Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Zimbabwe’s Next Six Months and the Pending Permanence of Elitist Politics (2013-2018).


Zimbabwe’s next six months and the pending permanence of elitist politics (2013-2018).

By Takura Zhangazha. *


The next six months in Zimbabwe are going to be fairly decisive for the next five years.  This is not least because there has been any particular epochal shift in the way our society is run. Be this in relation to our  inclusive government’s pending end of tenure or its attendant undemocratic  constitutional reform process.  Nor will the next six months be made significant as a result of a major change to the national economy either by way of discovery of another major mineral resource or by way of any major  government policy pronouncement.  


Instead the next six months in Zimbabwe are the prelude to a conclusion of elite cohesion in relation to varying aspects of our society from the political, to the economic, social and even the religious.
 It is essentially a period in which our history will enter a phase in which elitist political and economic permanence of privilege  will be attempted.  In this phase the major players will be the political parties and individuals who have been in the inclusive government and those that have been closely associated with it either via affiliate organizations or (in the wake of indigenization) those in charge of business and capital.


The elite cohesion will begin with the common messaging around the constitutional reform process where all of the parties in the inclusive government will campaign for a ‘yes vote’, ostensibly as a demonstration of national unity but in reality in order to save face over and about the manner in which they handled the process. While political rallies will be awash with exhortations to support the inclusive government’s draft constitution at a referendum, the reasons given by the party leaders will be different but all the same will be tantamount to a cajoling of party faithful to ignore their own doubts and ‘trust’ the party leaders at the expense of an objective pursuit of democratic truth.  Some rallies will be held jointly, others separately,  but the message will be the same, 'vote yes’ and trust the party leader.  


Those who were foes in the last election will be occasionally forced to stand side by side and give testimony to how good the draft constitution is. As the process wears on and as elections get closer, it will be difficult to discern particular differences in policies and manifestos from the political parties for the electorate. Should the ‘yes vote’ triumph, the electoral campaigns themselves will be ambiguous to say the least. From being campaign buddies in the ‘yes vote’ to being once again competitors in the electoral playing field may be something that most electoral candidates will find hard to understand. All the same, the campaigns will once again be undertaken with an anticipation of partial, not complete victory by all political parties.


The language may appear confident but there will be silent admission that ‘we are in this together’ by the political parties.  Where and when the election occurs, there will be hope that as the ballots are counted, each of the major parties that currently serve in the inclusive government will have enough parliamentary presence to warrant inclusion in a government formed by the winner of the executive presidency position.  The reality may turn out to be different, but in their occurrence the elections will betray an anticipation of the firm arrival of a default two party political system in Zimbabwe and therefore the arrival of a new but false  political permanence where nothing can happen without the other.


 While there may be no second inclusive government in similar fashion to the present one, there will most certainly be grounds for the formation of some sort of coalition government  (which is the hope and prayer of the smallest party in the current government).  There will however be no SADC mediator to rein in the winning party after the elections and Zimbabwe will most certainly be removed from being high up on the regional body’s agenda.  In essence, after the elections there will be a permanent and less negotiated government until 2018. And this probably led by a singular party with the other two in tow and willing players in a continuation of the elitist politics that have characterized the inclusive government.


Major components of capital/business will also be aware of this and are ready to deal with any of the parties that wins so long their interests are protected (even within the context of indigenization). Apart from praising either the draft constitution if it passes the referendum stage, they will praise all parties in the electoral process, support their respective campaigns and hope that all three parties will have some sort of role in the new government. This not necessarily because of the urgency of ‘progress’ but more in seeking to deal with the proverbial ‘devils’ that they know. 
A majority of civil society players  will also be roped into the ‘yes’ campaign, not least because of their preferred political parties but also in relation to saving face after the undemocratic constitutional reform process.  As such, a majority of CSOs will participate in the ‘yes’ campaign with political parties and whitewash the deficiencies of the process and content of the draft constitution, all in aide of the political brinksmanship of one inclusive government principal or the other. 


