MDC-T congress: Leadership question and action plan

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THE forthcoming MDC congress is a defining moment not only for the survival of the political organisation, but also for the well-being of the people of Zimbabwe. It comes at a time when the party is still reeling from its “loss” to Zanu PF in the last general elections; a time when the party is bleeding from internal strife, when the confidence of the party is at its lowest ebb and when the leadership is under severe pressure to fulfil its promises.
Above all, the congress is coming at a time when the economy of the country is on its knees, when the vast majority of our people are helplessly out of employment, when many of our factories and industries have shut down, when many of our families are wallowing in grinding poverty and self-pity, when the hopes of our people have been shattered by an insensitive and uncaring government, and when much of the world has turned its back on us because of our reclusive and isolationist behaviour.
It is against this background that the MDC congress is going to be held. Its primary task, it would seem, is to grapple with the question of its leadership which must deal with the issues affecting the country. This means that in all the leadership positions, from the national executive down to the branch level, the party should have selfless leaders who are “clean” and not those tainted by corruption, thuggery and hooliganism. To inspire the confidence of our people and to make the party stand on a higher moral ground, the “new” leadership should be humble, honest and accountable to the people.
For this to happen, it is necessary to go back to the founding ideals of the party: to be a party with a leadership that listens to the people, a party that is caring, compassionate and emancipatory; and a party that lives with the people, a party which is a “home” for the dispossessed and a party that is led by a fearless and indomitable leadership.
To achieve these ideals, the party needs to subject itself to the collective will of the people. This involves adopting a transparent and democratic electoral system, where the rules are clearly defined so that you do not end up with aspiring candidates who feel that the electoral process has been manipulated in favour of certain candidates, who may be considered to be the “holy cows” of the party.Advertisement

Among other things, the party needs to check carefully who should decide which members are entitled to stand for leadership positions, the skills required, if any, the procedures to be followed and whether the leader of the party has any power to vet and veto the candidates. Perhaps the most important issue for the congress is to elect the leader of the party. The key question that the party should answer is: who is entitled to choose the leader? What does the MDC constitution say about the process of choosing the party leader? Experiences elsewhere shows that disputes arise mainly from the fact that the process of nominating the leader is not transparent enough and the power of branches, districts and regions to elect the leader is not clearly defined. Also, it is often unclear what sort of a leader the party wants.
The questions that usually arise are whether the choice of a party leader should be determined by the level of education, youthfulness, ideological orientation, tribal affiliation, or whether the party is looking for a charismatic leader, a visionary, a craftsman, a populist, an inspirational or a transformational leader? In the case of the MDC, it would appear that the leader of the party is already decided upon. Morgan Tsvangirai is going to retain his position as the leader of the party. And, at this critical moment in the history of the party, it would appear that it may be a wise decision to retain him as the leader in order to provide stability.
Tsvangirai may have lost the earlier vigour of his youthfulness, may have miscalculated his political fortunes by joining the government of national unity and may have been naïve in thinking that Zanu PF can fairly and squarely be defeated at the polls. However, in spite of these shortcomings, he still retains his charisma, has popular support, is inspirational and appears to remain as constant as the northern star in his quest for freedom, justice and equality.
The television pictures that were shown world-wide about how he was savagely bludgeoned by the Zimbabwean police and the car “accident” that led to the gruesome death of his wife in which he miraculously escaped death portray him as a courageous leader. And these episodes clearly make him stand out as a tried and tested gallant fighter who is prepared to risk his own life for the sake of others. What the congress needs to do, though, is to give him a clearly defined mandate, like Moses who was given Ten Commandments, to lead the children of Israel to the Promised Land.
Political Action
Taking into consideration the economic and political stagnation of our country, the congress should come up with a plan of action to rectify the situation. The first is the rebirth of the party which should entail reorganisation from the branch, district, province, right up to the head office. The party should be present among all our people – the villagers, farm workers, the urban dwellers, taxi drivers, street vendors, hawkers, the lumpen proletariat, the rich and poor, students, academics, medics, teachers, lawyers and all our people who feel the weight of oppression.
Besides mobilisation, the party needs to draw up bold steps to achieve the political transformation of the country. And to do this the party needs to build a swarm of party cadres who can be deployed as foot soldiers to propagate the party’s plan of action. In all this, the party should be reminded that the politics of opposition for the sake of opposition is counter productive because people easily withdraw their support when they see that the party is taking them nowhere.
A crucially important action plan is to unite the fragmented opposition parties. We need to find each other even when it appears our views are irreconcilable. There are more things that unite us than those that divide us. We are all equal citizens who feel the same pain and deprivation. We all want our country to be a shinning star in the region and Africa as a whole. We are some of the most talented people in the world with a gorgeous country that is well-endowed with natural resources. We share a common history and a common destiny. Linguistically and culturally, we all belong to the Bantu people with similar origins and totems. And I know that many of our white compatriots in this country are as patriotic, if not more patriotic than some of our indigenous black people.
And with all these shared values, what is it that prevents us from uniting together so that we can bring about the desired change in our country? To all the “opposition” parties and those in the ruling party who yearn for the prosperity our country, my humble submission is that let us put our people and country first before our personal ambitions. Like a pride of lions, we need each other for our collective survival, and we know through the wisdom of our fore-fathers that “one finger alone cannot crush a louse”. And more specifically, I appeal to Mr Tendai Biti, Mr Dumiso Dabengwa, Dr Simba Makoni, Prof Mutambara, Prof Ncube, Mr Tsvangirai and others to find one another so that we can build a secure future for our children, their children and those who will come after them. We have a moral duty to listen to the cry of our people, to feel their pain and to give them hope and solace.
Here, I need to applaud the recent memorandum of understanding on unity between Prof Ncube’s MDC and the MDC Renewal of Mr Biti. This is a good beginning which must culminate in the reunification of all factions of the MDC together with other democratic forces. On the importance of unity, let us graciously take inspiration from the late Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia who gives us his wise Solomonic advice: “History teaches us that unity is strength …. We need to submerge and overcome our differences in the quest for common goals, to strive with all our strength for the path of brotherhood and unity”. And lest we forget, let us be reminded that if we cannot use our collective wisdom to unite our people for the salvation of our country, history will forever judge us harshly for having betrayed our people.
Economic transformation
The congress should also come up with specific plans for the economic recovery of our country. The MDC should not shy away from taking responsibility under the pretext that it is Zanu PF that should fix the economy because they are the ones who created the mess in the first place. In any liberal democracy the opposition party is the government-in-waiting, and the MDC must therefore have alternative economic policies which must be attractive to the people.
We know that the millions of jobs promised by Zanu PF have not materialised, we know that their economic recovery programme is a facade, we know that the “look east” policy is a pretentious gimmick because China and Russia, like all other capitalist countries, are interested in doing business in a country that respects the rule of law, a country that protects private property, and a country that has certainty in its policies. This is why China, purely out of courtesy, is only prepared to give us droplets of aid.
As for Russia, we should be wary about it because they are more interested in doing business with their traditional allies than us, such as the ANC, the MPLA, FRELIMO and SWAPO. Just recently, President Putin of Russia and Jacob Zuma (militarily trained in Russia) had a gentleman’s agreement to build in South Africa nuclear reactors costing billions of dollars, which will provide electricity to that country. In the midst of this scramble for super power hegemony, Zimbabwe, under Zanu PF, finds itself isolated because it is neither a reliable ally of the East nor a friend of the West.
To crown it all, we have no smart economic or diplomatic strategy to talk about because, as a country, we have chained ourselves to the past and have lost many of our bright professional think tanks, who have gone into exile where they continue to work for those countries which appreciate their services. We also know that the government’s carte blanche policy towards China has seriously compromised our sovereignty because we have allowed the Asian “tiger” to gobble up our mineral wealth simply because we want them to prop up our fragile state.
This is where the MDC needs to strategically step in so that the party can provide hope for the economic recovery of our country. I am aware that the MDC had an election manifesto which provided a blue print for economic reconstruction. What the congress perhaps needs to do is to debate robustly the economic policies which can then be synthesised and disseminated through out the country so that civil society can know exactly what the party has in store for them. Without being unduly prescriptive, I suggest that the party should succinctly and unambiguously spell out the following ten pillars on economic recovery:

