Are we sliding into civil strife?

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THE events of the past few weeks indicate that Zimbabwe’s national risk remains high and that neither the coup of November 2017 nor the July 2018 elections have provided a lasting solution to our national political and economic crisis.

Rashweat Mukundu

The key factors towards this stasis that we find ourselves in are a crisis of legitimacy and a crisis of expectations from citizens, wearied by years of misrule under former president Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF.

While Mugabe is off the scene, the legacy of his years in power is what is still obtaining. This is in the form of the continuation of what others now call Mugabeism, that is Zanu PF maintaining Mugabe’s style of governance, style of leadership and structures both in the government and party and security sectors.

While Mugabe is no longer Zanu PF and Zimbabwe’s leader, the new leadership in Zanu PF has in practice maintained his legacy even as they speak a different language in public.

Zanu PF’s failure to reform and introspect has constrained the party’s ability to realistically think of politics and governance outside what the ruling elites know. And what they know is what was taught and practised by Mugabe.

President Emmerson Mnagangwa had an opportunity to institute broad-based reforms twice, that is in 2017 when he came back from brief exile to take over from Mugabe and post the July 2018 election. This would have reset Zimbabwe on a new path.

It is important to note that broad-based reforms are not synonymous with “Zimbabwe is open for business” sloganeering; it is putting an end to systems and structures that have bred this malaise and that includes the state-and-party confluence, an end to undemocratic laws, abuse of the security sector for political ends, and an end to election cheating, corruption among other issues.

Business cannot work nor can capital flow into Zimbabwe when we have such primitive modes of governance.

The definition of success within the ruling elite must go beyond the self to embrace the national. Mnangagwa had the opportunity to rise above the politics of self-serving power to set Zimbabwe on a new economic and political trajectory by pronouncing a broad-based agenda of economic, social and political reforms that reached out to all political, civil and business sectors. Zanu PF’s blundering is now coming to haunt the party. Change was not defined beyond parochial political interests.

The state, as Dr Ibbo Mandaza often says, has become the biggest source of access to economic means and political power is simply a tool for rent seeking, influence peddling, deal making, nepotism and corruption.

Zanu PF appears to have failed to introspect both after the November 2017 coup as well as the July 2018 election. The party remained consumed and narrowly focussed on power and not the people of Zimbabwe.

The resultant continued slide of the economy, heightening the potential for civil strife, clearly shows that Zanu PF has failed to hold the line from the time Mugabe departed. If anything, the nation is now worse off economically and socially.

There is an underestimation by the elite of the challenges and rot that Zimbabwe must deal with post-Mugabe. And this underestimation is exposed by the approaches of the political elite, which are flimsily articulated at most.

Equally, there is an underestimation by the same elite of the will of the people to hold leaders to account and demand a better life, and this underestimation is demonstrated by threats of further repression. The root of this is Zanu PF’s thinking that it has the sole prerogative to define a vision for Zimbabwe without the rest. This is on the basis of liberation war narrative and that Zanu PF toppled Mugabe through the military and, of course, that the party won the 2018 elections.

It is this belief in its imperial power that informs statements by the Deputy Cabinet Secretary George Charamba that government will change the constitution. In his thinking, the supreme law of the land is granting too many freedoms, fuelling the protests.

He says, quite ominously, that the beatings and killings of civilians by the police and the military are just but a foretaste of what is to come.

Tellingly, Charamba rejects democracy for an authoritarian regime and a closed society, maybe a wish for North Korea. But what the likes of Charamba missed is that in November 2017 the military, which has a stranglehold on Zimbabwe’s politics, allowed citizens a taste of freedom.

That extended to the huge voter turnout, especially among the youths. Can Zimbabwean citizens allow a return to the dark days of the pre-2017 order as Charamba wishes?

Most unlikely?

Is this a struggle that citizens will lose? Again, most unlikely. The problem with the hawks that surround the President is that they are not fully aware that they are playing their last card, they have nothing else left in their hands. This card is the abuse of the military to resolve what are patently civilian and political matters — at the centre is the cost of living and the disputed July 2018 elections.

The question that the Zanu PF and government thinkers must battle with is whether a heavy-handed approach will resolve these matters, and whether they reformed enough to reset Zimbabwe on the path of development.

On top of Zimbabwe’s challenges, which Zanu PF must acknowledge and address, is a demographics timebomb in the number of unemployed youths running into millions, who are desperate and hopeless. Many of our urban communities have been overrun by drug abuse and illicit alcohol. This issue has not received the requisite attention from the authorities.

The resultant looting and violence over the past weeks is equally a foretaste of things to come if Zimbabwe maintains an economic genocide on its young people.

Essentially, by warning of more violence and repression, Zanu PF is betraying a sinister plot to pile more misery on the millions of desperate youths. It is also important to note that civil strife in Africa is increasingly changing from ideological differences mostly between the leftists and right-wing groups often sponsored by the West for their global political hegemonic designs.

Increasingly, civil strife in Africa is over socio-economic dichotomies with the millions of young people dissatisfied with their conditions of life.

This has nothing to do with too much freedom, and it is not a social media problem but a governance problem.

Hawks surrounding Mnangagwa are not being strategic as the August 1 2018 violence has not deterred the latest violence. And even the deaths of 12 more people, hundreds shot and injured and hundreds more arrested will neither resolve nor bring peace to Zimbabwe.

What will bring peace is an acceptance that Zimbabwe’s socio-political crisis is deeper than winning a disputed election and legitimacy bestowed by the courts.

Zimbabwe is a broken society that needs a statesman to lead it towards genuine and sincere reforms. For this reason, the leadership in the ruling party must rise above petty politics of power.

Zanu PF can only act on genuine reforms when it removes the imperial thinking that the party is entitled to rule forever. This thinking limits innovation within the party, as shown by the tendency to resort to repression and coercion to keep power rather than seek the consent of the governed and focus on delivery.

It was a mistake under Mugabe and remains a mistake under Mnangagwa to politicise and abuse the security sector for political ends. History tells that it does not end well for those who rely on brawn to keep power.

Worse for Zanu PF, this is their last card. What will happen if this fails? Rather than cower citizens, repression of this magnitude only emboldens the repressed and exposes the security sector to ridicule and disrespect by citizens.

Last year, the army killed six, this time around 12, the number will increase next time further isolating Zimbabwe and further deepening social and political divisions.

Contrary to some fears within Zanu PF, what Zimbabweans want is a focus on delivery and harmonised political environment in which economic prosperity spreads to all.

We are not only divided politically, but the economic divisions are more acute. Those linked to the ruling party in one way or the other occupy top echelons of society. Is it too much for citizens to ask that this be resolved and economic policy benefits all?

Zanu PF may have won the July 2018 Constitutional Court case, but it has not won the hearts and minds of nearly half the voting population that voted for the MDC Alliance. It is this gap that needs to be closed, not by violence but by dialogue.

If Zanu PF does not introspect and reform and continues its attacks on organised political and civil movements, it will have no one to negotiate with but marauding youths.

In that regard, a strategy anchored on violence and repression will likely lead towards full-scale civil strife and an end to Zimbabwe as we know it now. For the love of our country and peace, let leaders rise above petty politics.

The court jesters that surround our leaders need to be controlled and to sober up.

Mukundu is a Zimbabwean journalist and can be contacted on twitter @rashweatm or email on rmukundu77@gmail.com.

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