Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Zimbabwe-Rwanda Relations: Fortifying Free Market and Strongman Politics?

By Takura Zhangazha*

I have only been to Kigali, Rwanda, once. I was impressed by its cleanliness.   I was slightly traumatized, by seeing soldiers with FN rifles on various street corners after dusk.  Its for security they said. I felt, though I really couldn’t say it out loud, that this is probably a reflection of who has power in this country. 

And so when the Zimbabwean government invited  the chief executive of the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), I raised an eyebrow.  Apart from the fact Rwanda currently chairs the African Union (AU) Assembly and recently hosted its meeting there, I am very curious as to the new found and apparently enthusiastic relationship between our two governments.

Rwanda, the country, is one that is now regarded as an African ‘miracle’.  From the international tragedy and crime against humanity that was the genocide in the 1990s it has arguably come to be regarded as a role model, not of democracy, but free market economics. 

I know the latter point will startle some of my  colleagues in the blogosphere who are very supportive of not only Rwanda as an African role model country but also in awe of its long serving leader Paul Kagame. 

The international community, particularly the Global North and East through their various governments also hold Rwanda and its ‘strongman’ leadership of an ‘entrepreneurial state’ in high esteem.  Not just because of the controversy of their arguable complicity (the United Nations included) in that country’s tragic genocide. But more significantly because of its embrace of neoliberalism or the free market. 

For them it remains a stellar African (country) example of how to rise from the ashes of the equivalent of a national holocaust to being a model free market economy/country.  Never mind concerns about the abuse of human rights and the detention of opposition presidential candidate Dianne Shima Rwigara.

And this is why our ‘new dispensation/era’  Zimbabwean government leaders are latching on to Rwanda.  They want to be part of that country’s story not only by way of economic policy deeds but also political action.  That is to say, to be immune from political criticism in the name of running what global capital would consider, for now, an ‘efficient free market economy’. 

But behind this shared ‘spirit of entrepreneurship’ is also a firm shared understanding about the retention of political power.  Though this will never be publicly announced by either governments.  What obtains behind the scenes is an assumption of the significance of  ‘strongman leadership’  in order to retain the necessary political power that enables free market economic policies.  And this with the support of global superpowers  and global capital.

It would however be instructive to recall the political character of both ruling parties in the two countries.  They both have a strong if not organic military background.  Their party leaders, Mnangagwa and Kagame,  are former freedom fighters.  One from the liberation struggle for independence, the other from a post-independence struggle for ‘democracy’.   And both believe the military to be integral to political power, i.e, they are advocates of a re-emerging military-political complex in Africa.  In aide of free market economics or the expansion of global capital. 

So context matters in seeking to understand the relationship that Zimbabwe and Rwanda are trying to re-define.  This is apart from the fact that we were protagonists during the first major regional inter-country war since the end of colonialism in Southern and Central Africa in 1997 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).  It would appear we have made ‘business peace’ and are letting bygones become bygones.  For now. 

So we would be correct as Zimbabweans and Rwandese to look behind the curtain of our newfound governmental friendship.  And ask about its basic values beyond the dictum of international relations studies of ‘no permanent friends but permanent interests’.   We must query the military-political complex that informs it and its specific intent at long duree hold on political power to not only promote neoliberalism but also by default, personal/political aggrandizement. 

It would follow that in the short term, after the visit by the RDB executives (who it turns out report to that country’s cabinet), there shall be a state visit by either of the presidents to our respective countries.  Again, this will raise some eyebrows especially south of the Limpopo river, but new era’s tend to be fraught with attempts at deceiving the people as to their motivation. 

This is the beginning of a shared ‘spirit of entrepreneurship’ by former military but now political strongmen.  With the support of global capital.  And truth be told, we should be more worried than we accept it as the norm. While at the same time remembering political prisoners/victims of state repression. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)

Friday, 6 April 2018

Seven (7) Key Points for Candidates+Voters in Zimbabwe's 2018 Harmonised Election

 By Takura Zhangazha*

There are already a plethora of political candidates and ‘parties’ for Zimbabwe’s 2018 harmonised election.  Whether they be offshoots of the ruling Zanu Pf party or its main opponent the MDC-T, nascent parties and independent candidates they make for a cacophony of political ambitions and interests.  And I guess in relation to the values of what would be a democracy, ‘the more, the merrier’.  This is despite what colleagues and comrades in what was the post 1990s struggle for a social democratic Zimbabwe might call a division of the opposition vote against the ruling establishment. 

