Zimbabwe is currently witnessing two very different political trajectories unfolding at the same time. In one; the coup leader is calling for economic transformation and in another; the coup government is seeking to entrench its hold on power through an unreformed electoral process. While many Zimbabweans are glad to be rid of Mugabe’s dictatorship, many are loath to trust or accept the presence of military men in government to enforce a democratic system. On the other hand conducting a sham election may not be sufficient to establish a truly democratic government. The question of whether this coup government has a legitimate constitutional authority to even run an election is one that will not go away.
Had the self-defence and self-preservation military coup not taken place, 2018 was supposed to be a year in which ruling Zanu-Pf and opposition parties face off in the struggle over the rules of the political game – electoral reforms. As opposition parties lose ground, contestation over the rules of the political game is only likely to increase. While this contest will remain an important one, new arenas of contention that will shape the development of Zimbabwean politics for years to come have also emerged. Recently, one of the main focal points of this struggle has been succession issues within the main opposition. On the other hand, the state cannot effectively make economic or other serious reforms and undertakings without creating a genuinely attractive environment.
Mnangagwa and the Zanu-Pf Lacoste Group have sought to extend their stay in power by incorporating the king-makers into government. It is clear that by incorporating the coup plotters into government, Zanu-Pf is making long term decisions – planning for after the elections. This should have led to a conflict with opposition parties and civil society groups, but regrettably, they all seem contend with it. However it invites a re-examination of the constitution and the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF)’s role in politics. Therefore, the focus of government vs opposition tensions is likely to include, the independence and competence of the under resourced Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) and constitutionalism.
A cause for concern is that the credibility of the electoral process remains in doubt in Zimbabwe where opposition legislators recently – on 18 November 2017 – called its supporters to the streets to join the Lacoste faction in calling for Mugabe to go. They now know that changes to the electoral laws although required is the least of their problems.
With an absence of real competition the coup president can sing free and fair elections all the way. However, with the opposition in disarray, it is not clear how he intends to make the elections look like a real contest. If Mnangagwa is serious on free and fair elections – then where does he place electoral malpractices like bribing chiefs? Rural people are being forced to surrender the serial numbers of their Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) slips to their local village headmen. Surrounded by the military cabinet he is perpetually engaging in defensive and hostile acts against the losing faction – so much of “no sacred cows”. His actions towards ‘reconciliation and justice’ has been to routinely criminalise and punish the equally bad elements from the G40 Faction while the Lacoste criminal elements are glorified and elevated to the status of patriots and paragons of virtue.
Until this military government is willing to embark on a genuine programme of building trust in key institutions like, ZDF, Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), ZEC, and Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC), 2018 is likely to witness another disputed elections and further allegations of democratic backsliding. For example, two months in power the military’s Rugeje has already threatened villagers with military violence if they do not vote for Zanu-Pf. Recently members of the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) have been accused of abusing villagers whilst coercing them to vote for Zanu-Pf prompting ZEC and the ZRP to mildly react. It is not rocket science that repressive laws, such as the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPA) should be repealed. That said, after failing us, the African Union (AU) must at least examine the coup government’s ability to hold peaceful, credible, free and fair election barely 7 months after the coup.
Mnangagwa’s government has proposed an ambitious agenda calling for economic reforms. Although this is what every Zimbabwean hopes for, the economic climate has not yet showed any signs of improvements. There has been outrage over Mnangagwa’s priorities when it comes to national interests. His government has been accused of diverting resources that could be spent on basic needs such as water, schools and hospitals. The outrage was ignited by his decision to fulfil Mugabe’s promise of handing out vehicles to the Chiefs. Social media was awash with criticism after yet another announcement that the government intends to buy cars for MPs.
MOVEMENTS FOR DEMOCRATIC REFORMS
There is no new Zimbabwe without ensuring fair access to the state broadcaster, media freedom, security, good governance, constitutionalism and electoral reforms. The 2018 elections are crucially important for Mnangagwa, his military men, and of course for Zimbabwe in terms of transparency and credibility. Although ZEC will -as usual – ensure that Zanu-Pf wins; it has to at least provide the required electoral conditions. The coup leaders have already indicated that this is likely not going to happen. Indeed it is a pipe dream that this coup government can achieve the European Union (EU) requirement for engagement which is to “open the way to a full return to the Rule of Law, within a constitutional framework, and under civilian rule, allowing for the preparation and implementation of much-needed political and economic reform”.
