Robert Mugabe running out of options very fast

OPINION – A closer look at the Zimbabwean situation unravels a frightening slide into the unknown as Robert Mugabe shows he is running of out of viable options to salvage the fragile coalition.

When Mugabe intimated that he has a "constitutional right" to dissolve Parliament and call for elections, even if it means using a constitution which he has amended almost 20 times since 1980, his spin doctors might have thought that he was asserting his authority. On the contrary, it only helped expose his Achilles heel as he would also be dissolving his own legitimacy as President of Zimbabwe and lose all the immunities that go with his office. Furthermore, we also learnt how it was not feasible to run a snap election because nearly one-third of Zimbabwe’s registered voters are dead, and others appear to be babies or up to 120 years old.

A stunning report by the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN)

cited a lawmaker who found that more than 500 dead voters had all been given the same birth date – January 1, 1901 (Associated Press, 21/01/11). Apart from intimidation and having its research material burnt, ZESN was denied access to the electronic version of the voters’ roll by the Registrar’s General’s office (Zimeye, 24/01/11). Compounding the situation are claims that of the 250 000 civil servants on the government payroll, 70,000 are ‘ghost workers" (News Day, 29/01/11). It could be argued that the ‘ghost workers’ could have been intended as a Zanu-pf innovative fund raising scheme in wake of declining subscriptions and a million dollar overdraft.

Mugabe might not have known it too that by dissolving Parliament he would also lose ‘his legitimacy as President of Zimbabwe’ which is solely based on the Global Political Agreement (GPA) that he is ‘trying to rubbish’ (NewsDay, 24/01/11). In fact, it’s like vandalizing your drip while seriously ill and still expect to live. A timely reminder came a day after Mugabe threatened to call for early polls from the United States ambassador to Zimbabwe, Charles Ray who said Zimbabweans must have a say on when and how the country should hold elections (Daily News 24/01/11). That’s democracy as we know it.

Manufactured external enemy

Natan Sharansky aptly depicts what is prevailing in Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe when he says non-democratic regimes stay in power by controlling their populations. ‘This control invariably requires an increasing amount of repression. To justify this repression and maintain internal stability, external enemies must be manufactured. The result is that while the mechanics of democracy make democracies inherently peaceful, the mechanics of tyranny make non-democracies inherently belligerent. Indeed, in order to avoid collapsing from within, fear societies must maintain a perpetual state of conflict’ (The Case for Democracy – The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror, 2004:88).

Similarly, Mugabe has manufactured his external enemies conveniently in the form of colonialism, imperialism, ‘illegal’ sanctions, the Americans, the British, the Europeans or the West in order to mask Zanu-pf repression and buy time. Speaking at the graduation ceremeny of Joint Command and Staff Course Number 23 at the Zimbabwe Staff College in Harare ‘last week’ (according to the Zanu-pf website accessed 30/01/11) Mugabe said:

‘This (training) is of utmost importance, moreso at this point in time when the country is facing the Western orchestrated regime change agenda intended to re-colonise Zimbabwe (zanupf.org.zw). Regime change is a Zanu-pf euphemism for presidential elections!

Evidence of Zanu-pf’s ‘external enemy syndrome’

Nowhere is Zanu-pf’s ‘external enemy syndrome’(EES) more painfully pronounced than in its hostility towards a free press. For example, the threat to dissolve Parliament was directed at the British media especially the Daily Telegraph as if they are Zimbabwean voters. Before that, the hiking of media fees under Jonathan Moyo’s draconian AIPPA law can be argued as specifically targeted at international news media outlets operating in Zimbabwe and their local correspondents.

The new fees which came into force on January 1 require an international news outlet to pay US$6,000 for permission to operate a bureau in Zimbabwe (triple the old rate of US$2,000) in addition to a US$1,000 application fee for such permission (double the old rate of US$500). According to CJP, renewal of this permission went from being free to US$5,000 (Ethiopian Review, 18/01/11). The only logical thing for the coalition government to do, as we have said in the past is to repeal the draconian AIPPA law especially as a sign of inclusiveness under the GPA and to ensure genuine freedom of the press. Other examples of the ‘EES’ manifest themselves in the form of the planned Anti-Sanctions Bill, blackmailing foreign companies to denounce sanctions and so on.

‘Unhappiest country in the world’

In a normal country elections don’t evoke sad memories of violence and retribution, but excitement and lively engagement with constituents through peaceful face-to-face meetings, posters, leaflets and electronic campaigns via social networking websites, televised debate, phone-ins, and door-to-door community meetings with candidates leading to a calm and organized voting process.

