Wednesday, 25 March 2015

MDCs' Boycott of Own By-Elections: Reason Minus Political Rationale

 By Takura Zhangazha*

Zimbabwe’s largest opposition party, the MDC-T announced recently that it will not participate in by-elections that it caused to be called.  This was after it had successfully caused the Speaker of Parliament in terms of Section 129k of the constitution to expel 21 MDC-Renewal members from the National Assembly and Senate.  This section of the constitution allows a political party’s leadership to write to the Speaker of the National Assembly and/or the President of the Senate advising that  specific members have ceased to belong to their respective parties and therefore should be removed from parliament. 

That it happened is now water under the bridge, pending any court applications by the affected members of parliament. What is most intriguing is the subsequent decision by the MDC-T, and the hints by MDC Renewal  to not participate in the pending by elections that they have both willfully caused. 

In a statement attributed to its spokesperson, Obert Gutu, the MDC-T argued that it cannot violate a congress resolution to the effect that it should not participate in any further elections until electoral reforms are completed.  He added the caveat that his party ‘does not blow hot and cold. We believe in sticking to principle.’ The latter statement might not be completely true in relation to his party’s commitment to ‘democratic principles’ but it is evidently convenient for the moment.

The same can be said for the MDC Renewal, which while using the argument that it will not contest because of the flawed electoral system, is evidently not ready to stand on its own feet to face a disaffected electorate. 

The political implications are another matter altogether.  In the first instance, it is a huge contradiction to seek ascendancy over rivals and then not want to reclaim political space that all along they have been clamouring for.  It was the MDC-T, in its demonstration of  its understanding  of the constitution and knowing the consequences of the action of recall, that chose this particular route.  Only to claim the sanctity of its congress.

It can only be argued that in its actions the MDC-T acted largely out of anger that borders on malice as opposed to principle.  If it believes in parliamentary democracy and the new constitution that it co-authored, it would have been a logical cause of action for it to immediately then say we are still committed to representing our constituents as a party. 

Alternatively for the MDC Renewal to not contest would be indicative of the fact that they were perhaps never ready to be stand alone politicians with their own direct electoral mandate. One would be forgiven for thinking that they were all along riding the coattails of a non-existent pact of an assumed ‘red-line that can’t be crossed. ’  It turns out that the MDC-T called their bluff and placed them in the dilemma of having to  ‘walk their political talk.’

The MDC-T’s resolution not to contest also means that their constituents or even their traditional strongholds will have other parties representing them.  All for lack of trying.  This generally defies political logic in the sense that it should be in more tenuous circumstances that one does not plan or see what exactly is going to happen.  Unless they have a secret plan to their method, it is impolitic for them to want to reclaim seats via proportional representation and simultaneously abandon the direct democratic route of by-elections. Especially for seats they still won in 2013, warts and all.

Apart from the argument both MDCs  give of their commitment to principle, there are other more realistic reasons that may be preventing them from taking the risk of contesting the by elections. 
Foremost among these is that they probably do not have the resources. Both parties are recent beneficiaries of the Political Parties Finance Act. One more than the other but still the hundreds of thousands of dollars they have received from government in the last year should have been earmarked for this current eventuality.  It turns out  they no longer have this money nor will their leaders be asked to account for where it went. 

This point is raised primarily because whichever way one looks at them, electoral campaigns in Zimbabwe are increasingly materialistic.  It is one of the most serious threats to whatever semblance of democracy we claim to have.  Many an aspiring candidate/ party will tell you that in the final analysis they won or lost because they either had or did not have the money. Rarely do they mention their key campaign issues anymore.  Judging by the campaigns in those by elections whose dates have been set, it appears Zanu Pf is showing voters that it has the resources to campaign. 

If the opposition MDCs had the money, I am certain that they would have been in the running for these latest by elections. And there would have been little talk of principle as is now conveniently the case.  It does not mean that their issue of a level playing field is of limited consequence. It is however opportune for reasons that can best be described as opaque in the context of not only a new constitution but an illogical willingness to let go of what they had in the bag for only less than two years. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)


Thursday, 19 March 2015

Pessimistic Zim and the Search for A Silver Lining

By Takura Zhangazha^

The Mass Public Opinion Institute  (MPOI)* this week published its latest Afrobarometer report for Zimbabwe.  This November 2014 opinion survey found that 63%of adult Zimbabweans have a pessimistic view about the direction in which the country is headed. Especially  where citizens were asked about what they view as the economic outlook.  It also found that 43% of those that participated in the survey  are of the view that the economy or living conditions will deteriorate further. 

