Events postdating the political stalemate that precipitated the unilateral elections in Zimbabwe where Robert Mugabe was the sole contestant could hardly be described as respite for the working but poor masses of Zimbabwe. News had it that Mugabe and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change’s (MDC) Morgan Tsvangirai concluded an agreement for negotiation with the possibility of forming a unity government (as witnessed in Kenya and as advocated by Nigeria’s Umar Yar’Adua). This is coming at a time when inflation in the country has skyrocketed to over 2 million percent; a sign of an unprecedented plummeting in the standard of living with over 80 percent of the population officially poor. The increase in living wage is linear while the inflation (which was 200,000 percent about three months ago) is increasing geometrically. The situation is so terrible that the government had to give free food to the masses. It is under these conditions that the opposition – that should serve as the beacon of hope and a platform for struggle for better living – is in reality forging an alliance with the rotten, anti-poor and dictatorial Mugabe government. This clearly reveals the real quagmire in which the poor masses of Zimbabwe find themselves, a quagmire overseen by a rotten government with practically no platform of hope and change.
During the presidential run off, Tsvangirai had predicated his withdrawal from election based on widespread violence against the opposition members which he rightly claimed could snowball into serious crisis if the contest should continue. Inasmuch as one cannot deny the reality of Mugabe’s brazen violence, the retreat of Tsvangirai and his party in the election is a reflection of the political frustration that has beset the working poor. How else could one describe a situation where the masses who voted out the Mugabe dictatorship, (despite unprecedented campaign of violence) would back off from defending their choice at the run off, even if it includes taking arms against the regime? The main reason is that Tsvangirai and his MDC party do not represent any beacon of hope for the masses; they possess no clear-cut economic programme to take the country’s economy out of the woods or any plan to challenge imperialism. A glance through the MDC’s website clearly reveals its pro-rich, pro-imperialism neoliberal economic orientation that will further economically disenfranchise the working poor. In its normal messianic nature, the opposition did not reveal how it intends to resolve the land problem (which in the real sense affects the poor Zimbabwean farmers than the much-touted white farmers). Maybe he is taking after Nigerian crooked politicians who conceal their ignorance-cum-hypocrisy with the argument that they do not want the other party to steal (or maybe loot) their programme when they are really the same birds flocking in different camps. This is coupled with the fact that Tsvangirai himself was formerly part of Mugabe’s dictatorship – his former official physician – just as many of the MDC stalwarts are former staunch members of Mugabe’s ZANU-PF.
The fact that Tsvangirai and the opposition do not pose any genuine alternative to the masses is clearly manifested in the manner in which Tsvangirai reacted to the violence initiated by the Mugabe’s shock troopers. Rather than appeal to the working masses and youth to organise and resist the fascist troops (who are in reality in minority), he is fond of calling on the ‘international’ community (note his definition of international community means the imperialist nations of the US and Europe) to use military actions and sanctions against Mugabe. The implication of this is that he has contempt for the masses for which he claims to be ‘fighting’. Any international action by any imperialist country will not be in the interest of the working poor of Zimbabwe and will either boost Mugabe’s status as an anti-imperialist – which he never was – or help imperialism establish a military and economic base in the country (and turn the country into another Iraq – where a ‘liberation’ war overseen by the US and Europe has turned into war over oil and occupation). This has further intensified the skepticism felt by the Zimbabwean poor attitude towards him, something which in the process has unfortunately given the Mugabe regime another lease of life.
A possible calculation of Tsvangirai is that reliance on the working masses could inspire a mass movement that may push him to the left. This will definitely undermine his capitalist neoliberal economic programmes. This will definitely also diminish his status to govern on behalf of big business. Having realised that imperialism had more in its hands than the problems facing Zimbabwe, and fearful of the consequences of a mass movement to dislodge Mugabe on his political interests, Tsvangirai resorted to negotiation with a regime he has decried as dictatorial. He was even reported to have renounced all his critical statements on Mugabe’s dictatorship. This treachery of Tsvangirai is not unexpected because – as I had earlier stated in my previous commentaries on Zimbabwe and Kenya (published in many newspapers and websites) – as a pro-capitalist politician, he is bound to limit his struggle for power within the precinct of capitalism and not raise the masses to their feet. The era of progressive capitalism is long gone, and the current neoliberal capitalism is not favourable to mass movement, even one that would give it a ‘human face.’
