My problem with Morgan Tsvangirai


     SADC responded to the deteriorating political situation in Zimbabwe by calling for a Troika meeting, held yesterday in Livingstone, Zambia.

    Recently also, Tsvangirai threatened, for the umpteenth time, to quit his unhappy marriage with president Robert Mugabe in a government of national (dis)unity (GNU) formed in February 2009. Former South African president, Thabo Mbeki engineered the marriage via what is called a Global Political Agreement (GPA), designed to bring sanity to a country that was in freefall.

    For a moment, Mbeki’s much-criticised quiet diplomacy on Zimbabwe seemed to have turned into a stroke of genius as stability – or what looked like it – descended on the erstwhile breadbasket of Africa. Few could see both the economic and political stability for what they really were – an illusion. How could they when almost everyone was caught in the euphoria of a ‘new Zimbabwe’ – the long-awaited restoration of a glorious nation?

    While the seemingly overnight availability of commodities became the new gospel in town, accessibility to those commodities, however, bedevilled hordes of citizens who could not just cope in the new US Dollar economy. On the political front, the wisdom of Tsvangirai and his party in entering into union with a ZANU-PF party that has no flattering record remained questionable.

    You see, the problem with negotiated outcomes such as GNUs is that they create false senses of unity in deeply polarised societies made up of a profoundly wounded – physically, emotionally and psychologically – people. Their true nature is that they are fierce power contests whose aim is for parties involved to make repeated attempts at swallowing each other in a bid to obtain influential control and authority of government. There is absolutely no unity whatsoever embedded in them. 

    Today, it is now clear – if it never was – who is ruling the government roost in Harare; no pun intended. Recent events, especially the arrests of prominent activists and former opposition political actors will bring out that exasperated refrain amongst many a Zimbabwean; "the more things change, the more they remain the same." President Robert Mugabe, aided by his well-oiled repressive machinery in the form of police, the army, youth militia and intelligence, is still firmly in control. 

    But ZANU PF will be hugely surprised at its own comeback, thanks to the GNU and later fortunes of the discovery of large deposits of alluvial diamonds in Eastern Zimbabwe. This is a party that was literally done and dusted in December 2008, a year in which Zimbabwe satisfied all the conditions for a revolution to take place – sky-high unemployment, unprecedented food shortages, cancerous corruption and growing discontentment.

    My own bet is that had Tsvangirai accurately read the masses’ mood and not pulled out of the June 2008 election run-off, things could have turned out differently for Zimbabwe. After all, he had already won the March poll albeit without a sufficient majority. All that was needed then was to mobilise sufficient votes to become the clear winner in the run-off.

    Admittedly, the chances of a democratic transfer of power occurring after that were slim, especially with the way the security sector led by service chiefs was behaving at that time. But at least he would have had some sort of legitimacy, like Alassane Quattara in Ivory Coast, something to work with and to use in demanding thorough and more decisive action in Zimbabwe.

    Tsvangirai’s reasons for pulling out are also questionable – escalating political violence and breach of his own security. That is as fallacious a reason as you will ever hear in struggle politics. By the time he made those claims, hundreds of people had been killed including prominent activists such as Tonderai Ndira and Lookout Masuku. Hundreds more had been wounded, raped and forced out of their homes because of their allegiance to Tsvangirai himself. Couldn’t all that count for anything?

    Granted, the strategy of pulling out from the election was designed to make Zimbabwe ungovernable. But you simply can’t make a country ungovernable from plush hotel rooms, via press conferences or by issuing an endless stream of statements. People power – as we have seen in the Arab world – makes a country ungovernable.

    So, he was supposed to be the first person on the streets of Harare in the event that ZANU-PF would have refused to transfer power after an electoral defeat. And assuming the majority would have voted for him, they could therefore be motivated to export their allegiance from the ballot paper onto the streets if accurately shown what was at stake. Instead, Tsvangirai sought refuge at the Dutch embassy rendering the pursuit and cause faceless, if not leaderless.  

    Against this backdrop, talks of Zimbabwe begetting an Egypt or Tunisia become not only misleading but also dangerous, as recent local experience deeply instructs us. And, accompanying slogans such as "Mugabe must go" or "Mubarak Mugabe" are now inappropriate because Tsvangirai, in giving legitimacy to Mugabe’s June 2008 poll victory by getting into the government bed with him, is also now complicit in whatever wrong that government is doing against its people, including those belonging to his own party.

    Perhaps Tsvangirai also needs to be reminded that the very same SADC he is turning to is the same body that snubbed him at last year’s SADC Summit in Namibia. Yesterday, the Troika resolved, among other things, to appoint a team to join the local Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee (JOMIC). This is the same body that has repeatedly failed to ensure that all parties to the GPA stick the agreed principles hence, the less said about that development the better. What can be said, however, is that the earth upon which Zimbabwe rests will not exactly move after Livingstone.

    Look, it is well and good to continuously engage with institutions such as SADC in demanding that they meet their moral obligations towards countries suffering multi-faceted crises like Zimbabwe. However, the free but valuable lesson out of recent experiences locally and up North is that ultimately, Zimbabweans will have to be the change they desire themselves because change – in whatever form – is not something you outsource as a nation.

    Levi – The article was first published in the

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