This important survey also has further aggregated data based on geographical location, gender and age in relation to Zimbabweans’ perceptions of their living conditions. These include the extent to which they access health, water, money and education.

A number of other issues that stand out in the survey is that there is little support for the current government indigenization policy and that the youth are primarily worried about unemployment while the elderly are concerned about access to health and education.

The significance of this recent survey cannot be understated.  MPOI and the Afrobarometer opinion are credible and scientific institutions.  In one of their last surveys prior to the July 2013 harmonized election, they had indicated that it was most likely that the ruling Zanu Pf Party will sweep to victory much to the chagrin of the opposition.  That particular survey turned out to be closer to the truth when the results were announced.

So the reality is that, at the moment, we are a generally a pessimistic nation. Especially where and when it comes to the national economy or the possibility of our livelihoods improving.  It’s a bitter pill for all of us to swallow.  Even if there will be loud denial from the ruling party and government apparatchiks.

The key question is how do we rekindle hope of the people in their own country.  It first of all begins with the political leadership. Particularly those in government and with proximity to power that cane effect change.  If, for once, they were to take their responsibilities with greater seriousness and less partisanship, the country would always have hope.  At least in the fact that they have leaders who not only listen but act concertedly to address the difficult living conditions we are all facing.  

Unfortunately at the moment the opposite is true.  We have a leadership that is in the throes of factional politics across the political divide and one that continues to laud its past as what we should accept as success. Economic blueprints are generally more for the demonstration of appearing to have a plan even if they are  inorganic and a dangerous framework for elitist state capitalism.

Secondly we have to all eventually be responsible in finding solutions to our current circumstances.  Where we have seen that government is not fulfilling its social contract we must bring it to account. In the most non-partisan way possible.  Representative organizations outside of government, also known as civil society, must try as best they can to shake off assumptions of loyalty to those in power or political office and address key issues directly.  This would include taking on the political economic challenges not just in  the moment but for posterity. 

For example, it would be prudent to query the hastened pace of privatization of water, health services and education  provision under the guise of  public private partnerships.  It may appear workable on the surface but its end effect is denial of access by the majority poor (also read as the pessimistic 63%).

Thirdly , the media as the fourth estate must also begin to transform itself to reflect more than the infighting in the ruling and opposition political establishments.  While the print media is in a slump due to the dire state of the economy, there is still need to bravely report on key issues that are affecting the people.  This would entail that media owners balance their profit motive with the public interest role that the fourth estate plays in a democratic society. 

Journalists too have to protect the public integrity of their profession in the most trying of economic circumstances by demonstrating that they do not always follow the money but more the public and democratic interest of society.  In the current circumstances, propaganda only works to entrench the pessimism and powerlessness of the people. 


To conclude, this latest Afrobarometer/MPOI survey’s findings are scientific testament to the fact that apart from the sloganeering, by elections and political factionalism, all is not well with the people Zimbabwe. The pessimism that is currently afflicting the country is both as real as it is a call to collective action.  We are all in this together, even if some among us will be in denial of the reality that confronts us.  And it is only all of us, whatever our stations in life, working together that we can find the silver lining in the dark clouds that hover over the country.  
^Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)
*For further information on the Afrobarometer survey please contact  Mass Public Opinion Institute (MPOI), Stephen Ndoma, Telephone: (04)771358, Email: stephen@mpoi.org.zw

Monday, 9 March 2015

Parliament's Undemocratic Game of Musical Chairs

By Takura Zhangazha*

There is a game of musical chairs currently going on in our Parliament. Using Section 129 (1k) of the new constitution, political parties that have split or are in the throes of factional fights have decided to recall MPs that they claim are no longer their members.  Zanu Pf has already written to the Speaker of the National Assembly to recall Didymus Mutasa and Themba Mliswa with success.  The MDC T has also done the same in a bid to get 21 MPs from the breakaway faction led by Sekai Holland and Tendai Biti removed from the legislature.

