The People and the Beast, one Year on

A COLLEAGUE remarked to me last week that time moves very fast in Zimbabwe.


He cited the fact that it seems to be only recently that he was part of the throngs of people that went to the Rainbow Towers in September last year to witness the possibly historic signing of the Global Political Agreement between the post-March 2008 three main political protagonists.

 

And after the last 12 months he is not sure what to make of most of the political processes that have occurred.

These range from the promises made that this would be a transitional government, that the constitutional reform process would be “people driven”, and that the national economy would improve significantly with the advent of an inclusive government.   

To be sure this uncertainty is not just peculiar to my colleague but is shared by many Zimbabweans.  This is because assessing the relationship between the people and the beast that is the inclusive government is an onerous task.  Questions relating to whether this arrangement is sustainable or is working still remain inadequately answered. 

Even issues relating to the nature of the personal, if any, relationship between President Mugabe and Prime Minister Tsvangirai remain the subject of speculation within the public psyche.  

However, it is my considered view that a pattern as to how the inclusive government is functioning a year after the signing of the GPA can now be discerned.  This pattern is characterised by about four trends.  

The first is that the inclusive government is beginning to manage and in fact lower policy change expectations/standards for the people. Secondly, there is regular mimicry of Zanu PF political culture within the new parties in government.

Thirdly, the inclusive government is willing to soldier on beyond the unofficially anticipated 18 months and fourthly, that civil society has been to a larger extent co-opted into the competitive actions of the inclusive government.

The first pattern referred to above can be understood through the English proverb, “half a loaf is better that nothing”.  While it might actually be less than half a loaf, the remaining quantity would still be better than nothing at all. It is true that upon the signing of the GPA and the swearing in of the prime minister and other new cabinet members, national optimism had never been higher in the country.

The slight improvement brought in through dollarisation of the economy was popular in relation to the filling up of supermarkets and the seeming revival of the small-scale businesses that dot the country.  The improvement in health care, though mainly in the private hospitals and the referral public ones, was enough to lift people’s spirits, but for the problem of the ability to purchase or access the newly available goods and services.  

The inclusive government and the political parties involved therein have however not allowed such problems to hinder their annunciations of “work in progress”. The compromises that they continue to reach between themselves over the appointment of commissions, the constitutional reform exercise as well as the national healing process are clearly a departure from what the people would have expected, and the three political principals know this very well. 

So it has become their business, almost a year on, to ensure that the people they lead do not easily remember the initial agenda of the inclusive government either as espoused in the GPA or within the framework of their party policies.  Where anyone has differed with their own assessment of what they perceive to be their progress, these persons are labelled spoilers, imperialist NGOs or as persons harbouring personal political ambition.

The second pattern that is increasingly worrying as it is real is that the two new parties in the government are beginning to mimic the old one.  Apart from the understandable difficulties that the MDC factions have because this is their first time in government, there are similarities to Zanu PF in the manner in which they have dealt with those that oppose their views. 

Expulsions from parliament that are laced with a unique political vindictiveness are normally the forte of Zanu PF. So too are reports of, on occasion, physical or negative publicity related attacks on those that differ with what is preferred as the “party position” on issues concerning the inclusive government.

This pattern is then further augmented by the cooption of the MDCs into assumedly national events where they have no other role to play save for attendance and salutation. This is akin to not being able to present a historical narrative that differs from what Zanu PF portrays as “true” or “correct” nationalism.

The third trend relates to a tacit understanding between the three political parties that there is a possibility of the extension of elections beyond the anticipated period of 18 months.  This is evidenced by the confused and publicly confusing nature of the constitutional reform process, which when completed, is meant to be the raison-d’etre for the holding of new elections in terms of the new constitution.

It may not be as deliberate as it seems, but the silence over and about when free and fair elections can be held on the part of the political leaders of the GPA is tellingly indicative of the fact that each party is biding its time, trying to wear the others out, take advantage of mistakes made by either parties and eventually ascend to power without strong rivalry.

This means that there might be an unwritten intention to allow this government to last throughout the life of the current parliament which is presumed to be there until 2013.  

The fourth and final trend to be considered is that of the cooption of civil society into the political processes and competition between the three political parties.

Because civil society has over the last 10 or so years been generally sympathetic to the parties that espouse democratic values, the entry of the MDC into government has meant that the latter has continued to ask for loyalty from it regardless of whether decisions made are based on democratic principle or opportunism.

 
The argument has resided in the mantra that the inclusive government presents a unique and close to infallible opportunity for political reform. 

Various NGOs have almost literally fallen over their feet to ensure that they do not contradict the policy pronouncements of the inclusive government regardless of whether or not it suits an agenda for meaningful democratic reform or not.

The NCA, ZCTU and Zinasu have differed with this approach and have continued to remind the inclusive government and the public about the original aims and objectives of the struggle for the democratisation for Zimbabwe, as recently as through their Second Peoples Constitutional Convention. 

The business side of civil society will also continue to try to glean as much profit as possible from the multi-currency economy and will negotiate with the three parties to make as much as they possibly can from promises of privatisation of state assets.

To conclude, the four patterns that I have outlined in this article are essentially going to continue throughout the life of this inclusive government.  I have not included the role that Sadc will attempt to play in this political set-up because it will no longer seek direct intervention as it has done over the year.

  Not least because it will be under the chairpersonship of President Kabila of the Congo but more because, since the inclusive government has lasted a year, there is no rational political argument that can be made as to why it cannot last another year if not more. 

This is especially so given the statements of commitment to the “spirit and letter” of the GPA that have emanated from the three political principals.

=Takura Zhangazha is the National Director of Misa Zimbabwe. He writes here in his personal capacity.

By Takura Zhangazha