BEFORE the 1789 revolution which gave a bloody full-stop to the Frankish Monarchical line, France was an unliked, war-mongering polity.
That dubious status continued during the “reign” of Robspierre, consolidating itself under France’s first Emperor Napoleon, that diminutive Italian who ruled France for more than a decade and half, a diminutive who almost ruled Europe.
And of course France’s arch-enemy was England whose main fortress were the waters of the oceancradling it, cutting it from mainland Europe, by then martial France’s parade ground. These waters made England naturally impregnable, while providing it with enough “ground” on which to build a formidable navy.
England thus grew up a water-borne power, something that enabled it to build and defend an overseas empire. Yes, something that made it foremost in inventing piracy and buccaneering.
Alongside the Dutch, the French and sometimes the Spaniards, piracy is England’s dubious fame in history, a fame it is just beginning to lose to Somalis who actually have better cause to be thus. Their fishes have been abused, severely depleted by foreigners trawling deeper and deeper into that country’s troubled politics, something England could not muster as a grievance in the heyday of the piracy it led. After all, its citizen-pirates often operated far afield, well away from her shores. Her piracy owed to sheer venality, an abiding trait of Albion before and ever since.
Sin of Africa
So, England was Monarchical France’s foremost enemy. The reasons were partly martial, mostly ideological. France was Catholic, and together with Rome, was subverting England’s protestant demesne. The Anglican Church was the church of the English state. It still is to this day, which is why British Prime Minister David Cameroon will have to appoint a new head of the Church of England in the wake of the resignation of its sitting prelate, Dr Rowan Williams.
Archbishop Sentamu — a Ugandan — who has been doing all sorts of stunts to prove his Britishness, is tipped for appointment, if the Conservatives will have their way. That will amount to a major departure from English tradition, given that God’s deputies on the soil of Albion have always been English. But this is an era for breaking old moulds, of hybridising causes to make them globally marketable.
A faithless nation of the flesh, nowadays Britain looks abroad to find its long lost religious invention, Anglicanism. Such a stark demography, coupled with the huge ecclesiastical rift there is over gays and lesbians, requires extraordinary measures to preserve this core component of Englishness. A bit of black on the Union Jack is thus in order. Good luck Sentamu, sin of Africa!
Bad, worse, worst
Turbulent France, too, would soon unleash a revolution animated by anti-monarchy ideas of liberty, fraternity and equality, ideas that hit at the very heart of how monarchical England was misgoverned. Although the revolution was taking place across the English Channel, England felt its tremors with the sharpness of a cataclysm at Charring Cross, so close to the court of St James.
France and her obnoxious ideas bode ill for the future of English kings and all they stood for. English scholars among them Burke, scholars who themselves were thinkers of the institution of the Monarchy, fought their damnedest to combat these viral views from godless France.
Not that France had better governance to give to the world. Far from it! It was governed badly as a monarch, worse as a revolution, and worst as a dynasty of the short Italian who wound up an exile at Elba. But it had generated ideas potent enough to subvert the monarchical status, something Russia would also do to capitalism after 1917.
When favour and sex are power
But Monarchical France was ruled by whim of its king. His favour was power and law; his word was life and death. It was an epoch of deadly arbitrariness, an epoch which dialectically yielded the most elaborate and expressive critique of unjust power ever known to human history.
If France gave the world the knowledge and lexicon of bad power, it was not because it had spare minds devoted to contemplating the subject of power; rather it was because more than any other nation in Europe, France daily agonised and groaned under most arbitrary and most corrupt power. Not surprisingly, it had a name for bad power, the same way that the word “tsunami” could only have been Japanese.
Writing about France under its corrupt kings, Alfred Cobban noted the French palace reeked of intrigues, with the high nobles of Versailles fighting for the honour “of holding the king’s shirt when he rose in the morning, while their ladies quarrelled over the right of sitting on a small stool in the queen’s presence”.
A world of odious sinecures, old France created a socio-political milieu in which “no man (was) honest and no woman virtuous”. Sex moved mountains, giving rise to the prayerful petition to the Divinity above: “Deliver us from love” from kings right down to lords of manors, droit du seigneur, the law of the first night or, as was later adapted, the law of the thigh, allowed those in power the singular pleasure of breaking virginity of daughters of their subalterns.
