Once More Unto the Breach

By Andrew Field – Follow on Twitter
Flickr_Andrew_XIThere comes a time when the ideals of a past revolution become a terrible wart on the face of democracy, as mythical as this can be in Africa. That time arrived in Zimbabwe well over a decade ago. The wart has grown bigger. It is uglier now as it erupts and oozes its vile liberation muck, but people have become used to that; having been sucked into its propaganda vortex. Or so it would seem, as we venture into yet another round of nuttiness, which we refer to as elections.

Print, electronic and social media is abuzz with commentary, opinion and sometimes even satirical retort about the forthcoming poll. People set aside their inhibitions and take courage in the narrow window of seeming freedom offered at this time, yet there remains an air of suppression, an uncanny, determined focus, and a yet stronger will by some to retain power, come whatever cost. And we are sure this is not the will of the people.

There is no pulling out the stops now. Conceivably, every trick in the book will be used to ensure our erstwhile revolutionaries retain their power. It is their right, so it would seem, and thus irrevocably due to them. So who dare challenge the status quo and why the folly of elections? Well, in effect, ‘democratic’ elections are done merely to pull the wool over the eyes of otherwise gullible democracies who preach condescendingly of their free values. Africa is challenged by democracy.

So, once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more. What evil schemes will erupt , ooze and spoil genuine choice? The Presidential Decree for an early election will most certainly have placed the opposition on its back feet, despite the paper tiger, SADC, calling for extensions in time. Zimbabwe’s Courts put the finger up to SADC.

Such prolongations were critical to ensure proper voter registration for a start, not to mention amendment to electoral legislation and other critical reforms. Millions of first time voters, the young people of Zimbabwe, and aliens will have been disenfranchised; fundamentally, sectors of the community which would reap positively for the opposition.

A more sinister aspect of the call for an early election was that of a poll before security sector reforms, supposedly to ensure a free and fair election, if ever that can happen in Africa. Such reforms are foremost at the heart of the opposition, for there is little doubt about the patronage and support of the Generals for the old school revolutionaries. The military are expected to play a rather biased role in covert campaigning for the liberation party. Should they fail in that objective, there is mooted suggestion of coup!

The mechanics of what one can only describe as a half cocked and shambolic voter registration abound with yet more suspicion of evil being done. This is considered the base of the rigging yet to come. Voter roll transparency has been all but forbidden in what appears to be an obvious agenda, following an interdict against a local research company.

The xenophobic machinations of the liberation party were never present when employing a foreign company, of apparently dubious repute, to handle aspects of voter registration, and who stand accused of tampering with the lists. The company is said to have ‘form’ for Zambian voter roll manipulations, but deny local involvement in the election process. Several impartial Zimbabwean firms could have qualified for the task; so much for indigenisation.

Was there trickery too in the just run Special Election vote for members of the security forces? A special vote is offered for those who, ostensibly, will be on duty on election day, and thus unable to vote. Really? Nevertheless, it could have been a revealing test of the waters of security force sympathies or otherwise, were the exercise not bungled. The opposition were quick to smell a rat when 69,000 police officers applied for the special vote, almost double the Treasury payroll figures.

The initiative turned out to be a shambles with the ZEC shooting itself in the foot by failing to deliver ballot papers, especially in those areas where the vote would clearly have fallen, perhaps, in opposition favour. Now it is suggested special vote candidates may be able to vote again, despite laws to the contrary. Such chicanery we are used to.

Now the question arises, will the expected chaos (a prognosis based on the Special Vote exercise) prevail in the main election of 6 million participants, and thus be the veil under which a rigging exercise can take place? The general modus operandi will be to deny marginal areas voting papers and slow down the process. We have seen it all before, can we now expect an honest poll?

One may get the impression that perhaps in the final analysis things are going to be skewed. The opposition pacts are already chirping ‘foul play’ as if their fate is sealed. This makes for an interesting study in opposition strategy. There is none. Memories are just so short.