Where elections will occur, the role of the CSO’s  will be less critical of electoral processes than was the case  in 2008 and their potential complicity in the arrival at an elitist political settlement will be more apparent.  There will be significant anger if a favoured political principal loses and there will be attempts to mobilize some sort of new coalition together in aide of redress, but it will not be as effective as in 2008. Essentially, there will be limited reason for civil society to dispute the legitimacy of the elections, given the latitude they allowed the major political parties in the inclusive government to compromise on democratic principles without negotiating down to the wire. 


All of this while the general social and religious scenes are increasingly dominated more and more by borderline occult and bizarrely superstitious religious/cultural  movements and organizations that will provide alternative visions of how to live a better life, without the politics.

As it is, the next six months are most likely to be less decisive or historical as many in the inclusive government or in civil society would have us believe. Indeed there will be landmark political events such as a referendum on the draft constitution and a general election but their outcomes will point to an augmentation of elite cohesion in Zimbabwe’s body politic.


  And by definition, elite cohesion in a country in as precarious a political economic situation such as ours, it cannot be a good thing to anticipate. There may be those that will ask, what option do we have? The answer may reside in taking back the narrative from the narrow confines of the political parties and debating issues beyond their partisan interests. 

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

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Mali, France and the New Age of African Occupation.



 By Takura Zhangazha*

The beleaguered Presidents of Mali and Central African Republic (CAR) in the last two months asked their former colonial power, France, to come to their aide in order to prevent or at least stop a hostile takeover of their respective countries by insurgent armies.  With the recent bombardment of Northern Mali by the French air force and the deployment of its troops to Bamako, one of them managed to get  the ear and action of French President Hollande. The reasons  that have been given by the French Ministry of Defense for acting on Mali were not similar to those that led to the rejection of the request made by the CAR, but it would not be remiss to  assume that for Captain Sonogo, the de facto leader of Mali,  his wish has been granted.

Even though in reality, the intentions of the assistance are not as noble as the Malian government expects.  In assisting Mali, the French government initially cited the threat posed by the northern militants to European and its own national security and that of French civilians resident in Bamako.  

Eventually the same country's ambassador to the United Nations was to also issue a statement citing the threat posed by what he referred to as Al Qaeda linked militants to the entirety of West African security. And this in order to also get ECOWAS to commit troops to help quell the escalating conflict. Either way, there is now great commitment by France to stop the takeover of  Mali by the separatist forces and it is likely ECOWAS member states will offer support, while the African Union will be guided in large part by the decisions of the latter.  

Because the decision by France on intervening in Mali would be the third such decision made in as many years by a former colonial/western state to intervene militarily in an African state, it is important that we do not lose track of newfound trends around liberal interventionism in Africa and how it is beginning to inform global superpowers policies toward the continent.   

In doing so, the initial point that must be made is that the recent and ongoing intervention by France in Mali (even with the approval of the beleaguered government) is a continuation of an undemocratic and selective liberal interventionist narrative that began particularly with the invasion of Libya.  It is now apparent that where the West feels it can intervene militarily in an African crisis and with a modicum of United Nations Security Council or host country’s government approval,  it will do so.

Secondly, the regional and continental bodies of the African Union are no longer as important players in the continental order of things particularly after UN Resolution 1973 that led to the bombardment of Libya.  And Africa, at least in the North,  has entered an age of occupation, particularly so because of Libya, now Mali and the precariousness of the CAR, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).   

This new occupation is a direct result of both the rush for African resources by the West and the na├»ve complicity of African leadership in not only accepting political economic models that are written in Western capitals but also perpetuating colonial era relationships with former and current empires (east or west).  In the same vein, our African leaders, upon assuming office have had the unfortunate tendency to misread the international political economy as well as the intentions of global superpowers toward the continent. Ditto  UN resolution 1973 on Libya which is now generally viewed as the progenitor of the crisis in the Sahel. 