Sex became a barometer of power’s outstanding impiety. And if one remembers the wassails of Mary Antoinette, it is clear “deliver us from love” was a universal prayer, uniformly dropping from the lips of the most ordinary and the lips of France’s foremost citizens!
Royalty as justice
But I have no interest in France’s sensual side, something which neither time nor the Catholic Church has been able to exorcise. I am interested in how this whole corrupt edifice touched on justice and its delivery.
In Monarchical France, justice was royal. Wrote Cobban: “ . . . whatever the law courts might decide the king could always use his power of justice retenue to forestall or override their decision: he could summon any case from the ordinary courts to the Royal Council by lettre de cachet. In short, the authority of the king was not that of the titular head of an administrative regime, it was the personal exercise of his individual bon plaisir.”
King as Supreme Court, King as parliament, King as commander-in-chief, yes, King as the Pope of popes. France gave the world compendious power exercised with absoluteness, compendious power wielded like never before. Naturally, it corrupted absolutely, which is how the profligacy at the palace compared favorably with the costs of Europe’s small wars!
Quixote in dreadlocks
This week saw the conviction and sentencing of Munyaradzi Gwisai and his collaborators for attempting to subvert the authority of a lawful Government. Gwisai and his acolytes were caught plotting the unleashing of an Arab spring on Zimbabwe. They used videos from the unrest in Egypt as study aids, something quite quixotic and therefore comical if you ask me.
The once dreadlocked teacher had decided to take his lessons into the field of political play, forgetting one golden rule of social change, namely that revolutions grow from specific social circumstances all of which are always unique to given polities. You cannot export a revolution unless you export the exact set of circumstances that would have triggered it in its country of origin, including the temperament of the people who ultimately move it. It is that simple.
The farce many missed
And judging by the severity of the sentence — a few hundreds of dollars, a few hundreds of hours in community service — it is clear the light-hearted side to this monumental, heroic farce was not lost to the presiding magistrate.
Amazing how the surly MDC-T denies this nation a moment’s laughter by trying to make a serious reading out of this farce. And did people see Gwisai punching the air with a knuckled, gnarling fist, one so clenched as to draw instant jealous from a staunch Zanu-PF militant. That’s it: in Zimbabwe revolutions are Zanu-PF, which is why Gwisai’s gallant effort had this sharp farcical ring to it.
British courts do it much better when faced with a juridical farce: they award damages while quantifying them into a mighty farthing! And the judge will deliver a judgment over hours, only to contrive a sharp bathos by awarding an undersized damage! That way, British judges recognise that while an offence has been made, while a sensitive principle has been offended against, all the same hefty punishment could create worse harm to larger society and its cherished freedoms.
It is not difficult to see that the magistrate’s conviction underlined the need for the stability of the State, while the sentence preserved core freedoms of information, association and protest, all of which stood to be chilled by a hefty sentence. He delicately balanced matters, giving us serious laughter in the end. That should not be too complex to grasp, surely? But all that is to focus on the trite aspects of the whole matter.
The man who won’t let go!
The real matter is turning out to be a man who was so far away from the dock, in fact a man who was in Europe, in Germany and England, when the accused were receiving both judgment and sentences. A man who has in the past cooked up another type of serious humour by displaying crude etiquette in the company of Europe’s potentiates.
Contrary to the standards of diplomacy, he bolts from his German host, ending up leading a parade he is supposed to inspect as a guest of honour. At a Press conference he rushes to stand by the German flag, and cannot recognise his own. It is a deeply symbolic mistake, summing up his politics, their external provenance. And once Chancellor Merkel offers her hand in a symbolic, photo-greeting, the man simply finds the hand of femininity too warm to be left, forgets to let go of this German tenderness until the good lady of power, quite feeling ungraciously squeezed and imprisoned, breaks free with bruised virginity!
The man in question is Morgan, first son of Tsvangirai. He is the MDC-T president who happens to be Prime Minister of Zimbabwe. The video of the whole diplomatic saga is right there on You Tube. Enjoy it.
Walking oneself into the dock
Amazing how the bloke invites citation in a matter he is not party to. Following the conviction of the accused, and a day before their sentencing, Tsvangirai pronounced himself on the conviction. He was irreverent of the court, and of the magistrate. He challenged the conviction as untoward and as undoing the good name and work he is doing abroad to redeem an otherwise sunk Zimbabwe. He dismissed the conviction as “laughable”, but still proceeded to call it “a grave assault on human rights”.
I suppose assaulting human rights gravely is quite humorous! All these sentiments which he expressed have a name at law. They amount to what is called contempt of court, and here in Zimbabwe, as elsewhere in the civilised world, this is a punishable offence. Much worse, by pronouncing himself on the conviction well before the sentence was delivered, Tsvangirai who occupies a lofty office in the Executive branch of the State, was predictably trying to intimidate the Bench.
Whether he actually did, one cannot be sure. But that his comments made an impression on the magistrate, well ahead of his dispensing a sentence, that is not in doubt. Today while Gwisai and his impressionable henchmen/women walk away a few hundreds of dollars poorer, a few hundreds of hours unavailable to own leisure, they leave behind one Morgan Tsvangirai in the dock.
Clamping justice the French way
He needs rescuing. It doesn’t have to be an actual dock. It only does have to be a dock of public opinion to matter to, and impinge on, his prospects. Wielding the tongs of power and office, Tsvangirai has literally clamped and summoned a case from the ordinary courts to the Royal Council by lettre de cachet. The delivery page was one Luke Tamborinyoka, a piece of his restless mouth. And we all recall this is not his first time to do so. Nor is it likely to be his last time.
The man is prone, too prone. He did it before by writing to High Court judges over the case of a white suspect. He did pretty much the same in a traditional court involving a chief who sought to cleanse the earth which Tsvangirai himself had defiled by wrongfully marrying in November, the sacred month of goats. Today he threatens the chief with unspecified dire actions for ever daring to convict and sentence him. The chief, he warned, should know his station in the scheme of things.
Today Tsvangirai has attacked the foundational tier of the Bench, in defence of a teacher of law at one of our universities. I wonder how it feels to be in Gwisai’s law shoes. You teach law in classroom; you become a subject and beneficiary of its attempted defeat by the sword of power. What a haunting precedent! What a discomfiting page in a classical, must-read law textbook!
When he goes into class, he meets himself as a dumb clown-player in a pantomime on an ill-adapted, clumsily handled Arab spring. When he goes into class, he meets himself as the face of regal benignity at the expense of principles of rule of law and separation of powers! It is a very dubious specie of fame.
Feared by his own
Back to Tsvangirai. His persona as a potential mortal danger to the lawful exercise of power, his persona as a prince only restrained from indulgent power by his qualified access to it, sticks out like a very sore thumb. His attack on the Bench is only being forestalled from being deadly by his distance from real power. And considering that he images this as an outstanding matter, our whole safety as a nation ruled by law rests on this power issue remaining forever outstanding.
Which takes me to a very eerie issue. More than anyone else in the national political community, Tsvangirai’s own colleagues in the MDC formations mortally fear his reaching the levers of full power, and gaining power as presently structured. They dread the prospects of a Tsvangirai who ascends to power with all the instruments at the disposal of “Comrade”, as they fondly refer to President Mugabe. “NaYave oo tinogurwa misoro,” one overhears them pining, foreheads furrowed with deep anxieties about an MDC-T sole future, outside the restraining Inclusiveness, outside the tempering hand of Bob.
They see an ogre, and little in the Prime Minister’s present conduct alleys such profound worries. Tsvangirai, they vow, should never reach power under Lancaster House constitutional arrangement, as amended. Simply, he lacks the benign temperament of the President, the depth so vital to purposeful use of power to human goodness.
Leading without a party
How has this fear so internal to MDC formations, played out in our nation? In ways too complex for our media to glimpse, let alone follow. The whole saga which played out in Bulawayo during the MDC-T congress, a saga aiming at perching Tsvangirai at the helm while denying him a foot stool on which to support his meteoric rise, the saga of perching him atop while precariously resting him on structures owned and run by someone else, was one such attempt at circumscribing his ominous ascend and potential access to untrammeled power.
As is also this insistence on term limits all to discount him from a long term, and thus from too much comfort while in power. Create disharmony between party term and the term in government, so the logic goes. A Tsvangirai who is President of Zimbabwe should never be a Tsvangirai who is also president of the MDC-T. Or should that happen, let it not last longer than ecstasy. The latter term must temper his State presidency. That is the calculation.
Switching off the lights
Much worse, should Tsvangirai ever make it to Presidency, he should find all powers which President Mugabe enjoyed fully and irretrievably dismantled and dispersed! He should find the governing framework castrated through a severely trimmed Presidency, so he rules like a political eunuch! And the present exercise of constitution-making, while ostensibly sounding like an attack on President Mugabe, is actually a preparation for Tsvangirai’s assumed impending presidency!
State House must be clean and cleared of power before the arrival of its new, dangerous intern, they add, all bound by common fear. If the wish of these anxious MDC fellows were to carry the day, Presidency in Zimbabwe would be titular, meaning Zimbabwe would run through Parliament and executive commissions. Get yourself a copy of the current draft and you pick this preoccupation through and through.
I have not worked with Tsvangirai, never will. I don’t know him that well. They do and I can only surmise that their fear is plausibly founded. In which case that fear must address us, one way or another. Personally, it is a fear I don’t share, and I will say why.
The one who will not lead
Of course all this is a very unfounded fear, and a very flawed strategy, one unlikely to carry a single moment in the life of this nation. In the first place Zanu PF, the only real national ruling force, will have none of it. Secondly, a weak State is a misnomer for a country like Zimbabwe which is in the middle of an explosive restructuring exercise.
Thirdly, the current flurry of dispersing executive powers on the presidency rest on an unfounded expectation that Morgan Tsvangirai is about to win power, is ordained to lead this country. Simply, he is not about to. He can’t, even if by some miracle he outlives his current misfortunes. He knows it too, which is why he accosted pastors and bishops for power manna that won’t come, adding time is fast running out for him.
Let me quote him verbatim: "I plead with you pastors to pray for me so that I won’t die before I become the executive President of this country. This is the beginning of my end.” I am not quoting from The Herald. I am quoting from Financial Gazette, a paper so close to Tsvangirai and his MDC-T.
I suppose that forces one to agree with those concerned officials from both formations. Their worries gain credence from these words attributed to the Prime Minister, words he has not challenged. You cannot miss the craving for power. Equally, you cannot miss a ring of desperation, a consuming sense of near-futility, near hopelessness. He sees power, smells it but can’t have it, can’t grasp it, much like Macbeth and the dagga of his vision or nightmare.
I thought Scofield, himself a staunch pro-MDC-T white journalist put it so well a few weeks ago: Morgan’s moment is not come; it has passed. He must be thankful that he has come this far. And the fact that he is beginning to crumble from the sheer weight of household issues, dramatises his slow bowing out of the national competition and stage, towards an intensely private, retirement zone and setting. And that he was ill-equipped for leadership anyway, simply fast-tracks the denouement.
Do us a favour, drop dead!
Things are not well for Tsvangirai and his MDC-T. You do not need to be an insider to know that. His fears of an election that comes too soon is well founded. But that is not his real dilemma. His real dilemma is that he cannot assure himself that more time, longer delays to the poll, can improve his prospects, improve prospects of his party. Each day seems to spew new scandals, new challenges that simply aggravate his predicament.
And the hand of God does not seem about to show on President Mugabe, the man MDC-T wishes could just drop dead, vanish from the face of this earth. Unable to resolve the complication of Zimbabwe’s entangled political drama, Tsvangirai can only hope for death as some deux ex machina, a god from a machine able to spring a resolution to an intractable plot MDC has hewn. This is why death stands foremost in MDC’s manifesto, as a strategy of grabbing power.
MDC will tell you they will govern because Mugabe is old, or worse, is about to die. Not why they deserve to govern. They are waiting for God’s coup, as Nigerians call it, but waiting at a time when God’s timetable yields showers of blessings to the man whose grave they can’t wait to dig. It is a long sigh from the unfulfilled, the morbidly expectant.
