When Emmerson Mnangagwa replaced Robert Mugabe as leader of Zimbabwe last November, the magnitude of promise and expectation was matched only by the grand ceremony of his inauguration. One would have mistaken it for the inauguration of a duly elected president. It was, as someone observed, over-compensation for the legitimacy shortfalls that accompanied his dramatic and unconventional rise to power. The authors of the coup needed to convince themselves and the rest of the world that they were in power and that required a grand ceremony to match. But it also promised much, yet the delivery has been disappointing on a number of fronts.
Six months later, ZANU PF has issued its election manifesto. After the drama and ceremony of inauguration, expectations were high. But the coup seems to have affected more than a change of leadership. The cerebral portion of the party seems to have departed in November, too. Some say the 2008 manifesto is the worst in history but if so, it is facing stiff competition from the 2018 election manifesto. It is dull, unimaginative and bland. A manifesto is supposed to be the candidate’s prospectus to the electorate. It is supposed to persuade the voter that the candidate is worthy of their investment in votes. But it is a weak and pedestrian document that does little to inspire the imagination.
The manifesto lacks ideological coherence and clarity. In fact, it demonstrates ideological confusion because the party does not seem to know what ideological line it wishes to follow. Ideology matters because it provides the direction that determines the party’s political orientation and policies. In the foreword written by its president, ZANU PF presents itself as a capitalist party. “ZANU PF believes in a free enterprise – free market economy,” says Mnangagwa, without qualification. Later in the manifesto, ZANU PF states that its vision is based on “Socialism with market characteristics”. There is no articulation of what is meant by “socialism with market characteristics”. But it can’t be the same as a free-market economy which its president stated in the foreword. A “free market economy” and “socialism with market characteristics” do not represent the same ideological standpoint. A free market economy is capitalist while a socialist economy with market characteristics would need to be fully explained for it to make sense.
This apparent contradiction reflects the post-coup administration’s apparent efforts to charm both ends of the global political and economic spectrum; the West and China. On the one hand, ZANU PF is desperate to be accepted by the West but at the same time, it wants to retain its links with China. Thus it finds itself pandering to the West by presenting itself as a believer in the free market. Indeed, one of the defining characteristics of the post-coup era is a foreign policy of re-engagement, which panders to the West and international capital. In his inauguration speech, Mnangagwa espoused the virtues of a free market economy and the protection of property rights. It is not surprising that in his foreword Mnangagwa makes a declaration in favour of a free market economy, the kind of language that has a ready market in the West. At the same time, however, in order to retain the umbilical cord with the East, the ZANU PF manifesto panders to China by also announcing a belief in “socialism with market characteristics”, which is presumably seen as following the Chinese Model. The Chinese Communist Party has been a close ally of ZANU PF since before independence. The language of socialism is the type that is closer to its ideological roots as a party of the left.
The apparent conflict illustrates a party that is battling to identify and define its ideological soul as it negotiates a transition from the Mugabe era. The free market model is more consistent with liberal democratic values, which ZANU PF has trampled upon over the years while the China Model is more centralized and authoritarian, legitimizing a one-party system of government. ZANU PF wants to attract Western capital but it also sees benefits in the Chinese Model which has produced phenomenal growth in a short space of time. The manifesto is an indication of a party at an ideological crossroads; a party that has no idea which way it wants to go ideologically. It does not inspire confidence that it is ready to govern because it is lost in the ideological forest. When Deng Xiaoping took over China after Chairman Mao and set in motion the transformational process that has led to China’s economic success, he knew exactly what he wanted to achieve and the ideological line that would guide it. He would maintain the country’s communist soul, with a one-party system and limited freedoms while at the same time organizing China into an efficient economic machine and introducing it to the market. If Mnangagwa wants to be a Deng, whom some observers think he wants to emulate, he will have to guide the party ideologically. The manifesto is a poor advert for that ideology.