It is vital to stress that the treachery and the pro-imperialist, anti-masses character of Tsvangirai (and his MDC) should not bolster any latent credibility for Mugabe’s autocratic regime. As against the claim of many commentators that Mugabe is an anti-imperialist, anti-apartheid hero, he actually emerged from imperialism, even during the apartheid struggle. Of course, like every other nationalist petty bourgeois and in the spirit of the mass anger against imperialism during the period, he was against apartheid, but he was also used by British imperialism to maintain its presence in Zimbabwe. It is noteworthy to state that the same Mugabe who claims to be fighting white rule did not take white big farms during the anti-apartheid victory, when the movement was raging, but rather negotiated with British imperialism. But having lost control of the economy through subjugation of the nation to the poisonous neoliberal pills of commercialisation of social services, privatisation of public corporations and trade liberalisation (which led to the loss of over 25,000 jobs in 1996 alone and a slashing of wages by 25 percent in 1995, among other terrible results) and looking for a shortcut, resorted to anti-imperialism slogans. Ridiculously, the land distribution could only benefit just a thousand of rich black farmers (out of millions of poor and landless farmers) most of whom have stakes in his ruling ZANU-PF party. Therefore, it is a miscarriage of logic to present Mugabe as fighting imperialism. The economic woes witnessed in Zimbabwe are a product of the anti-poor neoliberal policies of imperialism implemented by Mugabe in the 1990s and not a result of economic sabotage of western imperialism as some people claim. While of course the role of western imperialism, which in actual fact benefited from the neoliberal policies implemented by Mugabe (and subsequently left the economy in ruins), should not be underemphasised, this should not be done to bestow credibility on the Mugabe regime.
This also brings to focus the role and hypocrisy of imperialism in the crisis facing Zimbabwe. Aside from the fact that imperialism contributed to the country’s economic woes, western imperialism’s reactions again reflect a certain hypocrisy. It will be recalled that while these nations (especially the US and the United Kingdom) were condemning the Mugabe regime, they did not mention their roles in the economic crisis. No relief package was given to the poor people of Zimbabwe who are groaning under economic woes that had provided unprecedented wealth to capitalist corporations. Rather, imperialist nations in the UN Security Council prefer to place sanctions – including in economic and military form – which will further the sufferings of the Zimbabwean poor, who represent anywhere up to 80 percent of the country’s population. Though sanctions were vetoed by China and Russia, this does not portray any section of imperialism in any good light. The fact is that it is sheer selfish capitalist interests that drive foreign policy and international politics.
Russia’s and China’s vetoes are not a product of sympathy for the Zimbabwean poor, but an attempt to boost their capitalist economic agendas. For instance, Russia has been boosting markets in Third World countries for its economy, especially its gas industry. Furthermore, Russia has been trying to stand on its feet in the committee of imperialist nations after the collapse of Stalinism (a grotesque caricature of genuine socialism), something reflected in the recent nationalism campaign begun by Vladimir Putin, a policy meant to mask the glaring failure of capitalism in Russia. The only way for Russia to stand therefore is by posing as an alternative to US and British imperialism, all the while pursuing the same capitalist and imperialist policies (Chechnya as an example) in the eyes of Third World countries with the central aim of boosting its outreach economic status.
As to China, it is a known fact that the Asia country’s recent economic boom coupled with its importance to the world (and US especially) economy has boosted its international status, something which has further reinforced its struggle for resources and markets to sustain its economic boom. Failure in this regard will spell political doom for the fragile ruling class of China, and as a result, the international economy. This informs its international politics and indeed the veto. As against the thinking that the veto is meant to protect Africa’s interests or liberate countries of the Third World, it is worth recalling the terrible role of China in sustaining Sudan’s terror and its direct repression in Tibet.
In the much the same vein, the US and the UK’s pro-sanction vote shows no concern for human rights. The historic record of the two countries has been one of sustaining tyrannical governments: in its arming of strategic supporters in Chile, Panama, Morocco and; in supporting armed forces against popular governments like Cuba (since the 1960s), Nicaragua (in the 1970s), and Venezuela (since 2002). Even the role of US and other section of imperialism in recent events in Africa have confirmed the treacherous policy of imperialism. For instance, despite the brazen manner of election-rigging in Nigeria and Kenya, the US (and later the UK) was the first country to congratulate the beneficiary of the rigging, even when people rejected the election. Therefore, the crisis in Zimbabwe is also a clear failure of international capitalist politics which tailored its political agenda according to the interests of profit of the big capitalist classes of each country, especially the imperialist ones. The latest reports indicate that the European Union has endorsed the negotiation between Mugabe and Tsvangirai, and has in fact commended South Africa’s government, the new face of imperialism in Africa. Definitely, this recognition of the negotiation will give a new lease of life to Mugabe, yet the same EU had earlier strongly condemned Mugabe’s sit-tight rule!
More horrible is the reaction of most African countries to what amounts to political barbarism in Zimbabwe. Aside most African leaders who maintained criminal silence, those that claim to have spoken out – like Angola’s Dos Santos and Nigeria’s Umar Yar’Adua – are little different from Mugabe in their manner of emergence, repressive activities and economic policies, and their comments have been evasive, mostly in the attempy to boost their image while avoiding confrontation with Mugabe. In fact, to show the level of Africa’s political doom, Mugabe even threatened to expose any African leader who criticises his government. However, Thabo Mbeki went a mile further by not only giving surreptitious support to Mugabe but also organizing a power deal between Mugabe and the opposition MDC to stabilise Mugabe’s government and give him international recognition. Aside from the moral burden of most African rulers, the fear of a mass revolt in Zimbabwe, which can set the masses of other lands in motion, is a dangerous sore that made many African leaders keen to maintain a notorious deafening silence. It is this same silence that was maintained during the Kenyan election standoff. Most African leaders are lapdogs of capitalist imperialism, who fear losing their status as apron strings of imperialism through mass movement. Gone and never to return is the old era of petty bourgeois nationalism of many African leaders. The crisis in Zimbabwe has manifested the ‘primer faecal’ (apologies to Wole Soyinka) nature of capitalism and imperialism, and the terrible stench is suffocating the working poor of Africa and the world at large.
