By Alex Magaisa
SIMBA Makoni’s presidential bid has caused a large amount of excitement both within and outside Zimbabwe. It has certainly injected some life to an
electoral process that had become a dud through a combination of the two MDC factions’ nauseatingly infantile behaviour and Zanu PF’s traditional penchant for underhand tactics.
But there is need for some reflection, even in the midst of the excitement.
There seems to be a single and important theme characterising the Makoni bid — the pursuit of compromise and stability. This is the pursuit of democracy in a very different way from the traditional multi-party politics that has characterised democratic movements in post-Cold War Africa. This can be deciphered both from two aspects: first, the unusual character of Makoni’s bid, which falls outside the realm of the political party structure, and, second, the reported plan to form a government of national unity (GNU) if his bid is successful.
This, therefore, is a story of re-unification across divided lines, set against the background of an economy that has broken down in the face of two feuding political movements, Zanu PF and the MDC, both of which have tried but failed to find common ground.
There are a number of reasons which make this new development a significant one in Zimbabwean politics.
First, it represents the first major break in the post-Independence era by a significant figure from Zanu PF.
When Edgar Tekere bravely formed ZUM in 1989 and helped stop Mugabe’s plan for a one-party system of government, he was already on his way out of Zanu PF structures.
Though significant, Margaret Dongo’s gallant fight against Zanu PF in 1995 was mainly constituency-based.
There have been many rumours over the years of factionalism and threats to break away, but this is the first time that the country has seen the face of so-called reformists within Zanu PF. It does indicate that there is room for regeneration within the old party.
Second, the approach being pioneered seems to be the advent of a different approach to democratic politics in Africa — the possibility of providing leadership beyond the traditional political party framework. Whether or not this is viable is soon to be tested.
But it would be naïve to ignore the voices that are beginning to doubt the efficacy of party politics per se, given the conditions of African polities. Events in Kenya and elsewhere in Africa have shown how the pursuit of democracy through party politics is vulnerable in the fragile foundations of African countries.
All too often, their capacity to withstand the dynamics of pure democracy has been found wanting as fatal divisions occur along the oldest of societal fault lines: tribe.
The current division of the MDC resembles the old division of the 1980s between PF Zapu and Zanu PF and it does not bode well for stability, even if one of the MDCs wins.
This idea of a government of national unity is not entirely new to Zimbabwe, Zanu PF itself having tried it after the 1987 Unity Accord, but it needs to be supported by good economic management and equitable development across regions.
That Makoni is raising the issue of a GNU also reflects developments elsewhere in Africa. The current political and social instability affecting Kenya, arising from the failed pursuit of electoral democracy, is being resolved through an approach that also privileges leadership by compromise and consensus through a GNU.
It should be recalled that the larger purpose of government, whether democratic or otherwise, is to provide stability to its citizens. Where there is stability, the chances of development and enjoyment of other freedoms also increase.
If Zimbabwe needs anything at this juncture, it is stabilisation in all areas of life. A leadership that is capable of providing stability should find favour among the people.
The political struggle of Zimbabweans cannot be viewed simply within the confines of democracy for the sake of it. Democracy is a means to certain ends, of which stability is one of the primary ones.
Third, the bid comes at a time when the existing opposition seems to have been failing to provide national leadership. The failure to form a united force last week has caused a lot of consternation, particularly among the MDC’s usual benefactors.
There is no doubt that the MDC leaders have fought the good fight over the years. But they too seem to have entered the mode where they see very little beyond their own little fiefdoms so that the national interest seems to now play second-fiddle to individual politicians’ immediate interests.
Zimbabwe badly requires leadership that can bridge the divide, not only between the MDC and Zanu PF but also in various other aspects of life. Whether Makoni and his group have the capacity to do that can only be judged with time, though even they will admit they have little of it.
Fourth, the new development gives rise to hope that the sources from which Zanu PF draws power can be neutralised.
Contrary to common beliefs political power in Africa is not simply decided by the ballot. Power drawn from the security structure remains a crucial factor. This security structure is the main reason for Zanu PF’s hitherto domination, regardless of the outcomes of the ballot.
This break from Zanu PF, if truly significant, has the chance to give those controlling the security structure some options which have not been available until now. Much depends on how much power the breakaways can draw from the security structure and in this regard it remains to be seen whether the Makoni-Mujuru link has any substance. If significant, this will be a crucial factor which no other opposition to Mugabe has ever had.
Fifth, the new development provides Zimbabwe with a chance to rebuild its relations with all significant players in the world, including the maligned West.
The problem with the current leadership is that it perpetuates a one-dimensional view of the world -— the anti-West approach to politics — without actually appreciating the real dynamics of the global economy.
At the same time that they deride the West and applaud the East, British PM Gordon Brown and a group of business leaders were being hosted by the Chinese government. But when President Mugabe goes to the East, he takes his family on holiday. The British are actually making more headway with the Chinese than we are.
If Makoni enjoys the confidence of the West, that is not necessarily a bad thing. The likes of Thabo Mbeki (South Africa), Jakaya Kikwete (Tanzania), Arimando Guebuza (Mozambique) and most other Sadc leaders seem to enjoy Western confidence but that does not make them stooges.
The ability to manage the country and provide bacon on their tables is what matters to the ordinary people.
Finally, there is no doubt that Makoni has his work cut out. There are formidable obstacles ahead.
He needs to draw unity with other opposition forces, now that he is officially one of them. His friends must also come out in the open to boost public confidence that this is real, otherwise some will believe the conspiracy theorists who say that it’s a Zanu PF gimmick. Makoni enjoys a measure of confidence and respect. He needs to make hay while the sun shines. If he is serious about delivering stability, then he has to say what Zimbabwe needs right now.
He might well fail on March 29, but for reasons outlined above, his bid has already made its mark on the country’s fragile political landscape.
* Dr Magaisa is based at the University of Kent Law School and can be contacted at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org