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.