There are however some exceptions to this as seen in the African Union mediation of the South Sudan/Sudan conflict but that too remains delicate. In Southern Africa, SADC has been firmer in how it deals with regional crisis and though progress has been slow, at least it has not culminated in western warships docking off the coasts of Mozambique, Angola or South Africa. 

This however does not mean such a state of affairs is not possible. Given the laxity in understanding global issues and Africa’s placement in them as demonstrated by our regional hegemon, South Africa, we may unfortunately eventually bear witness to such a development. 

It is within such a context that the primary lesson from the tragedy that is Mali for Africa is that the days of African unity based on  liberation struggles from colonialism are fast fading into an ambiguous history.   And this is a development that flies in the face of the sterling efforts to restructure the African Union by former South African and Nigerian Presidents Mbeki and Obasanjo respectively.

And this history is now being overrun by a new-found impetus of neo-colonialism grounded in the Western conceived but very real and ongoing ‘war on terror’.  It is a war that not only connotes physical re-conquest and occupation of African territories such as northern Mali, but one that has as its pre-requisite, the reinvention of the African in the image of our Western others via the globalization of consumerism without production, neo-liberal ideological frameworks and the 'othering' of persons of Muslim persuasion.

As has happened in the Middle East, the French military intervention in Mali is likely to be viewed by some as an act of benevolence. Others still may blame the AU and ECOWAS for their ineptitude and inability to come to that country’s aide, conveniently forgetting how  Africa’s balkanisation and extractive placement  in the global economy has made the continent fertile ground for mimic leadership and continued exploitation by global superpowers and transnational corporations.   

The reality of the matter is that 'interventions' such as the one we see in Mali are now a direct result of the re-emergence of an attitude of entitlement to the African continent by Western powers such as France.  It is an attitude that was most ably demonstrated via the Nato intervention in Libya and  whose multiple offshoots include the current Malian conflict.  Admittedly, the course of history is generally determined more by those that possess physical/military power and not so much the moral authority to define it.  But in the case of the new phase of neo-colonial occupation that is visiting the African continent, unless African leaders and African societies shift from an ambivalent attitude to power for its enchantment and without historical and democratic liberatory values, the new occupation will become permanent. 

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

Friday, 11 January 2013

COPAC owes all Zimbabweans a public apology and disbandment.



By Takura Zhangazha*

Zimbabwe’s constitutional reform process under the aegis of the inclusive government has now come full circle to an unceremonious and elitist stop. The Parliamentary Constitution Select Committee (COPAC) that had been tasked with overseeing Article 6 of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) is to all intents and purposes now a lame duck. In fact the negotiators and principals to the GPA have augmented this ‘lame duck’ status of COPAC by establishing at least two other committees to resolve issues that have been referred to as 'outstanding'.   

True to the character of the inclusive government, these other committees have also failed in their tasks (for reasons which surprisingly include being unavailable for meetings) . It is now the principals (and primarily the President) who have to decide on what to do about the disagreements and a referendum as well as harmonized elections scheduled for this year. It is a development that has recently  seen some spokespersons of the same said principals falling over each other to defend such an undemocratic state of affairs simply on the basis of ‘executive authority’ or alternatively the provisions of the current constitution. Such overtures can only be seen as attempts to paper over the cracks of a political process that has gone wrong and which is evidently no longer in the best interests of the people of Zimbabwe.

It would be easier, in analyzing this stalled and flawed COPAC process, to argue around how all of these developments point to power contestations within the inclusive government. And depending on your political preferences, defend to the hilt one of the signatory parties to the GPA while blaming the rest for failure.  That would however be to miss the fundamental point about how important constitutional reform should have been as a priority for the country.  As it turns out, the very fact that the Prime Minister is busy with meeting the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission as a priority and not COPAC is indicative of how the inclusive government has a short attention span about its own road map to elections.  