While there are chasms that divide the two MDC parties, their unity or pre-election coalitions could only improve their odds. Their origins are born out of the same philosophies; they both want change in governance; and they share many common issues and agendas, although Welshman Ncube may deny this. It seems very peculiar that they just cannot seem to come together to break the hegemony. The point is that in the final analysis one of the opposition parties may well have to make up a coalition government. Will this be with the other MDC or with blood on their hands?

If the incumbent* liberation party is the popular choice of the people, then this scenario is simply academic. But the general consensus is that this is not the case. People want change, yet those who could potentially deliver such change, in one fell swoop, seem incapable of engineering the platform to achieve this.

Zimbabwe is predictable in its unpredictability and perhaps the sway of the vote will fall into opposition hands. Given the natural tribal patronage overlay, the urban versus rural vote swing, the enlightened opposition versus dogmatic loyal peasant support, much is actually predicable.

Clearly, the odds are against opposition success, if the vote has been or it is intended to be rigged, and we should remember the history here. This situation can only give rise to run-offs or, worse still, absolute defeat of a split opposition. The opposition boycotted the last run-off: an own goal much to their peril. Will one or other opposition party be strong enough to take victory? Time only will tell, but the uncertainly could surely have been turned into certainty with a few commitments and a simple shake of hands.

* incumbent in so far as it holds sway in critical Government Ministries

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Alas there are no Ayatollahs in Zimbabwe

By Andrew Field – Follow on Twitter
Flickr_Andrew_XIEgypt is gushing with euphoria following the fall of Hosni Mubarak. We have seen this elation elsewhere before; it will be short lived, but nevertheless joyful for the masses triumphant. Some, outside Egypt, may envy this sudden release of jubilant hysteria, from beneath the umbrella of their concurrent oppression. Others may be reflecting inwardly, scheming, perhaps wondering who has the audacity to encourage their first freedom forgathering.

Many, like the author, will be making a few comparisons between Egypt and Zimbabwe. Clearly, there is none, that is, between the politics of Maburak’s Egypt and that of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. One was an iron fist dictatorship evolved from, and supported by, the military and the other is a pseudo democracy where true freedoms are yet to be realized, a transition between tired, single party, absolute power and apparent political polarity.

The common territory between the, now disassembled, Egyptian regime and the power base of Zimbabwe lies with the insatiable need of an individual to retain power. Some say at whatever cost. Many will draw the comparison between a hugely transparent military involvement that uplifted the Mubarak regime and the more opaque involvement, and power influence, of an elitist military within Zimbabwe’s political circle.

The hypothesis presently kicking around is that the people’s revolution in Egypt will erupt in other Middle Eastern countries. A few hopefuls speculate its eruption in other parts of Africa, and Zimbabwe is no exception. The question is, do Zimbabweans, in comparison with their Egyptian brothers, have the passion to perpetrate something similar to the Nile Revolution? Indeed, is there actually a need to do so?

One may envisage such revolution in Zimbabwe and ask if a peaceful atmosphere with mass demonstration could actually be achieved. Mubarak’s army turned its back on their erstwhile leader and lowered their barrels. Many doubt Zimbabwe’s generals would do the same. Mubarak’s army refused to fire upon the surging masses and one wonders if Zimbabwe’s finest would imitate that lead.

Ignore the potential response of otherwise noble military officers, in the face of popular uprising, and consider the history of mass protest in Zimbabwe. Has this ever been truly peaceful? Has not mass protest been marred by death, injury and malicious damage; bullets, teargas, water cannons, and fire? Violent response may not bloody the hands of the generals, but rather soil the mitts of an unruly coterie of ignorant lackeys, blinded by their own propaganda. This is the most perilous, potential danger of ‘peaceful’ protest in Zimbabwe.

Another danger lurks with yet further comparisons in the unlikely scenario which could evolve. The Egyptian protests have created a political power vacuum. There is no organized politics to fill the void, save a fringe fundamentalist movement already dribbling in anticipation. The ayatollahs must be gleeful and the military have been forced to take control. Zimbabwe has its opposition, which presumably would fill the void, but people are beginning to ask if indeed it will.