In reality and in terms of current Zimbabwean law (and also if all these individuals/parties manage to pay nomination court fees) all of these political competitors have the right to campaign for elected office. And the positions are many.  Zimbabweans will be voting for a president, constituency members of the House of Assembly, women’s quota representatives in the House of Assembly, proportional vote members of the senate and local government councilors.  All at once. 
One can only wish all of the aspiring candidates all the best.  And also wish the electorate all the strength and patience to choose their preferred candidates with the caution that is required of democratic values.

It would however do no harm to also provide some guidelines to those that would aspire to lead the country in the national executive (presidency), Parliament (House of Assembly and Senate) and local government (rural and urban councils).

I posit here a seven point summary of issues that candidates across the spectrum must take into account. 

1.  Ideas/Ideology/ Values Matter:  There is no political, social or economic action in contemporary times that occurs without an initial idea or value proposition.  It is how we derive meaning from the intentions of those that are seeking political office.  Especially by asking basic questions as to why do you want power over us?  What is the big issue/problem?  How do you intend to systematically address it? At the moment there is one overall issue/problem that has been pre-occupying a lot of Zimbabweans though from different levels of perception/understanding.  And this would be the long duree issue of the state of the ‘national’ economy.  The solution/idea being proffered by the main presidential candidates and parties is, to my own personal regret, neo-liberalism/free market economics.  Never mind promises about either the ‘ease of doing  business’ or  ‘bullet trains’ and ‘free wifi’ , the underlying  idea/ideology is  to reduce the role of the state in providing basic services for its people. The intention is to privatize the state.  Both economically and politically. Almost as an unbecoming alliance  between those who have political power and those that have money.  It would help greatly if any one of the aspiring candidates could/would proffer a people centered alternative.

2.  Campaigning with Organised/ Structured Support Systems is Key:  Populism is always a key component of electoral campaigns.  It really helps.  But whats more significant is an organized political base from which to arrive at popular/populist appeal.  In Zimbabwean parlance this is generally referred to as ‘grassroots’.   In realist terms this would be referred to as organized membership. That is, supporters who feel they belong to either the campaign (especially if you are an independent candidate) or the party (if you are campaigning from any one of the mainstream political parties).  Campaign or party members desire to belong to a cause that’s not just time bound but also value-driven.  With the latter being the most important.  Almost as though they were contributing to a faith. Where political contestants ensure that their supporters/party members have a greater role and also participate in leadership decisions, they will most likely win an election. Or if they don’t they can at least work on improving their chances with organic supporters for the next electoral contest.

3.  Social Media Matters but it is Not Enough:  The use of social media has had a phenomenal impact on Zimbabweans ability to receive and impart information.  And this means that it will be key in determining ephemeral political perceptions by voters on various candidates especially in our cities and peri-urban areas.  In our context , it is however only effective if it is tied to organized/structured mobilization in real time. 

4.  Age Matters but (again) is Not Enough:  There is much that has been said about the age of registered voters.  And indeed there are a lot more young voters than before for the 2018 election.  But they too have issues beyond their age.  They include but are not limited to unemployment, education, health and entertainment. Those of the plus 45 bracket also have their issues which include pensions, housing, health and ironically, their children’s future.  Either way, what matters the most, despite age difference is political consciousness of what are perceived to be key issues and how they can be resolved.

5. Women’s Issues Will be Key:  Given the demographic data put out by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) anyone who has an intention to be in political office will have to address women's issues.  Be they in relation to women’s representation, equality or health and employment. This is because the greater number of voters in 2018 are female (young and old).  And they are probably the most reliable. Once their minds are made up.

