Zimbabwe 2008: Lessons from US

OPINION: The just ended democratic convention is pregnant with lessons not only for the United States but for Zimbabwe, a country whose promise has been frozen in a state that even elections cannot change.

The economy of Zimbabwe is in turmoil and the promise has been under threat since independence from the least expected quarters – the founding fathers.

When Barak Obama stood four years ago before the Democratic Party convention he made a compelling case of why a country of 300 million with a 228-year history then was destined to lead because in its foundation there was a shared belief that the future belonged to those who dared and it was founded on a promise that set it apart from other countries. It was a nation of laws and of sovereign citizens and it offered a promise to its citizens that through hard work and sacrifice, they could pursue their individual dreams, including seeking to occupy the highest office in the land while at the same time being able to carve out a homogenous national identity and collective spirit. 

When he announced his candidature some 19 months ago and began a journey that has tested the country’s ability to live up to its promise to all its citizens, many of us believed that his journey would be short-lived and just one of many that America had witnessed before.

The democratic primaries were as eventful as they were competitive but when the hour arrived for contestants to put their differences and move forward, even Hillary Clinton came to the party.

It was not surprising that the party rallied behind Obama and I could not help but ask why at the defining hour in Zimbabwe’s history, opposition leaders Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara have not been able to find each other.

What is it about America that would allow for bitter rivals in the same party to put aside their seemingly personal differences and put the interests of change at the centre of their political engagement? 

Obama and Clinton managed to put the country first on their agenda and both understood that the challenges facing America required a change of direction and were partly a result of failed policies and broken politics. 

They both represented a departure and turning point in US politics in that for the first time, one of the principal parties in the country faced in the primaries a choice between the first woman and the first African-American to head it. 

They both broke the glass ceiling that has been in existence since the foundation of the republic some 232 years ago. However, they both understood the weight of history and their role in shaping the future.

The Zimbabwean crisis endures not because the people of Zimbabwe did not pronounce their opinion on what kind of future they wanted. On March 29, they voted for change and yet the change they sought has been more elusive after the election than before principally because the framers of the post-election negotiations agenda were acutely aware of the challenges of getting Tsvangirai and Mutambara to embrace a common vision.

So when the SADC-mediated talks broke down with no resolution, what was reported and confirmed by the outcome of the elections of the Speaker suggests that Zimbabwe is a long way towards creating a climate in which national interest can rise above personal interests. 

Attempts were made to unite the MDC formations that on paper subscribe to the same change agenda, prior to the March elections and the rest is history.

What divides them is less than what should unite them to present a united face to the challenge of reclaiming the future from a party and leader that are determined to condemn in perpetuity the country to more poverty and hopelessness.

Notwithstanding, it is evident that at this defining hour in the face of a failed state, there appears to be no possibility for Mutambara and Tsvangirai to raise the level of conversation beyond power games.

What kind of Zimbabwe does MDC-M and MDC-T want to see? Would the kind of Zimbabwe they want to see be closer to reality with a power-sharing arrangement premised on the confused interpretation of the March 29 results?

Is it not strange that the two formations would sponsor two competitors for the Speaker’s position with ZANU PF opportunistically taking the higher moral ground by deciding to support the Mutambara faction.

Questions have been raised whether it was wise for the MDC-M leadership to sponsor a candidate for the Speaker in the framework of the inter-party dialogue. 

One view says that it was not unreasonable for the MDC-M formation to seek to have one of its own as the Speaker given that, in principle, Tsvangirai has accepted the broad framework of the inter-party dialogue that seeks to place Mugabe in the statehouse and Tsvangirai in the government house as Prime Minister.

Accepting this construction means it would be unreasonable for the MDC-T to seek to control both the parliament and the executive branch of government leaving ZANU PF and MDC-M in the cold and with no power at all. 

Another view, says that MDC-M was entitled to pursue its own actions since there was no agreement and, therefore, it risked becoming irrelevant if the candidate of the MDC-M formation was elected.

Already through political manipulation ZANU PF controlled the senate, Presidency and through the active support of the MDC-M formation would have ended up controlling parliament. 

Contrary to the spirit of the inter-party talks, ZANU PF sought to assert rights that were not conferred on it by the electorate.

