Friday, 16 August 2019

Zim’s Awkward Politics of Pursuing the International Gaze.

By Takura Zhangazha*

Political struggles require recognition beyond their own contexts.  This southern African side of the world it is an historically given fact that liberation struggles against colonialism had tremendous solidarity from activists and eventually some governments from the global north and east.  This solidarity and direct support came only after a much coveted ‘recognition’ of the values and principles of the struggle. 

Liberation struggle movements of varying hue and colour were to compete for this recognition.  In Southern Africa, after the earlier independence of Ghana, Tanzania and later on Mozambique, the competition for recognition was particularly high and linked to the battles of global spheres of influence during the Cold War.  Rival liberation movements and their factions would go to Dar es Salaam to claim greater struggle authenticity to justify support and solidarity from Julius Nyerere’s government.  To be specific, Zimbabwe’s liberation movements, Zanu Pf and PF Zapu had a hard time of it competing to be seen as either the largest or the most radically committed to socialist values as defined by Nyerere, Khruschev ,Mao and Wilson.

In post independent Zimbabwe, while political party competition for recognition dissipated in the 20 odd years plus, it re-emerged with the demise of Zanu Pf party hegemony over the country’s politics.  The arrival of the then labour backed Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) brought this back into vogue. Again it pitted the global West versus the global East. And as of old, the leaders of these parties Mugabe and Tsvangirai, pitched themselves as the more authentic and therefore the more deserving of support.  The latter decided to go back to the rhetoric of the anti-colonial struggle and its then staunchest supporters in the form of SADC, the African Union, China and Russia.  The former decided to pursue those that would be allies of liberalism and democratization in the form of the former colonial power the United Kingdom and its allies in Europe as well as the then global superpower, the United States of America.

This seeking out of international support and or solidarity was and is as expected.  It does however have many consequences.  Some of them good, such as the eventual SADC mediated inclusive government of Mugabe and Tsvangirai.  Some of the controversial such as the imposition of sanctions on the country.  Some of them out rightly dangerous such as the at one time serious consideration by Tony Blair to ‘liberally’ invade Zimbabwe in similar fashion to the war on Iraq.

Where it comes to the coup-not-a-coup of November 2017, again central to our domestic politics was the international gaze and pursuit of recognition.  Either by way of global legitimacy or superpower anointing.  And those that removed Mugabe from power did not hesitate to explain that everything that would happen from thereon would be all about restoring Zimbabwe’s international legitimacy. This included the July 2018 harmonised elections whose presidential election results the opposition MDC Alliance disputed and continues to do so today. 

But Mnangagwa’s government did not hold back from this international engagement and legitimation despite this.  Embracing neoliberalism, going on a diplomatic offensive with SADC, the AU and global superpowers, outlining a legal reform agenda Mnangagwa has made it his personal mission to get this ‘recognition’.  While the opposition MDC Alliance has also made it its collective mission to find means and ways of undermining it.  Its almost like deja vu.

Where we fast forward to August 2019, on the eve of a SADC summit in Tanzania, the opposition has not let up on its counter recognition intention.  It organized a demonstration that it said was about the dire economic situation but the timing is obviously intended to put pressure on SADC.  The regional body, having already recognized Mnangagwa as a legitimate president also intends to pass on the rotating chair of its Organ on Politics, Security and Defence to him.  A big score on his part, an unpalatable state of affairs for the mainstream opposition. The reality of the matter is that SADC will not change its mind easily on the matter unless unprecedentedly pressured by one global superpower or the other. 

And that should be enough to save Mnangagwa’s blushes at the next summit of the AU or the General Assembly of the United Nations. 

The bigger issue that must always remain at the back of our minds is a very difficult and borderline semantic one.  We have to ask ourselves, ‘for whom are all these things/events/policies being done?’  The most skeptical answer is that its all egocentric, i.e the politicians do it for themselves.   Another answer may say ‘we want the return of the US$’. A testament to hedonism and the commodity fetish.

A more realistic answer is that this is increasingly done as a competition for recognition by global superpowers and global capital.  One either side of the political divide.  And with limited attempt at balancing the country’s contextual domestic issues with global or international trends.  It is as tragic as it is sad.

I will end with a relatively extensive quote from Amilcar Cabral speaking at the Tri-Continental Conference of the Peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America in Havana, Cuba as far back as 1966.  He explained in his ‘Weapon of Theory’ address to this historically important gathering of revolutionaries the following:
“When the African peoples say in their simple language that “no matter how hot the water from your well, it will not cook your rice,” they express with singular simplicity a fundamental principle, not only of physics, but also of political science. We know that the development of a phenomenon in movement, whatever its external appearance, depends mainly on its internal characteristics. We also know that on the political level our own reality — however fine and attractive the reality of others may be — can only be transformed by detailed knowledge of it, by our own efforts, by our own sacrifices. It is useful to recall in this Tri-continental gathering, so rich in experience and example, that however great the similarity between our various cases and however identical our enemies, national liberation and social revolution are not exportable commodities; they are, and increasingly so every day, the outcome of local and national elaboration, more or less influenced by external factors (be they favorable or unfavorable) but essentially determined and formed by the historical reality of each people, and carried to success by the overcoming or correct solution of the internal contradictions between the various categories characterising this reality. The success of the Cuban revolution, taking place only 90 miles from the greatest imperialist and anti-socialist power of all time, seems to us, in its content and its way of evolution, to be a practical and conclusive illustration of the validity of this principle.”
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (


  1. So are you saying we must exist in a vacuum when so much of our daily lives are interconnected with the rest of the world, case-in-point the global recession started in the US and affected every country? Can you explore further why regional bodies SADC and AU never seem to take decisive action on autocratic and murderous regimes such as ours. I don't think mdc has tried to undermine zanu's pursuit of international recognition, rather zanu has been its own undoing first because the zanu administration itself is unelected within zanu and secondly its an illegitimate government. Mdc merely points out the undemocratic actions of zanu.

    1. If I may interject, I am not sure where you got "we should exist in a vacuum" but AU recognises that Zimbabwe is a sovereign country. Remember that one of the objectives of the African Union is "to defend the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of its Member States". According to the AU, ZANU is a legitimate and elected government, though Zimbo Twitter would have different views and in my opinion that is the part of the problem.

      What decisive actions would you recommend?