken for a rough ride by people who were only driven by a craving for power. Today they are paying a heavy price for their shortsightedness. Getting rid of evil Daniel arap Moi didn’t cost as much blood as is being shed to remove democratic Kibaki.

More good news: Enter Simba Makoni, the perpetual youth of Zanu PF politics. He has raised as much of a stir as did Arthur Mutambara’s entry. There is anger and bewilderment. Anger on the part of those suffering from the “founding leader” syndrome who believe they alone own the struggle for democracy and no one should try and steal the limelight from them, much like Nelson Mandela did to Mugabe when he was released from prison. Bewilderment on the part of those who believed Mugabe could never be challenged from within Zanu PF.

But Makoni’s entry into the presidential race has more significance than that. The truth is that he doesn’t even need to win the election.

Firstly, if he can maintain the delicate poise of being a politician and a gentleman, he would give Zimbabwe the good character it needs — regrouping frustrated voters in both Zanu PF and the MDC and presenting a sober face to the international community.

Secondly, to me Makoni stands between Mugabe and his MDC clone, neither of whom believes in the rule of law. Morgan Tsvangirai will not hesitate to trash party rules and the constitution if they stand in his way just as Mugabe will quickly trash property rights if they stand in the way of what he believes to be a just cause.

Thirdly, Makoni presents an opportunity for many Zimbabweans who are disenchanted with both the MDC and Zanu PF. There are many people who are frustrated by Zanu PF’s policy failures and the MDC’s lack of a clear programme of economic recovery beyond fairytales of a generous international community waiting at the border with truckloads of foreign currency.

Most significantly for Zimbabwean voters, there are many who are so frustrated with Zanu PF’s incompetence and arrogance that they would vote for anyone who challenges it. This protest vote has unfortunately given the opposition a sense of entitlement in urban areas. It therefore doesn’t see the need to campaign on the basis of its won policies but simply exploit people’s anger and frustration with Zanu PF.

Thus up to election day it doesn’t see the need to announce clearly whether it is contesting the elections or waiting to challenge the results over which it has already pronounced a papal verdict. Makoni’s entry is therefore salutary in that it widens the choice for Zimbabweans and thereby removes the politics of hostage to two equally bungling contenders. Time will clear the current miasma of uncertainty about the political path he plans to chart.

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