‘Big egos’ dampen coalition talk

Tsvangirai-Mujuru.jpg

“WHERE value and principles do not converge, then there is no room for alliances. In as far as those political parties which I will not mention by name, do you know how many people lost their lives through them?

Elias Mambo

“If they are here and say we are in an alliance with RDZ (Renewal Democrats of Zimbabwe), yet we talk about reparations, do you think it will be possible to talk about reparations when those (political) godfathers and those who were murdering people in recent years are there? Our values don’t allow that.”

These were the words of Pishai Muchauraya, RDZ spokesperson, when asked on the prospects of his party joining an opposition coalition that would include a yet-to-be-formed political party dubbed People First, fronted by ousted former vice-president Joice Mujuru.

The RDZ, formed this year, is yet another offshoot from the splintered opposition party, the MDC, which from 2002 to 2008 gave the ruling Zanu PF party a good run for its money in general elections.

Thus talks between Zimbabwe’s opposition leaders to form a grand coalition ahead of the 2018 general elections with a view to dislodging President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF from power appear to have hit turbulence before even taking off.

While long-suffering Zimbabweans including political analysts argue that a grand coalition of the fractured opposition is the best way to unseat Zanu PF, the plans may be still-born due to acrimonious personality clashes, egocentrism and political arrogance among the parties.

Despite media reports over the past few months suggesting opposition leaders were talking informally about harnessing their appeal through combining forces to form a whole greater than the sum of its parts, the parties have issued contradicting statements over the issue, occasionally denigrating each other in the process.

Hopes of the opposition forging a formidable united front were raised in September after ousted Mujuru unveiled a policy document titled Blueprint to Unlock Investment and Leverage for Development expected to lay the foundation of her party to be led by axed Zanu PF members. The Mujuru outfit has declared it is amenable to a coalition to challenge Zanu PF in the next general elections.

But talks of a possible coalition between Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC-T, Welshman Ncube’s MDC, Dumiso Dabengwa’s Zapu, Simba Makoni’s Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn(MKD), Tendai Biti’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Elton Mangoma’s RDZ and Mujuru’s People First movement look set to hit a brick wall.

The MDC-T is clearly divided over forming an alliance with Mujuru, despite the fact that “Mujuru would bring her liberation credentials while Tsvangirai would come on board with his numbers of supporters”, as one analyst put it. Some senior MDC-T officials have denounced her, with national executive member Nelson Chamisa describing her as a “politically troubled soul … who cannot expect to come straight to the driving seat”.

MDC-T national youth leader Happymore Chidziva has described the coalition talks as a “great betrayal of those who died for the democratic struggle if we are to be seen to work together with people who presided over the abuse and killings of our people in Mashonaland Central” (Mujuru’s rural home where she was MP for Mt Darwin).

While Tsvangirai has admitted there are informal talks with Mujuru’s group, he has however warned that the project might be stalled by disagreements over sharing of top posts. On the other hand, Ncube’s MDC has pooh-poohed a grand coalition aimed only at defeating Mugabe, saying it is bound to collapse soon after the elections.

Ncube said there was “too much obsession with removing Mugabe” from power, and “yet there is no clear programme of action afterwards”.

But analysts point to lessons which should be learnt, particularly from the controversial 2008 elections when Tsvangirai and Makoni could have grabbed power from Mugabe if they had formed a coalition.

Results of the first round of elections show that if there was a pact between Tsvangirai and Makoni, the bloody run-off election could have been avoided. Tsvangirai polled 47,9% of the total votes cast, Mugabe received 43,2% while Makoni clinched 8,3%. Had Tsvangirai and Makoni formed an alliance, they would have won with 56,2% of the vote.

According to the old constitution, a run-off presidential poll had to be held as no candidate obtained the required 50%+1 valid votes to be declared winner.

In 2013, plans to form a coalition between MDC-T, MDC-N, Zanu Ndonga, Zapu and MKD suffered a stillbirth, mainly because of disagreements over allocation of parliamentary seats, leadership structure and power-sharing. Issues to do with personality clashes also contributed to the lack of co-ordination in pushing for electoral and security sector reforms between Tsvangirai and Ncube during the Government of National Unity (GNU) between 2009 and 2013.

Instead of cornering Mugabe into implementing the reforms stipulated in the Global Political Agreement, precursor to the GNU, Tsvangirai and Ncube fought each other resulting in Mugabe virtually enjoying free rein.

Political analyst and United Kingdom-based law lecturer Alex Magaisa said big egos were to blame for problems associated with a grand coalition.

“There are a lot of big egos in politics and egos often get in the way of political compromise, which is necessary in coalition talks,” Magaisa said. “Few are prepared to yield to the other’s position. Those who think they are bigger than the others may not see the value of the smaller political actors. The smaller political actors feel that they are not given due respect and recognition.

“There can be an air of arrogance around those who think they are stronger, believing that they can go it alone and would not need the smaller actors,” he said.

The problem was that the smaller players might refuse to be “swallowed” by the bigger actors, Magaisa said.

“Small issues like this can derail otherwise noble coalition talks. A little humility and an ability to see the bigger picture are important attributes for politicians seeking to build a coalition. There has to be an appreciation that no party is too small and that everyone matters.”

Another analyst Maxwell Saungweme concurs with Magaisa that leaders should focus on issues to do with principles and not individual characters.

“It is not just personality clashes, but actually a betrayal of how bad as leaders the opposition party heads are. Good leaders focus on issues not other people. If they were focusing on issues they would find common ground and forge a coalition. But if they remain focused on each other then they will not succeed even as leaders of their own parties,” he said.

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