Zimbabwe: Reading between the political lines
The ease with which Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) won the 31 July 2013 elections was like a dawn where all seems calm, but the storm clouds sit on the horizon. Those elections were won because of two key reasons.
The first was because Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) performed appallingly. Outwardly confident, it made the same mistakes it had in previous elections – as if internal reflection, self-criticism and learning from mistakes were impossible.
If this is Mugabe’s last election, surely it must be Tsvangirai’s too
The second was because ZANU-PF took advantage of all the opportunities available to it to ‘condition’ the election. Many said ZANU-PF stole it. The problem with the accusations of a stolen election was that evidence collated from local instances of electoral malpractice could not be extrapolated into one national picture.
All the accusations assumed a single ‘rig’ and none of the civic and observer groups examined the possibility of several strategies to ensure victory.
In fact there were three outcomes. The first was the election of Robert Mugabe as president. The second was a ZANU-PF-dominated parliament, where the percentage of seats won was greater than the percentage of votes gained by the president. The third was the decimation of the MDC front bench so that those left in parliament have far less leadership than before.
Three strategies with three complementary but different outcomes constitute a perhaps more rewarding point of departure for those protesting the ZANU-PF victory and how it was won.
Yet the MDC’s key accusation, of a condensed and highly conditioned voter registration, is a double-edged sword.
Conditioned, even constrained, registration risks leaving everyone’s supporters off the roll, although registration constraints seemed most visible in MDC strongholds. As in previous elections, the MDC mounted no registration drive of its own.
What is a prerequisite in contests in Europe and the United States has been curiously absent in Zimbabwe.
Echoes of violence
That and the poor performance of MDC members of parliament (MPs), the party’s imposition of unpopular candidates on several constituencies and the growing similarity of MDC lifestyles to those of ZANU-PF MPs meant that the voting public was hardly enthusiastic to vote for something that seemed to offer a reduced promise of change.
Furthermore, Al Jazeera was broadcasting saturation reportage of great unrest in Egypt during the elections. It had an effect, in that no one wanted violence once again in Zimbabwe. There was an easy option by which to avoid violence, and that was to vote for those who controlled its levers.
But the ease of the ZANU-PF victory did not cover for long the problems the party faced. President Mugabe’s six-week delay in announcing a cabinet suggested huge tensions on two fronts within his own party.
The first was whether to offer seats to key MDC figures. Former prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai was himself rumoured to have declined the vice-presidency. But the rumours were started in the first place to test how ready the West would be in accommodating the ZANU- PF victory and allowing investment flows to begin again.
The second was the assumption that this was Mugabe’s last election. At 89 and in need of frequent medical care in Singapore, he could not be guaranteed to last a full term. Indeed, the election of Zimbabwe to chair the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in a year’s time almost suggests the possibility of a two-year term for Mugabe – the second to savour regional leadership and its prestige and validation.
The delay in announcing a cabinet until 11 September also suggested huge contestation of key portfolios, control of which would also leverage the succession stakes.
In particular, the camps of Joice Mujuru and Emmerson Mnangagwa fought for control of the security and finance portfolios. In this contest the Mnangagwa faction seems to have emerged stronger. While friendly to Mujuru, Sydney Sekeramayi, who became defence minister, is seen as a Mnangagwa ally. Mnangagwa himself became justice minister.
The securocrats would have been happy with the appointment of Sekeramayi. They have also been watching events in Egypt – not so much the coup that allowed the Egyptian generals to retake power, but the months in which the generals occupied the sort of back seat from which they could, whenever they wished, reclaim power.
The Zimbabwean generals might even have stood back in the case of a Tsvangirai and MDC victory, provided their financial interests were not impeded and that such a government would understand that the military elite could not be ignored.
Even the Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, General Constantine Chiwenga – rumoured to be contemplating an Egyptian-style transition from man in uniform to man in office – seems content for now to be a power behind the throne.