Investment and economic recovery strategy
Attraction of international capital
Recapitalisation of manufacturing industries
Mining reform
Job creation
Land reform and agriculture
Banking sector reform
Infrastructure development, e.g. road, rail & air transport
Energy supply
Attracting back citizens in the diaspora

Ethnic balancing of leadership
The other crucially important issue that the congress needs to resolve is the ethnic balancing of the leadership. I know that there is a school of thought that subscribes to the idea that leaders should be chosen based on their merit. This normally works well where the population is homogeneous and where the levels of development among the different ethnic groups are the same. In Zimbabwe the reality is that the country has multi-ethnic groups which need to share the same pie. Given the volatile nature of ethnic solidarity, the principle should not be to have a leadership that is proportional to the size of each ethnic group, but to ensure that different groups are well represented at the national level.
The congress needs to be reminded that the ethnic factor has previously divided the liberation struggle between ZAPU and ZANU, and as the MDC may be well aware of, part of its previous split was more or less along ethnic lines. This problem also affects some of the political parties in the region. For instance, FRELIMO in Mozambique is known to be dominated by people from the southern part of the country. In Angola, the leadership of the MPLA is dominated by mulattos (people of mixed race) and those from the coastal regions at the expense of the Bakongo, Mbundu and Ovimbundu from the interior.
The top leadership of SWAPO in Namibia is similarly dominated by the Ovambo from the north vis-à-vis the other groups such as the Herero, Nama, Tswana and others. The leadership of the ANC is currently dominated by Nguni speaking people, especially the Zulu, and there is already latent discontent among other ethnic groups. Common sense therefore dictates that a mass movement such as the MDC needs to balance its leadership composition so that it can continue to enjoy its broad-based appeal.
Finally, in order to foster greater internal unity, the party needs to adopt a deliberate policy of a quota system for specific ethnic minorities, such as the white community because of its unique origin. Once again, representation should be based on “maximum inclusion” so as to enjoy greater popular support. This should also include a gender quota policy which defines the minimum percentage of females at various levels of the national leadership.
Drawing from the experience of the parties that carried out the “independence” struggles in Africa, some of which have now died out, it is absolutely necessary to have a very strong presence of young leaders at the national, provincial, district and local level to ensure continuity. Many of the earlier nationalist parties in Zimbabwe and elsewhere are now either extinct or exist only as mere historical footnotes because they do not appeal to the youth who view them as tired political parties led by geriatrics who are out of touch with the aspirations of the young generation.
The formation of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in South Africa led by Julius Malema may be seen to reflect the disenchantment of the youth with the ANC, the latter which is perceived to be ignoring the concerns of young people. So, the MDC needs to pay close attention to these internal dynamics at its up-coming congress, so that it can have greater cohesion and be able to move into the future more united, stronger and with greater confidence.
Professor Ambrose B. Chimbganda can be reached at