6.  The Presidency is won by the one with the most fielded candidates:  The term ‘harmonised’ election is telling.  It means that there are 5 posts up for electoral grabs.  Namely the presidency, house of assembly (womens quota and constituency member), senate (proportional representation) and local government (council).  The party or individual candidate that has the most fielded candidates is likely to add to his/her tally for the presidential vote.  Its awkward but it points to an assumption of symmetry to those aspiring for office.  That is to say one cannot hope to be president without  support  from candidates running for all the other positions.  That’s how the ruling establishment changed the dynamics of the 2013 harmonised election.  And how they will likely try do so again.

7.  The Military and War Veterans Cannot be Wished Away:  This is a final and regrettable point.  But its our reality.  The ruling establishment has positioned itself as a military-political complex.  China style (tellingly the President is on a state visit to the same country).  Those in opposition to the establishment have to take this into account especially after the coup-not-a-coup events of 15 November 2017.  And they have to prove themselves more people centered in their political ambitions than ever before, simplistic as that may appear. This includes a counter narrative to the liberation struggle, not as a political negative but an historical struggle that requires a new national political narrative that surpasses entitlement (vene vacho). 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Africa Deleting Facebook? Not Likely. But Context Will Matter More

 By Takura Zhangazha*

When the GuardianUK newspaper broke a story about a data analytics company called Cambridge Analytica and its role in collecting the private data of British and American citizens, African social media did not go apoplectic. This was despite the fact that the same company also allegedly had a hand in two of the continents largest countries’ elections, Nigeria and Kenya. 
Even when the #deletefacebook hashtag emerged in the countries most affected by this revealing story, we did not bother.  At least not enough for anyone in charge of the application to be worried.  For now. 

There were no reports of marked decreases of Facebook users in Africa or in the region.  There were however calls for at least follow up investigations on the role of Cambridge Analytica in Nigeria and Kenya’s elections.  But beyond that, we would be hard pressed to find similar local public outcry about these latest developments as in the global north.

On their own, and because of the global reach of Facebook, the allegations levelled at the latter are very serious.  Not only for their disregard for the right to privacy of individuals using the applications but also for the intended political effects of data gathering and development of algorithms that affect political behaviour.  

As the Canadian born whistle-blower Christopher Wylie said in his testimony before a British parliamentary committee, the effect of the alleged interference and targeted conversion (from not just a click or like but to action such as donations or attending an event)  of users would have had an evident impact on, for example,  the UK's Brexit referendum result.

A mixture of data algorithims and an allegedly deliberate pursuit of orchestrated political electoral outcomes motivated this.  And the real life impact of manipulation of either facebook or other social media platforms to interfere not only with political processes but also their meaning is something that is definitely going to pre-occupy most western democracies.  

Inclusive of the alleged role the Russians played in similar manoeuvres during the last USA presidential election.

Where it concerns us in Africa, there is ambivalence about a similar role being played in our political processes.  Where Cambridge Analytica is accused of possibly/allegedly having tried to influence the Kenyan and Nigerian elections, the outcry is relatively muted.  And in most cases, it is conveyed via the same platforms to limited response or support from users (based in Africa or its Diaspora). 

So we have to examine the meaning of the phenomenon that is Facebook on the continent.  

With over 170 million users as of December 2017, it is a key access to information, entertainment platform for many of us.  More often than not because our mainstream media may not be providing us with the sort of quick access to information and entertainment that we may prefer. But also because we want to be globally connected.  And its enabling of free expression together with access to information is a good thing.

But where such a platform/application begins to have serious problems around data collection as it affects privacy and allegedly seeks to target specific users/voters for specific political outcomes, then we would be well within our right to also call it to order.  This is despite the fact that we are far from its most significant centre and have very limited (legislative/technological/market) power over it or its owners. 

Also given the fact that whatever algorithms it develops and applies on its users even if done globally have contextual effect.  This includes determining newsfeeds based on your own personal preferences as opposed to what may obtain in reality. The latter point being that sometimes the social media application can tell you what you prefer to hear/see than what is factual. 

The key difference however is that there are still comparatively fewer Africans connected to social media or the internet.  So it may not matter as much that Facebook is facing the serious allegations that it is on this side of the world.  But there is no doubt that some if not a greater majority of African governments may decide to tighten controls on social media use and its impact on political processes.  

