REPORTS that Tsvangirai’s MDC is failing to meet its financial obligations are a serious political issue requiring urgent attention from democracy-loving Zimbabweans and all concerned. A painful slide into a one party state is one possible scenario with devastating consequences. Far-fetched as it may sound, Zimbabwe’s post-independence history bears witness to such an undesirable political climate.
When Zimbabwe attained its independence in 1980, Zanu PF became the major political party, competing with ZAPU and other smaller parties which soon melted into oblivion. With then Prime Minister Robert Mugabe advocating for a one-party state, it was no surprise that ZAPU and all its supporters were targeted. The idea of a one-party state was favourable to Mugabe who tolerated no opposition both from within and outside his party.
Edgar Tekere’s ZUM, which tried to challenge Zanu PF in 1990, experienced a serious backlash with some of its candidates murdered whilst some of its top activists like Patrick Kombayi survived brutal assassination attempts. In all its governing history, Zanu PF brooked no opposition. It is therefore not surprising that when the MDC was formed in 1999; there was no active and viable political alternative to Zanu PF.
Whilst Zimbabwe’s economic woes can be attributed to the country’s chaotic land reform, Zanu PF’s ruinous policies had ruined the country even before. The decision to go into a costly war in the DRC coupled with the unplanned payment of the so-called “war veterans gratuities” were some of the policies which passed without any opposition, let alone meaningful debate. The introduction of ESAP was the beginning of worse things to come. These policies were introduced without due care to public sentiment.
But since the formation of the MDC, Zimbabweans’ political awareness has greatly improved. Some of the issues which previously went unchecked are now challenged openly, either in courts or in Parliament. The MDC’s participation in the GNU helped to improve public accountability on the part of government. Above all, the new Constitution is one of the greatest achievements of opposition politics in Zimbabwe. However, to keep that positive momentum, a strong opposition is needed.
Recent reports of corruption within state enterprises are an indication of increased public awareness on governance issues and public demand for accountability. Although marginal, the human rights situation has improved, to an extent. Over the years, the MDC played a significant political role in conscientising people about the need for government accountability and respect for human rights.Advertisement
As such, reports that MDC’s traditional financial backers are tightening the purse are greatly regrettable. They are an indication of the West’s lack of understanding and misinterpretation of African politics. One is tempted to believe the recent internal fights within the party coupled with last year’s election loss influenced donor apprehension and fatigue. Whilst there is no doubt that the MDC house is in shambles, this is the time that the MDC needs financial support more than ever.
To begin with, Tsvangirai is the only political leader who has not wavered in the face of persecution. Some before him, including veteran nationalist Joshua Nkomo, were outmanoeuvred by President Mugabe’s Zanu PF. Some who tried to participate on different platforms such as Welshman Ncube, DumisoDabengwa, Simba Makoni and Arthur Mutambara among others ended up licking their wounds with no success.
Secondly, President Mugabe recently turned 90 and the last election was, by all reasonable accounts, his last. The veteran leader has been at the helm of the party for almost four decades since the days of the liberation struggle. Judging from internecine factionalism within his party, Zanu PF’s future is not guaranteed without his leadership. Without Mugabe as a presidential candidate, the next elections present the best chance for Zimbabweans to set themselves free from the bondage of Zanu PF.
However, if donors were to pull the plug on MDC finances, Zimbabweans may have to wait a little bit longer to realise their dream of a new Zimbabwe. The enemy becomes stronger by virtue of knowing his enemy is weak. A weaker MDC is not an alternative at this stage; that will give Zanu PF time to organise themselves and sort their sensitive leadership succession battles. With no strong opposition, Zanu PF is likely to continue with its destructive policies of patronage.
Judging by his stint in government during the GNU era, Tsvangirai may not be the best replacement for Mugabe. He lacks the intellectual and leadership depth attributes needed to run a complicated economy like Zimbabwe which has been run down economically for decades. However, his political presence is needed to keep the democratic momentum going. All the other political players from within and outside his camp lack the grassroots appeal needed to keep Zanu PF on its toes.
On the part of the MDC however, the party needs to put its house in order if they expect donors to continue supporting them financially. Reports of a possible split within the party, caused by personal differences and leadership ambition to a greater extent, require the party to seriously look at those issues.
Some interesting and important lessons were learnt during last year’s national elections. All MDCs were campaigning for reforms before elections could be conducted. They argued that conditions which existed favoured Zanu PF and would make the playing field uneven. As the elections were conducted, their fears were justified. A striking similarity exists within the MDC.
Reports that the party’s national council agreed to hold an early congress are worrisome. Currently the party is embroiled in some internal fights which make it impossible for all members to express themselves freely. Whilst the party is reportedly considering restructuring its structures, the solution lies with the leadership conducting an internal dialogue, possibly conducting a self-assessment of where they stand as a party. The restructuring exercise will not solve the problem as that may be seen as an exercise meant to purge dissenting voices within the party.
What is needed is, therefore, not just an early congress. Rather, the party must reform itself first before conducting some restructuring exercise leading to an early congress. The party must embark on a democratic awareness campaign built on the principles of non-violence, discipline and tolerance. That will encourage its members to campaign for positions freely. An early congress without party reforms is simply an endorsement for Tsvangirai and his surrogates.
Donors must therefore continue to support the party strategically, especially its capacity building and reform efforts. Funding an early congress without party reforms is a sure waste of resources. Results of that congress will be disputed and likely divide the party further.
The failure of political parties across Africa is largely due to lack of funding. Only parties in government survive because of their strategic ability to get help from government. Donors must therefore continue to support Tsvangirai as he is the only opposition figure capable of challenging Zanu PF. Zimbabwe cannot afford to have a weaker opposition, worse still no opposition at all.
Wezhira Marihwepi is a Zimbabwean writer. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org