In addition, ideological clarity seems to have been one of the casualties of the coup. The party seems to have lost its ideological godfather and some of the strongest intellectual warriors. Certainly, the manifesto is an example of bad workmanship which suggests that not enough attention to detail was paid during its preparation. The manifesto is a clumsy attempt to redefine the party’s ideological line but it is lacking intellectual depth and direction. The party is also facing a dilemma over the legacy of its former leader, Robert Mugabe. They want to associate with Mugabe’s successes but they are also desperate to disown his failures. The leadership has been desperate to present itself as completely new and divorced from Mugabe but it does not know how to do so without losing the defining features of the party, such as land reform which was an attack on capitalist notions of property rights but was consistent with leftist notions of social justice. But they cannot have their cake and eat it at the same time. It is disingenuous to try to disown Mugabe, a man they worked with, propped up and defended for 37 years while claiming credit for his achievements in areas like education and land distribution. If they are going to claim successes from the Mugabe era, they must also carry responsibility for the failures.
This problem of ideological confusion might not mean much to voters. Indeed, some dismiss manifestoes as irrelevant to Zimbabwe’s electoral politics, believing that few bother to read and few still are guided by contents of manifestos in making their electoral decisions. But a manifesto is an important marker of the state of the party and its ideological and policy direction. The party’s ideology gives an indication of the kind of policies that it will pursue in government. The apparent confusion suggests that ZANU PF is not sure of itself and what it stands for and how it would conduct government. It probably explains why the post-coup administration has failed to make headway on the economic front. Ideological direction comes from the leadership and if the leadership is failing to articulate its ideological direction, then there is a serious problem. It suggests a party which is groping in the dark, unsure of what defines it and its purpose. It also suggests that the party has lost its intellectual base and it is no longer able to articulate, let alone implement clear policies. The ideological confusion is generally indicative of the weaknesses in the manifesto which reflect a half-hearted approach to the whole project.
The manifesto also contains blatant falsehoods. For example, it claims ZANU PF has built a ‘formidable health infrastructure”. This is not only false but also an insult to the public. Zimbabweans have to endure dilapidated health facilities even at major hospitals. Parirenyatwa, Harare Central, and Mpilo hospitals used to be world-class health institutions in their hey days but they are now almost empty shells. Rural residents have to walk long distances to a hospital while the seriously sick are transported by wheel-barrow or ox-drawn carts. This is the same Zimbabwe that ZANU PF says boasts of formidable health infrastructure – a clear lie.
They also list Biometric Voter Registration as complete, which is not true. As things stand, there is no voters roll. ZEC has promised a provisional voters roll by May 19 and only 10 days for inspection throughout the country. It is dishonest to claim completion of BVR process when there is no voters’ roll.
Third, ZANU PF makes a claim to have delivered a new constitution. It is odd that ZANU PF makes a claim to something it actively resisted. There would be no constitution if the MDC parties had not insisted and left ZANU PF with no option but to agree. The constitution was achieved not because of ZANU PF but in spite of its efforts to derail it.
Dealing with the past
One of the things that ZANU PF has struggled with over the years is how to deal with its past indiscretions and atrocities. Its current eader has been on record imploring victims and survivors to let bygones be bygones. The attitude to past wrongs has been dismissive. In the manifesto, however, ZANU PF makes reference to the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) which was established under the 2013 constitution to deal with past wrongs. This is another institution which ZANU PF strongly resisted during the constitutional negotiations. Its existence is not because of ZANU PF but in spite of its efforts to avoid it. They resisted a stronger and more robust institution which would have had more powers. Nvertheless thfact that they are even including it in their manifesto is testament to the persuasive efforts of the experts who have been tasked to make this work. They are making some headway.
However, the manifesto is weak in one respect: omitted from their manifesto is that the NPRC was only given a 10-year lifespan and as of 2018, it only has 5 more years. Yet the first 5 years were spent doing very little. A better manifesto showing seriousness on the part of ZANU PF would have included a commitment to extend the life of the NPRC given that it has already lost the first 5 years without doing much. The manifesto demonstrates pretence to the world that something is being done about previous wrongs when in reality there is not enough commitment to the cause. Those who committed wrongs have no incentive to take the process seriously.