#thisflag Movement – contributed a lot to the call for democratisation and its role and influence has continued ever since. However, although civil society has made significant contributions, it now appears to have some serious shortcomings and have bought into the so called ‘new dawn’. It appears we will not be able to avoid situations where civil society activist groups attempt to push their own selfish interests. This is worrying because there have been several cases in Africa where activists have taken bribes from the government so that they are quiet on key issues or adopt pro-government stances. Probably there is still hope for a transitional government if the elections were to be postponed. The question is – do those who have swayed still support democracy, liberty and equality or they support anything that is not Mugabe and Grace?
Understandably some activists may feel compelled to deny their true opinions and express only fake opinions in praise of the coup leader ether to be allowed on the gravy train or to give the ‘new dawn’ a chance. Some were even expressing a sense of victory on social media – pro – democracy brothers and sisters turning against each other in the service of the junta’s insatiable lust for power. An atmosphere of general insecurity and mistrust is prevailing in many activists’ camps because unprincipled liars and pretenders are making it precarious to express any opinions that are not complimentary of the coup leader and his coup government. But it’s not all round despondency; there are some who continue to offer moral support to the opposition by lobbying for electoral reforms, diaspora vote, and non-violent free and fair elections.
Some now believe that their compatriots in the Diaspora are creating a bad image for the country. Those in the diaspora argue that there is no change in Zimbabwe and that they will continue to fight for their families back home as long as there is a Zanu-Pf military government. They say pro-democracy activists need to acknowledge that their struggle against what they said was a repressive Zanu-Pf regime is not over; in fact, it is the beginning of another long fight against a Zanu-Pf regime that has been reinforced with military elements. The pro-Zanu-Pf military has repeatedly said that they would not allow anyone who did not participate in the liberation struggle to rule so to expect anything other than a Zanu-Pf win in July is foolish.
The Zanu-Pf Lacoste Group has placed members of the Lacoste faction and the military into key positions of power and it is clear that the faction controls the military, the judiciary, ZACC, ZEC, and the state media. Mnangagwa and some of those he appointed in government have been accused of committing genocide during Gukurahundi, whilst the military and the green bombers have been accused of the 2008 atrocities.
Clearly, the now very powerful authoritarian Zanu-Pf can only become more authoritarian. Across multiple indexes and measures, democracy in Zimbabwe has stagnated at best and steadily declining at worst. This is not an accidental decline; they are the battle scars of the struggle between the rule of people – the legitimacy authority – and the continued rule of despots and dictators. Right now the people are losing. Zimbabweans are trapped in this historically unresponsive, unaccountable Zanu-Pf regime where ruthless oppression will continue supported by those who can’t wait to be on the gravy train.
THE AUTHORITARIAN’S ACCOMPLICE
Whether we like it or not democracy is measured according to the prescription provided by the West. By supporting Zanu-Pf Lacoste Group, the West is directly and indirectly aiding and abating the further decline of democracy in Zimbabwe. Some of these western governments have been the biggest force backing democratic elements in Zimbabwe. But their current approach to the events in of November 15 is appalling. By supporting the replacement of an authoritarian regime through violence and replacing it with another, the western governments are suffering an acute case of democracy-promotion fatigue. As a result, democracy promotion has been knocked down several years. On the priority list of western governments is their set economic interest as competition with China take centre stage.
After all, perhaps their new approach is perfectly understandable given the failed transitions to democracy in places like Libya, and Iraq after their botched interventions are indeed tragedies. Yet it would be a greater tragedy still to doom our next generation to the rule of despots, dictators, and thugs simply because this generation of western leaders and politicians is unwilling to make smart but difficult choices to support democracy. Western governments need to stick to their principles and challenge despots rather than aiding them in pursuit of short-sighted pragmatism. There is clearly no guarantee that the couped despot has been replaced by a suddenly genuine democratic coup leader.
The new Western approach is to push for democracy against tyrants like Mugabe who hate the west – but leave friendly autocrats alone – or at least don’t press them aggressively. In this view, the dictatorial devil they know is much better than the democratic devil they don’t know. Encourage the countries that are not strategically important to become democratic because it does not really matter anyway but set an absurdly low bar so that most can hit the mostly meaningless target of claiming to be democracies and the West can cheer them along.
If ED manages to create a strong economic performance we can be guaranteed that our country will be less likely to democratise as we move towards a one party-state – if we are not already there. The current Western approach to democracy promotion is failing as seen in Madagascar. Zimbabweans need to campaign against the current Western approach if we are to give our ambition for democracy a fighting chance. We have to try and democratise without a nudge from the west.
