HomeAnalysis2018 elections: What is to be done?

2018 elections: What is to be done?

When an authoritarian regime approaches its final crisis, Ryszard Kapuściński tells us in his monograph Shah of Shahs, usually, a mysterious combination of circumstances does precede its demise. In the case of Zanu PF, one can argue that these circumstances can be located in what happened at the ruling party’s last congress, which saw the then vice-president Joice Mujuru and her allies turfed out of the party. This includes continued infighting within the liberation movement, inevitable internal transition meant to replace President Robert Mugabe which, if handled clumsily, could see his political grouping imploding, changed opposition political landscape that has seen the formation of Mujuru’s own political outfit, and most crucially, a desire for change that runs deep across the nation as a result of people — to borrow from the Czech dissident Vaclav Havel — “being tired of being tired” with the regime.

Simukai Tinhu Political Analyst


It is not everyday that an opposition wakes up in a country such as Zimbabwe, and is presented with such a unique combination of circumstances that provide, for the first time since Independence, an unprecedented opportunity structure for Oswald Spengler’s augenblick or political transition.

However, the political attitude and behaviours of the opposition, and its complacency, indicate that they are very much blind to the existence of this massive opportunity. Yet, if this moment is not seized at the next election, the chance to defeat the ruling party would have been forfeited, most likely for generations. This is because, astute Zanu PF elites such as Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa and Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa are preparing, with the assistance of the European Union and Britain, for the post-Mugabe era, meaning the replacement of the nonagenarian’s largley impulsive rule which has been marked by unpredictable contingencies — such as land invasions and indigenisation making the party unpopular — with the institutionalisation of the liberation movement’s rule through progressive social and economic reforms though without corresponding political reforms.

In other words, they are planning to create cosmopolitan authoritarianism that has been so successful in Rwanda, Uganda, Mozambique and Angola. Once this is successfully accomplished, doors to power for any political group other than Zanu PF would have been effectively shut for decades. To put it bluntly, 2018 will be more of an existential fight for the opposition groups than anything else.

Indeed, it should be fear of such potentially catastrophic consequences for the future of opposition groups in Zimbabwe that should invoke a sense of urgency which seems to be completely absent in their operations, and more importantly, equip them with broadened imagination on what to do in the coming election.

When German philosopher Heidegger pleaded “only God can save us now”, he was not appealing to some supernatural being to rescue the downtrodden masses, but, he was emphasising the necessity of “a different way of thinking”, that is, in the case of Zimbabwe, a radical departure from the kind of politics that the opposition has practiced since Independence with little success. In other words, it is imperative that the opposition seriously considers devising an innovative electoral strategy for the next election.

What then is to be done?

Now that an opportunity structure for political transition exists, what does the opposition has to do? The solution does not lie in Hegel’s abstract negativity — violence or street protests for they invite state violence in return, or boycotting elections, for the Zanu PF regime cares less about legitimacy. Neither should the opposition, in particular the MDC-T parties, continue to concern itself with the seemingly seductive idea that it should contest as a single party in 2018. If made, such a choice will reveal lack of insight and at the same time a complete remove from the realities of Zimbabwean history and politics.

Repetition, Hegel tells us, plays a crucial role in understanding history; when something happens just once it might be dismissed as bad luck; but when the same is repeated it should be regarded as a sign of something deeper.

Indeed, when the MDC ran on its own and lost in 2000, one could posit the argument that it was probably “bad luck”, something which is usually associated with first-time attempts. But when they “lost” again in 2002, 2005, 2008 and 2013, violating the opposition’s expectations, it became clear that the opposition outfit was dealing with a phenomenon.

Yes, it is probably true that the MDC lost in these elections as a result of electoral fraud, and sadly what is even truer is the fact that Zanu PF is not going to change its tactics. In other words, the MDC should acknowledge this reality and devise a strategy that takes full account of this reality, that is Zanu PF will inevitably manipulate elections and invoke violence, if necessary.

Electoral fraud and violence lie at the centre of Zanu PF’s electoral strategy and it would be indifferent to political realities to wait for the regime to discard these so that the opposition “can win elections”. It is also false necessity to argue that, it is only with reforms in Zimbabwe that the opposition can get into government. In 2002, Mwai Kibaki’s Democratic Party won elections despite massive electoral fraud in Kenya, and so was Michael Sata of Zambia’s triumph against Rupiah Banda of the ruling Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD).

The unlikely Kibaki and Sata’s victories indicate the existence out there of innummerable combinations of electoral tactics which could, in difficult contexts such as Zimbabwe, serve as viable alternative electoral frameworks that circumvent this false necessity.

Nothing but a grand coalition

But as it attempts to dislodge Zanu PF, a former liberation movement, the opposition needs to remind itself that it is attempting to make history, which is even more reason why it needs to be radical in its approach to gain power.

Please note that liberation movements are different from political parties that brought independence such as in Malawi, Kenya, Ghana, Zambia and most other African countries. Liberation movements are different in the sense that they were involved in some kind of protracted political struggle against colonialists. In the struggle for independence, there was also a military element in their organisational structures, whether it was in the form of a standing army that fought intermittently, but just provided some threat to colonialists as Umkonto weSizwe of the ANC, or actually engaged in a war against colonial regimes as Zanla and Zipra did or Algeria’s National Liberation Front (NLF).

To date, in cases where the opposition has managed to topple the first post-independence government in Africa — which in any case are not liberation movements since none have been toppled — that opposition has been led by the elites who left the ruling party as in Malawi (Bakili Muluzi was minister without portifolio in Kamuzu Banda’s government) or Kenya (Mwai Kibaki held several cabinet posts in the Kanu government before leading an opposition outfit). Though in the case of Zambia, MMD leader, Frederick Chiluba, was a labour union leader as in Morgan Tsvangirai’s case, making some analysts to make comparisons, one needs to note that most of his party’s senior ranking officials had bolted from the ruling Unip of Kenneth Kaunda.

