Zimbabwe trapped in Machiavellian Moment – Prof. Jonathan Moyo

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Prof Jonathan Moyo

LAST week as Zimbabwe turned 38 amid the Junta’s self-indulgent claims of a “transition” and a “new dispensation” on the back of the illegal military ouster of President Robert Mugabe last November, the unexamined and therefore undiscussed yet compelling reality on the ground is that the beleaguered country is on the cusp of an interregnum in which, to phrase the Italian writer Antonio Gramsci, the old is dead but the new has not been born.

By Jonathan N. Moyo

When a country is in the throes of such a Gramscian interregnum, it throws up morbid symptoms that define the crisis. In Zimbabwe the crisis has the following five features that need critical examination: The second critical election; a new dispensation on the horizon; a lingering illegitimacy trap; an arrested transition; and a cruel Machiavellian Movement.

Machiavellian moment

For some time now, Zimbabwe has been going through what political scientists call a “Machiavellian Moment”. This is a moment when a republic becomes unstable and must come to terms with the institutional roots of its instability to defend its founding ideals and enduring values. As such, a Machiavellian Moment is when a troubled society must revisit its founding principles, values and ideals and realign them with its failing institutions or risk disintegrating. The way out of such a moment requires a Machiavelli (a philosopher) and a Prince (a leader), working in a symbiotic relationship in the vein of a Philosopher-King propounded by Plato in his Republic. Having Machiavelli without the Prince, or the Prince without Machiavelli necessarily leads to a protracted interregnum with morbid consequences. A Machiavellian Moment is cruel when there’s neither Machiavelli nor the Prince available.

Zimbabwe today is experiencing a cruel Machiavellian Moment. Since 2000, the country’s constitutional, institutional and political edifice has been crumbling under the weight of the unfulfilled expectations based on the founding values and ideals of the country’s liberation struggle, whose quintessential purpose was the restoration of the civil, political and socio-economic rights of the indigenous population.

At issue by 2000 was that the gains of Independence had not included the enjoyment of civil and political rights, notably the freedoms of assembly, association and expression; nor had they included socio-economic rights, particularly land redistribution and economic empowerment.

The MDC challenge emerged in 1999 as an expression of the former, while in 2001 the fast-track land reform programme sought to address the latter as the pillars of a new Zimbabwe. Some 18 years later, that new Zimbabwe or “new dispensation” envisaged by the MDC challenge from 1999 and the fast-track land reform programme and economic empowerment from 2001 has not been born; while the old society challenged by both has been dying, albeit slowly and painfully so with lots of nasty things in between.

This means that Zimbabwe’s Machiavellian Moment, whose roots were sunk between 1999 and 2001, is now virtually two decades old. It has been cruelly long. The reason for this is that, while there have been prospective Princes in the intervening period, such as Morgan Tsvangirai and Simba Makoni, there has not been a compelling Machiavelli to provide the intellectual roadmap and propagate the ideas for a genuine transition to a new Zimbabwe.

And the Machiavellian Moment has since gotten even more cruel in the wake of the illegal military ouster of Mugabe last November, the death of Tsvangirai on Valentine’s Day in February, let alone the fall of Makoni as a credible Prince. Now the country neither has a Prince nor a Machiavelli.

Whereas a Prince can emerge with the shortest of notices, and currently there are two or so promising cases better not mentioned for now, the same cannot be said of a Machiavelli. Where there is no Machiavelli, there is no vision and where there is no vision, as the cliché goes, the people perish.

So, in this connection, Zimbabwe is in trouble. This is because, among the country’s litany of woes, a particularly insidious malady is the dearth of intellectual practice. There’s no scholarship in Zimbabwe today to talk about and this has worsened the country’s political crisis.

The Socratic presumption that an unexamined life is not worth living not only captures what is wrong with Zimbabwe today, but also explains why the country is in a cruel Machiavellian Moment and why — under this interregnum — the existential quandary of Zimbabweans is that they are living an unexamined life.

It is therefore not surprising that, besides Ibbo Mandaza’s Sapes Trust — which nowadays unfortunately tends to host politicians more than academics — there are no other meaningful intellectual fora that debate examined or researched and peer-reviewed ideas or policies about the state and future of the country. On offer are activists in the form of self-made bloggers and social media polemists who churn out pedestrian opinions, most of which are garbage as they are not subjected to scholarly peer-review.