WESTERN RESPONSE TO MADAGASCAR
We were angered by Donald Trump’s “s..t hole” jibe but at least he was honest about his view of Africa and Africans. There are several examples of deeply flawed counterfeit democracies which with low expectations the West endorsed, but let’s look at Madagascar. In the name of economic self-interest, some Western governments have repeatedly worked to forge an uneasy coexistence with African tyrants, and counterfeit democrats, aiming democracy promotion more at around the edges reforms of authoritarianism than at undermining authoritarianism itself. The Western response to Madagascar – one of the poorest nations in the world – coup in 2009 was based on very low expectations. Regardless, poverty deepened soon after the coup. As though the bizarre political situation was not enough, Madagascar was hit by powerful Indian Ocean cyclones repeatedly destroying the already crumbling infrastructure – bridges etc. Bubonic plague returned, and to add to biblical doom to the post-coup years, locusts swarmed so thick while they devoured the island’s crops that day sometimes turned to nights as billions of insects blocked the sun like seen in horror movies.
Although the West had initially called for an immediate return to democracy after the coup, they touted the Madagascar 2013 sham elections as an opportunity to return the island back into the international fold of democratic Nations. But Madagascar has never been more of an empty shell of democracy. Given a free pass in its elections, Madagascar’s political elite had little reason to embrace democracy any more than was necessary, basking in power rather than policy, greed over governance. Since the elections Madagascar has become less democratic. Despotic criminals were given a green light to hold Madagascar people at ransom, bound to economic misery and political powerlessness.
Similar counterfeit democracy is now being allowed to pass as the real thing in Zimbabwe. The west is insidiously supporting Zanu-Pf – pursuing foreign policies that is knowingly complicit with coup leaders’ activities, intensifies into becoming an active effective accomplice to tyrannical oppression that Zimbabwe endures. Put simply, the west is turning a blind eye to a more ruthless authoritarianism in exchange for allegiance and economic interests. By helping autocratic elites show up their grip on power, the West is undermining promising and fragile movements that had erupted in 2016. This collateral damage is a major reason for the decline – on steroids – of our fragmented democracy. With the met office predicting drought, another Madagascar looms.
CREATE AUTONOMY AND CREATE DEMOCRACY
True democracy is when people can meaningfully participate in decisions being made about their lives, where the laws matter than the wishes of strongmen, and where citizens have a real choice of electing leaders to represent them. The true criminals in this heist against democracy are elite autocrats and counterfeit democrats – are the coup leaders not those same dictatorial wolves now cloaked in democratic sheepskins? And the West is an accessory to the crime, advertently or inadvertently robbing pro-democracy forces of a path to power.
We need democracy to provide some assurance that no single powerful individuals or faction will be able to dominate our political system. Once democracy is established, it then provides the best defence of human rights for individuals. The AU, SADC, China, and some Western governments are clearly siding with the new authoritarian side as they chase to score short-term economic and security victories. Well, this approach will undermine their long-term interests, batters our prospects for democracy, and it will keep the majority of Zimbabweans oppressed with little hope for better governance.
Zimbabwe introduced Cybersecurity legislation that the government claims is simply designed to protect national security but which critics have alleged represents an attempt to control the media and flow of information. Street demonstrations are still governed by Public Order and Security Act (POSA) which makes it extremely difficult for protesters to be given the right to protest. The state cannot be insulated from society without running the risk of becoming excessively detached from it. It is important for the government to be well connected/ embedded and establishes channels for negotiations with civil society in-order to adequately respond to its needs. As it is, human rights defenders need to be technologically ahead of repressive regimes in order to be effective. A digital based act of civil disobedience is now the best way of upsetting the status quo.
Can this coup really foster democracy? By refusing to apologise for Gukurahundi, the president seem not to understand the importance of national healing or the fact that he cannot rig the economy. Egocentrism and self-serving politics is by nature self-subversive and self-destructive. The coup leaders’ must not continue with Mugabe era’s sick and bloated egos that has always been perpetually inflated by the illusory glitter of wealth and glory and the cacophony of sycophantic voices repeated to them by their accomplices, the lies they want to hear that shields them from the truth they need to hear. In the aftermaths of the coup, an easy mix of convenient truths and fantastic lies suits the occasion as it does for infinite power all too well, but will dissolve into oblivion as soon as reality and paranoia – a fairly well-known fact – strikes – as it will sooner than it did for Mugabe. In fact, after the Davos meeting, some have already begun to notice that ED is perpetually empty, painfully ignorant, and limited – a fact that will further drive him into desperate antics of a clueless leader. Some maintain that the outcome of this coup is a replacement of one dictatorship by a group of autocratic coup plotters.