Manifestoes list a party’s wish-list. But while there are occasional instances of hyperbole, this wish-list has to be reasonable. ZANU PF already has embarrassing form when it comes to making wild promises. In the 2013 elections, it promised to deliver 2.2 million jobs. After 5 years in government, they have said nothing about that promise because they simply have not delivered. However, this did not stop them making another outlandish promise in the 2018 manifesto. This time, they are promising to construct 1,5 million homes within 5 years. A quick calculation suggests that this would mean at least 800 houses per day. Needless to say, given Zimbabwe’s resource capacity and competing needs, this is an unrealistic promise even to the most optimistic Zimbabwean. After failing to deliver the 2,2 million jobs, people are unlikely to place much value on the promise to build 1,5 million homes in 5 years.
Fighting corruption is presented as one of the 4 themes of ZANU PF’s election manifesto. This is despite years of gross acts of corruption that have gone unpunished. It is true that corruption is a cancer eating at the heart of the society. But ZANU PF has an appalling record of fighting corruption. In fact, the ruling party has created an environment which encourages and tolerates corruption. Those familiar with the story of post-independent Zimbabwe will recall numerous corruption scandals which have been exposed but for which no one has been held accountable. They include the Willowgate Scandal, War Victims Compensation Scandal, VIP Housing Scandal, Chiadzwa diamond looting and many more. The ZANU PF government under Mugabe did nothing serious to fight corruption.
The Mnangagwa administration was expected to show some seriousness in order to distinguish itself. But it has taken a familiar path. The first sign was the retention of ministers and top government officials who are associated with gross acts of corruption. The fight against corruption was such a low-hanging fruit for the new administration that most expected to see some real action. But 5 months down the line, they have not shown any appetite to fight corruption. They cannot even list in their manifesto results of their anti-corruption. The government made much noise about so-called externalisers, who had shipped money outside the country during the Mugabe regime. They declared a much-publicised amnesty for those who returned the funds and threatened to expose those who would have failed. When the deadline arrived, the list of so-called offenders was published but there was no subsequent action against them. In fact, the greatest irony and contradiction in all this is that one of the listed offenders, Elias Musakwa, who was alleged to have shipped 9 million to Portugal is a ZANU PF parliamentary candidate in the next elections. Thus the same party which is promising to fight corruption has as its candidate a person whom its president has named as a corrupt offender.
The fact of the matter is that ZANU PF has never been serious about fighting corruption and the last few months under the new administration have not changed that narrative. The promise in the manifesto is therefore vacuous.
No big idea, no rallying point
A manifesto is usually accompanied by a big idea and a catchy soundbite. In the past ZANU PF has drawn its big idea around land reform and empowerment. Of catchy soundbites, Bhora Mugedhe had a huge effect in the 2013 elections: it was the rallying call for ZANU PF after the disaster of 2008 where Bhora Musango had prevailed. There is no such soundbite in this manifesto. The Mdhara Achauya or Kutonga Kwaro phenomenon has run its course and is beginning to be a turn off after a poor start to government. Instead, they have returned to the 2008 days where they are fighting against the tide of Bhora Musango. Zimbabwe is open for business and international re-engagement would have been more attractive themes to make prominent in their manifesto because clearly on that front, the new administration has been visible and has already scored some major successes, especially in the area of re-engagement. But after the lows of the Mugabe regime in international relations, the only way after it was upwards.
An indication of one of ZANU PF’s biggest failings is that it cannot even make diamond revenues a key driver of economic growth. This is a natural resource which has powered the economies of other countries, such as neighbouring Botswana. But in Zimbabwe, it has been plundered by a few political, military and foreign elites. The government cannot account for the proceeds of diamond mining and it cannot make a commitment to tracing them. Overall, the dour nature of the manifesto is encapsulated in a section that tries to describe ZANU PF’s achievements over the past 5 years. Because there is virtually none, the section is full of waffling and excuse-making.