The MDC’s situation is an aberration, as its configuration is largley independent of the existing political system in Zimbabwe, with most of its leadership having been drawn from the student and labour unions, the academia, or professions such as law. If history is used strictly as a guide on this issue, Mujuru’s party has a better chance than the MDC at toppling Zanu PF as the process through which her party came into being falls in line with those opposition groups that have been successful in post-independence politics in Africa.

What does this pessimistic outlook on the opposition’s electoral chances tells us? It does tell us that the MDC, in particular, has very little chance of gaining power if it uses the same formula that it has deployed since 2000. Would it then not be politically prudent to experiment with a new political orde characterised by the politics of coalitions, with the MDC and Zimbabwe People First (Zim PF) leading that coalition establishment?

Zimbabwe is one of the few African countries whose post-independence politics has never been characterised by a serious phase of coalition politics. This, probably, could have been the missing link in attempts to dislodge Zanu PF.

Indeed, people who are serious about dislodging Zanu PF from power understand the centrality of pre-electoral coalitions. Sona Nadenicheck Golder (2005), a political scientist, tells us in her studies that a pre-electoral coalition is 123 times more likely to enter government than a single party, particularly in an authoritarian environment as Zimbabwe. But why should the coalition be led by the MDC and Zim PF?

In a world where its leader is a former prime minister and his party MDC had at one time a majority in the parliament, and almost dislodged Zanu PF from power in 2008, Tsvangirai stands out as one of the most critical players excluding his political group would be blind to political realities in Zimbabwe. Already, the MDC has a proven base and brand, and it also has legislative members in the nation’s current legislative assembly. But, most importantly, the MDC is the most successful opposition in the sense that it has resisted co-option and guarded its zones of autonomy, which even Joshua Nkomo’s equally highly successful PF Zapu could not achieve in post-independent Zimbabwe despite that the circumstances were very different. To date, it still remains the centre of gravity for anti-regime dissenters: student union movements, workers’ unions, civil society and independent social actors.

On the other end, with Mujuru’s entry onto the political stage, the MDC needs to take stock of this new reality and adjust its politics accordingly. Combining a patriotic appeal and 100% name recognition, Mujuru can emerge as an equally unifying figure for anti-government coalition.

What else does she bring to the coalition table? Though the numbers are yet to be established through either, crudely, rallies, or an opinion poll, we can use the history of 2008 elections and other elections to guide us with regards to the size of her electoral market. In 2008, Simba Makoni, a lone politician without a party, managed to garner 8% of the electoral market, denying Tsvangirai an outright win in the presidential elections. He had no finances, no coherent electoral strategy and message, no visibility on campaign platforms, no party structures and infrastructure and no international support. Mujuru and her Zim PF have all these in place.

Also, having been vice-president to Mugabe for 10 years, a situation that did not obtain in lonely Makoni’s case, Mujuru had her own support base within the ruling party. Indeed, the fact that she “won” nine out of 10 provinces in the party primaries in early 2014 attests to this. With all these factors combined, it is incontestable to suggest that Mujuru, if she runs on her own in 2018, will fare better than Makoni, and probably more than double the margin (roughly 16%) that the former finance minister obtained in 2008 further eroding the MDC’s hopes of attaining an outright majority at the next election.

Not only does Mujuru bring elites with their own social bases, but she also still has some elites who have the potential to jump ship in the event of Zanu PF implosion, Sydney Sekeramayi, Simon Khaya Moyo, David Parirenyatwa, Walter Mzembi and Ambrose Mutinhiri, among many. Indeed, there have been reports of sitting Zanu PF MPs attending Mujuru’s rallies, a development which could be a tip of the iceberg.

Mujuru also brings something that the MDC does not have and which has prevented it from taking power: allies in the security sector, judiciary and bureaucracy. Most importantly, the general consensus is that the 2013 elections were rigged, and it will be foolhardy for the opposition to go into 2018 elections without actually knowing how the elections were manipulated. Despite her diplomatic and strategic denials to date, Mujuru as vice-president at that time, knows exactly what happened in 2013; invaluable information that the MDC will need going into the next election.

Considering this opportunity, what the MDC needs to do in eanerst is to lock Zim PF and its leader into a pre-electoral coalition. Mujuru’s political outfit will find the idea of joining Zanu PF seducing if invited in the second round of presidential elections in 2018.

In an election year where either a 94-year-old Mugabe or unelectable Mnangagwa or dark horse (equally unpopular Sekeramayi) will vie for the presidency against a coalition of Mujuru and Tsvangirai and against the backdrop of high and rising unemployment, credit crunch, famine and starvation and continued isolation in the international community, surely the odds are predictable.

Lost opportunity

But if this opportunity is not seized, and Zimbabwe’s opposition continues to quarrel about who should be leader of the coalition, the morality of joining hands with former Zanu PF elites — morality that stands in the path of democratising political change should be condemned by morality itself — and the fear of losing leadership “positions” within the opposition, future historians will record that this was the time the opposition squandered the best opportunity to defeat Zanu PF and in the process dug a grave for themselves.
Tinhu is a Zimbabwean political analyst based in London.

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  1. Simukai Tinhu does not know how Bob operates. He says Teurai Joice Mujuru knows how the 2013 elections were nikuved. Nothing can be further from the truth. If that was indeed the truth, Bob could not have afforded to offload Joice and allow her to move freely in and outside the country. The Nikuv project was done by a small group of trusted chaps.

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