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MDC Should Heed Criticism

TODAY we witness growing criticism not only of the MDC but of Zimbabwean political parties in general –– a criticism that goes beyond Mugabe and his Zanu PF.


Admittedly, I share the belief that such criticism helps create conditions for a healthy democracy in that it provides the tools for checks and balances.  The need for checks and balances stems from the dangers of entrusting power in the hands of an individual or a few individuals because of the possible abuse of such power.  
   Whilst I agree with the notion that it is normal for any movement which seeks to mobilise representation of previously excluded political communities to coalesce around a single leader, this has a disadvantage in that it precludes the creation and adherence to well established democratic political structures and systems.  
I submit that it only serves to create a leader who wields immense prestige, whose right to make policy on behalf of the party/movement virtually goes unchallenged and thus helps in the creation of a dictatorship. This is a lesson that Zimbabweans have learnt from Mugabe’s regime and indeed a lesson learnt elsewhere in Africa –– a lesson that must be thrown in the dustbin of leadership if Zimbabwe is to create a democracy and yet it is showing its ugly head through intolerance from the MDC in the face of criticism.
Of course like in any emerging democracy intolerance tends to prevail even within those political parties guided by democratic principles. It is therefore not surprising that the MDC, a social democratic party, harbours some elements which are intolerant to criticism including at the party’s top leadership. This intolerance is partly due to the political orientation experienced by the majority of MDC membership from Zanu PF by virtue of belonging to the later party in the past.  Indeed most MDC members including its top leadership have been once members of Zanu PF hence this monster of “embedded intolerance”. But most of all this is a function of the need for a crucial domestic regime transformation which Kathryn Sikkink calls a “spiral model”.
In this model, a new generation of political leaders has to be socialised into an environment in which the acceptance of criticism is the norm. Indeed the Zimbabwean environment has to be transformed into one in which democratic values are a norm if democracy is to succeed. The “spiral” of domestic change in this case starts with rhetoric commitment to democracy and its values and ends with the socialisation of a new generation into a world in which democratic values including tolerance are regarded as a norm.  I submit this is not an easy task for Zimbabwe given the political history of the country.  
Indeed the political and socio-economic crisis in Zimbabwe can be sought from the political philosophy of Zanu PF, which has helped mould Mugabe as one of the worst dictators of Africa.  Admittedly, there are a number of reasons that contributed to the creation of a dictatorship in Zimbabwe and in Mugabe in particular.  These include inter alia the Zanu PF constitution, unabated praises of a single leader coupled with political naivety among Zimbabweans, entrenched nepotism and the Zimbabwe constitution.
On the other hand while Zanu PF emerged in the 1960s as a nationalist and mass party aimed at fighting against colonialism and racism in Rhodesia, the MDC emerged as a result of the failure by the Zanu PF government to govern Zimbabwe “justly, transparently, honestly, fairly and equitably”. The MDC is therefore a political party that seeks to address the various concerns regarding the governing of Zimbabwe that include the inability of the economy to meet basic needs of Zimbabweans, disempowerment of people and the breach of the rule of law, human right abuses, lack of progress with respect to the land issue, rampant corruption and unaccountability, and the absence of a national constitution framed by and for the people.  The MDC has emerged as a broad based political party dedicated to the “promotion and advancement of human rights and to setting up a government based on the principles of freedom and good governance.”  
Thus the MDC is a social democratic party that believes in the empowering of the people through increased participation in democratic structures that operate on the basis of transparency and accountability to effect development.  The party unlike Zanu PF, aims at an open democracy in which national government is accountable to the people through the devolution of power.
Unlike the Zanu PF party that forces people through violence to give it the mandate to govern, the MDC seeks the mandate of the people to govern through free, fair and direct elections.  The biggest question that needs to be answered is whether the MDC is living by its word as entrenched in the Party constitution.  
I submit that there are a number of developments in the MDC that help reveal the party’s derailment from its founding social democratic principles which are enshrined in its constitution.  These include:
lThe MDC leadership is trying to maintain complete and total control over MDC and Zimbabwe. The continued violation of the MDC constitution serves as evidence that suggests that the MDC is becoming a personal and private entity.  Such continued violation of the MDC constitution and people’s will without any challenge indeed makes the top leadership more  powerful, as was the case with Zanu PF that steered Zimbabwe into disaster unchallenged.
lThe MDC leadership does not take well to criticism to the extent that dialogue with the leadership becomes impossible.  The leadership does not understand why people should be allowed to criticise it.  Criticism of the MDC leadership be it at cell or national level is unacceptable.  To allow criticism or different opinions, to negotiate or compromise, to recede to due process are signs of weakness.  I submit that all these are signs of dictatorial tendencies.
lJust like in the Zanu PF party, the MDC leadership run and maintains a patronage system within the party -—  a patronage system that is oiled through corruption largely in the form of the appointment of relatives and close confidantes and associates to positions of leadership in the party and ultimately in government if the chance arises.  As a result the leadership has become so obsessed with securing its position that it has invented a game of orchestrating leadership coups within the party where it feels threatened and insecure, eg the Matibenga saga and the UK and Ireland Tapa executive saga.  To this extent, the leadership fails to realise that democracy is a necessary condition to eradicate corruption, even if the democracies themselves are not immune from it.  
lThe result of such a patronage system in the MDC is that it has managed to crowd out ideas towards the struggle for democracy leaving the party with little choices in difficult times.  At the same time, the leadership cannot reinvent itself because so many others depend on it and it in turn must depend on so many others. As a result, the leadership has stopped learning because buffoons who rarely dare tell it what it does not wish to hear surround it.  It is deceived on a daily basis and it has become ignorant of its party and the basis of its support.  It is fed unrealistic information so that it and its expectations become unrealistic.  
l Zero consultation of the people and interested stakeholders on the negotiations for power sharing with Zanu PF resulting in the MDC leadership signing a flawed agreement that serves the interests of Zanu PF. One cannot rule out the fact that self serving interests and individual power interests were paramount in propelling the MDC leadership to go to bed with Zanu PF.
There is no doubt that such developments within the MDC are an indication of a political party that is heading towards “normative entrapment”.  A situation in which the MDC leadership made/make promises which it seems opportune or in their interests at the time to make but without the intention to keep.  Such a Machiavellian thinking and approach might lead to the creation of yet another dictatorship.  If this is the case then the MDC leadership has to be advised that the promises made to people if not delivered will come back to haunt them at a later time, when those to whom promises were made eventually call them in.
   As such criticism should be seen by the MDC leadership as an indication that today Zimbabweans are not like the Zimbabweans of yesteryear when Zanu PF took people for granted.  Zimbabweans have grown out of their political naivety and are seeking for a true democracy and will not tolerate anything that derails the realisation of a democratic Zimbabwe.

lZhuawu is a Zimbabwean political scientist based in the United Kingdom. His e-mail is collinzhuawu@aol.com

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