New Zimbabwe (London)

2 February 2014

Zimbabwe: Simba Makoni to Rescue the MDC?

opinion

ROY Bennet was the first to publicly dissent, Ben Freeth followed, then Ian Kay, Elias Mudzuri, Eddie Cross and now Elton Mangoma. The chorus grows.

His remarkably candid and well-choreographed letter demanding Morgan Tsvangirai step down punched above his personal courage. It is likely that powerful allies, who are yet to show their hand, are encouraging Mangoma and have emboldened him with assurances of their support.

Meanwhile, donors are reportedly channelling funds to the shadowy faction calling itself the Renewal Team, starving Tsvangirai of resources whilst str + / engthening the hand of his adversaries. It's a masterstroke and it is unlikely Tsvangirai will survive this final push.

The MDC is in an impossible position. They are damned if they remove Tsvangirai and they are damned if they retain him as president. For all his faults, Tsvangirai has a charisma to him - perhaps not of the statesman variety but he certainly excels in sloganeering in such a way as to be impossible to ignore. He has undoubtedly become the face of the opposition cause and his departure could possibly demoralise less thoughtful supporters.

But it is difficult to ignore the manner in which his scandalous lifestyle and lack of tact has brought the party into disrepute. In the surprisingly acerbic letter, Mangoma raises unassailable arguments pointing out, among other things, that Tsvangirai has had his chance but has failed to unseat President Robert Mugabe over the past 15 years. Tsvangirai loyalists insist he still has more tricks in his quiver and must be allowed to continue the fight. The Mangoma camp is unconvinced and is demanding he pass the baton to a new leader with new ideas.

The answers to the MDC's seemingly intractable problems lie in Simba Makoni. I recognise this might seem an unusual proposition but I am persuaded that Simba Makoni can save the MDC and lead them to victory in 2018.

Waiting to strike ... Tsvangirai with leadership rivals Elias Mudzuri and Tendai Biti

Zanu PF is reportedly in the throes of a divisive succession battle. Whatever the eventual outcome, and whoever wins, what is unavoidable is that someone will be disappointed. One must not underestimate the power of disaffected elements. The reader will recall the effectiveness of the bhora musango campaign. It is impossible to predict how such disgruntlement will play out but it is not difficult to see how Simba Makoni could prove useful in forming an alliance with such rebels. Zanu PF players are unlikely to transact with Morgan Tsvangirai but they could possibly engage a familiar and unthreatening face like Makoni.

To appreciate the value that Makoni brings one needs to consider the numbers. The MDC lost the 2013 election but that does not necessarily translate to an overwhelming vote of confidence in Zanu PF. Nearly 50 percent of registered voters did not vote; out of 6.4 million registered voters only 3.5 million voted. Given the effectiveness of Zanu PF's registration and get-out-the-vote cell-based machinery it is unlikely these no-show voters are Zanu PF supporters. This does not necessarily mean they are all opposition supporters but one can draw inferences as to their inclinations. The helpful political question is why these voters chose to stay away?

The MDC has inadvertently demoralised a potentially sympathetic constituency by repeatedly alleging vote rigging. If the election is going to be rigged as the MDC claims, why should I vote? It's a logical predicament. In an understandable attempt to delegitimise Zanu PF the MDC has overplayed the rigging card to such an extent that those who are minded to believe them see no point in voting since the ballot will simply "mutate" in Zanu PF's favour as the MDC Secretary General, Tendai Biti, has incredibly alleged.

The second group of registered voters that chose not to vote is the disillusioned type. Tsvangirai initially wove a persuasive and romantic narrative of good versus evil, pointing to government corruption, incompetent economic management and an assortment of other ills. However, the MDC's hypocritical scramble for Mercedes Benz vehicles and government comforts (read Highlands mansion) they had condemned before joining the GNU stripped them of legitimacy.