As such, common wisdom in the country is bereft of ideas as it is primitively and invariably about creating mutual admiration societies of good guys versus bad guys; and not about good ideas versus bad ideas or good policies versus bad policies.

Arrested transition

A fallacy peddled by the Junta to justify its illegal military ouster of Mugabe last November is that the coup was a “transition” to a “new dispensation”. Apart from having been brazenly unconstitutional, and as the publicly available coup minutes recorded by George Charamba on behalf of Constantino Chiwenga show, the November military coup was an illegal power grab exclusive to Zanu PF with no public content besides its unconstitutionality. When Chiwenga met Mugabe the day after the coup on November 16, he presented a two-page list of grievances with seven talking points, six of which were about succession politics in Zanu PF in favour of Emmerson Mnangagwa and veterans of Zimbabwe’s liberation war who claim to be the country’s stockholders; and one grievance was about security of tenure for the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) “command element” and their fear of future prosecution for treason.
In the circumstances, it is a fallacy to claim that a coup motivated by Zanu PF succession politics and job security concerns of the ZDF “command element”, in violation of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, is a political transition. The coup actually represented an arrested or blocked transition.

And, for the avoidance of doubt, the coup was not a popular uprising. The self-serving references to the well-subscribed Harare demonstration of November 18 2017, which some embarrassed opposition and civil society quarters have used to justify their initial support of the Junta insurrection, cannot erase the evidence of who organised that demonstration and why.

It is now known beyond disputation that the demonstration was organised by Chiwenga from a Harare hotel to sanitise the coup and make it appear like a “popular uprising”, after some key opposition and civil society activists were kidnapped by soldiers and taken to Chiwenga’s hotel room where he gave some of them whiskey and all of them money for consultancy fees and to hire kombis and mobilise their supporters after telling them he wanted “a demonstration against Mugabe to force him to resign”.

The demonstration that Chiwenga wanted, to threaten a “Gaddafi-like lynching” of Mugabe, was music to the ears of the activists whose mantra had always been that “Mugabe must go”. Some activists such as Linda Masarira have since publicly confirmed knowledge of this. There are also now various Zanu PF documents, including minutes from various organs of the embattled party, which show beyond doubt that it was ZDF that led the mobilisation for the November 18 Harare demonstration. This does not mean, once the demonstration was organised, demonstrators were aware who the organisers were or that they even cared about that. When the Junta ensured that the coup government was entirely made of Zanu PF functionaries, after making false promises of a Government of National Unity as part of its mobilisation tricks for the November demonstration 18, it was effectively confirming that the military action was not a political transition, but an illegal military power grab to settle a leadership succession dispute within Zanu PF.

Only clueless mamparas would claim that a leadership succession contest, especially one settled by a military coup, is a transition to a new dispensation.

On the back of Zimbabwe’s protracted Machiavellian Moment, the coup was an aberration that represented an arrested transition. It was possible for a genuine transition to happen had, for example, the coup been done by middle rank ZDF officers, the younger and professional generation, motivated by the national interest against the old-guard in the “command element” who have a corrupt entitlement ethos and who arrogantly view themselves as the exclusive stockholders of Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle. Prior to the coup, and this is what really triggered it, Mugabe had resolved to enable generational renewal which would have led to a genuine political transition and to a new dispensation in Zanu PF, government and society. Mugabe’s generational renewal was resisted — to the point of staging a military coup to oust him — by those who betrayed him, especially Mnangagwa and Chiwenga, who had worked with or under him for up to 52 years, but especially since the infamous “Mgagao Declaration” in 1975 and throughout the Independence period, and particularly during Gukurahundi and the State of Emergency between 1980 and 1990; as well as during Murambatsvina in 2005 and the electoral coup in 2008.

Illegitimacy trap

Nearly 20 years into Zimbabwe’s unresolved Machiavellian Moment, and as the old order has been bleeding to death slowly, while the new has been struggling to be born, it has become quite clear that the birth of a new dispensation is being arrested by the country’s lingering illegitimacy trap.

The means for legitimately getting into, staying in and getting out of political office in Zimbabwe, in government and mainstream political parties, have remained contested since 1980. Just about all holders of elective public office in politics, especially but not only at the level of the presidency, are illegitimate. The problem has been so pervasive that it has found expression even in appointed offices in the civil and security services. It is notable that key members of the ZDF “command element” that staged the November coup had outlived their tenure and were thus in the command illegitimately.

