Zimbabwe 2012 : elections or another GNU? — by Ibbo Mandaza
[Note: The following first appeared on the Zimbabwe Independent Thursday, 16 February 2012]
THERE are at least three myths that are increasingly pervading the political
discourse in Zimbabwe. They reflect the anxiety around the current
transition in which neither Zanu PF nor MDC appear to have succeeded in
emerging victorious over the other, three years into the Global Political
Agreement (GPA) and its Government of National Unity (GNU).
The first of these myths relates to the claim “” louder and louder through
Zanu PF propagandists “” that elections are both necessary and urgent because
the GNU has become fatally dysfunctional. These are the same elections
which failed to take place in 2011 but must be held without fail in 2012, we
are informed from the same quarters.
Herein lies the myth: the perpetrators of it appear over-confident that the
election outcome will see Zanu PF, with 88 year-old President Robert Mugabe
at its helm, restore itself as the ruling party and, at least by
implication, ensure that government will be as “˜”˜functional” as it was
prior to the 2008 elections (which produced the “˜”˜dysfunctional” GNU).
Needless to add, this is a myth which feeds on convenient amnesia about the
political and economic conditions that led Zimbabwe into the GPA/GNU a
little more than three years ago in September 2008.
The truth, however, is still fresh in the minds of the majority of
Zimbabweans who bore the full brunt of that unprecedented economic and
political melt-down. For Zanu PF’s government had become not only totally
dysfunctional by 2008 under Mugabe and a ruling party that had by 2000
become a mere shadow of the party of liberation but also chaotic. The
Zimbabwean economy had collapsed almost entirely, a virtual “˜’casino economy”,
in the words of one of government’s key functionaries in a largely state-led
campaign of economic and financial self-destruction.
And by 2008, the state itself survived on a combination of violence (or the
threat of it) and patronage which, in turn, welded together securocracy and
elements of the bureaucracy into a defensive and reckless solidarity against
a pulverised and fearful population. The national institutions which had
been so carefully established and nurtured in the 1980s had by 2008 become
mere shells: destroyed by the ravages of a patronage system, inept
leadership and political manipulation.
Therefore, it was a state bereft of any legitimacy beyond its formal
trappings, nakedly brutal but also essentially brittle, as the weeks and
months of the post-2008 elections demonstrated “” until the GPA/GNU rescued
it from the precipice!
Yet, even today, the full implications of this political and economic
nightmare are yet to be fully understood, as the recovery so far instituted
on the back of the GPA/GNU remains so modest and, ultimately, elusive, if
the merchants of premature elections win the day. But, then, how to pull it
off, let alone through an election, in a population in which to many the
horrors and tribulations of 2008 remain vivid in their memories: the empty
supermarket shelves, worthless currency (now liquidated), water and
sanitation problems, disease (over 4 000 people died of cholera in 2008) and
the failed education and health systems that had been so well designed and
endowed in the 1980s? Indeed, many citizens across the country remain in
those abject conditions of poverty and deprivation.
This is a nightmare that should otherwise jolt any well-meaning and mature
political leadership “” especially those under whose watch all this afflicted
the nation “” into a reality check. It should force them to acknowledge that
they have absolutely nothing to offer Zimbabwe, regardless how many times
they try to reinvent themselves through an electoral process best known for
being a farce than anything resembling a democratic exercise.
The second myth is a little more subtle in that it is peddled by that clique
of five or seven persons, those I referred to as the “˜’fifth column” (The
Zimbabwe Independent: The Sadc Troika On Zimbabwe: Against The Arrogant
Disdain, Impunity And Reckless Rhetoric In Harare, April 8, 2011).
Nevertheless, it is a myth standing in the shadow of the first.
This is the expectation that, through elections to be held in 2012, Zanu PF
will be exorcised, via well-organised primaries in the first instance, of
the current crop of leaders (and most ministers who are described as dead
wood!), to be replaced by a core of former freedom fighters, including a
good number of those currently serving in the security forces, but to be
selected carefully and then resign their posts in pursuit of political
Through this new leadership, it is argued by the fifth columnists, Zanu PF
of the liberation era will be restored, and the MDC rendered dead and
buried! In its most virulent expression, it amounts to an attempted
political coup, if there is such a term: it seeks to overturn the current
constitutional hierarchy in both Zanu PF and the state, by calling, if
necessary, for an extra-ordinary congress through which to set aside those
who would otherwise succeed Mugabe.