Chamisa goes to London
This week was dominated by Nelson Chamisa’s trip to London where he led a delegation of the MDC Alliance. Along with him were two key figures of the opposition, Tendai Biti and David Coltart. In terms of composition, it was a clear representation of the re-convergence of the key parts that made the original MDC. Coltart was part of the group that broke away in 2005 and Biti led the group that walked away in 2014 while Chamisa was part of the main wing that remained under Tsvangirai. Here, they were, together again on a mission to represent the MDC Alliance, the umbrella under which the main opposition will be fighting the election. As coalitions go, the MDC Alliance has found its feet and is in motion. They are confident enough to go out and meet the world as a united front. That alone is an achievement which few will have noticed.
The trip was part of the opposition’s international diplomatic engagements. It followed government’s own official engagements on the same front. It is a sign not of validation but recognition of the official opposition. It is not necessary for the opposition or even the ruling party to be validated by foreign governments but recognition is an important matter in international diplomacy. They have met face to face with key members of the UK government and communication lines will now be more open than they were before.
It was also an opportunity for the opposition to present its case to a major government that has been accused of batting for the Mnangagwa administration. The opposition had an opportunity on this trip to meet not only members of the government but also key members of the opposition who also have an important role in checking their government. They may not have changed their attitude but the likelihood is after their representations, there will be more vigilance among elements of the British system. If Britain falls into the trap of uncritically backing the new administration, they cannot say they were not warned. Caution is the word, especially given the façade of legitimacy that the new administration is creating.
The British trip was also Chamisa’s introduction to the world as leader and face of the opposition in Zimbabwe. He occupied important and prestigious spaces: Oxford Union, Chatham House and various media platforms including the iconic HARDtalk programme. While there is understandable interest in the nitty-gritty of what happened on those platforms, the mere fact that he occupied them is a key point of recognition, which is important. For many people and around the world, it would have been the first time seeing or hearing from Chamisa, a fresh voice from the African continent. The message that Chamisa is the head of the Zimbabwean opposition was carried far and wide, well beyond Britain. It was never going to be easy to find a replacement for Tsvangirai as the face of the opposition. There is no more doubting that politically and in this election, the Chamisa-led MDC Alliance is the main challenger for power in Zimbabwe. It was a strong rebuttal of the notion that the opposition had died with Tsvangirai. Instead, the legacy of the icon of the democratic struggle under the leadership of one of his protégés.
In terms of priorities, the trip was well-placed as it came after, not before Chamisa and the MDC Alliance had established a firm foothold on the domestic scene. It came hard on the heels of an intensive local campaign in which Chamisa was being introduced to the electorate. It would have been foolhardy to rush to foreign lands before making a solid mark on the ground. This is good politics. However, it is now important for Chamisa and the leadership to reconnect with Africa. The African Union and SADC are going to be key players in this election and in the future. It is important to make diplomatic engagements by way of introduction and setting out issues that should exercise their minds as we head into an important election. Apart from these institutions, it is also important to engagement economic institutions such as the African Development Bank, which plays a key role and are key stakeholders in development financing. They need to put their economic case before them so that they are properly understood.
Chamisa’s interaction with the Zimbabwean Diaspora in the UK and the enthusiasm with which he was received was also encouraging. It indicates that he and the MDC Alliance have been accepted by the external constituency. Although this constituency will not be voting in the forthcoming election, it still has important roles to play in not only working with those at home but also mobilising financial support for the candidate and the party. ZANU PF is soaked in dollars and has enough money to spare. The same cannot be said of the opposition. The Diaspora could come in handy in this regard, if it is well-organised and encouraged to support the opposition.
The faux pas at the rally was a disappointment that could have been avoided. It’s a lesson that when one is in a leadership role, every single word they utter is important. Their words and conduct are watched and scrutinised. It is he kind of scrutiny that Chamisa will have to get used to but it also means careful thought before making public speeches. This is why it is important to have a script. It is not a sign of weakness to have a written script nor is it a sign of strength to speak off the cuff. The greatest speeches in history have been written and re-written countless times before they are delivered to the world. The world remembers the great words but few appreciate that lots of work would have been invested in preparation for their delivery. Even the memorable jokes would have been carefully selected and vetted to make sure they fit the occasion. To his credit, Chamisa has issued an apology. The apology shows he is willing to listen to criticism – a trait that will serve him well in the future. A few months ago, in an interview with The Economist, a British economic weekly, his rival Emmerson Mnangagwa shocked Zimbabweans when he made outrageous denials of electoral violence in the 2008 elections, which he described as having been free and fair. He wasn’t moved to make an apology for the offence caused.