These actions as permitted by the constitution are not new political developments as this is not the first time parties have sought to use them.  They have been used by both ruling and opposition parties to get rid of leaders that no longer tow the party or party leader's line as far back as the year 2000.  

They  also  had the opposite effect of factions in  political parties quietly agreeing not to raise that spectre in order to share the money that the Political Parties Finance Act grants them.  Or in the latest case of the MDC-T wanting a record 21 MPs recalled probably to have that money all to itself, at least for a while.

All of this raises many questions as to the democratic significance of the right to recall MPs by political parties. Add to this the by elections that have to be held when such vacancies emerge and you have a country in perpetual election mode. 

Not that it’s a bad thing to get to vote for a member of parliament before their initial term of office expires.  It’s the reasoning behind this that is problematic. 

Political parties to all intents and purposes should learn to solve their own problems internally.  To argue that they have the right to recall MPs merely because they have violated one or the other party rule is to diminish their broader non partisan role for their constituencies. Especially in our country where we have the greater percentage of our legislators elected via geographical constituencies and on a first-past-the-post basis.

A question that emerges is to whom does the MP primarily belong?  In terms of the law he/she belongs to the political party on whose ticket they campaigned on.  And there should no longer be any pretense about this. 

This also means that the executives of political parties to all intents and purposes are interfering with parliament even after an election campaign. This is regardless of the fact that the President of the country is not elected by Parliament sitting as an electoral college, save for when he retires or dies in between general elections. 

So there is no virtuous reasoning behind this permission give political parties to remove elected MPs from Parliament by way of a letter coming from their  administrative arms.  It has never added democratic value and will not do so in the near future.  In most cases  it has been used to settle personal political scores without an iota of democratic justification.
 
The full import of the recent actions by Znau Pf and the MDC-T is that by elections are going to be the norm throughout the life of this current parliament.  And the electorate is going to be harassed with solving personal squabbles via the vote or reconfiguration of proportional representation candidates. 

It will also mean that there will be electoral expenses for the already strained fiscus which were not budgeted for in as many numbers. Perhaps the only benefit for the many unemployed young Zimbabweans will be new additions to their wardrobes by way of tickets and occupation of time via campaign rallies and canvassing.

For the country it will only mean the continued politicization of Parliament and its role as a rubber stamping authority of political parties. MPs will have to self censor, avoid meeting with constituents that are deemed ‘enemies’ of their respective parties leadership while simultaneously singing praises of the latter to protect their tenure.  By so doing, the MPs and their political parties of choice are demonstrating the height of political arrogance and disdain for the electorate. Almost as though they will be mockingly telling the people of Zimbabwe, ‘we don’t care, you will vote anyway.’
 *Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com) 

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Just How Much Influence Does Econet Zimbabwe Have Over Government?

 By Takura Zhangazha*

Econet Wireless Zimbabwe has over the years come to be a key player in Zimbabwe's national political economy.  Recently, a local weekly The Zimbabwe Independent published a story on its front page that Econet had bailed out the government to the tune of US$ 30 million. The story had also appeared on a web based business news agency, The Source
  
This is not the first time government has either solicited or somewhat emphatically ensured either Econet or other mobile phone companies provide it with urgently needed money. In the years of the inclusive government, the former Minister of finance was occasionally at loggerheads with telecommunications companies   over what he described as the ripping off the poor for super profits. 

In earlier instances, it was reported that telecommunications companies and their subsidiaries were arm-twisted to fund the constitutional referendum and in part, also the elections in 2013.  

So there is a somewhat complex relationship between government and mobile phone operators.  .  This may be as a result of the fact that at a time when the economy is at a downturn, the telecommunications sector stays afloat.  And lucratively so. 

The largest mobile phone company Econet Wireless Zimbabwe however is almost always the one that interests government.  Not least because of the history around its formation and initial hostility to its existence.  It is the best performing of them all and makes the most revenue by a long shot. 
Its relationship with government however appears to have shifted from general suspicion to one in which there seems to be a quid pro quo understanding.  

