By Vimbai Walker
THIS has been a week of political drama. No bookmakers would have got this one right at all: the seemingly converging MDC formations finally breaking irretrievably apart and the reluctant S
imba Makoni’s shock challenge for the highest office.
First we had the following developments: “Deadlock in MDC talks,” screamed the Sunday Mail headline of February 3. The Standard carried a more subtle “MDC factions deadlocked” on Page 2. Then of course the Herald on Monday gleefully headlined “MDC faction talks collapse”.
That this news was painfully received by the majority of Zimbabweans — including some moderates in Zanu PF — is completely lost on the amateurish and hopelessly incompetent MDC leadership.
Certainly, many people all over the world — non-Zimbabweans included — had hoped that the one event that would galvanise Zimbabweans into rushing to last-minute voter registration and voters’ roll inspection would be the weekend announcement of a coherent, unified MDC to face President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF.
That this seemed inevitable, given the intense lobbying and cajoling the feuding parties had been receiving from every corner of the globe as well as the common-sense necessity of doing so, had been premised on the fact that never has the ruling party been so vulnerable, especially on the economic and social fronts.
The national blackouts, the cash shambles and banking crisis, the stratospheric inflation rate and trebling prices — the whole general mess the country is in would surely have been enough motivation for any opposition leadership to cast aside any differences and go for the jugular.
A sharp, short, shrill and united campaign would have been all that was required to capture the state presidency, even at this late hour where many people had not bothered to register to vote. Never mind the parliamentary and senatorial posts.
And then Makoni does what everyone has been coaxing him to do: join the fray, and with that single move, he has ripped the hitherto solid Zanu PF image to shreds.
All right-thinking Zimbabweans need to see this move by Makoni in its right context — that of rescuing Zimbabwe from a further five-year misery. It has certainly not been an easy decision, and there is no guarantee that it will be a successful challenge, but this is the greatest hope Zimbabweans have for change now.
The timing of course has been spot-on. If the disappointing MDC formations had indeed re-united, then it would have been a mistake for Makoni to dilute the new enhanced chance of electoral success by the united opposition.
Zimbabweans need to cast aside the habit of criticising new entrants and people who make realistic sacrifices for the betterment of all, and desist from destructive conspiracy theories. Already, Makoni’s move is being touted as a Zanu PF intelligence creation. This is not helpful at all.
The MDC leadership, if it can be called that, inexplicably fails to grasp that by its arrogant and misguided insistence to approach the elections as separate formations they are alienating whole swathes of voters, the international community and their capacity to lobby for support.
As it is, the MDC’s urban support base has been shrinking considerably over the years, mainly due to perceived bungling, policy failures, dithering and indecisiveness, and Zanu PF is steadily capitalising on that. If the chances of the MDC winning the elections had been 55% as a united front, they will have dropped to less than 30% as a result of this own goal.
It has become clear that the MDC has the following weaknesses:
* Incompetence: the MDC has consistently failed to convert winning situations to its advantage. In particular, they behaved inexplicably when the presidential election was stolen in 2002, with Morgan Tsvangirai failing to provide solid leadership to the population which was clearly angry and indignant. Subsequently, they failed to capitalise on Operation Murambatsvina, the cash queues and now the national blackouts, among many other disasters which the despondent and angry population would have responded to in a unified show of defiance.
* Greed: it is clear to any discerning potential voter (read urban Zimbabwean) that the MDC has become a career movement for its senior leadership, hence the silly squabbling about non-existent national posts. How can you immobilise yourselves before a crucial election by arguing about cabinet posts, vice-presidencies etc instead of wooing the voters and drumming the point home for everyone to register to vote even at this late hour? It is has become disgustingly obvious that all the focus and motivation are now centred on parliamentary perks (4×4 vehicles and fat allowances) and the “fame” of being MPs. And the donor cash for the top leadership.
* Arrogance and naivety: the Sadc mediation effort, which the MDC typically had no Plan B for, should really not have been just between Zanu PF and the MDC formations only. This really stemmed from the arrogance the MDC has that it represents the entirety of disgruntled Zimbabweans. Maybe this would have been true six years ago, but not anymore. The constant bungling and squabbling have left many Zimbabweans disillusioned and hopeless, and the only reason most would vote for them is that they see the need to break the Zanu PF stranglehold on the country, and hope to sort out the MDC soon after elections.
There is no doubt that the shocking performance of Zanu PF in the 28 years it has been in power — the economic mismanagement, the kleptocracy, the violence and corruption — would make anyone with a normal, moral, functioning brain not want to return them to office.
But this does not make the MDC saints. Tsvangirai naively thinks he is the best alternative Zimbabweans have to Mugabe. How incredible! His behaviour alienates many Zimbabwean voters, including most in the diplomatic community. Certainly, the MDC is now just as guilty of failure to renew its leadership as Zanu PF.
Tsvangirai has led the party through three failed elections since its formation, and anywhere else in the world he would have stepped aside for someone to give the party a new shot at power. It doesn’t have to be Arthur Mutambara he has to defer to; even Tendai Biti, Lucia Matibenga, Welshman Ncube, Elias Mudzuri or whoever would have added new flavour to the party image. There is nothing that beats rejuvenating an opposition party than timely and transparent leadership renewal.
It is obvious that there are deficiencies in both MDC formations. The Mutambara faction has its own serious shortcomings, not least its perceived tribal slant and cleverly contrived sympathetic treatment by state media. Even some of its senior leaders have failed to come clean on allegations of benefiting from patronage extended by Zanu PF.
But the formation is undeniably a major player in the opposition arena. And ignoring or belittling its role and influence in a major election is a recipe for disaster.
It is common cause that the Tsvangirai formation is generally the aggressor when it comes to negotiations, stemming from its overstated larger support base.
It is also obvious that Tsvangirai himself panders to the whims and interests of a lot of his close advisers, most of whom manifestly do not have the national interest at heart.
There is no doubt that by quibbling and prevaricating, and as a result failing to prevail on his power-hungry camp, Tsvangirai has dented his own chances of victory and thus condemning Zimbabweans to prolonged misery.
And when all is said and done, the MDC should bear some responsibility for the economic and social mess Zimbabwe is in now. Wait, this is not because of the ridiculous oft-repeated statement that they invited economic sanctions on the country, but simply because they dared challenge Zanu PF and failed to complete the job.
History will acknowledge how recklessly Mugabe reacted to the threat of losing power when the MDC was formed in 1999, and the subsequent loss of the referendum in February 2000. The Zanu PF response is well-documented: the farm invasions, the destruction of sound economic practice, social standards, including absolute control of the media, the violence and murders etc.
Now, will all that fight for normalcy, the ensuing suffering and resultant destruction of the economy be in vain simply because of selfish posturing?
Thus the entry of Makoni in the presidential race breathes new life, interest and hope into the election.
Perhaps the more moderate of the MDC formations, plus all other practical change-seeking institutions, will campaign for Makoni as president. Surely this is the only realistic way of achieving electoral success.
*Vimbai Walker is the nom de plume of a Harare based writer.