Following the illegal military ouster of Mugabe last November and the death of Tsvangirai in February, Zimbabwe’s two major parties in parliament, Zanu PF and the MDC-T, have been consumed by the fires of illegitimacy. But this is not new. Illegitimacy has been the bane of Zimbabwean politics. While there are important foundational differences between Zanu PF and the MDC-T with regards to their ideologies, illegitimacy is common to and entrenched in both with the resultant undemocratic and mediocratic culture of violence, entitlement and anointment.
On the one hand, for the MDC-T, the splits of 2005, 2012 and 2018 have basically destroyed the unity of the party, while leaving intact its founding values of democracy, human freedoms and the rule of law; which are now enshrined in the Bill of Rights of the new 2013 constitution.

On the other hand, for Zanu PF, the party’s founding values of self-determination, sovereignty and socio-economic rights such as land reform and economic empowerment have also found expression in the new constitution, but virtually all its political practices and disdain for civil and political rights —based on the stockholder mentality — have become outdated and unconstitutional.

The disintegration of Zanu PF and overthrow of Mugabe have reduced the ruling party to Junta PF — whose leaders are associated with horrific human rights abuses — with a thin social base.

New dispensation

Considering the foregoing, is a genuine new dispensation in Zimbabwe possible, to cure the coup and free the country’s arrested transition? Yes, it is. It is happening. But there is no Machiavelli or Prince to harness it.

Whereas the leadership of the mainstream parties, Zanu PF and the MDC-T is under the vagaries of the lingering illegitimacy trap, the same is not true of the supporters of these parties who are increasingly finding each other on foundational values and ideals as well as on livelihood matters. This does not, however, mean Zanu PF supporters can now vote for the MDC-T or that MDC-T supporters can now vote for Zanu PF.

Rather, it means that the supporters are finding each other beyond mainstream party barriers. Something new is brewing up. This is being enabled by the fact that Zimbabwe’s 38-year old First Republic — built on the Independence Constitution crafted at Lancaster — is dead, while the Second Republic, envisaged in the people-driven 2013 constitution, is experiencing birth pangs.

Critical election

Zimbabwe’s 11th poll, due this year between 21 July and 22 August, is of historic significance as only the country’s second critical election out of 10 (including two referendums) held since Independence in 1980. While horrific incidents of violence characterised the 1985, 1990, 2000 and 2008 elections; none of the nine were as critical as the 1980 election whose historic importance is to be matched only by the 2018 election.

Political scientists define a critical election as one in which an older coalition dies and a new one is born. A critical election is one where there is a realignment of dominant political views, moral sentiments and people’s aspirations regarding their expectations of leadership, the emerging constitutional and policy issues as well as ethnic and demographic bases of power such as generational dynamics. The locus classicus in the study of critical elections is V.O. Key’s seminal essay, “A Theory of Critical Elections” published in 1955.

The 1980 poll was a critical election that ushered in the Patriotic Front (PF) coalition whose bedrock was the First Republic under the Lancaster Constitution with an agenda to stop the war in Rhodesia, which Abel Muzorewa had failed to do; build a new and united nation, which did not happen because of attempts to establish a one-party state, which was resisted by the 1990 election under Edgar Tekere’s ZUM, and divisive human rights violations such as Gukurahundi.

Over the last 18 years, the old PF coalition has been dying slowly as a new patriotism has been taking root due to the gains from the MDC challenge combined with the gains of the fast-track land reform and economic empowerment programmes propelled by a new generation dominated by Zimbabwe’s new millennials.

These gains, along with the country’s new demographics in which Zimbabweans between the ages of 18 and 49 years make up some 64% of the electorate, have given birth to a new coalition, a Grand National Union of people’s interests. The values, ideals and aspirations of the new coalition are not in the November 15 2017 military coup, which represents an arrested transition, but in the 2013 people-driven constitution whose tenets define the matrix of Zimbabwe’s Second Republic. This new republic is poised to be driven by the Grand National Union in the 2018 elections, thus making them as critical as the 1980 polls.

Moyo is a former Zanu PF MP, cabinet minister and professor of politics. This article was first published by the Zimbabwe Independent