Government allows it to expand not only its core business but also enter the other sectors such as banking, insurance, health and vehicle tracking which already had other players registered under different pretexts.  While there have been some complaints from the banking sector, Econet has not been deterred. 

So when a story appears that it has given government a loan to pay civil service salaries, it is initially surprising but in the final analysis part of a growing tendency in the relationship between the two.  And it appears to be an increasingly symbiotic one which bodes the question, just exactly how much influence does Econet Wireless have over the government? Or alternatively just how much influence does government want the company to have? 

In the latest transaction, Econet states it did not lend money to the government. Instead it defines the transaction as a NetOne debt repayment agreement.  The inference is that government has merely taken over the debt its parastatal/public enterprise has with a private company.  Either way, money was transferred from one account to another with the government being the key beneficiary.

One could argue that it is a good thing that government can look to local companies to bail it out to the tune of millions of dollars.  Add to this the possibility that Econet is being somewhat patriotic and it would appear that the relationship is a cozy one. In reality things may turn out to be different. Not that there will be acrimony but that eventually government may owe Econet not only too much money but also political capital.  

This is a development that may see the latter company expand even further with the knowledge that the hurdles it might face from government will possibly be fewer.  After all, the government owes it a number of favours. Or it at least knows that government will inevitably come for assistance, again.
So it is fair for any Zimbabwean citizen to ask for an explanation of the full import of such a relationship between government and one of the country's largest companies.

To what extent will it affect government policy particularly in the wake of the company’s expansion into fibre optic cable with an intention of being a key player in how social services are billed (also read as privatized).

What is apparent is that government knows the full profit import of the telecommunications industrial 'bubble' (and complex).  It will therefore seek to work closely with those whose profits it has an idea about.  With Econet, it would appear that the age of acrimony is over. So long they can occasionally be agreeable to the occasional  ‘bail out’ or ‘debt re-arrangement’.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)



Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Thomas Mapfumo’s ‘Dangerzone’ Album: A Call for a Better Zimbabwe and World

By Takura Zhangazha*

Thomas Mapfumo’s latest and recently released in Zimbabwe album is titled “Dangerzone’. It has been a while since he last released an album with new songs for his fans and the general public. Already it is apparent that the album will not receive much airplay on radio stations because some of the songs are intended at raising the political and social consciousness of Zimbabweans. It is an intention that sadly remains unpalatable to the powers that be. Especially where the state broadcast media is used for propaganda purposes.

What is apparent is that Mukanya is an artist who in Steve Biko parlance, ‘writes/sings what he likes’.  And the people of Zimbabwe know this. Including the historical habit he has acquired of being a much respected and loved griot where it comes to explaining and warning about events in his home country.  So the limited airplay this album gets from the state media does not take away its significance to national consciousness.

This latest offering which hit the streets and flea markets last week  belongs to the hearts and minds of all Zimbabweans.  Not only in its expressing their deep felt desires for a peaceful, democratic country but also for continuing to place our musical heritage on the world music map.

In this Mukanya places Chimurenga music into sharp consciousness for global consumption while simultaneously talking to his own domestic audience that he has hope and belief that eventually things will work out in Zimbabwe. 

Listening to the album one is struck by the depth of his reflection on our contemporary Zimbabwean and international  realities.  

From the first track which refers to  a husband/boyfriend’s  disappointment at being rejected by his lover it is evident Mukanya is continually sensitive as to how love relationships are constrained in contemporary Zimbabwe.  ‘Chikonzero’, is a finely tuned song, that can be viewed as a reflection of why our country’s civil courts are flooded with divorce cases.  And its all about the money on either side.

The second and title track 'Dangerzone', is a reflection of how global conflicts  in Syria, Nigeria are making the world a much more dangerous place to live in. True to its lyrics, we all want to know ‘what’s going on’ and how these wars can be stopped.

On the third track, ‘Zimbabwe’ he urges all Zimbabweans to unite and find common ground on the challenges facing the country. He takes this theme a notch further in another track on the same album, ‘Hatidi Politics’ where he laments the over politicization of basic issues such as health and education.