The future of Zimbabwe is not who wins the succession, but whether youth can win control
But the need to protect often ill-gained financial interests hangs over Zimbabwe. The country cannot continue indigenisation beyond land seizures and perhaps mineral expropriation without seriously deterring much- needed foreign investment. Zimbabwe’s sovereign debt is estimated at more than $7bn. The upswing in tobacco exports is highly dependent on Chinese sales.
And there is a national mood, which ZANU-PF played to its advantage in the elections, demanding a faster and greater trickle down of appropriated development. The electoral slogan of economic empowerment now has to become a reality that does not simultaneously bankrupt the country again.
The appointment of Francis Nhema, a moderate, to the indigenisation portfolio is reassuring, and a technocratic figure, Walter Chidhakwa, has been promoted to mines minister. It is tempting to view the division as securocrats and conservatives for Mnangagwa and moderates for Mujuru.
The party is more complex than that but, in a way, it does not matter whether Mujuru or Mnangagwa wins the succession. Both must deal with the West, which has its own terms for facilitating financial flows.
It might even be a good thing that Patrick Chinamasa, with brief financial experience and a huge supporter of Robert Mugabe, has become finance minister.
This will ‘socialise’ him into how the world of international finance and economics really works. It might impart a sense of sobriety into the need for ZANU-PF oligarchs to launder themselves, as American oligarchs did 100 years ago, into ‘respectable’ corporate players, billionaires and philanthropists.
In this, even the most notorious of the old guard must accommodate themselves to the younger ZANU-PF generation, who look more technocratically at the project of nationalism as more than appropriation.
They are also aware that tax regimes, repatriation of profit limits and the like are far more subtle ways of ensuring foreign enterprises enrich the public purse – whereas the indigenisation model aims at individual benefits and the creation of an oligarchy.
Public rather than private benefit might well be the hallmark of a new nationalism. Although the new cabinet is largely a redeployment of old faces, the new cannot be suppressed forever and a presidential term is a long five years with many reshuffles possible.
If ZANU-PF starts to renew itself in this way, can the MDC? For, if this is Mugabe’s last election, surely it must be Tsvangirai’s too. No one can lead his party to three successive defeats, even if under stacked circumstances, and still claim to be the right leader. But who would replace him?
The MDC is threadbare after these elections and, as the West accommodates itself to the ZANU-PF government, Western money will slowly seep out of opposition politics and civil society democracy groups. It will take a long time for the MDC to rebuild itself, and it has its own corruption problems.
Younger leaders like Nelson Chamisa might now push forward. As it is, ZANU-PF has already tried to signal that it has no vendetta against Tsvangirai by restoring his security privileges to the same level as when he was prime minister. He will also keep his prime ministerial residence and, after a further cooling-off period, may yet be offered some future, if ceremonial, public role.
A majoritarian government, especially one with the resounding majority gained by ZANU-PF, does not have to be an authoritarian one. It may well seek to portray itself as a nationalist government that can operate reasonably with its domestic and international opponents.
Jonathan Moyo, despite losing his parliamentary seat, was reinstated as minister of information. He is a well-practised denouncer of the West but, behind the scenes, has for some time been anxious to broker a re-engagement.
Will the West accommodate itself to Zimbabwe? Currently the West has no critical stake left in Zimbabwe, so it has the luxury of re-engaging or not. It has nothing to lose. It might even need inducement to re-engage. Egypt and Syria are giving it enough headaches. But the West cannot easily get around the fact that it agreed to outsource election observation to the SADC.
The SADC and African Union (AU) verdicts were more thorough than the reportage suggests, but they were green lights for the Zimbabwean elections. The South African government is happy with an outcome that featured a clear victor, as it gives it certainty as to who is in control next door.
Although the West can afford to quarrel with Zimbabwe, it needs to stay on reasonable terms with South Africa, the SADC and the AU. There will be gradual re-engagement. The February 2014 review of European Union sanctions will be an important sign.
For now, the future of Zimbabwe is not who wins the presidential succession but whether a younger generation, a worldly ‘born-free’ or ‘young free’ generation, can win control of ZANU-PF and the MDC. Perhaps the election solved nothing for ZANU-PF except to give it more time to ponder a post-Mugabe world. ●