In the three or so years that COPAC has formally existed, it has time and again failed to demonstrate an understanding of the historical importance of constitutional reform, even if it’s set up was and is still dominated by three political parties and therefore fundamentally flawed.  Against better advice from some much maligned civil society players the Select Committee,  like the inclusive government, dismally failed to capture the national imagination over and about constitutional reform.  

 It also failed to garner any popular legitimacy over three years even though it had millions of United States dollars at its beck and call, a development that led to its being viewed as nothing more than a gathering of the power interests of President Mugabe and PM Tsvangirai. Hence it is now lorded over by two other (ineffective) committees  and waits on the word of the principals.  In such an undemocratic context,  COPAC has also failed the popular legitimacy test that would be a pre-requisite of a peace-time constitutional reform process. Its work and its disputed end product draft constitution have not captured any progressive political sentiment in Zimbabwe, save for the power-centric ones of sitting members of parliament and those that are paid to get angry on behalf of any or all of the three parties in the inclusive government.

 As a result, where the COPAC co-chairpersons and their committee members sought to be writ-large in Zimbabwean history as having ushered in a new democratic constitution, they can only be viewed via partisan party lenses and not national ones. And even in being viewed that way, they do not pass the test.  It is only their principals that still stand a chance at doing so and only at party, not national level.  What the principals cannot do however is to give the COPAC process any semblance of national legitimacy, no matter the number of rallies they hold or the number of threats they issue. It is beyond salvation in a manner akin to the proverbial spilled milk. It has regrettably become an infamous example of how ' to embarrass an entire nation and attempt to walk away smelling like roses'.

This brings me to my penultimate point concerning COPAC’s monumental failure. Because the constitutional reform process was politicized beyond reasonable measure, it has come to be emblematic of the failure of the inclusive government to understand what its principals back in late 2008 referred to as an ‘opportunity’ to move Zimbabwe forward. The reality of the matter is that there has only been forward movement in the ability of the principals and members of the inclusive government to sit around a table every Tuesday in Cabinet while time plays itslef out toward another election. 

What was referred to as 'opportunity' was never fully defined although occasionally there would be vague references to our country being a ‘transitional’ society.  Well, if COPAC was meant to be the harbinger of that transition, it has been a thoroughly flawed and wasted one. Not least because of its undemcoratic character but more because of its inability to turn ‘opportunity’ into democratic reality. And this is true for the entirety of the inclusive government, which in the four years it has formally existed has limited little to demonstrate by way of its performance legitimacy. 

Finally, it is imperative that COPAC publicly apologizes to the nation for having failed to make the constitutional reform process ‘people driven’ and for having wasted their time and the state’s and donor resources only to have such an undemocratic outcome as is apparent today.  It must also apologize to those citizens it persuaded to attend its meetings; those that it enlisted to mobilize (or parrot party principals wishlists);  the civil society that it vaingloriously co opted on the basis of dishonest promises of equal participation; to the media for giving conflictual and ambiguous statements that never reflected the true realities of the process; and finally it must apologize to its own members of Parliament for ensuring that the latter would merely rubber stamp instructions from the executive.  When that apology is done, and as an act of contrition, the Speaker of Parliament and the Standing Rules and Orders Committee, must disband COPAC.
 *Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)

Thursday, 3 January 2013

A Tale of two different Zimbabwes



By Takura Zhangazha. *

Returning from the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, particularly for those that make the journey from the urban to the rural, a question that generally lingers is whether or not there are two Zimbabwe’s.  And it has been an historical question due to fact that we have had to live with what academics refer to as  ‘circular migration’  since the days of domestic and cross border migrant labour before and after independence.  As a result it is generally indisputable that our major national holidays are characteristic of the legacies of the same said migration, where a majority of Zimbabweans leave their urban abodes, to visit their rural or peri urban places of ‘origin’. 

This trend is as noble as it is indicative of our diverse but largely migratory backgrounds as citizens.  This is also inclusive of our ever expanding Diaspora which has come to view the entirety of Zimbabwe as ‘ekhaya/kumusha’.  However the reason why this is an important national issue is not so much to prevent migration or the linking of the perceived and preferred urban with the assumedly ‘backwater’ rural.  Instead it is more how there remains a continued distinction between the two livelihood spheres both at law and in relation to the political economy of Zimbabwe.