It seems, to the casual observer, that the opposition appears to have retreated into its shell, like a timid tortoise. It has lost its bottle. The parties are not awfully vocal, nor protesting about much these days. Tsvangirai’s MDC seems to be enjoying the trappings of its sham leadership, while the key political focus is on their apparently more dominant foe.

The Ncube or Mutumbara MDC, or whoever is running that seeming shamble of a party, appears to be concentrated on their rather divisive, petty, internal squabbles. No one is hungry or dribbling in anticipation, and certainly no military transition could allow such disingenuous opposition to take control. And therein lays the real threat, the insatiable retention of power.

We are the Patriots, You are the Incorrigible Puppets

By Andrew Field – Follow on Twitter
Flickr_Andrew_XIRecently in Zimbabwe, it seems to have become vogue to dangle the national flag from the rear view mirror in your car, ‘emergency’ taxi or truck. Of course, such patriotism is to be entirely commended, if not praised, it is the ultimate in belonging. What could a nation be if it its people are not proud of their country and heritage? Zimbabwe has good reason to be proud in many spheres, some quite unique. Its politics is not one of them.

It turns out that this sudden display of patriotism has been hijacked, apparently, by a certain political party. The party is actually distributing and selling these flags, ostensibly to raise party funds, but it goes a little deeper than that. It seems like this wave of popular patriotism should be reserved for the party cadre only and is not something to be fared by just any Zimbabwean. Zimbabweans’ patriotism is being cunningly converted to party support.

The worrying thing about this trend is that several companies are gearing up to being ‘Proudly Zimbabwean’ too, slapping the national flag behind their logos. Again this is a most worthy practice and a justifiable demonstration of national pride. Why not? The skeptical can’t help but think that this is a somewhat fogged response to party driven, nationalist, company indigenisation aspirations. A not too subtle, ‘we belong’, but whether to the state or party is not clear.

Those non-indigenous business bosses are in for a rough ride. If the ‘patriotic party’ has its way, company chiefs are going to be dragged on stage to denounce sanctions against Zimbabwe, or lose their businesses to rogue want-to-be businessmen in the ranks of the party. It will be a continuation of the property grab, the political weapon which has plagued the country’s economy for a decade. The truth is that the nation is not actually sanctioned. It is the party hierarchy who face that challenge and do so in their personal capacities. Remember though, the Party is the State.

These rumblings are nothing new. Up until its defeat in the 2008 parliamentary elections, the then ruling party had always dabbled with the ethos that the Party is the State and only the party faithful can be truly loyal Zimbabweans. Those outside the party were simply not patriots, but the traitorous ‘incorrigible puppets’ of their former colonial masters, or the remaining white phratry.

So, we are rumbling towards the next election. Election dates have not been set, but the ‘patriotic party’ is vying for an early contest. Clearly, the former ruling party is on the move. The drums are beating, the troops are rallying, and the message is being carried to all corners of the nation. And it is not only the drums which are being beaten, according to the independent press. Violence has flared. The party is gearing itself for the forthcoming battle royal and the crusade is much apparent.

Indeed the timing is opportune. Although difficult to gauge, due to conspicuous inactivity, the opposition MDC parties are perceived weaker now than before the last elections. The opponent party is still split between two camps, when a unified organisation would tackle the contest better. Power hungry politicians will never learn that particular lesson in Africa. And then there are the intecene, petty power squabbles within the individual camps to overcome. The opposition has lost focus, they seem to be cradling in a comfort zone oblivious to the challenge erupting.

This is no reflection on the will of the people. Everyone knows in which camp their political heart lies, or where it may be swayed, but it would be wrong for aspirant leaders to believe they have achieved their victory before the scuffle starts. The problem appears to be just this. One party, being not too sure of support or victory, has stepped up its campaign; the others give the appearance of mellow complacency.

As political commentator John Mukumbe says, referring to Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC,

‘Somehow the party thinks that it has arrived’.

Clearly, it has not. It is time for someone to smell the coffee, to use a worn, but appropriate cliché. If they do not take a whiff, then vote rigging and vote buying may not be on the patriotic party’s agenda. It may be a popular landslide in their favour.