MDC-T – How Sustainable is the Movement?

THE inception of the Government of National Unity (GNU) in February 2009 ushered a new political reality for the mainstream Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T).

The historical comfort of being an opposition party suddenly transformed into an expectation of government responsibilities and an inevitable task of the party’s internal conformance to this new dimension of political participation.

Given a decade of playing prominence in being in the realms of opposition politics, the MDC faced and still faces some transitional considerations from a perspective of trying to balance the act of effective government involvement and strengthening the resolve of internal party capacity.

The party is now faced with two political fronts that need critical mass, wisdom, political maturity, strategic thinking and a clear intention in order to serve government well whilst maintaining internal party functions intact.

This is a new act that has come out of the familiarity of the party’s protracted stand which needs transformation from being a political alternative into a political operative.

Before the MDC, Zimbabweans saw the perennial mushrooming of pseudo-opposition political parties that had neither internal capacity nor the heartbeat of conventional politics. These parties came into the fray as fast as they disappeared.

This left a lot of Zimbabweans in doubt of whether opposition politics were supposed to be on the natural menu of Zimbabwe’s political table.

However the launch of the MDC had some flair that gave Zimbabweans a new hope of multi-party democracy in Zimbabwe. Many a Zimbabwean rallied for the MDC mainly based on the issues of the economic downturn and the need for a political alternative.

In that regard, the MDC gained sympathy from people who were adamantly seeking political pluralism.

The majority of these people were united by the issues at hand rather than the ideological framework, or principles of the party.

Many of Zimbabwe’s opposition political parties arose out of the need to address certain crises that could have taken shape during some historical period.

Given such a background a lot of opposition parties have had no life of their own except for the projected issues they desired to address. This has led to many of them being tormented by the metrical differences of being either a political party or a political movement.

The main theoretical definition of the difference between a political movement and party is based on their focus.

Political movements basically bring together people who are focused on addressing certain issues or agendas.

Political parties however bring along people who are united by the synchronised, harmonised and common platform of political values and ideologies.

In political parties ideologies and values are the guideline to addressing issues. In political movements the common stand against or for an issue is the main unifying factor.

Many political movements face peripheral transitional challenges once they have managed to address the common issues.

The MDC faces this challenge; the party will now not be sustained by what Zanu PF has done wrong, but by the marked life of the MDC as an entity that has capacity to do right.

This therefore is not determined by just raising issues, but by employing key values and principles in addressing such issues.

Because a movement brings people that are bound together by common issues rather than principles and values, it does not necessarily translate to their congruency after the issues are addressed or attended to.

After the issues are settled, people normally sober up to find the positions and places where their hearts appeal to most. After the emotions of dealing with issues, there usually sets in the motion of heart-defined values and principles.

If the movement thereafter sustains, internal squabbling and major differences will start to alight due to the surfaced position of value systems, which were however not central during the movement’s focus on issues.

So after dealing with issues, political movements can either disband or structurally transform themselves into political parties by defining a set of political ideals, values and principles — normally termed as ideology.

Many political parties in Zimbabwe operate without a defined political ideology. Ideology is a set of values, ideals and principles on how an entity or persons discharge their political service.

At the heart of ideology is a guided framework of worldview, which must sway the political party in its direction.

It is one thing to get into a boat and be swayed away into a direction that the wind and the waves take you to. It is another to get into the same boat and row towards a desired destination. Ideology provides this "rowing" power and direction.

Zimbabwe’s political parties of the future will therefore require to be identified by their political ideology.

In the wave and confusion of the many challenges that Zimbabwe is and has been faced with, people were primarily focused on issues. Political movements including the MDCs were formed based on Zimbabwe’s issues and contextual challenges.

However as Zimbabwe desires to grow and develop its political framework (which thereafter determines its economic and social prosperity), there is a need to develop political parties driven from value-basis outlined by positive and sober ideological fundamentals.

What political parties in Zimbabwe need to do is to go back to basics. They need to draw up a framework of political ideologies upon which to base their sustainable future.

Ideology also assists in wrestling political power from individuals, who have become the immortals behind certain political parties.

Ideology will safely deposit the future of political parties in their value systems rather than in individuals. Every individual in the party will then be subject to the ideals, values and the principles of the party rather than the reverse.

No individuals will hold the parties to ransom, as they themselves become less powerful than the party’s enshrined ideological framework and value-base. The dissolution of the elitist power base of political party leadership is a critical factor in the democratisation and sustainability of political parties in Zimbabwe.

As the MDC considers its life in government and the current challenges of alleged corruption in its leadership, the party must not neglect the need to fully transform its "movement" status into a fully-fledged political party, whose values and principles are clearly articulated.

This will enable it to sustain its political life while creating a brand that cannot be tainted by opportunists who may straddle across values and principles and still survive within its structures. The party must realise that the days of "issues" may be coming to an end and what it will face are the days of values and principles.

In fact it is these values and principles that will determine how issues are handled and addressed. In that regard, the MDC must infuse sustainability into its entity.

Trevor Maisiri is the executive director and co-founder of the African Reform Institute — a political leadership development institute and political "think tank" operating from Harare. This article was first published in The Zimbabwe Independent