In Zimbabwe, talk of election understandably reminds people of their bad memories especially with 2008 in mind. It’s no surprise that a survey recently found that 7 out of 10 Zimbabweans fear political violence even though more than two-thirds told Afro-barometer that elections should be held this year (The Zimbabwe Mail 05/01/11). The country is officially the poorest (unhappiest) in the world, while Norway is the world’s most prosperous (happiest) country according to Legatum Institute, London-based think tank.

Defying the Wind of Change

In a contribution to Defying the Wind of Change edited by Eldred V. Masunungure (2009), Anyway Chingwete Ndapwadza and Ethel Muchena note that Public opinion was significant in Zimbabwe’s 29 March 2008 harmonized elections because it related directly to immediate political activity. The authors revealed what Mugabe’s propagandists don’t want to know – the truth about Zimbabwe’s public opinion.

‘In order to tap into public opinion and make predictions about the elections, the Mass Public Opinion Institute (MPOI)1 conducted three surveys in the first quarter of

2008…The MPOI quantitative and qualitative survey results depict a shift in support from ZANU(PF) to the larger faction of the MDC led by Morgan Tsvangirai (MDC-T) and reveal consistent irregularities in the election administration, delimitation process, voter registration and voter education’, they commented.

Jumping the gun

However, the documented irregularities have only worsened with Mugabe’s threat to ‘jump the gun’ by going to polls with or without a new constitution which should be put to a referendum in accordance with the provisions of the Global Political Agreement. There are fears that the constitution-making process may be aborted due to growing mistrust and alleged tempering with sensitive data apart from perennial funding woes.

Some analysts say Mugabe is under pressure from his divided party especially in the wake of ‘the jazzman or facebook revolutions’ sweeping Africa from the north. In a move described as ‘vile influence’, Mugabe’s spin doctors Jonathan Moyo and George Charamba have reportedly appeared on TV in support of Mugabe’s election threat. Similarly, with the supreme leader reaching 87 years next month, the unresolved succession issue is also allegedly playing a part in prompting him to speed up elections and intensify an intimidation campaign against the opposition but it can backfire.

The level of Zanu-pf desperation has reached incredible proportions with the recent granting of presidential amnesty by Mugabe to serial rapist Godfrey Nzira who was seven days later deployed to campaign for Zanu-pf among the Apostolic sect in Muzarabani. Zanu-pf seems to have a low opinion of rural voters despite previous electoral defeats.

Stalled roadmap to elections

Hopes of a roadmap to free and fair elections elections and a clear transfer of power have been dashed by the failure of SADC’s Troika to meet this month as previously announced last year. However, civil society and political activists are urging SADC and the AU to ensure the road map to elections also reforms service chiefs.

MDC-T Marondera Urban District Youth Chairperson, Size Vhilela, recently said that individuals in charge of state security agents should be turned professional if ever elections in the country were to be free and fair.

"Service Chiefs must be reformed to carry out their official duties in a non-partisan manner. This would help eliminate political violence blamed on state security agents and members of the uniformed forces. Something urgent should be done to ensure the service chiefs discharge their duties in the interest of all citizens across the political divide," said Vhilela (Great Indaba, 08/01/11).

Zimbabwe’s ‘facebook revolution’

If, hypothetically speaking there was a ‘facebook revolution’ in Zimbabwe, what options would the regime have?

Chinese Tiananmen Square Option

Although there are reports that the military have been deployed through-out the country ahead of elections that are expected sometime this year if Mugabe gets his way, it is unlikely that shooting demonstrators would be an option from what we have seen in Tunisia and Egypt. Although the Chinese have boosted their propaganda support for Zanu-pf by installing widescreen jingles’ television sets in Harare’s First Street, Zimbabweans are not gullible or just ‘urban peasants’ as Jonathan Moyo used to refer to them in class at UZ. Equally, while there have been some fatalities in these facebook revolutions, soldiers have been generally reluctant to shoot at the civilians despite widespread destruction of property e.g. the burning of the ruling party’s headquarters in Cairo. It’s hard to imagine the current Zanu-pf Headquarters (‘Shake-shake or Chibuku’ Building) going up in smoke!