Not because they will have any direct evidence of such tampering, but more because they will follow the lead of the governments that are currently affected in the global north.  Or those that already have had a carrot and stick approach to Facebook that are in the global east.

The full import of what Facebook is alleged to have done shall be seen via the inquiries that are ongoing or yet to begin in the global north.  What that means for us in Africa may be that social media’s mechanics are not so global in meaning after all.  Context matters.  So do algorithms and the political/profit intentions of powerful individuals that control them.

The only plus is we now have an idea of how it all works. And we must gird ourselves to protect our universal rights to free expression, access to information and privacy. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com) 

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Zim's Alleged Externalisers List: Obscuring Private, Public Wealth to Shortchange the National Wealth

By Takura Zhangazha*

In late 2017, the new (and current) Zimbabwean government announced a general amnesty for individuals/corporates that had allegedly not accounted to the national Reserve Bank for foreign currency that they sent out of the country in lieu of specific commodities/goods and services.  

Against the backdrop of the ‘coup-not-a-coup ouster’ of former president Robert Mugabe, this announcement raised high expectations from ordinary Zimbabweans.  The public was highly optimistic as to the law eventually catching up with those that had benefited from the latter’s presidents long drawn leadership of the state and by default, the national economy.

This, as a result of a popular public perception of the ruling Zanu Party as being corrupt and preoccupied with enriching its leaders via the levers of state power.

So Mgangagwa issued the equivalent of an edict to what one assumes are his companieros to,  in South African political parlance, ‘pay back the money’.  Or at least prove it came back to country in cash or kind.   He even had the luxury of extending the ‘amnesty’ for a further two weeks after its expiry in March 2018. 

As promised he published a list of those who allegedly did not account for the money, largely in US$ cash format.

It’s a list that it turns out has disappointed many a pundit and opposition politician.  It is also a list that has angered those that are in private businesses who are either on the list or sympathise with those on it.

Except that the list is as technical as it is political.  Corporate lawyers, individuals, political players and those close to all of the above have decried the injustice of it all.  Not only on technical grounds such as the CD1 form and the inefficiency of both local and central banks information capturing systems.  But more ominously for Mnangagwa’s government, the potential defamation lawsuits of having published such a list in the first place. 

But Mnangagwa never intended for the list to be legally or politically water tight.   His  intention was to always to call the bluff of the wannabe middle and upper class.  Not by way of production.  Instead more by way of ‘lifestyle aspirations’. That is, to have house in the suburbs, or at least the equivalent of the same.  No matter how much it would cost, including the legal risks associated with evading monetary exchange of control regulation acts.  

So in the pub conversations that the list has wrought on, we must ask ourselves serious questions about its broader meaning. 

If we take the angle of querying the political economic culture that informs what we understand as the ‘ease of doing business’, we would argue, like defence lawyers, that there is nothing remiss in someone, with the assistance of the state (Reserve Bank) taking his/her money out of the country, by whatever means, in order to make a profit. 

Unless we never understood how capital’s relentless pursuit of profit has been the arbiter and cause of our current national economic crisis.

And also because of how opaque our private, public and national wealth management systems are. 

Some of us may not understand what national wealth is, so a rejoinder might help.   As the French economist Thomas Piketty has posited: ‘national wealth=private wealth + public wealth’.

To be overly simplistic, what the Zimbabwean government has done is to try and conflate what would be public wealth (the Reserve Bank for example) with that of private capital (individually accumulated capital, for example, profit from a private company).
So the anger about the ‘list’ is not so much about a structural understanding of what’s really going on in Zimbabwe’s political economy.  Instead it is about preference. 

Defending those on the list may be now a matter for legal minds.  Either on the basis of technicalities such as what happened at the Reserve Bank or accusations of civil defamation.

The more significant issue is that those who sought and supposedly got amnesty may have done much more serious ‘externalisation’ and justified it in ways that we will perhaps never know.

What is apparent is that hazy nexus between public wealth and private wealth.  It is designed in such a way as to ensure that the public wealth (land, minerals etc) is no longer being used to create national but private wealth.  And that’s where the bigger problem resides. Even before we start pulling out economic or legal expertise to explain this aberration away in the name of the ‘free market’.

