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COLUMN: DR ALEX T. MAGAISA


Understanding Mugabe's 'End of History' ideology


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By Alex T. Magaisa

ONE of the more subtle but nevertheless great impediments to the transfer of power in Zimbabwe is a rigid belief by President Mugabe and ZANU PF in a kind of ‘end of history’ approach with regards to matters of governance.

There has been, it must be said, great underestimation by opponents of the weight of the ideology that guides ZANU PF and in particular, Mugabe himself. Resolving the conflict in Zimbabwe requires a proper understanding of this belief system and the ideology that fuels it. There is a particular need to understand, challenge and overcome the ‘end of history’ approach that characterises ZANU PF politics.

Mugabe and ZANU PF believe very strongly that the historical progression of ideas on governance in Zimbabwe effectively ended when they helped to overcome the imperialist forces at independence.

In their view, the anti-imperialist ideology and system established since 1980 was and remains the epitome to which every Zimbabwean must aspire and which cannot, therefore, be bettered. According to this view, the search for a new ideology and system of governance effectively ended upon the realisation of the anti-imperialist ideal. Accordingly, the anti-imperial ideology presents the ultimate and only point around which a system of governance can be built.

It is, therefore, hardly surprising that in the eyes of ZANU PF, the MDC merely represents a counter-revolutionary force that is being engineered by those threatening what is considered the supreme and final ideal.

There is nothing wrong with the anti-imperialistic ideology but ZANU PF has failed to grasp at least two things:

First, they have failed to implement their ideas in such a way as to protect the country against forces of imperialism they claim to be fighting. If anything, having reduced the country to its current condition, they have weakened both the state and citizens, thereby making the country ever more vulnerable to outside forces.

Second, adopting an ‘end of history’ approach to matters of governance is a grave mistake that overlooks the realities of the evolution of ideas and systems of governance. It is a mistake to believe that there is nothing else beyond anti-imperialistic ideas upon which to build governance systems. In other words, Mugabe and ZANU PF are mistaken if they believe that their ideas represent the ‘end of history’ in the evolution of ideas on governance. Rather, ideas in politics, as in life, continue to be developed, challenging accepted wisdom and offering new alternatives.

ZANU PF’s ‘end of history’ approach to politics and governance is akin to that taken by some people following the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. Then, there was great optimism among those who saw it as an occasion of triumphal celebration for the success of the idea and system of liberal democracy and market capitalism. Some went so far as to call it the ‘end of history’ in the sense that in finding liberal democracy, humankind had finally reached the ‘end of history’ in terms of ideological evolution.

Perhaps the most prominent proponent of this idea is Francis Fukuyama, whose book, The End of History and the Last Man, became a bestseller in many countries. It was argued that liberal democracy had triumphed over its competitors in the battle of ideas on how the affairs of humankind should be governed. It was, therefore, argued that there was nothing else to better it and for that reason, history had effectively ‘ended’.

This thesis has, quite rightly, been challenged and critiqued from many angles since it was put forward in 1989. The conclusions that history had ended appear to have been premature.

In the same way, though in respect of a remarkably different set of ideas, Mugabe and ZANU PF appear to subscribe (without saying so expressly) to an ‘end of history’ thesis with regards to matters of governance in Zimbabwe.

For where Fukuyama and others see liberal democracy as representing the ‘end of history’ for humankind, Mugabe and followers see the anti-imperialist ideology as representing the ‘end of history’ for the Zimbabwean. And where Fukuyama thinks there is nothing else to better the ideology and system of liberal democracy, Mugabe believes that there is nothing to better the ideology and system of anti-imperialism.

Anti-imperialist ideology, like liberal democracy, has many merits but to suggest that it represents the ‘end of history’; that there is nothing else beyond it, is, surely, taking an extreme position that closes space to other ideas that could improve upon it.

In so doing, ZANU PF is refusing to acknowledge that the battle of ideas is a continuous process; that history is about the constant evolution of ideas about governance and societal arrangements.

What Mugabe and ZANU PF fail to grasp is that however much they love Zimbabwe; that however greatly they see themselves as its ultimate guardians; that there is no serious Zimbabwean who would willingly submit himself and the country to the forces of imperialism. An anti-imperialistic stance is not a bad thing – but if it is narrowly construed in the way that ZANU PF has done, then it becomes counter-productive. There is need to minimise paranoia and instead to open space for new ideas to enable the evolution of current thinking on governance.

The anti-imperialist ideas for which they fought remain as strong among the new generation of Zimbabweans as they did during their time.

Mugabe and his colleagues are mere mortals who, one day, must answer the invitation of the Creator. Things will not stop simply because of that circumstance. Ideas will continue to be developed long after our generation. The defeat of imperialism did not represent the end of history, but the continuation and evolution of ideas on governance.

The MDC may yet assume a governance role but it, too, will succumb to defeat if it does not deliver according to its undertakings. And when it fails, a new set of people and ideas will emerge to take its place. That way systems and ideas evolve.

But if someone considers that their idea and system represents the ‘end of history’, then there is a big problem. This is the big problem with ZANU PF’s approach to politics and governance. There is a refusal to acknowledge that ideas evolve; that they are evolving but that this evolution is in no way indicative of counter-revolutionary intent. They simply have to get out of this mode in which they are guided by the idea of the ‘end of history’ and acknowledge that there something more to which Zimbabweans can aspire.

Alex Magaisa is based at Kent Law School, UK and can be contacted at wamagaisa@yahoo.co.uk
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