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Opposition parties lack strategists

The outcomes of general elections in Zimbabwe in recent years suggest that apart from being victims political violence, electoral irregularities and ballot manipulation, opposition parties lack competent strategists and think-thanks which provide analysis and insights as well as concrete ideas, policy options and solutions.

Elias Mambo

New trends in politics maintain the brains behind the success of any political party because they judge the mood of the voters better and help introduce policies that may sway the vote to their preferred candidates in elections.

However, since the victory of Zanu PF and President Robert Mugabe amidst vote rigging and systematic disenfranchisement allegations, Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC-T has been exposed as a party heavily reliant on protest politics which no longer appeal to the people as much as it did previously.

Tsvangirai’s advisors and the MDC’s decision-making body showed a serious deficiency in decision-making, especially in mapping the course of serious issues of national concern.

The MDC-T is currently embroiled in an acrimonious battle for the heart and minds of the party, precipitated by calls for Tsvangirai to step down to make way for leadership renewal following the party’s poor showing last year.

In the July 31 general elections Mugabe romped to victory in the presidential race by polling 61% while Tsvangirai plunged to 33%. Zanu PF garnered 159 parliamentary seats with MDC-T managing just 49.

Zanu PF is also mired in a largely behind the scenes, long-running succession battle which has occasionally become public, with factions eying to succeed President Robert positioning themselves ahead of a much-anticipated congress come December.

Little has however been heard from the Welshman Ncube-led MDC which appears to have gone into hibernation following a dismal showing at the polls in which it failed to win a single seat.

Alexander Rusero, a local political analyst said Zimbabwe’s political parties, especially opposition parties, are not investing in intelligence and have remained stuck in student politics, unionism and sloganeering instead of engaging think-tanks to advise them on the course modern politics is taking.

“Political parties, especially the MDC-T, have remained arrested by protest politics instead of investing in strategists and think-tanks which can advise the party leadership on what is expected by the voters,” Rusero said.

“Opposition politics should take a leaf from other countries which invest in intelligence for them to survive politically.”

Rusero added: “In the United Kingdom, for example, political leaders seek advice from Anthony Giddens, a social democratic theorist whose advice has been sought by political leaders from Asia, Latin America and Australia, as well as by leaders such as former British prime minister Tony Blair and former American president Bill Clinton.”

Rusero also said Blair has taken on the role of advisor to the Rwandan government, a move that shows Rwandan President Paul Kagame is investing in political strategy so as to entrench his hold on power.

Brian Raftopoulos, a professor at the University of Western Cape (UWC) and director of research and advocacy at Solidarity Peace Trust said Zanu PF has taken the issue of engaging strategists more seriously than the opposition.

“If we look at the two major political parties in Zimbabwe, Zanu PF has done well in trying to keep up with modern trends in politics by engaging political think-tanks,” Raftopoulos said.

“Even though its strategy is dirty, Zanu PF has within its
structure people who have not sought public office like its key positions in its commissariat department. In 2010, Air Vice-Marshal Henry Muchena retired from the Air Force of Zimbabwe and joined the party where he has played a crucial role in galvanising the party’s hold on power.”

Raftopoulos said the MDC-T, on the other hand, had its strategists at the centre of government affairs during the inclusive government era (2009-2013).

“There are people in the MDC-T who should not have been part of the government because the party was left orphaned at a time it needed serious advisors outside the state,” he said.

“It may be an issue of lack of resources, but for example in South Africa the ANC’s secretary-general Gwede Mantashe has not been part of the state but is like a minister because the party has capacity to maintain such strategists outside the government budget.”

Rusero said: “The MDC-T secretary-general Tendai Biti is a good strategist who was trapped in government and concentrated his energy on trying to rescue the country’s economy when the party needed more from him.

“There were no think-tanks to critically analyse the American think-tank Freedom House report which clearly stated the MDC-T was going to face heavy defeat because all the strategists were vying for political office and such news could not be entertained and was thus dismissed to the detriment of the party.”

A poll in mid 2012 sponsored by Freedom House showed a dramatic fall in the MDC-T’s support from 38% to 19%, and that of Zanu PF rising from 17% to 31%. However, the MDC-T leadership claimed the poll results did not reflect a true picture of the state of their support on the ground.

In an interview, former deputy Justice minister and MDC-T Harare spokesperson Obert Gutu said political parties need to adjust new trends if they are to remain relevant.

“Going forward politics is becoming smart, scientific, precise and engaging. Gone are the days when sloganeering was the be all and end all of local politics,” Gutu said.

“It is now long overdue for Zimbabwean politicians to engage what I prefer to call smart politics. Invariably, we are dealing with an increasingly enlightened electorate which is more interested in policy issues than sloganeering. This is a discerning electorate which will not easily be sold a dummy.

“They want you to engage them on bread and butter policies and ideological issues. They are moving away from protest politics. They want you to define and articulate your policies and, at the same time, they would scrutinise you to ascertain whether or not you mean what you say and say what you mean.”

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