ZIMBABWE’S political playing field is still uneven and heavily tilted in favour of the incumbent President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF party.
Opinion by William Muchayi
The failure by the coalition government to implement agreed reforms has not helped the situation. The MDC parties and others cannot afford to boycott the coming elections in protest as much is at stake.
It means that political parties opposed to Mugabe and Zanu PF have to squeeze the most out of this hostile environment that favours the incumbent if at all they wish to defeat him at the ballot box.
How then can the MDC parties overcome this monumental obstacle and enhance their chances of winning? There is no single answer to this question, but without doubt, the strategy they will use will play a significant part in determining the outcome of the elections. Many analysts have dwelt on this subject before and it is thus familiar among readers.
However, in as much as analysts have criticised the MDC parties for their failure to come up with a credible, clear and coherent strategy to win at the polls, it is unfortunate that few of them have come up with ideas as to what is to be done to end Mugabe’s reign.
Parties opposed to Mugabe and Zanu PF need a grand strategy that is more robust and effective than Mugabe’s to win. It takes a coalition of opposition forces to remove a dictator.
History is littered with evidence to back this argument that dictators cling onto power not much because of their shrewdness or craftiness, but because of the weaknesses of the opposition. In most cases, the opposition is hopelessly fragmented, disorganised and prone to squabbling.
Today, Zimbabwe has almost 30 political parties with the addition of Joseph Busha’s Free Zim Congress which was launched recently. Of late, Lovemore Madhuku, Raymond Majongwe and Job Sikhala have hinted that they may form their own political party to add onto this crowded political space. One would ask, do we need all these parties?
Fragmentation is the curse of African opposition parties and sitting dictators exploit this to their advantage. In the November 2011 elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), there were 25 contenders challenging President Joseph Kabila. In the end, Kabila outmanoeuvred them all to be proclaimed the winner.
In 2006, Ivory Coast had 130 political parties, Senegal 77 and Liberia 200. Mali had more than 159 political parties and Angola had more than 138 in 2008. In the October 2011 elections in Cameroon, there were over 200 political parties and over 50 candidates challenging President Paul Biya.
In all the above examples, the opposition failed to unseat the incumbents not only because of the uneven playing field, but also due to their fragmentation and failure to present a united front.
By contrast, a coalition of opposition parties succeeded in unseating Daniel arap Moi of Kenya in 2002 after many years of failure due to divisions and the same happened in the 1993 elections in Malawi when ex-president Kamuzu Banda was removed. Moi and Banda were just as ruthless as Mugabe.
The recent strategic coalition between President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto during the Kenyan elections shows the power of alliances in such situations.
Compare that to what is happening now in Zimbabwe. The endless spats between Prime Minister Morgan Tsvanggirai, Industry and Commerce minister Welshman Ncube and Madhuku do not help anyone. The primary focus of all opposition groups should be to remove the current despotic regime from power and anything else is secondary. Few, if any, opposition leaders seem to understand this open secret.
The major problem with opposition groups is failure to advance policy alternatives to voters. Usually, parties are limited only to emphasising on their ability to run the government “better” than the incumbent party. That is a serious flaw in opposition strategy.
Even though the MDC-T and MDC have launched their policy blueprints, opposition forces in Zimbabwe tend to emphasise human rights issues, while failing to clearly articulate Mugabe’s failure to deliver in education, health, economic development and poverty reduction. The opposition should articulate these issues in a language that resonates with the electorate whether rural or urban.
An example is the perennial water and power crisis in urban areas. The electorate has the right to know why the opposition which controls most urban constituencies, has failed to resolve these problems in spite of having been in charge for five years.
The opposition should swallow their pride and admit their powerlessness and at times incompetence to effect change as their role is mainly ceremonial in the current coalition arrangement.
It is naïve for MDC parties to claim to have any meaningful power to effect positive change in the coalition as Zanu PF still dictates policy in most cases. At the same time, they should be prepared to justify their stay in this political marriage of convenience as most politicians in other parts of the world would have quit in protest.
In most cases, the opposition is weak in developing a comprehensive political vision, leaving the incumbent entrenched in power. Emphasising the need for alternative policy by the opposition, Phillip Isakpa argues that “if ruling politicians are failing the people, it is the responsibility of the opposition to step in, in a credible, robust, articulate, clear and coherent manner, to provide alternative policy options on how to deal with the challenges that confront the country”.
This means the opposition should explain their policy alternatives to the water and power crises in urban areas, education, health care, unemployment and other crucial issues.
Mugabe is at his weakest since 1980. Factionalism threatens to tear Zanu PF to pieces as the president has failed to resolve the succession issue. This chaos should be an opportunity for opposition parties to capitalise on. The first rule of combat is “know the enemy”, his weaknesses and strengths.
In the next elections, the MDC parties should go for the kill, targeting the regime’s weak spots. Mugabe is increasingly failing to come to grips with Zanu PF’s infighting and divisions. He is now old, tired and frail to stamp his authority on his party.
The opposition should not be like bystanders watching a free boxing contest, but should reach out to moderate factions within Zanu PF for engagement and mutual co-operation. By so doing, they would weaken Mugabe’s already shaky grip on power.
However, caution should be exercised as the MDC groups can be vulnerable to infiltration by moles from Zanu PF.
The MDC parties should exhaust all possible channels in isolating the regime. This may seem bizarre, taking into consideration that a coalition government is in place today in Zimbabwe. Diplomatic recognition is one external support systems the dictator survives on as well as foreign aid, foreign loans and other props.
It is a serious mistake for the MDC formations to embrace Mugabe as if he is a saint today, yet he has not honoured his side of the bargain in the coalition. Mugabe has not yet reformed and accepted change. No meaningful reforms have been implemented since 2009.
The brutal murder of Christpowers Maisiri, harassment of human rights activists and curtailing of freedoms of speech and expression are clear signs that Mugabe and his party are still on the warpath.
Recent reports that MDC-T secretary for defence and security Giles Mutsekwa has reached out to the military commanders is positive news in the party’s quest to negotiate transition with the armed forces.
Mugabe is still clinging onto power largely because of security forces. The MDC parties should realise that it is largely the top brass in the security sector who are too close to Mugabe, but as for the lower-ranked forces, their situation is not much different from that of the ordinary people.
To succeed, a popular movement for change must have the backing of the security sector as happened in Egypt and Tunisia. The same thing happened in Georgia in November 2003 when security forces were charmed with roses.
Within the army and the police force as well as the judiciary, there are many who are sympathetic to the cause of change and MDC parties should throw an olive branch to them.
If Mugabe managed to work with Rhodesian commander General Peter Walls and others, what prevents the MDC parties from working with Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander General Constantine Chiwenga, Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri, Air Force commander Air Marshall Perrence Shiri and others?
Mugabe’s old age is a massive disadvantage in his bid to seek re-election. He is no longer marketable to the electorate. The president is frail and tired. The MDC parties should capitalise on this and other Mugabe weaknesses.
Besides, the MDC parties must make use of modern technology to the fullest as happened during the Arab spring revolutions. Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp and many other social media platforms must be used to update others on election processes and results.
Muchayi is a political analyst who can be contacted on email@example.com