The MDC's unimpressive - and often corrupt - stewardship of local authorities and the violence perpetrated against dissenters at Harvest House has made it impossible for the MDC to credibly present itself as a superior democratic alternative. These voters might not believe in Zanu PF but they are equally uninspired by Tsvangirai.

Coming back to the matter of Zanu PF succession. The opposition will most certainly benefit from the curse of comparison that Mugabe's successor will inevitably suffer. There is no visible Chitepo waiting in the wings in Zanu PF and Mugabe's successor will unlikely have similar charm and charisma. Many voters that have been shown to love Mugabe simply for being Mugabe will present a challenge for Zanu PF. Whilst the blundering Tsvangirai was dwarfed by Mugabe's experienced presence it is not difficult to see how Mugabe's would-be successor could prove less imposing.

A careful look at the political landscape reveals encouraging possibilities for the opposition but much relies on their leader. The circumstances demand that he be blameless, a requirement that immediately disqualifies Morgan Tsvangirai. Step in Simba Makoni. Makoni is an impressive man but his ambitious political experiment, Mavambo, which sought to wrestle political momentum from both the MDC and Zanu PF, has predictably failed.

Welshman Ncube's complete decimation at the recent polls is likely to have left him more open to negotiations that could lead to a reunification of the MDC, but not under Tsvangirai. The NCA is crumbling before it even takes off and Job Sikhala seems awfully lonely with his of handful of MDC-99 supporters. There is a considerable amount of goodwill for the merging of all these opposition movements into the original MDC with a uniting figure like Simba Makoni at the helm.

The impact would be profound. Voters that are disappointed with Zanu PF's governance but have no confidence in Tsvangirai (and they are many) would have good reason to vote again. Voters that followed Mugabe simply because he was Mugabe (they too are many) would be open to persuasion. The face of a former comrade promising reform not revolution could encourage voters held back by a visceral fear of change.

Zanu PF has successfully characterised Tsvangirai as a witless Western puppet. The effectiveness of these smears has been most pronounced at the African Union and SADC. They view him with suspicion and in consequence are all too forgiving of Zanu PF's transgressions, which they view as the lesser of two evils. Such a characterisation would be laughable and betray desperation if deployed against an individual of Makoni's standing.

A Makoni outcome would be especially beneficial from a national security standpoint. Tsvangirai's perfidy as regards sanctions - damning them in public whilst privately urging on the Americans - and collaboration with foreign actors has put him at odds with powerful forces within the security establishment.

Even if Tsvangirai somehow managed to win an election it is not inconceivable that something unfortunate could happen to him. Suspicions that he is a Trojan horse - which are not entirely unfounded - actually serve to undermine the possibility of a democratic transfer of power by giving the security services reason to meddle in political affairs. If the security services suspect you of being a threat to national security or acting at the behest of a foreign power they will remove you from the stage (read Morsi). Whether or not those suspicions have merit would be a matter for historians.

I suspect the security services would be less nervous about a Makoni presidency. He has been part of the establishment and is unlikely to seek (or to be foolish enough to attempt) regime change in the sense of an upheaval as imagined under Tsvangirai. Most importantly, he has not been compromised by undue foreign influence.

The resettled farmers, a significant voting group, are suspicious of Tsvangirai's cosy relationship with the white farmers and worry about the security of their tenure under his government. Questions abound as to why the CFU has not disbanded. Could it be they hold out hope of restoration? Makoni is not burdened by this unhelpful innuendo.

Resistance to Tsvangirai's removal is motivated by patronage and self-interest. Those close to him fear a new leadership could prejudice their interests. Such concerns are not unfounded. These fears could be allayed to a certain extent by the emergence of a neutral leader like Makoni who has no alliances within the party.

These possibilities must not be discouraged by memories of Ncube's disastrous importation of Arthur Mutambara. The circumstances were different and it would be unfair to compare a thoughtful character like Makoni to the brilliant but volatile Mutambara.

Ndatenda, ndini muchembere wenyu Amai Jukwa

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