Presently MDC-T reeks fetid with scandals. The Constituency Development Fund saga indicts it. Local authorities are in turmoil, thanks to the party’s thieving councillors. And unlike in the past when MDC-T would be quick to institute internal investigations however sham, this time around the whole party is now inured to corruption and no conscience stirs. After all, to institute internal investigations presuppose some modicum of remaining rectitude within its structures, a commodity so rare now in the MDC.
All stands blighted, from the topmost echelon to the lowest. Today MDC-T measures so well to the reeking palace of a French monarch of yore. None dare accuse the other of corrupt conduct, for all carry skeletons that gurgle filth from cupboards whose thin doors have since been unhinged, stolen too.
You have to find a scandal!
Out of desperation, MDC-T today pushes its ministers, some of them previously arraigned before the courts for questionable conduct, pushes them hard to invent matching scandals to incriminate other players so the ugly spotlight is shared. Its thrust is to democratise blame, so judgment is shared. It is a posture of a party convinced about its own incorrigibility.
Is it not incredible that a whole accountant is pushed to re-classify a well documented debt into a screaming scandal? And does so the same weeks his counterpart, Finance Minister Biti, is publishing a debt settlement strategy for Zimbabwe? Or is he about to name and shame Zimbabwe for the scandal of defaulting on its debts the same way Zesa clients have? Is owing in business a scandal mister accountant? Which business does not carry obligations?
Clearly here is a man sidestepping professional knowledge to serve a cause, in the process becoming quite stupid by standards of his profession. I suppose next week we will read about Sable Chemicals, itself the biggest single user of power it cannot always pay for in time. More dramatically, Mangoma will name and shame Zesa for the scandal of not paying its Mozambican counterpart to the tune of well over US$40 million. The whole thing does not make sense at all.
White farmer’s hired gun?
Much worse, nature gives farmers a unique financial year. They are not billed to pay monthly like households. They settle their accounts at the end of a selling season. Except for tobacco farmers, which other farmer is in the market? Selling what when the whole countryside is green with tender crops? Or has the minister not visited his farm, not looked at his calendar to know we are in the month of March — Kurume — the month of maleness? He owns a farm? So? But he also knows more, by virtue of being a member of Government.
Barely two weeks ago, the Finance Minister — his political counterpart in MDC-T — started releasing money to the GMB for on-payment to owed farmers, owed from two seasons back. Government has subverted the farmer, the same Government now asking the same farmer to pay up Zesa bills! Does that make accounting sense?
So many questions, so many riddles, made more sinister by the fact that this minister is denying new black farmers what Rhodesia granted its white farmers! And white farmers are the power behind MDC-T. Is Mangoma the embittered white farmers’ hired gun?
Humpty Dumpty fell off the wall
To raise such and more questions is to miss the political import of what MDC-T, through its ministers is striving to do to shore up its sagging fortunes. It is trying to manufacture matching scandals, and out of desperation, is doing senseless things.
So the issue of Mangoma the accountant not making sense to Mangoma the MDC-T functionary never arises. He has to do something for his party, for his stretched leader. More stretched in view of Zanu-PF’s highly visible campaign on indigenisation of the economy, a campaign that has got its first and highly significant breakthrough by way of the agreement with Zimplats. The mood in the country has changed.
Meanwhile MDC-T’s response by way of jobs and inviting investments falters and collapses spectacularly. Johannesburg yielded nothing. It raised more questions than it answered, in fact ended up being about indigenisation. Equally, this week’s Euromoney Summit has been a sorry story of a Europe without money. A dump squib. To all that add the wasteful investment conference in London.
Someone must begin to ask the Prime Minister how he hopes to attract investment by going abroad to tell the world how bad and unfulfilled Zimbabwe is. Much worse, he has just given Zanu-PF another line of attack, sanctions. He met Cameroon. Did he lobby for the removal of sanctions? Or he is still chasing Timba’s lame Global Advocacy Campaign, all in the name of investment conference? And the clumsiness shown by his minions in Mozambique yesterday. Is this what GAC means?
Admit it or reject it, Humpty Dumpty is falling off the wall! Icho!
Nathaniel Manheru is a columnist for the Saturday Herald. Contact him: email@example.com