New Zimbabwe (London)

12 July 2014

Zimbabwe: What Are Our Options?

opinion

IN this article, I would like to add my voice to the chorus of voices about the need to chart the future of our country. You and I know very well that our country has been ruined to a point where very little now functions in a normal way.

The integrity and image of our country has been severely damaged to the extent that our country is now seen internationally as an outcast. Our state institutions are now so corrupt that you cannot be served without paying a bribe or asking a 'chef' to do you a 'favour'. And the economy has shrunk to a point where civil servants can no longer be sure of receiving their salaries at the stipulated time.

More depressing is that our workers and young people have now been reduced to a life of misery with no hope of ever getting decent employment because many of our factories and industries have been shut down. Their only hope, if any, is to scavenge on the streets or leave the country and become the neighbour's burden. As we all know, the root cause of our problems is the absence of a consistent rule of law, bad governance, lack of transparency and accountability. Compounding our woes is the fact that the government's land policies have ruined our country's capacity to produce enough food for our people.

Worse still, our mineral resources are being plundered by a small, voracious clique in cahoots with predatory foreign companies which are hell-bent on making quick profits before our country returns to normalcy. Added to this is our dilapidated infrastructure with our schools and hospitals, which were once the envy of many countries, now mere shadows of their past glory. Our road, rail and air transport systems - like those in power - are old and ailing. Equally bad is our polluted and choleric drinking water, as well as our feeble and erratic electricity supply. And mind you without good infrastructure, clean water and electricity, we can never hope to develop or attract substantial foreign investment.

The decay of the state has now affected our ability to win in different sporting codes because the government is unable to invest in them. For example, athletics is now in the doldrums. The boxing glory days of Kilimanjalo, aka Chinembiri, are gone. Cricket, hockey, rugby, swimming and tennis in which our nation previously excelled are now in limbo. Soccer, the people's game, is in shambles. The pride of our nation is mortally wounded.

Above all, the general morale of our people is now very low. Many of our people are currently pessimistic about the future and are either hopelessly resigned to fate or look up to some divine intervention. And if you talk to the people in the townships, suburbs, schools, farms, villages, street vendors, hawkers, taxi drivers, the educated, young and old, the rich and poor, you will hear the same call that they want change because the suffering they are going through is unbearable.

Resilience

Yet, in spite of our people's pain and suffering, you cannot fail to appreciate their indomitable spirit. They work tirelessly on their small pieces of land, move about trying to cut some small deals, sell their small merchandise to eke out a living, send their children to fee-paying schools, crack jokes and exude an abundant warmth and love. This is the irrepressible spirit of our people that needs to be harnessed to form an unstoppable locomotion for total emancipation.

The country's first option, then, is a spontaneous uprising where the masses, without being galvanised by some revolutionary demagogue, will stand up to demand their inalienable rights. This is a real possibility where many of our people, especially the youth, are unhappy and despondent. And there comes a time when people are not afraid to die so that their children and posterity can have a better life. Also, history shows that the most fertile ground for change is hunger, poverty, unemployment, injustice, repression, corruption and an uncaring regime. Zimbabwe is pregnant with all these elements, and it only takes a spark to ignite an explosion.

But let us be realistic in our expectations. Spontaneous revolutions are rare and far apart and they often end up in chaos, such as the French Revolution of 1789 and the Russian Revolution of 1917. Although these revolutions were necessary, they spawned dictatorship in the form of Napoleon and Stalin, respectively. It is, therefore, necessary to manage change because pseudo revolutionaries, opportunists and quasi democrats can easily hijack the outcome. Our own Zimbabwean liberation struggle is a clear example of how an ideologically bankrupt leadership can betray its own people. The Arab Spring in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Syria is a warning about how a loosely coordinated people's struggle can end up in anarchy.

Political rebirth

Another possibility is the reconfiguration of the current political parties, especially a split in the ruling party which is seen by many of our people as having ruined their lives. In particular, as some opponents of the ruling party would argue, it is necessary to bring to an end the political dominance of Zanu PF so that we can build a new social order with different values. In this context, the current factions in ZANU can be seen as a good omen for change because a divided ZANU cannot hold on to power for ever.

The possibility of a split in ZANU is consistent with regional and international trends. For instance, Kenneth Kaunda's UNIP in Zambia was so inept that the late Frederick Chiluba's MMD party was able to win elections to usher in a new government, and a few years ago, Michael Sata' Patriotic Front in turn ousted Rupiah Banda's MMD. In Malawi, the feared Kamuzu Banda's ruling MCP lost to Bakili Muluzi's party and just last month Joyce Banda's ruling party lost to that of Prof Mutariki. This has been the same trend in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Senegal, Madagascar, India, Turkey and many other countries. Can Zimbabwe be an exception?

As regards the MDC, all indications are that although the party is suffering from internal haemorrhage, Morgan Tsvangirai's faction appears to have a considerable grass root support which can easily make it the largest political party in Zimbabwe. The failure to wrestle power from a divided ruling party in previous elections is, however, a damning indictment that will haunt the MDC for many years to come. This aside, we need to encourage those who have a genuine concern for the welfare of our country in both Zanu PF, the MDC and other parties to find each other so that we can work out strategies to save our country from a total collapse.