It has been well documented through a seminal study by renownedUgandan academic Mahmood Mamdani that historically, the ‘urban’ has  always been treated as the abode of ‘true’ citizens while the rural has been treated as that of lesser subjects.  This due  primarily as a direct result of the former colonial state’s distinction between customary and civil law and as a direct result of the British policy of ‘indirect rule’. 
The Zimbabwean government, 32 years after independence, has been complicit in perpetuating this bifurcated legal regime, and as a direct result failed to adequately eradicate the challenge of ‘seperate development’ for the country’s citizens.  Such an inability on the part of government, I would hazard to argue,  has been what has in part led to the primacy of political violence in rural and somewhat remote from the urban center areas since our national independence.  And this also  because of the continuation of the patriarchal role of chiefs and other forms of ‘traditional’ authority which would otherwise not be applicable in ‘urban’ or ‘center’ society. 

It therefore becomes important to observe that given the fact that the majority of the country’s citizens reside in the rural areas, there should be a more intergrated approach in ensuring that the law applies equally to everyone, and that the ‘urban’ ceases to have a preferential place over and above the rest of the country . 
It is  this dual legal and political economic system that has unfortunately informed most government policies concerning rural development, which has tended to be more top down and undemocratic in approach.  From the initial post independence policies of attempting to ‘urbanise’ the rural areas by establishing growth points, through to the setting up of largely ineffective Rural District Councils, there has been no coherent intention to ensure frameworks that urgently deal with rural poverty and disempowerment.  This is also the attitude that has informed our mineral wealth and extraction policies in areas such as Chiadzwa where diamonds have been more a curse than a blessing for the rural residents of that particular area.  The nature of their displacement and lack of  adequate compensation is more reflective of colonial era policies where rural folk are treated more as subjects than citizens.  The same remains true for the national indigenization policy and what have been referred to as Community Share Development Trusts, where there is the integration of traditional leaders with assumedly eminent personalities from the urban areas to distribute whatever wealth accrues from mines on behalf of the rural many.  The system is not only impositional  but generally undemocratic as it perpetuates an elitist (and borderline colonial) understanding of rural development. 
Even in relation to matters concerning the provision of basic services to rural areas such as water, electricity, the government rarely acts with urgency.  Projects for water retention such as dams, are geared largely for the urban or massive farming projects at the expense of the rural (such as the Tokwe Mukosi project where people are still living in the middle of excavation sites with limited talk of compensation.) Where one looks at health services provision,  the major referral hospitals reside primarily in urban areas (even if they are poorly equipped), a reality that has obtained since the country became independent. 
It is these challenges that must inform us on our next visit back ‘ekhaya/kumusha’.  Not least because we may feel privileged to be part of the urban, but more because that wherever one resides, we should all have access to the same basic rights and services in the country.  It is also imperative that the current and any future government of Zimbabwe be pressured into ensuring an integrated framework for the enjoyment of rights and development  by all citizens in the country. 

This would include a thorough and democratic review of our dual legal system (customary and civil) in order to make it much fairer and to rid it of the legacy of ‘late colonialism’ as described by Mamdani.  Furthermore, it is of importance that the government integrates fundamental tenets of its development policy by making the entirety of the country a priority, not just the urban. Where access to water is a challenge for Bulawayo, it must also be equally urgent for rural Gwanda or Mwenezi.  Preferential treatment of the urban must not merely be based on proximity to ‘civility’ as though we are still in the colonial era.  Where we begin to do this, the many of us that visit our rural homes may become less messianic (in person and in politics) and simply be a part of an equal and  general citizenship, without others being treated as though they were subjects. 
* A shorter version of this article first appeared in the Zimbabwe Independent on 04 January 2013. Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity.