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By Prof Jonathan Moyo, MP

AS PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe delivered his televised address officially opening the third and apparently last session of the sixth parliament on Tuesday last week, he appeared determined to keep his head when everyone else across the nation has long lost theirs due to the biting national crisis that is widening and deepening every day.

That Mugabe can still keep his head when the rest of the nation no longer can, means he is yet to grasp the gravity of the national crisis. So endemic is the unfolding crisis that national attention has moved from how to define the problem to how to resolve it.

And there are four hard choices to resolve the crisis before the nation, namely:

a military coup;
an act of statesmanship by Mugabe to save both the country and his legacy;
a coming together of nationalist progressive forces under a united front; and
a spontaneous and therefore chaotic uprising.

In objective terms, there is no doubt that one of these choices must be made if Zimbabwe is to move forward from its troubled past and current stalemate to a different dispensation. But before describing these choices that are now competing for selection, there’s a need to dispense with two false choices that some vested political interests are peddling.

One false choice whose consequence would be to further widen, deepen and prolong the national crisis is Mugabe’s incredulous wish to seek reelection in March 2008 under the controversial 18th constitutional amendment scheduled for debate in parliament next month.

This is a false choice primarily because it has no national content since it is only a self-serving ploy that puts Zimbabwe last and Mugabe first so he can remain in power for life to enable him to escape likely prosecution for alleged crimes against humanity committed during his 27-year rule.

The propaganda around this false choice is the oft-repeated fiction that at its March 30 meeting, the Zanu PF central committee endorsed Mugabe as its sole presidential candidate. Yet some of the party’s senior members have been saying all along that nothing of the sort ever happened.

Since March 30, there has been an amazing if not shameful display of conspicuous deceit by patronage-seeking Zanu PF individuals and groups which have been falling on each other to further endorse Mugabe’s self-serving reelection bid on the back of a central committee endorsement that never was.

Based on his 2002 tortuous campaign experience, it is obvious that Mugabe hopes to yet again use the military, national intelligence and police forces along with government ministries and departments including traditional chiefs and their headmen to win reelection in 2008.

But even so, he needs to be forewarned not to be too trusting because everyone who matters in officialdom now knows that Zimbabwe will remain in dire straits if he remains in office.

Indeed, Mugabe must remember with some trepidation how with all the establishment support he almost lost the 2002 election when the situation in the country had not deteriorated to current hopeless levels. Therefore a Mugabe electoral victory in March 2008, whether achieved by fair or foul means, would necessarily be bad news that would worsen current hardships for Zimbabweans.

Another false choice being peddled in opposition circles is that Morgan Tsvangirai’s faction of the MDC can or will win the presidential election in March 2008. The Arthur Mutambara faction of the MDC is realistic enough to see that the presidential stakes next March are for it already water under the bridge.

"The national consensus now is that neither Mugabe nor Tsvangirai can take Zimbabwe forward"

While Tsvangirai has over the years shown commendable courage as an opposition leader, his exemplary courage has been failed by his characteristically poor leadership and general lack of strategy or sound judgment. The mere fact that Tsvangirai personally presided over the split of his own party demonstrated his poor leadership and put paid to the only chance he had to be a national leader.

The damaging effect of the MDC split in electoral terms was to leave Tsvangirai without critical votes in Matabeleland and the Midlands provinces. Previous election results show that, outside Harare, Tsvangirai has not been able to get much support in the Mashonaland provinces. The same is true in Masvingo and Manicaland provinces where his support base has dramatically declined since 2002.

Put simply, while he is weak in Matabeleland, Mugabe has more support than Tsvangirai in the Mashonaland provinces save for Harare. Given this fact along with that the public has lost confidence in Tsvangirai as a result of the MDC split plus the fact that Tsvangirai can no longer be sure about the extent of his support in Matabeleland, one can only wonder how anyone can foresee a Tsvangirai victory in March 2008. Where would the votes come from?

In any event, while some partisan interests might find this hard to swallow, the truth is that in the current scheme of Zimbabwean politics Tsvangirai has become as inflexible and as polarising as Mugabe. Much as MDC supporters cannot vote for Mugabe under any circumstances, Tsvangirai’s reduced supporters in his MDC faction will never vote for Mugabe.

The national consensus now is that neither Mugabe nor Tsvangirai can take Zimbabwe forward. The feeling from across the political divide is that both need to put Zimbabwe first ahead of their personal interests.

This takes us back to the four choices mentioned earlier. If you ask any student of political science worthy of the field, they would tell you that the political economy of Zimbabwe today is pregnant with socioeconomic conditions that have typically necessitated military coups elsewhere in Africa and the developing world.

The basic cause of military coups in history has invariably been the inflexibility of ruling elites through their inability or unwillingness to accommodate dissent as an enlightened strategy of preserving their own interests. Mugabe’s position that any opposition in between elections amounts to seeking illegal regime change is an example of dangerous inflexibility. Around the world, political systems that are inflexible attract military coups.

While a military coup is clearly undesirable in Zimbabwe today, it is nevertheless possible and could even become unavoidable. In the desperate circumstances currently gripping the country, the only way a military coup can be avoided is not by wishing it away or not thinking about it or condemning those who think or talk about it but by institutionalising flexibility in our constitution and national politics to get everyone, especially those in power, to put Zimbabwe first not just in their words but also in their deeds.

Another hard choice that is before the nation today is a sudden and therefore spontaneous uprising resulting in utter chaos. This choice, which Zimbabweans can make by default through inaction amid the escalating crisis, is of course undesirable as would be a military coup. But it is very possible.

A spontaneous uprising would recall the Biblical adage that where there is no vision, the people perish. In recent African history, the lack of an actionable vision has perished ordinary people in Rwanda, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, the Ivory Coast and Darfur. Zimbabwe can easily follow suit just like that.

The possibilities of a military coup and a chaotic spontaneous uprising in Zimbabwe today, both which would certainly move things forward even if in undesirable ways, can be avoided through the adoption of one of the other two choices in our midst: an act of critically needed statesmanship by Mugabe to put Zimbabwe first by retiring now or the emergence of a united front bringing together progressive nationalists from across the political divide to save Zimbabwe.

If he could understand what it means to put Zimbabwe first beyond partisan interests as he urged others to do in his Tuesday address, Mugabe would realise that it is still possible and desirable for him to step down before March 2008 by using the proposed 18th constitutional amendment to facilitate his exit and to allow for a transition that would safeguard his legacy, secure his immunity after leaving office and enable him to appoint his successor through parliament.

Zimbabwe would regenerate and move forward to a new and better dispensation with international support. This is a possible and desirable choice in Mugabe’s hands.

But there is more than enough reason not to leave the fate of our bleeding country in Mugabe’s hands because he cannot be trusted to act like a statesman given his penchant for self-interest.

It is possible and very desirable for Zimbabweans from across the political divide to come together to forge a united front of nationalist progressives to dislodge Mugabe and Zanu PF at the polls in March 2008.

If synchronised presidential and parliamentary elections take place next March and if Mugabe and Zanu PF win, the current crisis will most definitely become a catastrophe overnight and future generations will never understand why the present pool of nationalist progressives in politics, business, civil society, churches, student groups and professions failed to unite to save Zimbabwe for posterity.

Professor Jonathan Moyo is a political scientist and independent MP for Tsholotsho. He can be contacted on e-mail

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