The most blunt song is perhaps track number four, 'Nhamo Hurombo' in which Mukanya asks the stark question  ‘who has caused so much poverty in the country?’. Inferences can be drawn as to who he means when he refers to ‘sekuru’, ‘ambuya’, ‘tete’, ‘baba’, ‘amai’ as being the causers of poverty. Either way we are all talking about this same said poverty in the kombis and in our bedrooms is the slightly satirical assertion he makes in the song. 

The album also has songs that are testimony of easy on the ear Chimurenga music. The new version of the classic ‘Shebeen’ is a dance-able tune that has new backing vocalists to make it trendy and contemporary.  Furthermore the tracks ‘Celebrate’, ‘Chikwereti’, ‘Music’ and ‘Are You Ready’ augment the fact that Chimurenga music is not just about lyrics but more importantly, instrumentation. They are also testament to the fact that Mukanya remains one of the best composers of music Zimbabwe has ever produced. 

As is the norm, the album does not forget the origins of its genre and therefore includes the effervescent mbira instrument in two tracks, ‘Varimudande’ and ‘Pasi Idandaro’.  In the former track, one is reminded of the traditional music played by and for spirit mediums while the latter track reminds listeners of that which we fear most, mortality.

For Chimurenga music fans like myself, this album is a gem and justifies why it was long in the making.  For Zimbabweans, this album is both a reminder of our common destiny as it is one to entertain us despite the daily hardships that we face.  Once again, Mukanya has demonstrated that even though he is far away, he has his country and its people in his heart, mind and music.

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com) 

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

The Ironies of Professor Jonathan Moyo's Social Media 'Arrival'

*By Takura Zhangazha

The Minister of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services, Professor Jonathan Moyo has announced, with a little bit of drama, that he is now going to be directly using social media platforms Facebook and Twitter.  Just in case he tweets that his announcement  was without drama, it would be useful to point out that his joining the social media bandwagon has very little to do with the ‘Arab Spring’. 

To the owners of the applications, he is   probably a great marketing addition to their statistical value vis-à-vis what they probably consider to be a relatively small Zimbabwean market.

For keen social media users, both in the Diaspora and at home, this will be viewed as a chance to get in touch or probably just monitor his accounts to know about his personal views or government policies.

There are however a number of striking ironies to his actions.  The most glaring one is that in general, the minister presides over a censored state controlled media. Particularly where it comes to the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) and the stock exchange listed Zimbabwe Newspapers Group (Zimpapers). Very few stories of dissenting voices are carried by these two media houses.  In the case of the ZBC no opposition rally, meeting or press conference has ever been carried live withe on radio or television. Yet the minister responsible for them has taken to these new media platforms that function largely without direct and evident censorship. 

This is not to say he has no right to be there. He very much does both in terms of his constitutional right to express himself, access information and associate with whoever he wishes to.  The only catch is that he is responsible for the media in cabinet and with limited little to show by way of reforming it to allow the greater majority of Zimbabweans to enjoy those rights that he will most certainly have on Facebook and Twitter.  This is more ironic in that even if he were to claim that government controlled media has editorial independence, it has not demonstrated so under his current tenure. 

Or if alternatively he were to argue that reforming the mainstream and still much more influential media is work in progress, indications are that government is not keen on same said reform. Ditto the cabinet ambiguity over criminalization of freedom of expression. And initial ruling party resistance to the Information and Media Panel of Inquiry (IMPI) that he appointed last year. 

The jury may still be out on the latter panel until its report is made public but the continued state control over the media can only indicate that whatever its recommendations, government will still have a benevolent attitude toward media freedom.  Especially where it concerns the state media and criminalization of journalism.    

Apart from this particular irony of seeking to express himself where others have had to resort to for lack of mainstream media options under his purview,  there is the fact of government hostility toward new media technologies and ‘shadowy’ content or characters.  

A continuing case before the courts  is that of  Sunday Mail editor, Edmund Kudzayi who is facing trial for alleged involvement in the Facebook character, Baba Jukwa.  It is a landmark one that will have far reaching ramifications for users of social media in Zimbabwe.  Not that the minister can change the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act without his principals consent, but one can be forgiven for not missing the irony.

