Zimbabwe is experiencing a crisis of lack of transformation. We live in times of ongoing crisis, the extension and intensification of inequalities concerning class, gender and fundamental freedoms; a return of the importance of the economy and political economy, a lack of imagination of alternatives to the authoritarian politics of Zanu PF, an intensification of right-wing extremist and fascist state politics.
Pedzisayi Ruhanya, Political analyst
There is an apparent lack of vision and power of the democratic contingent, an intensification and extension of extremely repressive forms of state power such as state-sponsored attacks on protestors, communications surveillance conducted by secret services and ideological scapegoating run by the regime’s ideologues and organic intellectuals.
Therefore, we need to ask questions, theorise and conduct critical analysis of all democratic forces (political and civic) in the context of the rise of a hegemonic state apparatus controlled by a competitive electoral authoritarian regime under Zanu PF that now appears to be bankrupt of both money and ideas.
Borrowing from Italian political philosopher Antonio Gramsci, the Zimbabwe crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum, a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.
With the apparent end of President Robert Mugabe’s era in Zimbabwe politics in sight, the question we should grapple with at this historic moment is whether Zimbabweans should invest their energies in the search for power or the search for transformation of state politics.
Given the morbid symptoms in opposition forces and the ruling party itself, where the corruption of the politics has replaced the urgent need to transform society with a narrow culture of power grab mainly by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) formations and Zanu PF resulting in unfocussed rapturous power struggles.
The agenda to grab power by both opposition and ruling party leaders has relegated the desires of ordinary citizens and the nation at large to transform the political economy to build a durable democratic society. This, in my view, is the major question we grapple with.
Both Zanu PF power struggles ahead of its congress in December 2014 and the second split of the opposition MDC in April 2014 are best explained by the narrow agenda to grab power. There is no focus on the need to democratise the state and its institutions in order to construct a durable democracy.
For instance, the power struggles by the MDC formations that have culminated in the recall of 21 MPs by a faction led by Morgan Tsvangirai is not premised on a national agenda to transform the state and its undemocratic institutions. Both groups are pre-occupied with power grabs within their little zones while relegating the need to have durable national transformation questions on the periphery.
It is tragic that power capture has mainly defined the differences between the opposing groups in the MDC formations. Their differences are devoid of any meaningful or discernible need to transform the predatory politics of their opponents in Zanu PF.
Equally so, the opposition has failed to read and provide a long-term political trajectory through a survey of the shifting changes in the modes of production and the need to address the urgent question of livelihoods.
The recall of the 21 MPs epitomises the power-grab mentality of the opposition leadership. It would not be surprising to see power struggles in the Tsvangirai camp to occupy the vacant seats. Equally so, it would surprise a few if there are no fissures already within the MDC Renewal group as a result of this setback. Because of the desire to grab power that has now defined opposition politics, both groups may face an uncertain future unless they refocus to the need to broadly change state politics.
The problems affecting the opposition contingent has shown that they have deviated from the need to have long-term reforms. Most significantly, the opposition fissures also suggest that the leadership of the contra movement, given their narrow politics, have the potential if given an opportunity to replace Zanu PF’s authoritarian, extractive and parasitic institutions with worse entrenched practices.
Simply put, the opposition and its allies have lost the course of a democratic movement. They are evolving into a pernicious, predatory and authoritarian group that mirrors the behaviour of the oppressor in both theory and practice.
My contention is that unless, the opposition contingent refocuses on the need to pursue a long-term, arduous and painful road as experienced by other successful reform movements especially in 19th Century Europe and America, they risk metamorphosing into rent-seeking authoritarian groups; a tragedy that befell most African liberation regimes such as Unip in Zambia and Zanu PF where genuine liberation movements turned into the very oppressive regimes they successfully fought against because of the unquenchable pursuit of absolute power.
Zimbabwe’s politics has been corrupted to the extent that both in Zanu PF and the MDC, power capture now defines their modus operandi. Powerful groups in both parties use unorthodox ways of power retention, among them political violence.
This explains the criminal manner in which the “Weevils” Zanu PF faction violently pushed out its “Gamatox” adversaries. The MDC has tragically mimicked the methods of the oppressor and fails to project itself as the alternative by understanding that differences within political parties are good for democracy. On the contrary, there is now an entrenched view in the MDC that intra-party differences are not good for the party; that the leader is always right and that democratic principles and practices are bad for political control. These are false assumptions that are causing raptures in the opposition camps.
The reason why the MDC formations assume these false democratic assumptions could be that because the opposition leadership has veered off the long and painful route to an ideal democratic society where those in power should be there to serve the democratic aspirations of the ordinary people by focusing on long-term democratic transformation than quick objectives of power conquering without addressing the institutional structures and frameworks under which power is exercised.
Without doubt, the quest by ordinary citizens to construct democratic political and economic institutions for long-term state architecture that started at the end of the 21st Century with the formation of reform movements such as the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) has been relegated by the activities of the MDC’s mimicry of Zanu PF’s narrow politics of power grab. Unfortunately, the NCA has also joined the gravy train against the principles it articulated at its formation in 1997.
As argued by Phillan Zamchiya and Sabelo Gathseni-Ndlovu, the corruption has also resulted in perverse extractive economic institutions in Zimbabwe today.
Zamchiya persuasively argued that the economic malaise Zimbabwe faces is as a result of how power is exercised and monopolised by a narrow elite. He observed that those who wield power set up economic institutions to enrich themselves and augment their power. The resources these economic
institutions generate enable the Zanu PF ruling elites to corrupt the state security forces to defend their absolutist monopoly of political power.
This is augmented by political institutions that churn out ideological nationalist justifications.
In this economic malaise, the modality of accessing, ownership and distribution of state resources is dominated by party-state patronage. This has resulted in the exclusion of citizens who are perceived to practice “wrong politics” from state-sponsored development projects.
The political economy, as shaped by extractive political institutions, has resulted in the radical structural informalisation of society and the national economy, observes Zamchiya. In this regard, the question of livelihoods is now pervasive and affects ordinary citizens irrespective of their political affiliations. It has become a consensual building bloc across race, ethnicity, class and gender. It can thus be used across the political divide to mobilise citizens for social change.
Zamchiya poignantly observes that a consequence of the “will to power” is the prolonged transition to democracy, characterised by one step forward and two steps back. Inter alia, another effect of using the power lens is that some analysts wrongly conclude that the transition to democracy has permanently failed and that Zimbabwe is a case of state failure.
Because of the prevailing logic to power, if regime change does not take place, the transitional path is misunderstood and political paralysis takes place. Indeed, within this context, what we see as state unwillingness to effect changes that threaten its power base, is not synonymous with state failure. It is simply a state’s unwillingness to act.
In addition, history has shown that democratisation is a long and arduous task. Therefore, the only alternative to the redemption of Zimbabwe is to focus on the long-term democratic transformation agenda.
Dr Ruhanya is director of Zimbabwe Democracy Institute.