It is the instrumentalisation of the state to create largely private wealth that is the biggest problem our country faces.  Lists or no lists. 

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

Friday, 16 March 2018

Capital’s Interest, Influence in Zimbabwe’s 2018 Election

By Takura Zhangazha*

At the risk of stating the obvious, the ‘ease of doing business’ is an inherently political term. Not merely because the ruling Zanu Pf party’s leader and current president of the country, Emmerson Mnangagwa, is using the term in each and every one of his major speeches.  Locally and internationally.  

It is a phrase that is always sweet music to the ears of global capital and by default, its local mimicking versions. 

Not because of their political affinities but because of what it portends. In keeping with neo-liberal fashion it means that the political leaders of the country are seeking favours from private capital. Political ones before they are economic.

And private capital appears to be catching the bait.  Economic pundits are talking about how the number of investors that are enquiring about Zimbabwe are in their numbers.  Even the Zimbabwean Diaspora is setting up initiatives to cash in on governments laissez faire policy. 

And so far a couple of what the state controlled media refers to as ‘mega deals’ have been signed or revived with a sense of urgency.  The Russian foreign secretary paid us a visit with such deals in mind.  Other promises of investment also keep popping up especially after government announced its intention to amend the Indigenisation Act. Or where the minister of foreign affairs announced a new creature (at least to many Zimbabweans) called ‘transactional diplomacy’.

So there is no doubt that the Zimbabwean government is on a neo-liberal path.  And that capital likes ‘free market’ environments.

But because there is an election scheduled for this year (2018), we have to ask a rhetorical question of who needs who more than the other? And why?

The easy reply would be obviously the ruling Zanu Pf party is desperate for capital (almost any form state and private).  This would be in order to succeed in its quest at retention of power in the scheduled elections.  Except that it has too little time between then and now to produce the ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’ that its leader Emerson Mnangagwa has been promising in his speeches. 

What the government wants is a promise from capital for guaranteed investment in the event of their electoral victory and therefore longer tenure in globally recognised power. And this where the catch is. Because capital loves stability (never mind democracy), it is clearly keen on a government that is talking its language to stay in power.  So any ‘mega deal’ signed in the run-up to the 2018 election is akin to an electoral support pact. 

Private capital knows this.  So they are circling the bait (unlike say the Russian or British government related capital). But in order to be in with a fairer chance they will invariably take all sorts of risks to be in good books with the incumbent administration. And this is in the event that the latter wins the election.

This leads to the bigger question how much of private capital is backing the current ruling establishment in expectation of ‘favours’ after the elections? In 2013 we know that the Meikles Group helped purchase campaign vehicles for the ruling party and that went a long way in changing the complexion and undoubtedly influencing the final result, controversial as it was.

It is from this example that we can get tell tale signs of the undemocratic relationship that the current establishment has with capital.  As President Mnangagwa attends investment conferences, sends his ministers and emissaries to various countries and global capital events/meetings I would not be surprised if the whispered request would be, ‘support us in the next election and we will support you after with your (ease of doing) business.’

Again in neo-liberal lexicon this would be what would be referred to as a ‘win-win’ situation. The ruling establishment wins the election and private capital is left to roam the ‘free market’.
This unwritten but likely electoral pact between the ruling establishment and private capital will soon show itself as the electoral campaign gets into its rancorous full gear.  If you are a neo-liberal (including those in the mainstream opposition) this is the stuff that dreams would be made of.

If you are to the left of social democracy as I am, you would be aware what an undemocratic pact between unaccountable private capital and a resurgent ruling and repressive establishment can bring.  A withdrawn state, privatisation of social services and a singular dominant (almost electorally undefeatable) political establishment that has a revolving door between ruling party and capital. And as always with a sprinkling of formal opposition.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Origins, Futility of Contemporary Politically Motivated Violence in Zimbabwe.

 By Takura Zhangazha*

There is a sad and tragic continuing trend in Zimbabwe’s national politics. And this is the seemingly enduring challenge of politically motivated violence against would be opponents in contestations for state or political party power.

It rears its ugly head through the form of physical violence, hate speech and acts of exclusion (barring each other from meetings, censoring differing views in mainstream and social media). 

