Candid Comment; Not Ballots And Guns Again!

WHEN the political deal to resolve Zimbabwe’s crisis was signed on September 15, I said nothing spectacular could come out of desperate people; such people are incapable of acts of greatness.

 

 

Add to this intra-party fighting for portfolios and inter-party mistrust and you will understand the stalemate over “key” ministries.

The debate on the issue is confused. When at first MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai refused to sign the deal, he was hailed as a hero. We were told without his signature, there was no deal because there would be no foreign aid. A month after he signed, there is no money and the tune has changed to infantile retreat: he shouldn’t have signed the deal before the ministries were allocated. (It is as if people are still nursing a hangover from boycott politics.)

Foreign money will be long in coming. Those who had pledged rescue packages are keen to show it is they who hold the key. They have an excuse for not releasing it by pretending nothing has happened since 1998 although Zanu PF and the MDC have agreed land reform is irreversible. Add to this disconnect the creeping recession after the Wall Street bloodbath and the rest of Europe and you know we are alone for the long haul.

In declaring a deadlock over the sharing of portfolios last week, Tsvangirai said there was no agreement on any ministry. He denied President Mugabe’s view that the dispute was over two “key” ministries of finance and home affairs. Previously the list included foreign affairs, information, local government and defence.

My idea is that the strategic nature of a ministry and the resources allocated to it should be determined based on national development goals such as better health, food, education, housing, sanitation and clean water for the people! Having thus reasoned, and convinced the MDC wanted to improve people’s welfare, I thought they would focus first on social ministries where need is greatest. Isn’t that where all the maladies are most manifest?

Does alleviating people’s misery depend on a party’s ability to arrest, to declare war and peace, to set up diplomatic missions abroad and to spread propaganda?

What could be more exciting for a new minister than getting the agriculture portfolio where all the machinery has already been provided? What could be more uplifting than to see that sector turned around over the next two seasons and ensure Zimbabwe is able to feed itself, export maize, cotton and tobacco once again?

Local government is not about Ignatious Chombo imposing unelected Zanu PF councillors on local authorities. It is about service delivery. People want clinics, houses, market stalls, lighting, water and safe roads and clean cities. A political party with people-centred policies would die to expose Zanu PF’s incompetence by restoring the beauty of our towns.

Who is better placed to win votes in the next elections than the man who turns around the collapsing health sector? The infrastructure hasn’t completely collapsed in most hospitals. With resources, we don’t need miracle workers to get things working again. The same can be said of education which has been hard hit by the depletion of resources and the brain drain. What is needed are packages of incentives to woo back our teachers, lecturers, doctors, nurses and engineers.

Take rural housing and social amenities. Isn’t that a windfall for any political party? That is where 75% of the population lives. Who would lose a national election again after building one’s political base there providing desperately needed low-cost housing, toilets, boreholes, accommodation for teachers, the police, chiefs and headmen? Who would lose a vote with women and the youth on his side given that the combined groups constitute the majority of voters in any national election?

My observations are based on the understanding that ministries propose the budgets they want, lobby fellow MPs and get the resources they need. In our situation where Zanu PF and the MDC share MPs almost 50-50, I don’t see how a ministry’s request can be blocked on the basis of which party holds it and how controlling the army or police can resolve that.

I chose the social ministries believing that our political leaders are acting in good faith and in the best interest of the people; and also that political power derives from the people through performance, not from the barrel of the gun. For if real power can be contemplated only within the oppressive state institutions set up in the Rhodesian era, what transition is there to talk about?

The myth of “key” ministries is interesting. First, it is completely divorced from the people’s plight, hence the lack of urgency among the principals. It puts the spotlight on their mutual mistrust, which has coalesced into paralysing paranoia. Each suspects the other is plotting an ambush for it around the corner.

Second, it is based on a debatable postulate that a ministry is strategic per se outside an exigency which necessitates the mobilisation and deployment of national resources through its structures, such as war, famine or disease outbreak. Beside health and police, there is no indispensable ministry. Why in a democracy should one government ministry be special to any political party beside bargaining for individual-specific posts?

Third, nothing suggests that either Zanu PF or the MDC wants defence or home affairs portfolios for anything other than as instruments of coercion. They seem to have endorsed Mugabe’s belief that not only should you use force if necessary to get into power but that the gun must be “its security officer –– its guarantor”.

The tussle is as if Tsvangirai as prime minister will be in charge of only MDC ministers operating outside cabinet consensus. A deal between two or more people can only be as bad or good as the desires of those who sign and implement it. Until the principals put people at the centre, there will be no end to areas of discord and Thabo Mbeki is no magician to cure the mutual suspicion between them.

By Joram Nyathi

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