The BBC HARDtalk interview was tough and robust as is its tradition. To viewers who are unfamiliar with Steven Sackur’s style of interviewing on the iconic programme, it might have seemed biased and even unfair, but playing the devil’s advocate is his modus operandi. Many guests have in the past been rattled by it and lost their composure completely. By contrast, Chamisa remained calm and composed, itself a reflection of emotional maturity and stability. His main opponent in this election, Mnangagwa faced a very tame encounter with the BBC’s Mishal Hussain in Davos earlier this year and seemed visibly rattled by her line of questioning. By comparison, Chamisa retained his dignity and composure under a barrage of sometimes hostile questions. The BBC HARDtalk programme is not a reflection of the British government’s view of Chamisa and the MDC Alliance. Those who are linking the two – British government and the BBC have no understanding of the relationship between the government and the public broadcaster. It is not like the relationship between the Zimbabwean government and the ZBC where the latter is the mouthpiece of the government. Chamisa went to the deep-end and he survived a thorough test of character. More experienced politicians have been left flustered and bruised by a HARDtalk encounter.
Overall, the trip was an important step in Chamisa’s and the MDC Alliance’s campaign. Strategically, the battle for power is fought both internally and externally. The internal is where the electorate is concerned and the external is where the stakeholders who certify and validate the election outcome are concerned. The key battle in this election revolves around the legitimacy question. Mnangagwa knows this and has made international diplomacy a key part of his election campaign. He knows he is fighting not just to win over Zimbabweans but key parts of the international community which have always withheld their consent in previous elections. He has led a charm offensive to woo them to his cause. It would be foolhardy for Chamisa and the MDC Alliance to overlook this strategy. That’s why it was necessary to go to Britain and give their side of the story to the world. The trip would have given Britain another view of what’s going on. Whatever their prior position, it has given them something to think about. They cannot repeat the 1980s approach when terrible things happened right under their nose.
Keeping traditional leaders in check
The judiciary is part of the checks and balances in a democratic system. It keeps others in check and is the ultimate protector of the constitution. When there is concern that a breach of the constitution has occurred, individuals can approach the courts and seek remedial measures. The courts rely on people to take action before them. They cannot of their own accord take action against those who infringe the constitution. This week, the courts lived up to their role and expectations when a High Court judge issued an order for chiefs to comply with the constitution.
The matter was brought by the Election Resource Centre, a civil society organisation concerned with electoral matters. It was prompted by statements uttered by the President of the National Council of Chiefs, Chief Fortune Charumbira on at least two occasions in the recent past. These remarks were to the effect that chiefs have been supporting and should continue to support ZANU PF and its presidential candidate. This was clearly unconstitutional conduct on the part of the Chief. The 2013 Constitution clearly prohibits chiefs from interfering in political processes and taking a partisan role in favour of or prejudicial to the interests of a political party or candidate.
A BSR written in November 2017 which analysed the role of chiefs in politics recommended that legal action must be taken to enforce the constitution and bring the chiefs to account. ZANU PF has in the past abused traditional leaders as instruments for their political campaign in rural areas. This litigation by the ERC is a positive step in the direction of holding chiefs to account. They have constitutional duties which they must observe. The chiefs could not even oppose the application, presumably because their conduct was indefensible. The court, therefore, issued an order requiring the leader of the chiefs to publicly retract his statements.
The order must now be enforced. The chief must publicly retract his statements. It is also important for newspapers to give the same prominence to the retraction as they gave to the original story. That the court has issued this order and the retraction by the chief must be known widely and in all communities. It will make communities more aware that chiefs are not above the law and that they cannot intimidate the people. It will help to reduce the fear factor in rural areas when people know that chiefs can be held accountable under the constitution. It is therefore important to circulate the order and retraction widely and in all official languages.