Finally, an interesting take on this would be that academic adage of the ‘medium is the message.’ While it is normal for cabinet ministers the world over to have social media accounts and expand their reach,  a majority Zimbabwe’s government ministers do not do so.  In taking to social media perhaps Professor J. Moyo is signifying a change in government attitude or at least wishing for it.  Even after he made comments about social media ‘malcontents’ in the wake President Mugabe’s recent and unfortunate ‘carpet mishap’. 


Government may be reluctantly moving from being regularly dismayed, angry and repressive about the medium of the internet to accepting the inevitability that it will inevitably form a key component of the holistic cultural lifestyles of Zimbabweans. The medium has perhaps become the message. And it comes from those countries that our government regularly refers to as 'imperialists.' Either way, one can only wish him happy surfing!
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Zim President's Airport 'Carpet Mishap': Explaining the Avid Public Reaction

By Takura Zhangazha*

President Mugabe, after addressing jubilant supporters upon his return from the African Union Summit in Ethiopia, had what the state media called a ‘carpet mishap’.  The private media referred to the incident as either  ‘Mugabe falls’ or ‘Mugabe falls down steps’ (DailyNews).  Images of the incident, even after some photojournalists had them deleted by security agents, found their way not only into mainstream private and global media but also the internet.  On the latter medium, some of the images reflected the actual event while a greater number had been photo-shopped to  infer different meaning.

Minister of Information, Professor Moyo downplayed the incident by claiming that essentially any one can stumble and fall, including Jesus.  Especially if carpets are not set right.  The opposition MDC-T spokesperson, Obert Gutu, said that the incident was indicative of the President’s age and that he must resign.

What cannot be denied however is that the incident is of public interest and all media, no matter their editorial bias, are correct to report it as fact. Even if they differed in the terminology of describing it.

Domestic public reaction is yet to be fully measured but it was always going to be mixed and expressed with immediacy via social media, particularly Whatsapp and Facebook. Some of it reflected the sentiments expressed by the minister of information where acknowledgement is made that anyone can fall. Especially coming down a set of stairs or on a carpet.  

Other responses were that at his age, the President may do well to take it easy and reduce his schedule. 

The more rabid reflected either the opposition MDC-T’s sentiments or vehemently defended the President as a ‘revolutionary leader’.  

Others still expressed serious disdain and disappointment that it should be an issue at all that someone fell.

All of these reactions are understandable and justifiable.  The president however is a public figure and whatever he does or happens to him publicly will be news in the general public interest.  The onus is therefore more on government to explain further and to prove even the most negative of opinions  wrong.

It is however also important to look at the political and social  context in which the incident occurred in order to better explain this mixed reaction to the incident. 

Firstly, speculation about the presidents health is no longer new in Zimbabwe or in the global media.  His spokesperson is on record as saying that the media always does so after the president goes on his annual leave at the end of every year.  Mr. Mugabe himself has also stated publicly that he does not know how many times he has been said to have died.  So this incident has only served to accentuate continued media and public scrutiny of the president’s health at every possible opportunity.

Secondly,  public interest in the President’s everyday actions have been heightened by the dramatic fallout he has had with his former deputy president, Joice Mujuru and her alleged accomplices for  plotting his ouster at congress.  The state media which can safely be argued to have been patently biased against the ousted faction also contributed immensely to this heightened interest.  Where something unexpected as the carpet mishap occurs, the Zimbabwean public would evidently get interested.  Those that are sympathetic to Mujuru would rather refer to it as a fall than a mishap. 

Thirdly, the incident is testament of the rise of the internet and social media in Zimbabwe's political and cultural life.  It has allowed the public quicker access to news and events in a way unseen before. This means that any minuscule public (and sometimes private) political event especially where it concerns leaders in various spheres of life is now the subject of greater public scrutiny.  And it is something that public figures must accept without much trepidation. The general rule is to explain oneself after such said incident goes ‘viral’ on the internet or is picked up by the mainstream media. As opposed to attempting to take away the technology that allowed the public to know a matter in the public interest.   

In the final analysis however, public reactions to the President’s mishap will be better analysed for posterity than the present. The government has said that he is in good health and for now that should be enough.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)