Recently there have regrettable incidents of politically motivated violence by alleged members of the mainstream opposition the MDC-T.  The assumed reason/motivation for the violence has been the issue of who succeeds the party’s late leader Morgan Tsvangirai.  Or at least who acts as president until an elective congress of the same party is eventually held. 

The party’s own leaders and even the ruling Zanu Pf have condemned the acts of violence with the former promising thorough investigations and bringing the culprits to book.  Some of the alleged perpetrators have also been arrested and questioned by the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP).

There is however more to these unacceptable acts of political violence that must be examined if we are stop them recurring either in the short term electoral future but also as a dark part of our national political culture. 

There is therefore a need to examine the origins of a culture of politically motivated violence in contemporary Zimbabwean politics.  And some of these origins are historical where coercion and direct violence were tools of not only the colonial state but also ended being those of leaders of the liberation struggle. n fact the colonial state was the primary purveyor of politically motivated violence by way of both state structure and intention.  It meted out forms of violence not only by way of enforced physical dominance by a minority group but as the anti-colonial movement grew by atrocious levels of violence with impunity  that included bombings, parading deceased bodies of liberation struggle comrades, enforced encampment (keeps), abductions and evictions. Just to list but a few. 

With those that led the liberation struggle, violence was formally adopted as a necessary change of strategy against the settler state but it also had its own tendencies to be meted out against the people it sought to liberate.  Hence the jarring tales of violence at ‘pungwes’ or abductions and murder of those that were alleged sellouts in rural areas.   the settler state did not do the same. 

In the urban areas, again, the use of violence between rival nationalist movement camps Zanu and Zapu is well recorded in the urban history of what were the then African townships.  Add to this the perennial and overriding violence of the colonial state (riot police, abductions, confinements) and we have a compounding of a regrettable culture of violence. 

It is a culture that is carried over to post independence Zimbabwe through again the legacy of colonialism and the struggles against it. But more significantly it is instrumentalised by the ruling establishment to retain power. 

Though contemporary leaders of Zanu Pf would deny this, violence and exclusionary language was to reach its zenith with the rise of the opposition MDC in the late 1990s. And the violence also included the use of state apparatus’ such as the police, prisons and party leaders/youths.

In the conundrum that it became this violence also then lead to a developing culture of mimicry in the opposition.  Because the culture of violence had led to many opposition supporters feeling they had no option but to stand by their party(ies) and individual leaders, they copied some of the habits of the ruling party.  They also protected political turfs with youths, embraced subtle ethnic undertones to their politics and began to use the language of exclusion in public (making statements on how they have been there from the beginning of the party etc).

In both the ruling party and opposition the culture of violence is largely internal before it is meted out on others. And this is largely due to the lack of organic internal democracy in the parties (this includes even the smaller ones).  Perhaps with changes in leaderships of the main parties this culture might change but it looks less likely in the short term.  There is too much entitlement to political leadership especially by way of ‘long duree’ status in the ‘party’ and slogans such as ‘chine vene vacho’ (it has its owners).  Thelatter phrase having found its way into opposition lexicon after the ruling establishment’s ‘coup-not-a-coup’ change of leadership. 

And the thousands of unemployed young Zimbabweans will take the hand that they are dealt.  If not to make some sort of income but also just to belong to some forward looking cause.  Especially in an election year. 

But the reality of the matter is that acts of contemporary politically motivated violence are in the final analysis, futile. Both for the party and for the individuals involved.  They do not portend ideas nor do they inspire toward greater democratic consciousness and progress.  Instead they create fear and always the potential of victims becoming perpetrators if they survive it all. 

Those in the leadership of the various political parties including the ruling Zanu Pf and mainstream opposition MDC-T need to understand that it is not enough to condemn political violence.  They need to act concertedly to embrace internal party democracy and  also allow others to democratically arrive at leadership positions. Regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or race.  They need to allow in particular young members of their parties opportunities to lead at earlier stages of their membership and democratically institutionalize their parties more than they do the individuals that lead them.  ‘Vene vacho’ will then become not the individual but the values and principles that the party stands for.  And for an immediate posterity where politically motivated violence will become a thing of the past.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

The Electoral Scramble for Zimbabwe's 60% Young Vote

 Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) chairperson, Justice Priscilla Chigumba recently made an important national announcement.  Speaking at a Parliamentary committee on Justice and Legal affairs organised meeting, she made it known that thus far in the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) process of the 5 million plus number of registered voters, 60% of them are between the ages of 18 and 40 years. The significance of this figure may have been limited where it not for the fact that Zimbabwe, again according to ZEC, has harmonised elections scheduled  the months of July and August 2018.  