What is clear is that it is time for Tsvangirai, like Obama, to reach out to all the progressive formations including MDC-M to forge a new unity operating on the principle that Zimbabwe must come first with a leader who believes in bringing people together.

The two formations represent that they stand for a new Zimbabwe founded on a new set of values and yet strangely enough arguments are now being advanced that the correct interpretation of the March election results and the subsequent run-off Presidential election is that executive power must be shared. 

Surely, on March 29, Zimbabweans could have decided to give Tsvangirai and Mugabe the same vote but history will record that Mugabe, an incumbent, was number two but even SADC has accepted the proposition that Zimbabweans want the next five years to be the same as the last 28 years. 

Zimbabwe is a broken state requiring a change of direction. In the words of Obama at the convention, enough is enough. I can do no better than reproducing his own words as follows:

“Tonight, I say to the American people, to Democrats and Republicans and Independents across this great land – enough! This moment – this election – is our chance to keep, in the 21st century, the American promise alive. Because next week, in Minnesota, the same party that brought you two terms of George Bush and Dick Cheney will ask this country for a third. And we are here because we love this country too much to let the next four years look like the last eight. On November 4th, we must stand up and say: ‘Eight is enough’."

It is now time for Zimbabweans to say to ZANU PF, MDC-M, and MDC-T that it is enough and the fact that ZANU PF does not enjoy a parliamentary majority as confirmed by the election of the Speaker in a democratic process from Tsvangirai’s faction provides yet another opportunity for the two factions to think hard and fast about what Zimbabwe needs at this defining moment.

Both Mutambara and Tsvangirai love Zimbabwe just as much as Obama and Clinton love America to allow themselves to be on the wrong side of history and must stand up and jointly say: “28 is enough”. 

Charamba in his weekly column entitled: “Mutambara/Ncube: A wet swab, kind balm, for salty eyes” makes the case that the failure by their candidate to win the election for the post of Speaker confirms that the widely held view that there is a serious disconnect between the party and the leadership representing it in the talks. 

An allegation of conspiracy between the leadership of MDC-M and ZANU PF has been made but denied by Mutambara as is the allegation that a bilateral deal has been concluded between the two. However, if there is no deal then surely it must be strange that ZANU PF legislators ended up voting for a candidate sponsored by the leadership of the MDC-M formation. One would have expected at the very least that Mutambara and Tsvangirai should have consulted and agreed on a strategy.

The mere fact that in the face of an uncertain future caused by squandered opportunities to lift the country up, ZANU PF found itself in the same corner with the MDC-M formation should provide an opportunity for the leadership of the formation to think seriously about what time it is and what the people want to see.

The election was not about Tsvangirai or Mugabe but about the Zimbabwean people’s desire to move forward and the first step ought to be a break from the past and it must be obvious from the tone of Charamba that ZANU PF has no interest in change rather the primary interest is to keep power in the hands of President Robert Mugabe with or without the help of the Mutambara faction.

It is not surprising that Charamba and not Tsvangirai had no kind words to say about the Mutambara formation and yet the stalemate has little with the personal ambition of Mutambara.

In the Obama/Clinton scenario when the dust settled, it behoved on Obama to take the leadership by not only reaching out to Clinton personally but to her supporters. Mutambara had voluntarily excluded himself from the race and like Clinton he has never been a competitor with Tsvangirai for the position of State President.

The unity that was evident at the democratic convention was to the credit of Obama and yet it has not been possible in the Zimbabwean scenario to get a leader who can unite all the democratic forces to deliver the change that people can believe in.

It must be accepted that Obama has never sought to belittle Clinton but instead has used a unifying model to advance not only his personal interests but his party. Now the united democratic party can confront the opposition in November as one and not as is the case in Zimbabwe where Tsvangirai, Makoni, Mutambara, and Jonathan Moyo have failed to lead the charge against Mugabe to the extent that instead of the focus being on Mugabe’s reluctance to give way or pass on the baton it is now on Tsvangirai.

The obligation to make the future brighter lies in the hands of those who have accepted to lead. Zimbabwe is at the crossroads and a choice has to be made but equally it is important that a lesson be drawn from how Obama has managed to unite and rise above the politics of division. 

Is it the kind of Zimbabwe that Tsvangirai and Mutambara have been fighting for that would expose the division in the progressive forces at this defining and historic hour of change? Where is Zimbabwe’s Obama?