What is the future of Zimbabwe, and the implications of the present situation for the poor people of Africa? As has been said earlier, the major reason the poor masses had not come to the centre stage of the struggle to chase away Mugabe is the fact that they see no alternative to the rotten Mugabe regime, as represented by Tsvangirai and MDC. However, the political alliance being forged between Mugabe and Tsvangirai will further deem the future of the working poor of Zimbabwe. As against the position of some commentators that the deal will restore sanity to Zimbabwe, the reality is that the deal will further deem any hope of respite for the masses who have been suffocated by the economic strangulation. It should be noted that the simple majority gained by Tsvangirai in the first round is a sign that the masses are in need of change but do not have trust in the capitalist economic policy of MDC and Tsvangirai. This coupled with the political bankruptcy of the MDC further alienated the Zimbabweans who prefer to stand aloof rather than shed blood on behalf of one capitalist politician, who stand for nothing clear. Therefore, the political alliance between Mugabe and Tsvangirai will further frustrate the masses – some of whom still nurse some illusion in Tsvangirai – who will now feel totally insecure. Expected economic failure that will result from this rotten collaboration will further estrange the masses, who may, in the absence of clear cut working class leadership, resort to self-help through sectarian means as witnessed in the Kenya election crisis, something which is only the first phase of the simmering discontent.
Unless the labour movement in Zimbabwe is resurrected to take a lead the oncoming political and economic struggle of the working masses for change, the future is doomed. The labour movement and working class activists in Zimbabwe must start to build a political alternative that will genuinely defend the interest of the poor Zimbabweans. Such movement must incorporate the working class with other oppressed strata including the peasants and youth (most of whom are unemployed and thus pose a serious challenge to the social stability of the country) by linking their demands together.
With the clear manifestation of the political bankruptcy of the opposition MDC and Tsvangirai, the stage is set for a social revolution by the working and poor people of Zimbabwe to bring back the economy in the interest of the working poor of the country, and to restore sanity to the polity. This is the central task of the labour movement and the working class movement in not only Zimbabwe but the whole African continent. It is unfortunate that the Zimbabwe Trade Union Congress (ZTUC) has played an insignificant role in the whole political development to provide a serious political hope for the Zimbabwean poor. Genuine pro-working class organisations in both Zimbabwe and the whole African continent must start the process of building a working-class mass movement in Zimbabwe as a stepping stone towards forming a pan-African working-class movement that will bring back the fighting spirit of the African poor for genuine socialism where the vast but mismanaged and plundered resources of the continent (human, material, natural and monetary) will be nationalised and democratically run by the working and poor people themselves. This will mean that the huge agricultural resources of Zimbabwe (and other African countries), rather than being struggled over by the both imperialism and local moneybags, will be used to develop a vast, environmentally friendly agro-based economy that will employ the majority of the country while providing the resources to develop the country – provide basic social infrastructures along with free, qualitative education, healthcare, cheap, efficient and environment-friendly transport, agriculture and communication system, and a developed industrialised economy – which cannot be achieved within the framework of neo-colonial, neoliberal capitalism. This transformation cannot be achieved without working class solidarity, and the elimination of decadent capitalism in Africa.
It is unfortunate that most labour leaders in Africa did not take a practical action in support of the working poor of Zimbabwe, with most of them either supporting one section of the bourgeoisie or the other. This clearly shows the pro-capitalist orientation of most of the central labour leaders in Africa, since the collapse of the Stalinist Soviet Union. One would have expected the labour movements in Africa to declare solidarity with mass action in support of the Zimbabwean poor but for the pro-business character of the labour leadership. This is not to say that the working poor are not ready for change. On the contrary, the mass movement that greeted the recent capitalist-induced food crisis is a sign that the masses are ready for social change, but for the character of the pro-capitalist labour leadership. The spirit of solidarity of the African poor is clearly manifested in the heroic actions of South African dockworkers, who refused to ship arms meant for Mugabe to implement a form of fully fledged fascism. The lesson to be learnt from the present Zimbabwean issue is the need for a political platform of the working poor in each and every African country to lay the basis for social revolution to enthrone a socialist society in the continent to prevent total descent to barbarism. This is the challenge before the labour movement and pro-working class activists in Africa to build a change-seeking, fighting, mass-based, democratic working class organisation and movement as a basis for a mass socialist political alternative.
* Kola Ibrahim is a member of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria.
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