But herein lies the myth: there is no necessary correlation between being a
former freedom fighter or securocrat on the one hand, and being a competent
political leader on the other. On the contrary, their is no reason
whatsoever to believe that this could be a viable alternative to the current
mess of which the securocracy have been such an integral if not an essential
part. Beside, many inside and outside Zanu PF are fully alive to the quiet
but dangerous machinations of the fifth column, enough to ensure that the
myth remains only a myth.
Also, the current GPA-related debacle over the re-appointment of Zimbabwe
Defence Forces Commander General Constantine Chiwenga and Police
Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri does help to highlight the extent to
which national institutions “” including the Reserve Bank and
Attorney-General’s office “” have been stripped of the status they enjoyed in
the 1980s with the office holders therein reduced to persons who owe their
authority less to the constitutional provisions that should underpin such
would-be national institutions, than to a Head of State who, by any
accounts, is in the departure lounge and cannot be expected to cushion
forever Gideon Gono, Johannes Tomana, Chihuri or Chiwenga from the obvious
risks now attendant to the politicisation of both their offices and
The third myth relates to the MDC, particularly that component of it led by
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. It is their inane expectation that they
can alone rise above the dysfunctionality of the current GPA/GNU and produce
an alternative and effective administration. Therefore, while the MDC
remains ambivalent and even confused at the prospect of an early election as
demanded by Zanu PF, the temptation is to prepare for the polls even in the
face of the unfinished business of the GPA/GNU, not to mention the real
risks against free and fair elections.
There inheres in the MDC an incorrigible belief in elections, even while
they want to acknowledge that they may have won the last four elections but
still lost them! For this is an essentially election-based formation; it is
only an election that can jolt it out of its slumber and the threat of
disintegration as long as it fails to accede to full state power.
The reality is that Tsvangirai and the MDC have lost much of the political
gloss associated with an opposition movement whose profile was defined as
much by a ruling party that had become soulless and distanced from the
majority of the citizenry, as by being an unknown quantity in terms of
presenting a possible alternative to a Zanu PF government.
Now over the three years that have been the GPA/GNU, Tsvangirai and his
party are not only part of the state, riddled as it is with all the problems
associated with such an animal, but have also been exposed as
organisationally vacuous, far too short on managerial capacity and unable to
sustain the “˜”˜Reform Agenda” that had been more implicit than explicit
within the opposition movement.
It is the latter failing in particular that leaves us suspicious and
anxious: What guarantees are there now that Tsvangirai and his MDC will
constitute a viable alternative when they are quite prepared to inherit
power without the requisite political reforms, the restoration of national
institutions or a discernible and viable economic recovery programme?
So, once we have dispelled such myths and raised real concerns about
Zimbabwe, can the real debate about the future of the GPA/GNU begin.
First, we need to put paid to the reckless election talk: the reasons for an
election in 2012 remain as spurious as they have always been; more important
such an early election will in the current political and economic
circumstances only exacerbate insecurity and raise the spectre of violence,
while undermining the modest economic gains since 2009.
Also, it is simply not true that there is a growing national consensus
towards an election in 2012. There are more people across the political
spectrum that are opposed to an early election, quite apart from the now
well-known preconditions for free and fair elections. Certainly, most MPs
are vehemently (even though quietly) opposed to elections in 2012. So, even
while the Zanu PF election propagandists are busy at it, many of the party
faithful simply hope and pray that polls remain a most distant reality.
Accordingly, in the absence of an election in 2012 and in order to render
the GPA/GNU more functional and technocratic in character, while the new
constitution is being crafted and the conditions for a free and fair poll
created, these processes must evolve simultaneously. This requires, in the
first instance, a management audit of the GNU and the obvious discovery that
it is a creature designed to be largely dysfunctional: two executives in the
form of a President and Prime Minister, both personifying mutually
antagonistic forces, a large cabinet reflecting more the need to reconcile
opposing sides around a feeding trough than the requirements of an efficient
and effective government and the absence of a commendable core of
technocrats that should be at the centre of any government in the
In this regard, the Kenyan or, better still, the recent Italian model might
be something Zimbabwe could adopt to launch the debate and process towards a
Ibbo Mandaza is a Zimbabwean academic, author and publisher; and is currently
Convener of the Policy Dialogue Forum at the Sapes Trust, a regional
think-tank and publishing concern.