Instead, civilians have been seen handing flowers and flags to soldiers and policemen in Tunisia celebrating their new dispensation albeit a transition only. Military deployment to instill fear will not work in the long run in Zimbabwe because the grievances are very deep-seated and fundamental including Gukurahundi, Murambatsvina, farm looting, corruption, impunity, disrespect for human rights and the rule of rule, stalled political reforms and so on. In the event of an uprising, we have seen soldiers and policemen being embraced by their countrymen and women and children riding tanks in celebration in North Africa, something they never thought would happen.

Similarly Zimbabwean soldiers are unhappy due to low incomes. Some of them especially at the lowest ranks are living rough and are fed-up. They would benefit from restraining themselves than becoming trigger-happy.

Indeed, desperate times call for desperate measures and to that effect, Air Force of Zimbabwe Vice Air Marshal Henry Muchena is reported to have assumed the directorship of the Zanu PF commissariat thus confirming the militarization of the party ahead of elections. But we all know that in the modern world there is a difference between a military establishment and a political party – civilians! They are free thinking and sophisticated. Perhaps good reading for the Air Vice Marshal would be Geoffrey Regan’s Great Military Blunders, 2000 published by Channel 4 Books. Writing about ‘underestimating the enemy’ Regan says: "Superior fire power gave European armies an overwhelming advantage in colonial warfare, but some commanders failed to understand that the non-European, non-white opponents did not ‘play the game’ according to the rules that said the white man always won" (p.62).

Para-military

 

If Mugabe pins his hopes on war veterans to retain power in an uprising, he couldn’t be more wrong because there is disunity, infighting and low morale. For example, genuine war veterans in Chipinge have declared that Zanu (PF) will never win any future elections in Manicaland province, saying the party has failed to fulfil its promises and has neglected them (The Zimbabwean, 25/01/11). Amidst allegations of witchcraft assassinations as if AK47shave really been beaten into ploughshares, squabbling war veterans are likely to do the ‘Tunisia way’ by joining the oppressed masses. Of course, it’s not that simple. There are some diehard brainwashed veterans who would fight to the bitter end. Mugabe’s serious opponents need to cultivate a good rapport with the military now through praise and sympathy rather than condemn them.

 

Dubai or Saudi Option

This would entail doing what the North African leaders are said to have done during the ongoing uprisings – flying to Dubai or Saudi Arabia. In line with Zanu-pf’s Look East policy there are many other possible exile destinations depending on the prevailing circumstances in the host country. However, in London a Foreign Minister has today denied reports that the embattled Egyptian President Mubarak has asked for asylum in Britain (BBC Radio4 News, 30/01/11). We hope Zanu-pf stands by its rejection of Lord Renton’s suggestion that the UK should give Mugabe a home in the UK (Daily News, 12/11/12). It would be grossly insensitive for the UK to even to consider the move in view of the fresh memories of looting of white commercial farms.

Dysfunctional

The United States Institute of Peace feels that Zimbabwe’s coalition government is increasingly dysfunctional mainly due to a defeated incumbent ruler’s unwillingness to surrender real executive authority to a popular opposition and in its view:.

‘International actors can help to bring Zimbabwe’s transition to a peaceful and democratic conclusion by guaranteeing power sharing, supervising elections, and maintaining targeted sanctions’ (reliefweb.int/rw, accessed 30/01/11)..

In the wake of indigenization rhetoric and its repellent effect on foreign investment, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank have cautioned that far-reaching political reforms are a pre-requisite to sustainable growth in Zimbabwe.

Similarly, the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) has suggested that a comprehensive, standing presence/observer mission of SADC and/or the AU be stationed in Zimbabwe until ‘such time as a new Constitution has been drafted, that the draft has been submitted to referendum and that free and fair presidential and legislative elections have been held’ (osisa.org).

As Mugabe runs of out of viable options very fast, Zimbabwe remains what Natan Sharasnky described as a ‘powder keg ready to explode’. However, that does not mean that the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai should sleep on the job. MDC should show a more visible presence than the military. It should respond to every statement issued by Jonathan Moyo, George Charamba, Tafataona Mahoso and other Zanu-pf propagandists.

MDC should come up with alternative legistation to AIPPA, POSA, Anti-Sanctions Bill even if it eventually fails to become law in the face of Zanu-pf resistance. The message will have gone home that MDC is paving the way forward. The MDC should turn problems into opportunities. Nothing conceivable stops the MDC from starting their own broadcasting radio and television e.g. on the internet where Zanu-pf has no control. I am independent but my soul is in Zimbabwe where my parents and sister are buried.

Clifford Chitupa Mashiri is a London based political analyst and regular columnist for The Zimbabwe Mai, he can be contatcted at zimanalysis2009@gmail.com