Military option

Some of our people think that we can bring about change by replacing Zanu PF with an interim military regime, especially by officers of a lower rank who have not been part of the plunder of our country. The main argument of this school of thought is that, in the first place, ZANU is in power because of its support from the army and therefore it is only the army that can remove it from power. They suggest that a military government can work with civilians for a limited time in order to pave the way for a free and fair election that is internationally recognised. This sounds attractive, isn't it?

The proponents of this alternative, however, mask fundamental flaws in this option. To start with, can the Zimbabwean army be trusted to be the custodian of our democracy? Can it hand over power to an emasculated civilian government once it has tasted the sweetness and grandeur of power? Does our army uphold the values of democracy and the tradition of fair play? My answer is a big "NO". Our people can not hand over power to an institution whose track record is repression. This option is potentially suicidal and catastrophic.

Those who harbour this option should listen to the sermon on the mountain that the chaos and instability of post-colonial Africa is largely due to the savagery and ruthlessness of military regimes. The dark memory of Joseph Mobutu of the then Zaire (DRC), Idi Amini of Uganda, Emperor Jean Bokasa of the Central African Republic, Colonel Mengistu of Ethiopia (He still lives in Zimbabwe!), General Sani Abacha of Nigeria, Charles Taylor of Liberia and many other military dictators is still fresh in our minds. And we should not lose sight of the fact that by its constitution, the army is not a democratic institution. Therefore, we should not flirt with the army when it comes to the establishment of democracy and good governance.

Even the reckless talk of guerrilla warfare is not a viable solution. By nature war is destructive and you can never pre-determine the outcome. Zimbabwe is so dear to many of us that it needs to be jealously guarded. We do not want to destroy our country in order to rebuild it. There is no logic in this kind of thinking. We should learn from the situation in Iraq, Libya and Syria where foreign powers are involved, and they are the ones benefiting from the spoils of war by demanding compensation in the form of oil and other minerals for the supply of weapons. But it must be made abundantly clear that the government is increasingly pushing our people to consider this option by stubbornly refusing to introduce changes that are going to bring about economic, political and social justice. The more our people suffer the more they are likely to resort to radical measures.

Change through the ballot

Some of our people argue that the most likely option is to change the government through the ballot by voting out the Zanu PF government. Those who believe that this is the route that is likely to bring about social, political and economic stability maintain that other options are likely to polarise the country, and may not bring about lasting peace.

Assuming that this is the most viable alternative, political parties need to play the game using different tactics so that they do not repeat the mistakes they made in the last three elections. Unity of purpose is absolutely essential and I need to add my voice to that of the suffering masses who want a better life. Here, allow me to put across questions that are often asked by ordinary Zimbabweans. Do you (political parties) listen to the plight of our people? Do you hear their cry? Are you bothered about their suffering? Where is your moral conscience? Haven't you learned from the past elections that, alone, you cannot bring about political change to our country?

If change is going to come through the ballot, we need to insist, as a pre-condition, on a level playing field such as an authentic voter's role, free and fair voting procedures as well as a transparent vote counting system. The other issue is the media, which includes the radio, television, newspapers, Facebook and Twitter. Political parties need to have their own media, which will be used to articulate their agenda and other issues. This is a common phenomenon in many democracies where some newspapers, radio and television stations are aligned to some political parties.

While talking about elections, it does not help our people to be continuously fed with scapegoats that victory was stolen from the MDC. Everyone knows that where the political playing field is not level the ruling party uses all devious means to stay in power. The pertinent question that needs to be asked is: if indeed the MDC won, what concrete measures did they take to claim their legitimate right? Is it not being naive to expect SADC, AU, or the EU to fight our own battle? Is it not the same naivety that makes some of the political leaders to think that change will come through an economic meltdown of Zimbabwe? Equally so, is it not political drunkenness for some people in government to think that Zimbabwe can do without the rest of the outside world?

National Redemption

To save our country from possible collapse, progressives from our civil society, the diaspora and the different political formations can immediately open up dialogue to form a broad-based "National Redemption Council". The council should consist mainly of eminent citizens, technocrats, scholars, economists, farmers, educationists, industrialists, bankers, mining experts, and others. The council should not be a political party, such as the much talked about "grand coalition", but should be a people driven council limited in time and scope, focusing on specific functions. It is obvious that there will be opposition to it, but we should remain resolute in our quest for the salvation of our country.

Among other things, the National Redemption Council should (1) establish broad consensus on the future of our country, (2) prepare our country for a free and fair election, (3) work out a people-driven programme for economic recovery in the short and long term, (4) engage the international community to solicit funds which will be kept in a trust account to be used by a government of the people, for the people and by the people. (5) monitor government activities especially mining and corruption, (6) review investment and land policies (7) draw up a plan to bring back Zimbabweans in the diaspora, (8) establish a truth and reconciliation commission which will work out the modalities for lasting peace. In conclusion, let me submit that these proposals are not cast in stone and neither are they intended to steal thunder from those with political ambitions. They come from my humble concern for the future of our country, your country, my country. And, as Bernard Shaw would say, the proposals are intended to "prevent evil from triumph" and to "take responsibility for our future".

Prof Ambrose B. Chimbganda can be reached at chimbga42@gmail.com

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