If one expected the mainstream media to go apoplectic with this officially announced statistic, it didn’t happen.  Across the state and the private media in Zimbabwe.  At least in the immediacy of Justice Chigumba’s statement.

Social media on the other hand went slightly haywire. And this is particularly with reference to users sympathetic to the mainstream opposition MDC-T and its informal offshoot, the MDC Alliance. They expressed their optimism in lieu of the new ascendancy, controversial as it may seem , of one of the appointed acting presidents of the same party, Nelson Chamisa. 

The ruling Zanu Pf side of social media was understandably somewhat muted.  Probably because shooting from the hip about age and political capacity may be a slightly vulnerable point for them.  At least on social media. 

In both respects, and no matter how much raving, ranting or muting that may occur on social media platforms, I am certain that the main political parties that will contest the 2018 harmonised elections, should they be serious about their political ambitions, are probably frenetically crunching the electoral numbers.  And this should be in at least three respects.

Firstly, they need to crosscheck their own numbers (membership lists and so on) against those that the biometric voter registration process has produced so far.  That is to say, on their membership and supporter estimates, how many young people of the same did they get to finally become registered voters? In this they must then cross check their own figures with those of ZEC.  By polling station, ward, district, province.  

Then after putting together their figures and again, by way of the mathematical calculus that is ‘probability’, measure the likely voter turnout in what they perceive to be their respective strongholds.  And after such a serious process, work on the figures they perceive they do not have in areas that they know are not their traditional strongholds.

I know its a hard ask especially of a divided but more significantly deliberately repressed Zimbabwean political opposition.  Whether it be in the form of newfound attempts at an ‘Alliance’ or as various splinter or new parties. 

For the ruling Zanu Pf party, it’s an easier ask.  Mainly because it is a ruling party, an incumbent.  Even after a ‘coup-not- a –coup’ in November 2017.  It however has to contend with queries as to who mobilized the voter registration process in its own rural strongholds. And whether it can claim these new registered young voters did so as mobilised by the party or as a result of its own factionalism. And in the latter, which faction in or out of power can persuade them to vote for the party in its own perceived traditional strongholds. 

The second key consideration for political parties in the 2018 harmonised election is the fact that they have to think about the social aspects of the 60% young voter demographic.  Who exactly are these young people?  What do they do? Where and why? What is their gender?Where they understand this, they then fashion out policies that relate to solving problems that these young voters face in aide of giving democratic value to their campaign requests for support from these young voters. 

Should the political parties  hunker down to these key questions, they will find that a majority of young Zimbabweans are looking to survive.  Not only by way of subsistence (vendors, kombi drivers) but on a more ambitious, desired lifestyle basis (money-changers, car-dealers, informal wholesale suppliers, tobacco farmers, ranchers, urban transport/kombi owners). In their wildest dreams they want the materialistic lifestyle that benefactors can offer them.  

Or they want to be left in political patronage ‘peace’ to get there via the many patronage, religious and other networks that they are invariably part of.  

The third and final consideration is that of not forgetting the 40% by ostracising it in favour of the young voter.  This is particularly because in most instances the 40% remains decisive in ‘political’ opinion leadership and where it concerns the rural vote is in the great majority of socio-economic leadership positions (chiefs, headmen, teachers, businessmen, and clergy). But more importantly, there is no single political party that can win a majority of the 60% young voters. They will require significant chunks of both the 40% and 60% to win the presidency and have a majority in parliament. 

And even if ZEC’s final figures reduce the proportion of young voters to older ones, it will not be far from its initial registered young voters count of 60%.  Given our political realities that 60% alone will not win it for a singular party. But any serious political party will know that it has its work cut out to get a majority of these registered young voters on their side.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)